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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter XII. The Allies Returning to Their Home—The Escape of a Captive

page 196

Chapter XII. The Allies Returning to Their Home—The Escape of a Captive.

Nga's voice was heard to utter the words “Kopere taua.”1

The warriors to a man immediately stood up, each one having his mat or kit in his hand, and marched out of the pah steadily and in silence. When arrived at the landing-place, they at once pulled out into the stream.

Those who were in charge of the dead had made two litters of young saplings, on which they put the dead, four of them carrying each corpse. They followed the warriors, but some little distance behind them. They had a canoe to themselves, in which they embarked, and as the river was not wide enough for them to go abreast, they followed the other canoes, taking care not to go near them. No emulation was shown by the rowers, who all pulled in silence, keeping time to the

1 An imperative order given by the leader of a party for instantaneous action.

page 197 song which was sung by Heta, the kaituki,1 who was in the same canoe as Takuai, Tonui, the prisoner chief, Kaito, the blind man and his family, and other prisoners.

When the fleet arrived at the Mangataipa, Kiro's pah, he and his men landed.

While they were landing Nga, the priest, said, “This is my word to you, O Kiro! Stay at your place. Do not forget that rats will travel in the dark. You were at the taking of the rats’ nests. We took them all, both young and old; but a few of the rats may have been out, and they may come back and swim these creeks in the dark. Let your eyes be open. Revenge makes brave men of cowards. Stay here.”

Kiro answered, “Go, O my fathers, go!”

The fleet passed on, and on coming out of the narrow gorge through which the river ran they reached Puka, where the river widened out into a basin.

Here the blind man stood up and said: “O ye people who pull the canoes, listen to my words! I know this is the Puka. I can hear the voices of those in the other canoes on each side of us. The river is not wide enough all the way down for two canoes to go abreast until we get to Puka; hence I say this is the Puka. Tell me, O Tupu, my relative, is it not so? You remember the time when I could see the trees and clouds, the rain and flowers, and birds of daylight? In my youth you gave us Otu in payment of one of our relatives drowned in this place. This day you

1 The person who by his song gives the time to the paddlers.

page 198 have retaken Otu for the crime of my relative, Kaito. Say, Tupu, is not this Puka?”

“Yes,” answered Tupu; “it is.”

“Then,” continued the old man, “you must allow us, your slaves taken in war, to sing a song of farewell to our land and to the place where our relative was drowned in times of old. O Kaito! join me in singing. Perhaps I may be able to think that I see this place as I saw it when our tribe had chiefs. Join me in singing, you old men, and women, and children. We know not how long we shall remain together. Our masters will take us, some to one place, some to another—to places which our eyes have never seen. Let me sing a song to the land which my eyes have seen.”

Kaito answered, “Sing your own song. I am a rat; how can I sing unless it be a song of evil omen? There is a rat called hamua, which when heard is an omen of death. I do not wish to sing. I am a hamua. You have said many times that it was through my misconduct you are slaves. If you wish to sing, sing your own song. I will sing with you when we have escaped the vengeance of Rohe in the reinga. We shall not then look forward to being killed, for we cannot die there save as worms, and worms do not suffer much. Sing your own song, O my people! and let me weep tears in my heart while you sing.”

“Wait,” cried a voice, “my voice must be heard by you men.” The speaker was the widow of the young man who had risen after being buried, causing alarm among the sleeping warriors, and who was killed by page 199 Kete. She was young; her large black eyes flashed with an insane glare; her long hair fell over her shoulders, partly covering her sleeping infant, her first-born, a few moons old. She pressed her infant to her breast, which heaved with a sorrow words could not express. Her infant was so young that he had not yet been covered with a garment, but was kept warm by the heat of her breast, in which beat a heart whose whole love now was his. The nursling did not feel the chilly morning air as it swept gently by his mother. He had not yet felt the cold of this world. His mother now hugged him in an embrace of despair. “Who shall choose the song we are to sing? Who among us is dead? You may be alive, but I see not life now. What are all to me now? Did he not die two deaths? Was he not brave, my beautiful bird? You take their young from the tui,1 and keep them to teach them your words, and they repeat what you have taught them. But did you ever see them die? You put a poria2 on their legs to keep them from taking a flight of freedom. Did you ever think that the ring round the bird's leg can only keep its body? You call the bird your property. But death is the god of life; he takes the life away, and then what is the worth of your bird? The body is only good when it has life. The bird you prized so much while alive, when dead you throw away from you in disgust. Sleep, O my son! there is no father

1 Prosthemadera Nova Zealandia, or Parson bird, Buller's ‘N. Z. Birds,’ p. 87.

2 A bone ring put on a bird's leg to prevent its escape.

page 200 to protect thee now! They will call thee the son of the dead; for who will give thee a name? We are the property of a man. Sleep, son of my soul—my only life! O that I could open my heart, and let thee live there for ever! Then we should be one, and I could keep thee from the tumults of those who will call thee slave. O Pohe, you said we were to sing a song of farewell; yes, and we will sing a song of love; but you cannot sing with truth on your lips. You and your wife and children were saved from death. You do not know the pain of death. Had you been killed, would not your death have been felt by her, the love of your boyhood? Yes, I say, that she who loves as I loved from the time when I was a little girl, can alone feel the great pain of death—and feel it even more than he did who was killed a second time. Love alone can make a song tell the full power of a dead heart. I will sing the song, and you can listen. Let all of you listen, and say he was worthy of the love I feel for him, and that I ought to sing my own words to the world for him. I am a slave in body, but my spirit is not a slave that it cannot make a song to keep his name sweet to the world.” She stood erect, and, with a quivering voice, yet full and clear, that echoed among the mountains, she sang—

“Spirits are flitting across my sight,
Days of weeping are now past and gone,
Come not near me.
From you I am severed for ever,
My mind shall be drowned!
My memory shall die!
page 201 Lest thoughts arise and urge to useless action.
O, who shall say I can forget?
Madness sits beneath the whole.”

Her tears fell on the nursling's face and partially awoke him, and she said, “O my child! do not stop me in my song for thy father; it is all I have to give him.” Hushing the sleeper for a moment, and wiping the tears from her face with her hair, she continued again:—

“O, mothers!
Nurslings of love must all die now.
Cherish not affectionate acts of yore,
Now clustering round expiring thoughts;
Perhaps some of these are now passing through the minds of those listening here.
O, me! sorrow, regret, and grief expire!
Despair is dead!”

With one bound she left the canoe. With a wild scream she plunged into the stream; the sudden chill of the water awoke the infant on her breast, whose voice, though weak, gave one note of horror mingled with the mother's scream. There was a ripple, then a few air bubbles, and all was silent again. The act had been so sudden and unexpected to her companions, that none had attempted to stop her. When the surprise was over, three of the female prisoners plunged into the water to rescue her.

Paré jumped up in a rage, saying, “Why did you let my slave escape? Am I not your master? Live, and let me keep you as mine.”

The three women came to the surface and again dived down.

page 202

Pohe said, “Who is that who has gone before us? If she wished to go the road is clear. Why do we wait for her? She will not come back.”

The three women again came to the surface, and Paré ordered them into the canoe. They obeyed, and the fleet moved on in silence. After a short time Paré stood and sang a song to which the paddlers kept time:

“You saved him, yes saved,
And why was he not
Cut to pieces? all cut
With the sharp cutting tooth of the shark—
The short-handled weapon of war.”

The paddlers kept time to this rowing song until the fleet arrived at the Totara, where a few old men lived on the bank of the river.

Tonui called to them, and said, “Come down here, O fathers! to the waters’ edge, and see the wild dog I have captured.”

In answer the old people gave a loud laugh, and one of them said: “Why should we look upon that which is for you only? Did you say they were fat or lean? We do not ask you for any of your food; keep it and let it rot; children do not know the value of a gift.”

Tonui answered, “The ears and eyes often eat for the stomach; we feed them and our hunger is satisfied.”

“But,” said the same old chief, “I never heard of anything which lived on wind save that big bird, the moa, which lives on the wind and sleeps standing on one leg. I did not know that you who went to fight were all moas. Go to your place, O young men! and page 203 when you are as old as I am, you can tell those who are younger than yourselves that you have known what hunger means.”

“Stay here,” answered Tonui; and the fleet moved on.

The prisoners paddled with the rest, save Kaito, who sat in sullen silence. When the fleet reached the mouth of the Mangamuka, and were coming out into the main river, Nga called a halt, and said: “We will not land at the island pah of Motiti, but you can have the canoe war-dance before Kawe, who will see that his tribe are still men of power. We must now go in a body; let the heads of the canoes be abreast of each other; let no canoe go ahead of the others, but all keep together and go abreast. You, O Tupu! will lead the dance.”

The line was formed, and the fleet came down towards the pah in perfect silence, the paddles not even making a splash; and although no song was sung, yet the paddles kept perfect time.

The inhabitants of the pah, who had been anxiously looking for the returning warriors, saw them. Immediately on coming in sight, the inhabitants of the pah formed themselves into a body, keeping out of view. It being low water there was sufficient room for a war-dance on the beach, outside of the palisading. When the fleet arrived opposite the pah, the inhabitants, with a yell, suddenly sprang from their hiding-place and rushed on to the beach, and, led by an old woman, they danced a war-dance to the warriors; the young page 204 women who were in front making hideous grimaces, putting out their tongues and rolling their eyes.

Tupu, still sitting, as were all the warriors in the canoes, slapped the blade of his paddle once with the palm of his hand, at the same time making a hissing noise through his shut teeth as he dipped it again in the water. All the paddlers did the same, and repeated this for some time, finishing by a prolonged hiss and a groan.

Tare, the old chief of the Island pah, now rose and said: “You know we old men amuse ourselves during our last summers by teaching the tui1 to talk. I have a tame one, and I have taught it to sing our songs, which are many. These birds have been taught by our fathers for generations. You also know that those songs are on many different subjects; some are of love, some are of war, some of murder, some about strangers coming, some of evil, some of good, some for brave men, some for cowards, some for the great, and some for the silly. My bird, like others, can see into the future. I will tell you what he said this morning; I did not at first notice it, for I had only taught it to him to laugh at, not to make him the utterer of omens. He sang it over many times, hence it must be true:—

“‘The crying of the child,
The shame of the aged;
The contention and brawling become hateful;
But wild vengeance will be the result.'

“I do not ask where Rou is. I do not see him, but

1 Parson bird.

page 205 I see Kaito is alive with you. My bird sang the truth. When you passed my pah on your way to the war I told you what I desired, but you did not remember. I told you that the wren often feeds the young of those birds which come here in summer, which have no home in this land, but take the place and food of the birds of the land. I see you have kept that bird alive. You have your own thoughts, and I have mine. Rou can act. Go, O people! and when I want you I will send for you; but do not come to my help until I send for you.”

The old chief turned and entered his hut, no one answering him. After some little time Tupu said, “Pull for the Mata.”

The fleet had come down the river with the ebb, but now the flood took them in the direction they wished to go, and they soon reached the Mata, where they landed. They were met by the inhabitants; and the women who were in the front danced a war-dance, which the warriors did not acknowledge or return, but walked past them in silence. Soon after the canoe bearing their corpses also arrived, but the bodies were not removed.

Food was prepared, and the warriors had partaken of it; the moon had risen and was shining clearly.

Tupu now rose and said: “Listen, O chiefs and people! I will not sleep here to-night; I and my dead will return to my own place. We did not come of our own accord, but were sent for; keep the prisoners here with you, and I will go home alone with my dead. I do not know what to say to you. If Tare and his son page 206 do any evil act to you, I shall hear of all they do. You know he intends to take revenge, because we have not filled his heart with satisfaction by what we all have done. Let him do what he likes, and perhaps the song of his bird will be made true on himself and his son, and we shall be the old men to weep when he cries. We start, O people!”

Immediately the Mahu1 to a man started to their feet, and in a very short time the canoes were out in the stream, and were soon joined by the one carrying the dead. No song was sung by which the paddles were to keep time in rowing.

They returned down the stream, and entered the Waima river, a tributary of the Hokianga. The tide had begun to ebb, and they pulled against it to reach a small pah on the north bank of the river, called Takapuna, where they all landed; the eight men in charge of the dead, who had not left their canoe since they started from Te Roto, were now allowed to land because it was their own country.

On the west side of the old pah there was a grove of karaka-trees, the foliage of which was so thick and impenetrable that no ray of sunshine ever found its way through; the trunks of the trees were quite clear of branches for about three times the height of a man; the ground was covered by a thick layer of dried leaves, on which the warriors slept soundly close to the fires, which threw a flickering glow, now high now low upon the sleepers.

1 The name of a sub-tribe.