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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter XVII. An Insulted Wife Driven to Suicide, and The Slave's Revenge on the Husband

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Chapter XVII. An Insulted Wife Driven to Suicide, and The Slave's Revenge on the Husband.

The people, and even the children, had sat in perfect silence up to this time, listening to the various speakers; but now the matter having been decided all were in an uproar—laughing, talking, running to and fro, and the children calling to each other to come and join in some game.

During the noise and bustle Moe went to Kaikai and sat down near to him, and said, “I have been with my mother during the whole time the inquiry about Koko's arm was going on, and she has been crying so long that her eyes are nearly as big as my fist.”

“O!” said Kai, “when your aunt is taken to the tuakai1 she will cease to cry.”

“No, she will not,” answered Moe. “She does not now cry for that.”

“What does she cry for?” asked Kai.

Moe answered: “She told me not to tell any one;

1 An ancient burying-place.

page 259 but as you have fed me since I was a baby, I will tell you. You have not a loose tongue, have you, Kai?”

“No, I do not waste more sound out of my mouth than I can help,” said Kai. “I am a slave; and I find that some people have to pay mats and other things for sounds which come out from between their teeth. If I were to make any sounds I might lose my life, or I might kill any one who struck me, and have to run away; and I do not wish to leave you until you are a man.”

“True,” said the boy; “my father is such a little man that I could not go to war in his company, as he is not strong enough to help himself.”

“Ah! but you forget, Moe,” said Kai, “that the small grub eats down the great tree; this is a proverb, and you must remember it.”

“I will,” answered the boy. “My mother told me, while you and I were here eating of the food cooked for the people, my father took some for her, but as she would not go from where she sat weeping at the feet of my aunt, my father took a kumara, which he squeezed into pulp in his hand, and went to her, and daubed her face with it, saying, ‘If your love for the dead is so great, no wonder you do not obey the living, because you do not love them.’ Some girls who saw my father daub her face laughed at her. My mother's heart died at once with shame, and she says she cannot live now, she has been so insulted with cooked food in the presence of the dead, and also laughed at by girls. She sang a song several times page 260 over to me until I learnt it, for she said I was not to forget it.”

“What was the song?” asked Kai.

“Come with me to my mother, and I will sing it,” answered Moe; “and if I make any mistake she can correct me.”

His mother was not where he had left her. The outside of the mat she had worn, the waist-band of karetu1 grass, and the widow's cap (made of seaweed dyed black), which she had put on as mourning for her cousin, were the only things that could be seen on the spot she had so long occupied at her cousin's feet.

“She has gone to get some food,” said Moe. “She is very hungry; she has not eaten anything for a long time.”

“Yes, she has gone to eat at a long feast,” answered Kai. “She was a kind woman and a great chief. Your father was not so kind. When I was first taken as a slave your mother was kind to me; but your father, when he knew that I was a great chief with my people, made me cook a quantity of food, and put it into three small baskets, which he made me carry, one on each shoulder and one on my head. I had then to sit down while he ate out of the baskets; what he could not eat he smeared over my head and chest.2 If such a thing had been done to me by one of my own people I should have died; for the gods would have killed me for putting cooked food on my head and chest, because

1 Hierochloe redolens.

2 The greatest possible insult that can be offered to a native.

page 261 the god Rauru lives in the hair, and the chest belongs to Tu. Truly, your father was an evil man to me; and since that day I have seen in my eyes the head of a man having all his hair covered with cooked food. You stay here, and I will soon return. Do not stir from here, for fear that some one (if we are both away) should take her mat, head-dress, or girdle, and your mother return and find them gone. Do not tell any one that I am gone anywhere.”

Leaving Moe, Kai proceeded to the mouth of a branch of the river on which the settlement was situated. It being low water, he walked up in the bed of the creek until he saw the footprints of some person who had crossed; these he followed, and by the mud which the grass and underwood had brushed off, he tracked the person up to a clump of trees which stood alone at the foot of the level ground which extended from the bank of the branch river where he had left Moe. He followed these marks into the scrub, and on a tree about half as high again as himself he saw the body of his chief's wife hanging dead. He sat down and cried for some time, repeating a lament of his own tribe over the dead, which he sang in an undertone as he wept. Having ceased his mourning, he returned, going through the clump of trees in a direct line with the way by which he had come, which took him on to the main road from the interior to the settlement; this he followed, and found Moe where he had left him.

“Where have you been?” asked the boy.

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“I must go and find some food for your mother when she needs it,” answered Kai. “She needs something to help her in her own place. Remain here until I come back; I shall not be long away.”

He went and sought for Namu, and found him sitting by himself, looking at some young men who were wrestling. Kai sat down as near to him as the difference in their ranks permitted, as slaves have to cook food, and chiefs cannot be touched by them without becoming contaminated, and the gods would kill the chief for allowing such a contact; yet a slave woman may become a chief's wife without giving offence to the gods, because the children are the property of Tu, the god of war, and are the tribute to the other gods for transgressing the law of tapu.

Kai said to Namu, “I have seen, and you must see the same. If you go up the main road towards the interior until you come to the koroi-tree on your left, then go straight from it until you reach the clump of kaikomako1 trees; remain there until I come to you.”

Kai went a different way; as he walked he plaited a rope with some flax, which he tied round his waist. He arrived at the clump of trees first, and waited for Namu. When he arrived, Kai said, “Follow me,” and led the way to where his kind mistress was hanging. Namu did not look up as he walked until he was just below the body of his dead wife, when Kai stopped and said, “Look up, and see that fine bird. You are

1 Pennantia corymbosa.

page 263 not a big man, but you have killed the largest bird I ever saw up in a tree.”

At the same moment, as Namu stood looking up with glaring eyes, Kai seized him by the throat, and laid him on his back, saying, “Look up at her; see her whom you have killed. You shall hang there also.”

Kai, with his powerful grasp, kept hold of Namu's throat, who struggled in vain, until his limbs gave their last quiver. Kai then took the rope which was round his waist, and tied it round Namu's neck with a slip-knot, and hung him to a tree next to that on which his wife was hanging.

Kai returned to the settlement, muttering as he walked, “The child is mine now, and his coward father shall not again insult a chief with cooked food. The dog! My head was as sacred as his. But my revenge is fully satisfied.” As he drew near the creek he said, “I must collect some firewood now.”

He broke off the decayed branches of a tree which stood near the main road, tied them into a bundle, and slung it on his back by inserting his arms into two pieces of flax which encircled it, thus keeping the load of wood on his back hanging by the flax which passed over his shoulders.

Thus loaded, he emerged into the main road just as a number of people were passing on their way to the burial ceremony for the dead. The dead had been guarded in the wharau by two old women ever since they were brought to the settlement.