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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter II. News of the Murders at Otu Pah, and Council of Revenge

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Chapter II. News of the Murders at Otu Pah, and Council of Revenge.

What do young men know? I know that there will be a battle ere long; did you not see the star near the moon last night? And has it not been believed from time immemorial by those who must have known better than us of these times, and as the old proverb says, ‘A star to bite the moon is a prognostic of battle’? That there will be a fight or murder soon I am sure.” Thus said Kui, who was the speaker. “Hush! Was not that the war-cry I heard?”

The old woman—for old she was, and decrepit—held her breath, as her heart beat with fear, and her limbs quivered with agitation, when again was heard the death-tolling war-cry, “Whakariki! Whakariki!” The children and women of the pah gave a yell of fear, while the old and infirm crouched themselves into a sitting posture of despair. The young men and those who had been in battle sprang to their weapons of war, and formed in battle square.

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The chief Rou addressed them, and said: “Who the enemy may be I cannot tell; but this I do know: we are few in number, which I count a good omen. Last night I dreamt I was spearing pigeons, when a hawk came to take one off the tree; I threw a spear at him, and killed the thief. This speaks for us. Does not the proverb say, ‘A few as a war-party are sure to conquer’? Fear not! The stones of our ovens shall be slaked with the oil of their limbs, which are now so supple and step so firmly towards our pah. Be brave!” Thus saying, he put on a dogskin mat, tied a girdle round his waist, and stood in the centre of the pah, waiting the arrival of the man who had uttered the dreadful cry.

The women were crying to each other in low and plaintive songs composed by those who had, through war, been left widows; while the children sat crouching by their mothers, waiting with savage glee, mixed with an undefined fear, the solution of a dreaded something they had not seen; and the young men were actively employed in fastening the entrances to the pah. The cry came from a forest, and, echoing in the mountains, sounded with awful fulness on the ears of the listening inhabitants of the pah, sending through their hearts a thrill of fear, and a feeling as if death had already possession of them.

The pah was built on a plain of fern, and surrounded by mountains; a pebbly creek flowed by on the south side, on the margin of which it stood. The pah had been secured when one of a party of three, who had page 12 gone off in the middle of the day, arrived, and, standing on the other side of the brook, called to those in the pah to prepare for action. Then fording the creek, which took him up to the waist, with a fierce countenance, and out of breath, he stood in the middle of the pah near to Te Rou. Sticking the end of his spear in the ground, and bending forward, still holding it with both hands, he, in a voice quivering with rage and sorrow, yet low and mournful, chanted, while tears fell fast down his youthful cheeks:—

“Ask for the moon to rise,
For we have not risen yet.
Twice twelve moons have past
On their rage, and still
It fiercely burns on us.
Who should be our enemy,
Or who so strong to loose
The band that binds my
Spear in peace? High as
The rainbow's arch in heaven
Are the wrongs which they
Have done me. I will lead
You on; despair shall prompt
The act. They repeated twice
The deed, and twice the taunt
Repeat. Oh! that I could breathe
Out my rage, and wield
O'er them the power of this arm
As yet untaught in arts of war.”

Then straightening himself up, and pacing some twenty yards with his spear firmly clenched in his hand, he continued: “You all know that three of us left you this morning to amuse ourselves in the forest; and where think you the other two are? I stand alone page 13 —nor shall they ever sport with me again in the forest as we were wont to do. We went, and, after following the course of many a brook, and feasting on the eels we caught, we came at last to that rivulet which passes near the sacred hill on which our ancestors' bones now lie. We crossed its foot, and followed its windings, and found ourselves at last at Otu pah, where we were pressed to stay. The smoke of the hangi1 began to curl upward while I sat in the hut which shelters him who long has been our foe. We sat in stupid silence. Suddenly I heard a blow, as though a head were struck by a foe. I sprang to my feet. Thine only son, O Kui, lay silent as the earth on which he was stretched. I stood—I know not how—I stood over him, to guard the body from the foe. His kinsman, while struggling with a warrior of old, was soon even as thy son. I fled—say not in fear. I came to tell, and seek redress for thy children's death, which else had never been heard.”

He then went and rubbed noses with all the people in the pah, and by that time the wailing had become general, and sound of it was heard like a horrible din.

After the noise made by those who wept aloud had partially subsided, Kui rose on her feet, and throwing off all her garments but one, with the sudden impulse of rage she appeared young again. With a stone club in her hand she paced a short distance, and said, “Cursed be the dogs who have thus dealt with me! May their heads be used by children for balls; may

1 Native oven.

page 14 their flesh be used to catch eels with; may their bones be used as barbs for fishing hooks; may their intestines be twisted into knots by the gods; may they be cooked and eaten by slaves! Had the father of my boy been alive they would not have dared to do this; but since he slept all bravery has died. Slaves only live now. Well said the proverb, ‘Their bravery is in eating food, my child.’ We are all children, or before to-morrow's sun has risen they who now mock us would have gone down the Pohutukawa root at the Reinga. I will avenge them. Tuhua's glass1 can cut deep, and from my own veins give blood enough to look at, which will make you of this once brave tribe turn cowards. I knew the time when a word of insult given to our fathers would have deluged the earth with blood. Live on, you cowards! sons of fathers who if they were alive would disown you. Live!— when you are old enough you can be made to cook for those who trembled at your father's name!”

The old woman, having spent her strength in this sneering speech to her tribe, sat down quite exhausted. She commenced to cry in a low tone, hiding her head in a rough mat.

Then a chief, who had seen his enemy's spear-points in many a battle, rose, and stood looking for some time at the people. He then walked backward and forward, at every turn kicking the dust from under his feet, and in a frenzied passion asked, “Who does our mother call cowards? How dead your memory

1 Obsidian.

page 15 must be. Did you not see the heads of those who fell by our hands but a few moons ago? Did you not put those very heads on the four corner sticks to which you fastened the web of the mat you were making, and in which you now hide your head? Cry, and fill yourself with crying, and perhaps your tears will baptize us into brave men. What did the father of your boy do? You can tell us the men he slew, and call to the slaves now in our pah which he took in war. Can you teach us to be brave? Let the dead sleep, and all they have done, save the deeds of daring, which we can imitate.”

Te Rou now rose, and, very slowly pacing a few yards, said, “The sun has set, nor will the moon rise over the top of Tamioha. This is not the time for taunting. Watch well the pah, and at intervals cry the pass-word, to let prowlers know it were not well for them to venture near; for the sons of Puhi never sleep soundly save when blood for blood has slaked revenge. Ere midnight has passed we can each say his word; but let not reckless youth be bold of speecc in the war council.”

The chiefs now assembled in the carved house which stood on one side of the pah, near the grave of Te Ipu, the father of one of the murdered youths. The house was forty feet long by twenty-eight wide, and about ten feet high; a verandah shaded the front; the eave-boards were carved from end to end; in the centre was the face of a man fully tattooed, and the tongue, which protruded, was as large as the rest of the face. page 16 The posts of the verandah were also carved. The sides were made by tying the swamp-reed1 side by side, giving it the appearance of being fluted. The door was a broad piece of wood sliding in a groove at the top and bottom; this was marked with red-ochre and the juice of the poporo2 in scroll. In the end of the house there was a small piece of board, similarly made and marked as the door, which was opened to let the heat of the fire out, there being no chimney. The sides of the interior were lined with reeds; the ends of the rafters were carved, the middle being covered with scrolls in red-ochre. The floor was covered with dry grass, over which were mats made of the flax leaf, split into shreds and plaited, on which each chief sat cross-legged, and wrapped in his mat. In the centre of the house there was a square hole lined with four flat stones, in which burnt the bark of the rimu,3 giving a fire which made no smoke. The flooring mats were scented with a sweet-smelling grass, named karetu.4

After all were assembled, silence reigned for some time. Te Rou was the first speaker. He said, “We are but few, and our enemy is strong: what we do must be done promptly. To pass over such an unprovoked insult would be to end in the truth of the accusations of cowardice to-day heaped on us by one who never killed but a flea on a dog's back or the vermin

1 Arundo conspicua, called by the natives toetoe.

2 Solanum aviculare.

3 Dacrydium cupressinum, the “red pine” of the settlers.

4 Hierochloe redolens.

page 17 in a child's head. If we do not take revenge for this act of aggression they will become bolder, and it will be unsafe for us to move. Who will be one to go before the midnight toutouwai1 proclaims the break of day, and tell our distant friends what has befallen us?”

The young man who had escaped from Otu said, “Speak, fathers; if a child were to speak, he would say, that to let them kill without cause, and eat of us without our taking revenge, would but sharpen their appetite, and give them a contempt of our power; and we, before the birds have ceased to feed their young, shall feel the weight of their pride. I consent to pass the darkness of night in a canoe to tell the tale.”

Another spoke. He was an old grey-headed man, fully tattooed, who had seen war in all its aspects. “The proverb says, ‘Cross but my road, and I'll find you.’ I remember the time when I was not old. The fathers of those who have now taken revenge and ours met not far distant from here. There stood a tree, a noble tree, on yon mountain-side. It had been marked for many summers as fit for a canoe by the grandfather of him whom they have now slain. One day we went to spear pigeons, and took the road that led to the tree, and, while resting at its foot, there came ten men from Otu, and in our sight one of them cut off a lock of his hair and hung it on the tree. At the same time, turning round to the other nine, who were sitting down, he commenced to sing a sacred war-song, which

1 Miro longipes, Buller's ‘N. Z. Birds,’ p. 119.

page 18 had been taught to our priests by spirits in a dream. They put themselves in an attitude of defiance, and held their tongues out at us. There being but four of us, they thought, as we all do, that in doing this they would intimidate us. We sat still, each man on his bended knee, while they danced and sang:—

‘Urge on and strive, ye mighty in war;
Urge on, urge on.
Urge on, ye first in battle and strife;
Urge on, urge on.
The foremost in battle, in slaughter, in war,
May gain the steep bank of the gravelly creek.
Urge on, urge on,
That your fame may be heard in the land of your birth,
Then thus
Urge on, urge on.’

“They stood for a while in the same attitude that they were in when they ended the war-dance. One of our party (Kawe) went and took the hair off the tree, and was going to rample it under his feet, when Haupa (he who led off the war-dance) made a blow at Kawe, who warded it off with his arm, and pierced Haupa through the arm with his spear (a pigeon spear). In the meantime we three closed in with the other nine. I pierced the uncle of Haupa through the body with my spear. He fell, and in agony of rage and pain cursed us as food for dogs. I took his tao,1 and ero I could see who my next opponent was, I fell senseless to the ground with the weight of a deadly blow of a hani.2 I lay I know not

1 Long spear.

2 Ante, p. 7.

page 19 how long, but was aroused by the trampling of feet on me, when I heard a cry of ‘Yield; thy head shall not again be bedecked with the kotuku feathers;’1 and I heard as it were an old water calabash break, and my face was besprinkled with drops of something warm. I still kept quiet, only opening my eyes now and then, for everything around me looked misty, and the trees were shaking. I arose, and, staggering some distance, felt as though the root of a tree opened and inclosed part of my foot. The pain awoke me to something of life, when, looking down, I saw one of the ten, pierced by many spears, who, in the agonies of death had seized my foot between his teeth. ‘Thou dog!’ I said, and, lifting up my fist, I struck him a blow on the temple, knowing that part of the skull to be thin; it gave way; the strength of the blow forced my fist into his skull and cut my hand. Hence I lost the use of this limb. I took the spear I had gained when first I fell, and, looking round, I saw six of those who had been so brave but a short time before laid low as the worm. I smote them on the head with a branch of a tree which I broke for the purpose, and then besmeared the calves of my legs with their brains. Going farther on, I saw by the breakage of the young trees and shrubs which way those who fled had gone. I saw Kawe sitting against a stone. His arm was broken; I bound it up, and while doing so the other two came back with the head of Haupa's uncle, which they had cut off with a piece of flint. We took Kawe to the

1 Feathers of the gannet.

page 20 pah, and afterwards returned for the bodies of the cowardly boasters. You remember we cooked and ate them, and made their bones into fishing hooks; the children played with their heads, sticking them on sticks, and making speeches to them, then holding a hahunga1 over them, as children will do. All this delighted us, for we thought how brave our children would be. The two men just murdered were among those children, and thy son Kui, while leading off the dance for the dead, fell prostrate before those heads. The omen then given has been fulfilled. He fell before them to rise no more. Revenge! If such cowards had had the spirits of chiefs they would have taken the payment then; but cowards are ever cowards. Ere to-morrow's sun sets I will be one to go and tell the tale of these slaves.” Starting on his feet he said, “Enough! We go; keep a good watch, and when the tide flows on the second day the forest birds in this valley will cease their chattering to hear the voice of man.” Another chief said, “What are they that we should fear them? Are they many, that we should dread to take revenge? Why ask our fathers to come? Are we still children, that we cannot redress our own wroags? Better to die in one daring attempt than to live cowards. Are we to be killed by those

1 The ceremony on the occasion of removal of bones. Amongst the Maories the dead bodies of persons of rank were not buried, but either hung in trees (as afterwards described) or placed in a sort of rude box till the flesh had decayed. Then the bones were taken out and scraped, and carried to the sacred burial-place of the tribe, generally caves, where they were finally deposited.

page 21 whom children would not fear? We are not the sons of men who spoke in battle front, if we seek the aid of our distant fathers. I have known young men, and even women, who, if thus treated, would see them face to face by the light of to-morrow's sun. We waste our talk in worse than childish folly; dare them; I boast not of what I will do. Are you men? Do you want more to rouse you? A man's spirit is always in his arm; the oppressed alone can drink deepest of fierce revenge; and the thirst of the soul which has been wronged will urge its possessor on to deeds of daring to heal his wounded heart. The burdened only feel oppressed. The father's heart bleeds when his child is taken. Ask not strangers to fight your battles; yours are the wrongs which will give the blow its power. Their arms have nought to rouse the muscles into force. I speak no more; let older men than I decide.”

Te Rou's wife spoke, and said, “I will speak, since men are worse than those who never had sense. Idiots are not allowed to teach, because they are fools. Idiots are not allowed to speak in a council of war, because they have no sense; yet you are worse than idiots. Strike an idiot; will he not strike again? Which of you has not been hurt by the act of the Otu men? Would idiots talk thus, think you? No, they would ask no aid, but strike and dare the worst, and die like men. Were I young once more, I would rather be the wife of a fool than live in the love of a coward chief. I cannot love a slave;—a coward is a slave. Ye are brave, but your tongues kill all. page 22 You take prisoners, but your eyes are your only weapons. Live on, you dastards, and women may believe ye are men. Men will hate you. If you are wronged, you must take full revenge. My brother spoke right. Strike yourselves, and kill or die like men. A woman's heart can be kept but by him who seeks and has full revenge for every wrong. I cease to speak. I could not live one moon more with cowards in the shape of men.”

Heta, a young chief, stood up, and said, “If women could do in battle as much as they can with their tongues, men would cook and do their work. If women were what they should be, their love would make men brave. What do you know of war? The baptism in which you were baptized did not make you or give you any authority to use the club of war, or even give you the right to speak in a war council. Who ever heard of women being baptized in the name of the great god Tu? If slaves tread on the sacred ground in which our chiefs are buried they intrude, and are killed; but you women intrude on ground where men only are permitted to travel. Had I a wife I would tell her this old proverb, ‘Land and women are the cause of all war.’ I say no more, for I am but a child; old men know what I mean if women do not.”

Te Rou then rose with a loud cough, and said, “I will ask you quick-talking women one question. Where does the snipe bring forth its young? If you answer me this, then knowledge and you have page 23 met, and you shall dictate how we shall get revenge.”

Silence reigned in the assembly as far as the men were concerned; but the women began whispering amongst themselves. One rose, and said, “We will give you an answer after we consult together.” All left the house and proceeded into the middle of the pah, calling their own sex together. Te Rou's wife informed the assembled women that there was one question they must answer, or never again speak in a council of war. The question is, “Where does the snipe bring forth its young? To ask such a question of women is very wrong; how are we to know where these things are brought forth? the gods do not tell us. If we say we do not know, we own our ignorance; if we say we do, they will not believe the lie, but ask us where.”

At this moment Aramata (a young woman betrothed to Heta; the young chief who answered Te Rou's wife in the assembly), answered “Tell them that they bring forth their young in the sacred mountains, where our fathers are laid. They will not disbelieve this, because they are afraid to go and see.” The women, having agreed to this, returned to the council-house.

Te Rou's wife, being the spokeswoman, said, “The gods only may tell the truth. The sacred hills on which our fathers are laid are the home of the snipe. We boast not of our knowledge. You say you were baptized in the name of the gods, and that we were page 24 baptized only in common words; then why have the gods given an answer to your shallow question? You boast that you are nearer to the gods than we are. Shall I refresh your childish memories of the truth that two women, braver than men ever were, once went into the world of spirits alive? You cannot now remember it, and as I know something of teaching children, I will teach you. Women first teach men while they are yet children. Then they grow into self-boasting young men, and at last ignorant tyrants. They are ignorant in their old age, because the learning they got in their youth from their mothers does not go much beyond the time they begin to think themselves superior to women. This is why ye are as stupid as the seagull. I will teach you, my children.

“There lived two women in the north, and, as all women are inquisitive, they wished to know what sort of a place Reinga really was, not altogether believing the tales invented by foolish men about the abode of spirits. They dried a few baskets of kumaras, knowing they had a long journey before them, and then went to the point on which grows the pohutukawa tree, down the roots of which the spirits descend. They descended, each with a kit of kaos1 on her back, and, after adjusting their hair and garments, they entered the mouth of the cave. Would men have been thus cautious, and known what to do? They journeyed until the light of this world no longer enlightened the cave: they had gone such a dis

1 The dried kumara or sweet potato.

page 25 tance! They continued on in the dark. Is this cowardice? We demand as a right to speak in a war council; for does not this show that women dare not only to speak of an enemy, but even tread where spirits walk? They went on in the dark, and at last saw, at a great distance, a small, bright speck, which, on approaching, they discovered to be a fire, by which sat three grey-headed, white-bearded skeleton spirits, warming themselves. The fire was made of three sticks only. You all know that the fire of a sick man is sacred; also that of a priest; how much more so the fire of spirits? One of the women said, ‘We must have some of the fire.’ The other answered, ‘You go, then, and get it’. They thus contended some time, and at last one of them went and took a firestick. The three old priests were so much astonished on seeing the woman intruding that they sat still for some time, no doubt afraid, as well they might be. Can you boast that our enemies will tremble on seeing you as did these spirits on seeing women? If spirits are intimidated by women, why should not boasting men yield to the power she wields over gods—for spirits are gods? The women, seeing these old fellows sit still, threw down their baskets of kaos, thus doing an act of kindness, giving the spirits some of the food they liked while in this world. Can men boast of kindness? We tend the sick, we give birth to men, and it is only girls who give birth to boasters such as you: they being so young themselves, their children have not strength to learn. The women then started page 26 for this world as fast as they could, the one with the fire being behind. The first had got back to this world, outside of the mouth of the cave; and just as the other, with the fire, was in the act of taking the last step out, one of the old spirits, who had recovered his presence of mind and followed, caught her by the heels. She knew if he got the firestick no one would be able to know what fire they had in the Reinga, so she with all her strength threw the firebrand away from her into the air as far as she could; her strength was so great that it went up and stuck in the clouds. Do you see the moon? Then thank a woman for the light it gives. That is the firebrand. Could man have outrun a spirit? Could man have thrown it to the sky? You say women are not baptized in the name of the gods. Yes, you have not seen gods, and women have, and have been in the abode of gods. Go seek in the place where our fathers sleep for the young snipe. Go learn of women sense and wisdom. Go speak your threats and boast to young women who may love you. They may obey, but those of us who know what we are will still dare to speak in a war council, and will add weapons to our argument to give it weight.” Thus ending, she sat down.

Te Rou said, “I know a stream in which there is a waterfall. It roars all winter and murmurs all summer, but no man yet ever made sense of the sound which comes from it. Such is woman's speech; she roars all her passion away, and then murmurs out a tale about women which all her children know, and men, page 27 as soon as they become men, wish to forget; but women's memories carry anything that speaks greatness for themselves. Why do you talk so foolishly? What! the gods allow birds to build their nests amongst the bones of the dead? Do you curse our fathers? Do the birds live on the sacred ground where our fathers lie, and yet we eat them? You are more than senseless thus to answer us. You know that to trespass on the sacred ground is death, and the spirits of his own relations will kill him for the deed. Has one foolish woman been on the sacred ground to see the snipe feed its young there? Let folly cease and women hold their tongues in the council of war this night. Three men go to tell our fathers the deed that has been done, nor let any one countermand the order.”