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Te Rou, or, The Maori at Home

Chapter III. Summoning Allies to Take Revenge

page 28

Chapter III. Summoning Allies to Take Revenge.

It was a cold, cloudless night in the ninth moon,1 when the great star of summer2 is first visible, the star Rehua2 was just seen like a small sun in the heavens; all the birds had ceased to speak, save the night-bird of Tane,3 and the night-watch, the toutouwai,4 who now and then spoke in the hollows of the forest. The titi5 (“bird of one meal,” as the proverb calls it) had not returned to its mountain home. The kiwi6 (the hidden bird of Tane, as the old proverb says) was heard to send an echo amongst the mountains with its shrill, “Hoera! hoera!” when a small canoe with three men in it could be seen stealing quietly down the creek, yet with an eagerness, displayed by its occupants in the paddling, that showed they had something in hand of no ordinary magnitude. The one occupying the stern was a man of

1 February.

2 Mars.

3 The Kiwi; Apteryx Mantelli.

4 Mirolongipes, the N.Z. wren.

5 Puffinus brevicaudus.

6 Apteryx Mantelli.

page 29 some years, being grey-headed. He had a scar from his ear to his cheek-bone, the only token of a once hard-fought battle. He was of a reserved character, enveloped in a rough mat called a kori, tied over his right shoulder, a green-stone hei1 in one ear, and a mako2 in the other. The one in the middle was Heta, the young man who answered Te Rou's wife. He was betrothed to Aramata, she who offered to answer Te Rou's question. In the head sat the young man who escaped from Kaito's pah at Otu. He sat silent, taking in the conversation carried on by the other two, who talked of the coming battle with a glee of revenge that awoke every savage feeling in their breasts.

Heta asked the old man, “Who is the god of war and where does he live?”

“He lives in the wind,” answered the old man; “his name is Tu, and he was the first murderer; he was jealous, and in a passion committed a murder; but before he did it, he tied a band of korari (flax) round his waist; that is the reason why old men always tie a girdle round themselves before going to battle.”

“What offering do old men make to him to obtain his assistance in battle?”

“Why,” answered the old man, “you must have been brought up in ignorance not to know that, or your memory is not good. We offer the matata3

1 A green-stone ornament, worn only by chiefs.

2 Shark's tooth,

3 Sphencecus punctatus, Buller's ‘N. Z. Birds,’ p. 128, the swamp sparrow.

page 30 while repeating a karakia.1 I will tell you all about it after we reach, the settlement, and many other things, for you appear never to have been in a sacred meeting, when the old men assemble in the night to teach the young chiefs the history of the land, of battles, of great fighting men, of the gods, and all the words of the sacred karakias.”

“My grandfather,” said Heta, “died before I was old enough to attend them.”

“Then you have never eaten the root of the toetoe stalk2 in any sacred assembly?” asked the old man.


“On a certain night fixed by the priests, we assemble in a house, into which cooked food has never been taken; for the gods would be offended were food to be taken into a house in which the sacred karakias (and the mythology) are taught, as the words of the karakia are sacred to the gods. We invite all the sons of chiefs to come in; they must all enter and sit naked, leaving their clothes at some distance from the house: every one must bring in his hand a toetoe stalk pulled up by the roots, so that when the old men have done teaching them they may chew the lower end of the stalk, which will make their memories remember what they have heard.”

Heta asked, “Will you teach me a karakia that will help me to gain a young woman's love?”

“Yes, I will teach you one to-night; but you must take care when and where you repeat anything I tell

1 Incantation.

2 Arundo conspicua.

page 31 you, for if you repeat them in a cook-house, or amongst slaves, the gods will gnaw your intestines out.”

Heta asked, “But have you not a karakia to cure the stomach-ache?”

“Yes,” answered Takuai (for that was the name the old priest went by), “we have several; I will tell you one now, which you can use, for you may have the stomach-ache with fear in the coming battle. War makes cowards tremble, and nips them nearly double. When a priest is required to cure a stomach-ache we know that it is an evil spirit gnawing the person's stomach; and to make him depart we point with our fingers to the seat of pain and say:

‘My stomach;
Thy stomach;
Sufficient stomach;
Gnawing stomach, sufficient.’

This makes the evil spirit depart. These are sacred words; do not use them in jest near a fire or any such place.”

They were suddenly startled (and ceased to paddle) by a low whistle a short distance from them. The sound came from.the bank of the river. They were only a little way off Te Roto, their own pah. The banks of the river, which had been low up to this point, now gradually closed in until they left but a narrow defile through which the river ran; the mountais on each side were covered with forest trees down to the water's edge, with here and there the branches of a young sapling dipping and lifting in the current, page 32 making a splash which broke the silence and gloom of the narrow glen into which the canoe was now fast drifting. Only a few stars were visible directly overhead, and occasionally a glow-worm, shining from the root of a decayed tree, sparkled, in passing which Heta said they were like the eye of some murdered person, who asked, by the flash which came from his invisible skull, for revenge on his unknown murderers. “Pull on,” said the young chief who sat in the head of the canoe. “Are you afraid?”

Again was the whistle heard shriller than before; Takuai put in his paddle, and was tying his mat round his waist, when Heta exclaimed, “I heard a man whisper; I see him there—there.” At the same moment some invisible agent swung the canoe side on to the current, when there was a yell, a splash, a bubble, a rippling on either bank of the creek, and all was still! About a mile farther down the river, on the west bank, in a sudden turn close to the water's edge stood Mangata, an old pah, the posts of which were carved in the shape of men, with protruding tongues as large as the whole head, giving the visitor, as he suddenly turned up this gorge, the idea of a forest of giants, congregated together to defend the pass with demoniac, fierce, and cannibal determination. To this pah, Pare (who sat in front), after their upset, determined to swim? and, with the help of the current, he soon reached it; he walked into the pah, and all were asleep save the watch, the echo of whose voices had kept his spirits up during his watery voyage page 33 down. The inhabitants were soon roused, and mustered in battle attire. A canoe having been launched, Kiro, the head chief, selected Pare and ten men to go with him, giving directions to the rest to be on the alert and watch for the enemy, Takuai, on his first emerging to the surface of the water, swam quietly to the south bank, and laid himself down to await the enemy. Having lain some time, he perceived a man coming silently down with the current. When opposite to him, this unknown person swam to the spot occupied by Takuai, who, taking him for the enemy, repeated the following karakia to the god of the rainbow, Nuku, to give certainty to his blow:—

“Tread on, Nuku!
Large Nuku!
Long Nuku!
Diving Nuku!
Mete out the star,
Mete out the moon;
Messenger! messenger!
Do thy kindness.”

The approaching man gained the bank, where he was met by a blow from Takuai's hani, which sent him back reeling into the river with a groan. The old man, not wishing to lose the pleasure of eating an enemy, sprang forward, and, before he sank, seized him by the hair, lifted him up to see if he was tattooed and a chief, but, to his amazement, recognised in him Heta.

In the meantime, Kiro and his party, having to paddle up the stream, were some time in reaching page 34 the spot where Pare and his friends had been upset, near which they saw Takuai lighting a fire and Heta lying apparently dead near to him. They landed, and, when the fire burned brightly, Takuai made them all strip naked and sit in a row before the fire, Heta being in front of them, and, standing over Heta with outstretched arms, he repeated the karakia to bring breath back:—

“Here is the trough, the trough;
The big water, the long water;
The agitated water
That Nuku would meet,
That Rangi would meet,
To ooze it out.
O! O! hold it fast, be common;
Shut the principle
Coming with the flood;
Shut the principle
Coming with the sinews.
Here is the girdle;
It will hold, it is fast;
The sacred girdle of Tane.
Tane give the girdle,
Bind it up fast that it hold.
Bark of the tree be given to thee;
Pull it, drag it.
Skin of the lizard be given to thee,
Pull it, hold it.
Hold the mat of Keha, hold!”

The old man then bending down breathed three times into the face of Heta, who sat up, the fire having by this time warmed him. They embarked as the day began to dawn, and soon arrived at Maungataipa, where one of the watchers had secured the canoe which had drifted down the stream. Pare informed the in page 35 habitants of all that had taken place at Te Roto, and then said: “When we reached the entrance of the pass last night, we heard a noise like a man whistling. Heta declared he saw the man; and both he and Takuai stopped paddling, the canoe turned broadside to the stream, touched something, and upset. I heard a kaka1, scream, Heta groan, and a great splash, and then neither saw nor heard anything more. I swam down the stream, and you know the rest.” Takuai declared that the spirits of the young men killed at Otu were taking revenge because the rites for the dead had not been performed over them. “You nearly sent my spirit to keep them company,” said Heta. “What made you strike me? Why I had nearly broken my skull against something in the water.”

Takuai arose, took the shark's tooth from his ear and threw it to Heta, saying, “There is payment for my mistake. I could have laughed at my mistake when I pulled you out of the water, thinking I had got my foe with so little trouble, and was going to cut your head off when you groaned and I recognised you. You were afraid, for you swam towards me so gently.”

“I have touched the mako,”2 said Heta, “and have thus received payment; take it back as my gift for having taught me what you have.”

Heta and Takuai, having partaken of some cooked fern-root, again started on their way, leaving Pare

1 Nestor meridionalis, a native parrot

2 Shark's tooth.

page 36 behind, and it was past noon before they reached the Tama, where the great body of the Te Roto people then lived. While yet at a distance Heta sang a few canoe songs which are only sung in war time. The inhabitants, who knew that something had taken place, assembled in one group on the point at which the canoe must land, and listened to Heta's song with breathless attention:—

“Now is the battle, the contest now;
Now are the brave ones daring, now.
The waves of the bay are rising in foam;
They rise but in vain.
Give me thine offspring to the root of the tree,
There to writhe in agony thy beautiful skin.”

Then with one voice they called out the war-cry, “Te whākariki! te whākariki!” The two landed on the point; no one spoke to them, nor did any one go to meet them; they walked towards the assembly, then, leaning on their paddles, which they had carried with them, wept aloud, while the crowd sat down covering their heads with their mats. Takuai was the first to give any hint of what had taken place in a song, which he half wailed, half chanted in a voice gruff with age, while the tears ran down his withered cheeks:—

“There is the star glimmering from above;
My thoughts are bewildered: I am alone,
Do you think, my sons, I am laid on the ground,
'Tis as the sleep of a bird. O woe is me!
Tu is still looking to the setting sun;
O, my beloved, I am lonely! O woe is me!
Where are thy brothers, thy younger brothers,
page 37 To fill up thy vacant seat?
O woe is me! O woe is me!
My heart has no memory, I have lost all,
He depended on the battle's force;
The wind of Otu passed o'er them,
The fire kindled on in their tracks:
Speak of their goodness while I weep here,
In the memory of them, O, my sons, wreak your revenge on me!
I am a man, drown me in sorrow,
That I may see the foe who sheds their blood;
O, my younger brother, woe is me!”

The whole tribe now joined in one loud wail, having guessed from Takuai's dirge that a murder had been committed. The old man continued, Heta and himself still leaning on their paddles: “All the people of Te Roto are no more; weep ye for them. The stones of Otu have sharp teeth, and the fire there burns fiercely. Revenge has sharper teeth than those of the shark. We alone are come to tell the tale. Two suns past, three of ours went to sport in the forest, and passed Otu; our foe asked them to stay and eat; young men like them remembered not our past feud; they were killed. Pare alone escaped; he lives, but his life as yet is not his own; he burns with revenge. Let the men of battle say when we are to return and give the answer which we are to take back. Let the priests dream and seek the omens of such times. To-night I will speak in the assembly.”

The old chiefs sat in gloomy silence, while the young men got their spears and danced before each other until they had infuriated themselves into warriors. Others, of fewer years, collected into groups, tattooed page 38 each other with charcoal, then, imitating their elders, spoke as though addressing an assembly on the eve of an attack, until their young hearts so glowed and danced with cannibal glee, in the hope of shedding blood, that these young momentary warriors made the settlement echo with their war-songs. The women were busy heating the hangis1 for the evening meal of fish, and while doing so discussed the probable result of the coming battle with as little feeling as though they were talking of catching a few fish. Said an old wrinkled woman to some young ones who were sitting quiet, looking at the children having their war-dance, while she bent down and looked into their faces,” I am glad we are so numerous, for our people are sure to gain the battle, and I shall get some flesh for my poor pup. It really has had nothing but fern-root and sow-thistle for some time.” Then, standing up erect, she added in a low voice, “Yes, and I must remember to dry some flesh, so that it will keep for some time. I and my dog can eat it dried well enough.”

The day was fast closing, not a breath of air rippled the surface of the river, and only thin wreaths of smoke ascended from the half-burnt embers thrown from the sides of the hangis, and now and then a burst of steam thrown off by the heated stones as the women sprinkled them with water. All was bustle amongst the women; some covered the hangi with retaos,2 while others

1 Native ovens.

2 Old baskets made of the phormium, or flax leaf.

page 39 heaped earth on them with their hands, and soon the hangis were poki.1 The cloud Kaiwaka2 was hiding the setting sun in its bosom behind the Kohu hills, when Tupu got up and said: “Welcome, my fathers, welcome; all your speeches shall be heard. Last night I dreamt, and the moon shone upon my dream, I saw a child sleeping in a canoe, while the mother sat by, combing the kutu3 out of her head. There came a west wind and blew the canoe away from the shore. I saw a god looking at her: she saw him not, nor saw me. There was no wave on the water; she started and plunged in, and swam to reach her child. She swam, but the came still drifted farther and farther away. There came an owl—a white owl—and sat on the figurehead of the canoe; it was a war-canoe; the eyes of the owl were brighter than the paua shell4 in the eyes of the figure-head; it moved and moved until it was near the child. The god I saw sang this song:—

‘Who is it?
Who is it?
The woman causing a dread with her wailing on the air?
What has bowed her down?
The west wind has borne it away.
Hearken, ye lands!
The spell of peace is broken;
By the broad chest of man it is driven away.

1 Covered up.

2 A long line of dark cloud which frequently appears a little above the horizon at sunset.

3 Louse.

4 Haliotis iris.

page 40 They are dragging the belly of the net on shore;
The fish;
Drag it on shore;
Fly to the seashore, to the water of two voices;
How pleasing the omens of battle in their confusion.’

Speak on, my father,” addressing Takuai, “speak on; I will not dare to interpret the language of darkness; tell us the meaning of my song; you converse with the gods and can tell us what they meant by teaching me this song.” The messengers now return with the tribes for which they were sent. As each canoe landed, the young men of Kopura and Matui met them at the water's edge, and, throwing a few fern-stalks at them, immediately turned and fled, those landing following in full chase; and any one of those who threw the stalks at them being caught by the others, was knocked down, trampled upon, and laughed at. When the newcomers got within the distance of a few yards from the settlement, they formed in a body, as if to attack the pah, and one man, a chief, with a war-club in his hand, paced to and fro in front of them; arranging them in line, he repeated a war-dance; the body of men then joined in the dance, all in time, and, while distorting their limbs and protruding their tongues, they repeated:—

“Sons of the mighty!
Sons of the strong!
Behold ye then here the trophy of strength;
In my hand I do hold
The crest of the dark-bosomed shag.
Oh! Oh! Oh!”

page 41

This done, they all sat down, the chiefs each in turn made a complimentary speech, reserving their real intentions to be told in the midnight consultation. After the new arrivals had erected temporary shelters, and dragged up their war-canoes on the shore, most of them retired into their sheds and huts; the young people sitting by the fires, telling tales of love and of deeds unknown save among cannibals. Some young gallant, newly tattooed, might be seen in the centre of a little mixed group of black-eyed maids and young men, who, with riveted attention, drunk in all the incidents of a with, savage courtship which were being told in an emphatic tone, accompanied by contortions of the body and face, so picturing the incidents related to the hearers that it seemed as if the reality was then acted before them. The narration was sometimes interrupted by a bold and pertinent remark from some one of the young listeners, which extorted for a moment a hearty laugh of delight from the group. The old men and the chiefs might be seen lying down, some reclining and others sitting with their chins on their knees in sullen and thoughtful silence, looking only in one direction. Again, at a short distance, might be seen by the glimmer of the fire, half in the light and half in the dark, a group of men and women listening to the tale of a battle in which the narrator was taken prisoner. He was an old slave, grey-headed and bowed down by years, and was relating, in a manner in which no particle of sorrow or regret could be discovered, the bold deeds of his masters, their cruel treatment to the chiefs of his page 42 tribe, and of his having been made to heat a hangi in which one of his own relations was to be cooked, concluding with, “Now is the time for revenge; my sun will soon set. I have not as yet taken satisfaction for my being a slave. I shall die happy if I can kill a few ere I depart.”

It was midnight; the young people were still as lively as ever, when a voice was heard calling for attention in the darkness: “Awake ye that sleep! Let your hearts have ears, and let your tongues have long memories; an old man does not speak more than once.”

It was Takuai addressing Tupu. He continued: “Hearken, my father, I will answer thy question.”

“Knowest thou not, my child, that the gods do not answer questions by day? And as is our custom, when we have to tell of future things, I slept, and then I beheld the meaning of the song taught thee in thy dream. I saw and beheld a fight. There was a woman, and by her sat her youthful lover; she was young, and was soon to be a mother; they were hid from the scene of battle by a mound of earth; a forest tree had fallen, and in its fall the roots threw up the mound behind which they sat. I beheld others there, but this young warrior now stood gazing on his wife, who sat as in grief. I heard the battle-cry of victory; the young man was gone. Again I beheld, and she who was in sorrow sat with others; I saw no mark of sorrow on her face; she joined in the joyous laugh while death was all around. Again I looked; there were young warriors in a group, and in their arms they bore a corpse. He page 43 was youngs and died from a spear wound, and behind the same mound they laid him. Again I looked, and beheld she was in an agony of grief; she wept not, nor did she speak. Again I looked: they carried her corpse; it was night, and they could not bury her. This is the meaning of the song thou didst hear the god sing. Mark well; thou mayest be the man. Pay thy duty to the gods on the eve of this war; nor leave one omen untold to me.” The old man then went into a hut set apart for himself, as priests are on such occasions tapu,1 and do not live near others.

Another chief now came out of a hut and spoke to the whole assembly. No voice but his could be heard in the stillness of the night. It being dark, every one sat near some of the fires, listening with breathless attention. Pacing to and fro in front of the hut, he said, “Speak on; there is no talk. Who knows the art of speaking? All men can talk, but all men are not great in thought. I am but a child; I know nothing yet: it is not the largest bird of the forest that sings the loudest note, nor is it the fattest louse that bites the hardest. Hearken, then, you wise people. If a child spoke, would he not say, ‘What do we wait for here?’ Ere to-morrow's sun shone, it should see us at Te Roto. Why keep in suspense those who are doomed to die? Speak, my fathers; let age tell you what to say. Children are quick in speech; it is for you to say if we speak the thought of men.”

Another young chief now said, “What is the tide

1 Sacred.

page 44 doing? Do fish sleep? Do they know? Have they the sense of a man? No, they do not sleep; yet we, who talk with gods, sleep when we have suffered wrong. Are you brave men? Does your courage require to be cooked before it can be brought into the sight of our enemies? Do you need to sleep, then, to warm bravery, so that it will loosen your muscles into action? Speak! and let us break the silence of the night by the splash of our paddles in the Mangamuka.”

A young chief, Hiona (a cousin of Tupu), who had lately taken a wife, then got up, and pacing in the front of the hut from which he had come, began in a low tone to chant this song:—

“Depart thou light,
Be thou my messenger,
Leave me here below a while
To sorrow o'er the many.
The needy one is here.
He will dispense to me,
I shall be on the track
And walk it; it is a track for all.
But I shall not then behold it.”

“I know not why I sung this song,” said he; “but I could not remember any other of all the songs I ought to know. Speak on, you who ought to have all knowledge. Cowards never want excuse. Were I old enough to command, the dew would be the only oil my hair should have this night; but young heads are warm, and thus it is our hair is black. Old heads show the truth, for they turn pale, thus confessing they have lost the heat of bravery.”

page 45

Takuai spoke in answer to this last speech, and said: “Thou art brave, my child; thy head is black with passion. Well was the proverb said of such as thee: ‘The bravery of young men is reckless ignorance.’ And do you not remember the other equally true proverb, ‘The rage of old men is like hidden fire; no one knows where it will burst forth?’ Talk, my child, but do not chatter. Thou art blinded by some ill omen. Thy song is thy own death-dirge. Thou hast wept over thine own death; the god of caution has left thee; thy head will never turn white with the coolness of old age; thy baptismal tree is dead. I weep for thee, my son.”

An old hoary-headed chief now drew the attention of the assembly. When perfect silence reigned, as he paced to and fro in front of his shed, he said: “Why should folly be given to old men to eat? Does daring live with children? Does caution sleep where young men play with laughing women? Does the trembling arm of youth know how to poise the spear aright? We sleep to-night; and on the morrow's twilight let the priests repeat their incantations over the army, and we start with the flood of morning. Childish taunts cannot move the aged to folly. Dream, you priests, and ask the gods how the battle's force will tend. Count out the spirits of the slain, and ask the charm of witchcraft to bedim the eyes of our enemies. Sleep now, and let the watch-cry be heard at intervals all the dark night long.”