Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter I. Introductory

page 1

Chapter I. Introductory.

"A tale of the times of old."—Ossian.

The axe of the bushman has swept the hills bare, the forest has disappeared, and where once the Maori roamed under the tenebrous branches of his ancestral trees the Pakeha now guides the plough: the aboriginal is giving place to the stranger; the colonizing and aggressively civilizing energies of the latter have quite supplanted the retrogressive customs of the former. Such may be the reflection of some who, like myself, may find themselves led by business or pleasure to explore the fine tracts of country that occasionally border the west coast of the North Island.

page 2

A few dilapidated enclosures crowning the summit of a hill, a few midden-heaps on the sea-shore, are among the scant memorials by which we discover that, somewhere near, the Maori once had a "local habitation and a name": those small enclosures mark the place where the native laid his dead in times when the presence of the stranger brought comparative security to his humble home, or later in accordance with a more civilized form of burial, imitated from his new preceptors; the high westerly winds and the cattle of the colonist have broken down the rude woodwork of the tombs, and in a few years hence no relics will remain to preserve the sacredness of the place: the humble earth-cairns will be smoothed for ever. So it is with the war-pahs of the Maori; what the hand of Time would have spared for years, the ruthlessness of enemies of their own race has destroyed: in our museums alone may now be seen a few memorials of an unusually interesting people. Ere oblivion slowly consigns to the past the poetic phases of the ancient Maori in his sorrow and in his joy, and ere the dim reminiscences of them are quite effaced by his unromantic descendant of to-day, I have attempted to depict, with such skill as I am master of, the defeat and exile of a portion of a once powerful tribe by the aggression of a more warlike people than themselves.

page 3

At a point on the western shores of the Bay of Porirua the yellow sands have been carried by the winds over many remains of the Maori; the traveller at the head of the bay passes Ration-point, occupied by the British army during a late war; he next passes a place called Motukaraka (or, the isolated Karaka-grove), though the trees are no longer to be seen, and here, on a slight eminence overlooking the bay, the trench of a small military fort is still discernible; passing on under the shadow of a range of hills on the right hand, the classic ground of the ancient Maori is before the traveller.

Paramatta Point (the yellow point of the hydro-grapher), which is at the inner entrance to the bay from Cook's Strait, is next passed; and here stands the ruin of a stone building used as a military barrack in the war before mentioned. The tourist observes with increasing attention, not quite free from painful associations, that here was once an extensive graveyard: the memorabilia of mortality are strewn in profusion on the barren stretches of the sand-drifts; the surgeon's saw has been busy on many of the crownless skulls, and the ends or sides of the rough wooden coffins that protrude from the ground bear melancholy witness that the faithless sand-dunes have betrayed their trust If the song of a passing page 4native is heard, as he paddles his canoe whilst proceeding to or returning from his fishing grounds, the dirge-like wail has a strange and mournful effect on the mind, especially if one chances at the time to be among the unsepulchred bones that are left to whiten in the blast.

Leaving Paramatta behind, the tourist by a well-worn pathway passes upwards on the ridge of a series of richly-turfed hills, having on his left Cook's Strait, and on his right Taupo Swamp, the scene of stirring incidents during the rule of one of the country's ablest English governors. After passing this place the country spreads out before the traveller in the form of an amphitheatre of vast dimensions; a tract of land of great value to the colonist for pastoral and agricultural purposes: mile after mile is passed under the over-arching branches of the forest trees, or along open glades of unrivalled beauty, where small streams of pure water cross every low-lying path. The trees in most places are young, evidently showing that formerly this entire locality was cultivated by its native owners; and the crops now grown here are celebrated for their yield and quality.

Ascending a gradually sloping champaign, the pedestrian finds himself after an hour's walk at the base of an abruptly terminal ridge, known as page 5Wairauki; crossing a deep gully of easy passage, the ridge is ascended and the crest is gained, whereon a few years since stood the ruin of an extensive war-pah; the principal timbers had been burnt down or removed, only the posts of black tree-fern remained which had formed part of the principal wharis in the enclosure: the double lines of palisades with their ditches were not discernible, yet sufficient existed to prove to the inquirer that the position was one well chosen for a look-out, being of great strength and extremely difficult either to invest or surprise.

The cattle of the settler are now folded on the site of the ancient war-pah, and only a few hazy traditions linger among the farmers as to whom those lands originally belonged; a stone flax-beater or a flint adze-head is perchance picked up by the solitary shepherd; but the uses of the decaying posts that beacon the hills are almost unknown, and the terraced hill fronts are unnoticed, the practical pursuits of the colonist leaving him neither time nor inclination to indulge in romance.

Several dismantled canoes were lying on the beaches below the foot of the steep, rocky precipices; and, scattered under some remarkably fine gnaio trees (the only remains of the primeval forest), were a few elaborately-carved stern-posts of the most ancient page 6form of the war-canoe. The sea and the distant shores of the Middle Island were the same at the time of my visit as they were more than sixty years ago, when the actors in my story, in their final struggles for freedom, here lived and loved, suffered and passed away.