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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter X. Death of Te Kanohi

page 55

Chapter X. Death of Te Kanohi.

"The ghost of the lately dead was near,
And swam on tie gloomy clouds;
And far distant, in the dark silence,
The feeble voices of death were faintly heard."

The chief and his companions were no sooner returned to the fort than the sentinel gave notice of the approach of a canoe coming from Kapiti. Its crew brought the melancholy tidings that the old chieftain Te Kanohi was no more: they also were the bearers of a request from their young chief, that Raukawa and his father were expected by him to come to the island, to assist at the last rites of grief and respect for the dead.

Long and mournful were the dirges sung at Wairauki on the occasion; then without further delay two canoes were launched, in which Te Rangitukaroa, his son, Mary, and the chief men of the tribe, attended by page 56about fifty followers, embarked, and proceeded to the island, to assist at the solemnities and the lamentations for the dead.

Hinema attended on Mary, and Raukawa sat by her side, attentive, but not obtrusively so. He pointed out to her, as they passed, the rocks, headlands, and ranges that marked the boundaries of the tribes. He showed to her the site of an old pah where the fairy beings still linger during moonlight evenings, the beaches where the mottled taniwha may be seen basking in the sun. He directed her view to the grey peak where Hahaki had his home; and, as the canoe shot over the calm sea, Raukawa would call Mary's attention to the floral wonders that grew below the surface of the water. He next explained to her the meaning of the songs which the men sang as they paddled their vessels on their melancholy errand.

Mary could not yet reconcile herself to her situation: to escape from it was impossible, and she well knew that, if she expressed a discontent, it might be productive of much misery to herself. She therefore made the best attempt she could at professing a gaiety she could not inwardly entertain. Ena was assiduously attentive to her, always with her; their meals were taken together, they took pleasant rambles on the sea-shore and in the forest She taught Mary page 57to weave flax, to make head-dresses and feather mantles, never omitting to extol the good qualities of her brother; and when the opportunity offered, she sent Mary to the island under the care of Raukawa, in the hope that she would be induced to love the youthful chief.

When the canoes came near the landing-place of the island, Mary expressed her delight to Raukawa at the grandeur and magnificence of the island scenery. Sheer from the water's edge rose the grey sandstone cliffs to a height of three hundred feet, a bold, rugged barrier of stone, the home of the sea-fowl, the Æolian harp of the storm; resounding with the shrieking calls of the former all day long, and, like the latter, vibrating to their ocean-buried centres, during the night, with an awful harmony, as the Polar gales sweep over the wastes of the South Pacific.

As the canoes slowly passed up the narrow inlet that wound its way between tall and threatening crags to a shelving gravel beach, some thirty yards in length, Raukawa pointed out to Mary the great natural strength of the place, the difficulty of surprising the islanders, and the utter impossibility of conquering them, so long as they kept a careful watch.

On every ledge of rock appeared a lichen; from every crevice a shrub grew, and hung its green boughs page 58over the stone; spear-grass, toi-toi, and hardy shrubs, all blended and combined to make the entrance a wild and luxuriantly picturesque labyrinth of sylvan loveliness. Groups of human beings lined the steep ascent from the water's edge to the summit of the cliff. Not a word was spoken, nor a single murmur escaped as, in painful and gloomy silence, the entire party landed, and were conducted up the ascent until they reached the summit, whence the ground sloped gently upward for a short distance, and then fell away into an undulatory surface, presenting a picture of industry, competence, and quiet beauty. Plantations of Kumora and taro, stately tussocks of shining green flax, clumps of trees, stretches of scrub with tufts of bracken between, gave the island an appearance of fertility which was as real as it was pleasant and refreshing to the eye.

Te Kotura conducted his guests to a large whare, highly ornamented with well designed carvings, artistically painted in red, black, and white colours, exhibiting the peculiarities of native taste and design. Here, after they had tasted food, an old woman entered, and, embracing Mary after the usual custom, presented her with a necklace of small and handsome shells. She then led the party toward a rudely constructed shed, covered with raupo reeds and toi-toi page 59grass, where, in barbaric state, was the body of the late chief, awaiting the completion of the mourning and the last rites of sepulture. The corpse was in a sitting posture, the face painted with red ochre, the head ornamented with the rarest feathers; a rich mat wrapped round the body entirely covered it; the meri and spear, the insignia of deceased's rank, were placed in conspicuous positions by the dead; altogether there was present a peculiar and simple solemnity, reminding the beholder of the dignity of power and the frailty of its possessors. When Te Rangitukaroa and his followers were in full view of the solemn scene, the aged matron commenced a lament, which was taken up by those present, and persevered in until physical exhaustion put an end to the weird performance. Many of the women cut their faces, arms, and breasts with sharp shells; blood streamed from ghastly wounds, copious showers of tears flowed down the faces of the sorrowing group. It was a scene of bitter grief, mingled with almost unearthly terrors.

Hinema explained to Mary the lament sung by the people on the death of their chieftain. It was as follows:—

Thou art gone, Te Kanohi,
Gone from thy people:
From thy home on the rock.
Riven by the wind:—
page 60 Wrenched from us by death,
Death, greedy death, death:
Grim grief forbear,
Forsake us not now,
Hope of the warriors;
Herald of happiness;
Hast thou left us in night?
Oh! Te Kanohi! Te Kanohi!
Farewell! Farewell!

In deep sorrows and demonstrative lamentations were passed three days, and on the night of the third, the body was removed by the tohunga of the islanders, and placed in the mausoleum which had been prepared for its reception. This building was of wood, hewn with the axe and smoothed with the adze; both instruments generally made of greenstone. The tomb occupied a long time in its completion, and, when finished, it was no inelegant tribute to the manes of the departed chieftain.

It was composed of an inner apartment, over which a canopied erection was constructed. The inner building was of small dimensions, built over ground, five feet in height by seven in length, and five feet in breadth; over this was reared the superstructure on four posts, each deeply and elaborately carved in scroll pattern and zigzag border work, interspersed with the favourite contorted representations of the human countenance; an entablature, with spirited page 61carvings, was carried round the four sides of the tomb, and this was further decorated with the rarest and most valuable feathers: the whole neatly and permanently fenced in, and regarded with a just pride and a wholesome veneration by the hapu who erected it.