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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XX. The Ta ua on the War-Path

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Chapter XX. The Tan ua on the War-Path.

"They rushed to meet the foe.
Their thoughts are on the deeds of other years;
And the fame that rises from death."

Te Koturu, on hearing how matters were with his friend Raukawa, immediately prepared to hasten to his presence, and the abduction of Ena and her companions gave wings to his preparations; for to recover her from the enemy was his chief incentive to promptitude. His union with her had hitherto been delayed from time to time by the uncertainty that attended on her father's affairs. The old man was much attached to his daughter, and would not consent to her leaving him so long as he lived; but now that that obstacle was removed, Te Koturu found another intervene—one of far greater magnitude—a complete and torturing separation from the woman he so truly and tenderly loved.

page 133

A fleet consisting of five war-canoes, each carrying fifty men, left their island home under the young chief, which was the utmost extent of his available force; and their departure left the island weakly defended, as the old men, the women and children, only remained behind. As the little fleet paddled out of harbour, the loud and prolonged wailings of the women, alternating with the songs and chants of the crews, rose in a strangely solemn and ghost-like dirge on the gentle wind that scarce filled the latteen sails: bravery, contempt of death, revenge, and patriotism, each and all found a word of solace in this tender parting of so many brave and bleeding hearts. The words of the young warrior-chief to his companions, when they were arranged in their respective vessels, were, "We go to revenge the death of our brothers; we go to drive the Ngatiraukawa into the sea; we fight for blood. Revenge! revenge!" This pithy harangue was received by the warriors with an expressive guttural, "Ha!" At the same instant, the men plunged their paddles in the water: the movement was intensely martial, and indicative of stern approbation.

The arrival of the Kapiti men was a great relief to the distressed Raukawa. The new-comers were soon in possession of the particulars of the dilemma, page 134and Hahaki advised that no time should be spent in unavailing regrets—to organize an expedition against the enemy whilst a hope remained of rescuing the prisoners, was the counsel of the seer; and it was listened to with attention, and acted upon with cheerful alacrity.

To find shelter and food for the followers of Te Koturu was an easy task: the ditch of the earthworks served them for a sleeping-place, and the sea-beaches supplied them with shell-fish in variety and abundance. To collect and to cook the latter, women and children were employed; and the far from unsavoury bivalves and univalves provided their frugal commissariat with an unfailing supply.

The evening of the day in which the islanders arrived was spent in making careful preparations of everything needed for the morrow's expedition: splints and bandages were got ready and given to those women who were to accompany the tana to the scene of strife: the warriors, from the highest to the lowest rank, carefully painted their faces according to the most approved ideal of ferocity. Black, red, and white were the colours used: these were combined with a certain tact that showed the artistic attainments of the workmen in disfiguring the human face, and in causing it to assume a diabolical ex-page 135pression. The women had to carry baskets of prepared food, together with litters in which to remove the wounded.

When day dawned the pah was all astir; and after the preliminaries of the morning were gone through, the tana (army) left Wairauki. Hahaki accompanied the chieftains, and to Mahora, wife of the tohunga, was entrusted the keeping of the fort in the absence of Raukawa. Now, Mahora was feared and respected as a sorceress by all who knew her, and her conduct on all occasions was such as tended to nurture such an impression. The expedition was under the joint command of the chiefs Raukawa and Te Koturu; but the quota of the former to the tana outnumbered that of the latter by one hundred men, to which must be added the baggage train, conveying the women as before mentioned.

In perfect silence the little army wound its way down the steep hill-side, along the beaches, through swamp and sand-dune, over low rolling hills, through thickets of flax bushes, toi-toi, and cyperus grasses. Noon arrived ere they came in sight of the enemy's pah; but their march had not been unnoticed. From a small hill that overlooked the coast-line for many miles, a party of the enemy who were stationed thereon, as an outpost, had descried the advance of the page 136Mauopokos, and, surmising their destination, had hurried in with the report of their approach.

Had the Mauopoko firmly disputed the ground, inch by inch, with the depredatory hordes of the enemy, they might have succeeded in repelling their attacks, and have ultimately beaten them off their territories; but, owing to a fatal effeminacy in their leaders, they quietly succumbed to their destinies and retreated along the Western shores of the North Island, from Tarauaki down to the waters of Whau-ganui-atera, with slowly decreasing numbers and lessening courage, evacuating position after position, and allowing them to fall into the hands and to remain in the undisputed occupation of those enemies who were subsequently followed by the famous Te Rauparaha, of the same hapu. This warrior far surpassed his lawless predecessors in their acts of cruelty and spoliation, owing, no doubt, to the fact that he was armed with the deadly European arm of warfare, the musket; whereas Waiki and his contemporaries were only acquainted with the comparatively ineffectual implements of wood, bone, or jade.

On the present occasion they outnumbered their oppressors, although the latter had just received a considerable reinforcement from Waikato. These were bold adventurers, ruthless and cruel; whilst page 137their victims were an ancient branch of the early Aotea colonists from Hawaiiki, proud and indolent.

Strict injunctions were laid upon the two young commanders by the old tohunga, to observe all the religious rites attending on success. Their intention was to attack the swamp pah the same afternoon, and to rescue the captives, if possible. As they advanced toward the place, the strength of the outworks, and the impassable nature of the swamp that encircled the position, struck Raukawa and his peers with disquieting awe. They slowly and unwittingly admitted that to carry the pah by assault would require a daring of execution, and a courage of the highest kind, supplemented by intrepid coolness and perfect discipline: a slight error might prove fatal, a single order disobeyed might sacrifice all.

As soon as they arrived within speaking distance, which was almost as near as they could approach, by reason of the swampy ground, the tana commenced the war-dance; the morass trembled beneath their feet, the quiet of that calm summer evening was disturbed by the loud cries of the infuriate performers. The women added to the martial din by singing the war-chants of the tribe; and the hostile array was singularly imposing. The warriors were arranged in compact masses under their leaders, and moved page 138with faultless precision and terrible agility through the mazes of that barbarous prelude to blood and death. The inmates of the pah crowded to their outworks, not attempting to hide their numbers from view, but coolly looking on without utterance of a word. In fact, relying upon the isolation of their pah, and upon their own bravery, they held in light estimation the exhibition of strength and parade of revenge so lavishly spread out before them in the dusky ranks of the brawling enemy. When the war-dance was over, a herald bearing a green branch of a tree approached the pah, and asked, in the name of the Mauopoko, for the immediate surrender of the prisoners: he received the laconic answer, "Come and take them." This having been duly delivered by the herald to his masters, a council was held, when Hahaki advised that nothing further should be done that evening, but that an attack should be made at dawn of the morrow.