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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXVIII. Acquaintanceships Renewed

page 189

Chapter XXVIII. Acquaintanceships Renewed.

"Shall it then be forgot where we meet in peace?
Do not we behold, with joy, the place where onr fathers feasted?"

Intense was the chagrin of Waiki when he learned from the returning sentinels that a party had escaped from the hill-fort; and but for the tempest that was then raging, he would have led his warriors against the fortress on the instant, so eager was he to destroy the dwellers in Wairauki: waiting until morning dawned, he consulted with his tohunga, who predicted a signal success, as the affair of the past night and the storm portended. "Doubtless," said the priest, "they have all perished, no vessel could live in such a sea: send immediately and discover if any canoes remain."

In a short time the messengers returned to the page 190impatient Waiki with the report that three large war-canoes still remained safe in their moorings. Summoning his principal leaders, he consulted with them as to the best mode of attacking the Mauopoko pah: some were for rushing on the supposed weak points of the outworks, others were for laying an ambush for the besieged. But as their suggestions were more or less quite impracticable, Waiki was fain to content himself with waiting until starvation would do the work arms could not accomplish. To double the sentries, to build small watch-whares at the base of the hill, wherein the guards could take shelter, and to visit these posts himself continually throughout the night, were the precautions taken by Waiki.

When Te Koturu and his wearied followers drew up their canoes on Titai beach, they at once proceeded to the pah, which stood on a slightly rising bank at a little distance from high-water mark: Te Koturu's approach was seen, and many armed men hurried out to meet him; but the purpose of the islanders was soon discovered, and they were cordially welcomed to the kindly hospitality of their new-found friends. The natives of this pah were a hapu of the Mauopoko tribe, and were also distant relatives of the islanders: both were accustomed in former days to visit each other, but had of late years discontinued all intercourse: page 191fain would they detain their guests for days; but, as the storm was abated considerably, Te Koturu would not consent to stay longer than the disturbed state of the sea compelled him to remain ashore.

Preparations were then made to spend the night in feasting and conviviality, over which Te Koturu related his late adventures to the chieftain, Te Kikiremu, and to his chief men, in the large runangawhare in which the guests and their entertainers were assembled. At the recital of the cruelties of the hostile Waiki and his allies, the Titai Bay people were in much terror and fear that the invaders might soon pay their neighbourhood a depredatory visit; but their own tohunga, who was present, bade them not be apprehensive of an evil so distant: moreover, when they considered the bravery of the Mauopoki, it was not possible that Waiki could pass scathless from end to end of the country. When the tale of the captives was told, the grief of the listeners was real and affecting: the feasting and the revelry were as usual, copious, solid, and primitive.

To add to the kindliness of the welcome given to the islanders, the old men told their best stories, tales that preserved the remembrances of deeds of valour and daring done in years gone by, both at Hawaiiki and since the arrival of their ancestors in these page 192islands, while the best and most accomplished of their singers sang their legendary songs. Among the women was one celebrated for possessing a large stock of these their only literary treasures: to the request that she would sing the story of Ruahine, the ancient dame assented, and before commencing her narrative she drew from a brown calabash a long draught of the beverage which the natives were in the habit of preparing from the tutu plant: thus refreshed, she sang as follows:—"When the sweet flesh of the Moa became scarce, the hunters were obliged to cross the narrow sea that separates these shores from those opposite, in order to procure the birds which report said abounded on the wide-spreading hill-plains that afforded a safe retreat to those stately fowls of the chase. Among the migratory hunters who then left their homes was one, a youth named Eawi: he had long been the favourite lover of the famous beauty Ruahine; and her he was obliged to leave behind: before parting from her, he vowed constancy, and promised soon to return. Many moons passed, but no tidings reached Ruahine of her hunter-lover: after a long time, a few of the Moa-hunters returned; they told the lonely maiden that Eawi was gone far up among the mountain plateaux after the birds: they also dilated upon his love of adventure, his kindly dis-page 193position, and, above all, his expertness in the exciting dangers of the chase. This scant intelligence served only to increase the anxiety of the girl: in vain her friends tried to dissuade her from thinking of the youth, hoping to induce her to take a husband from among the young men of the tribe; but their efforts were fruitless: she lingered in the belief that he would soon return. As time wore on she became silent and moody, and all her vivacity fled: her relatives watched her with increasing sorrow, fearing that she would terminate her existence with voluntary violence. But she had determined otherwise: she resolved to swim to the shores of the opposite land: every morning she measured the distance with aching eyes, and calculated her powers of endurance in the water; for she was an accomplished and powerful swimmer, much of her time being spent at this her favourite pastime; and so she trained herself for her perilous undertaking. Cherishing the fixed idea, she went on a visit to some of her people who lived on Kapiti, and was there in the habit of standing on the high cliffs of the island and looking across the waters that lay between: the prospect filled her with an unutterable longing to reach those much-loved shores, in the hope of meeting with the man whom she prized above everything life could give. Evening after evening, she ascended the cliffs page 194to cast a long, lingering, loving look on the silent shores of that land of her love and her hope. One morning her resolve was taken: from the rugged shores of the island, she carefully noted the direction in which the nearest cape lay; and, having provided her-self with a small raft made of reeds, she boldly swam out Into the open sea: league after league she swam safely. The sun ascended high in heaven, the wind was favourable; she rested from time to time upon her raft: a taniwha accompanied her, and for the last three leagues of her journey the kindly sea-god allowed her to rest upon his left fin whilst he carried her on through the waters; and as the sun was just sinking on the Western waters, she reached the long-wished-for shores. At a little distance from the sandy beach on which she landed, she sat down on a large stone: there resting, she heard the sound of human voices; and before she could hide among the adjacent rocks, she saw that she was discovered by a party of three men, who were hurrying along the beach: two bore on their shoulders huge burdens bound up in flax kits. The third man of the party was tall and well-formed, and held in his hand a few long sharp-pointed and barbed spears: he walked in advance of his companions with firm and vigorous stride: his feet were protected by flaxen sandals, his page 195mantle was of Moa skin of wondrous beauty and of rare value. He advanced to where the maiden sat, and in an instant recognized her: throwing down his weapons at her feet, he clasped her in his arms, and saluted her with the gentle and endearing embrace of long-parted lovers: her tale was soon told to his eager ear, and, the short twilight closing, the moon rose as the party entered a long and winding cavern in the base of a tall cliff overlooking the broad sea in front.

"Many moons passed, and the friends of Ruahine were left in doubt as to her fate, when, by chance, a Moa-hunter, who knew her and her story, returned to Kapiti and related to her people the tale of her love and its successful termination."

After the old woman had ended her lyrical narrative, the assemblage broke up for the night, each returning to his own hut, and leaving their guests to sleep in quiet and take the rest they so much needed.

The wind died away as the night advanced, the sea subsided, and when morning dawned, the surface of the ocean was calm as that of a mill-pond.

After their morning meal, Te Kikiremu accompanied his guests to the beach, where, again launching their canoes with the song and accompanying movements usual on such occasions, the islanders page 196were once more on their way homewards: the loss of one of their vessels and of the friends it contained was sorely felt and deeply deplored by Te Koturu and his faithful followers: after parting from their kind hosts, and when at a considerable distance from the shore, they gave expression to their pent-up feelings; every paddle lay idle on the gunwales, all heads drooped, tears rolled down the cheeks of the warriors, sobs heaved the bosoms, and groans rent the hearts of the afflicted islanders. No strangers witnessed the out-burst of their grief; the kindly beams of the sun cheered them in their bereavement, and the dire call for vengeance soon roused their spirits to the stern realities of their position. As they boldly struck their lithe paddles in the smooth yielding surface of the water, the canoes leaped forward like things of life endowed with the will and energy of their masters: headland after headland was passed, the hissing foam-bells glittered in their silvery wake; the songs of the forest birds harmoniously blended with the golden sunbeams, and bespread the scene with unrivalled beauty.

While the canoes were passing under Wairauki pah, from which they had inauspiciously set out so short a time before, the islanders saw that three canoes were being prepared to come out to meet them. Instantly, page 197and as if by divination, Te Koturu saw the real state of affairs: he guessed that Waiki designed to intercept him, and give him chase and battle. Te Koturu's preparations were soon made, his resolve sooner—to lie to and await the arrival of the enemy in order to rest his men; then he addressed a few words of encouragement to them, words which carried not only the authority of a chief, but also the wise words of the tohunga, as the young man, in common with most of his class, united both characters in himself. There was sufficient time in which to escape with due effort, if the islanders so wished; but the darling passion of revenge and its hope of gratification now prevented them from fleeing homewards.

Te Koturu relied upon his superiority of numbers, his proved skill in managing a canoe, intense hate toward the enemy, and the all-absorbing thirst for vengeance. Immediately the young chief gave orders that the canoes should be firmly lashed stern to stern, and their prows kept widely apart, thus forming a fan-shaped figure ready to expand as the exigencies of battle demanded, ready also to collapse with the fatality of death upon all who were bold enough to come within grasp. When this movement was completed, the islanders sat upright, each in his place: none moved a muscle, all seemed as if they had been page 198struck by the bolt of the thunder-god: the heaving of the water alone moved the statue-like groups: the spears were ready, the meris firmly grasped, the paddles were drawn in; and thus they awaited in silence the onslaught of the enemy. These were coming on in impetuous hurry and fury: the three canoes kept abreast of each other, and their paddles were plied with tremendous force, but with irregular stroke: each vessel carried its full complement of fighting men, being manned by the Waikato allies of Waiki.

The approach of the Kapiti tribemen had been observed from an outpost which Waiki had established on a hill-top near Wairauki; and when the circumstance was reported to him, his allies earnestly demanded to be permitted to give chase and battle to the fugitives from the hill-pah: this request was granted, and these were the men who were coming up to the naval encounter.

The exciting scene was observed by the inmates of Wairauki, who crowded up to their outworks and eagerly looked on; but their grief and sorrow was great when they saw that their friends had lost one canoe, and that their own vessels were used by their enemies in giving battle to those who were bound to them by so many ties of friendship and patriotism.

Hahaki in this emergency counselled Raukawa to page 199bring out the prisoners and exhibit them in view of Waiki, at the same time a herald was sent down the hill with instructions to tell that chieftain that Te Ori and his fellows would be put to death before the eyes of the Ngatiraukawa, if the Waikato allies were not immediately recalled. The herald accordingly announced to Waiki the intentions and wishes of the Mauopoko; but the blood-loving chief gave answer that if they dared to kill the prisoners, the smoking ruins of the hill-fort would serve as a beacon to his victorious allies on their return from the combat.