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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXIX. The Battle

page 200

Chapter XXIX. The Battle.

"The valiant delight to shine
In the battles of their land."

The impetuosity of the Waikatos subsided as they drew near: they were evidently impressed with a sense of the no common dangers attendant on rushing upon men who had awaited their approach so calmly, and who were to all appearance determined to conquer or to die. When they came within a few canoe lengths of Te Koturu's position, the paddlemen rested on their paddles; the heavy and laboured breathing of the warriors was plainly heard. Their brown-skinned bodies were bare, and copious streams of moisture poured their mimic torrents down face, trunk, and limb; but their blood was up, and as soon as they were breathed, the thirst for that of others page 201would rage in every nerve with increased fury. The usual tauntings were hurled at the islanders, but Te Koturu would not answer a word: his resolve was taken, to die: his courage needed no excitement, for the friends he had lost were to be avenged. At a motion of their commander's hand the Waikatos dashed up to the encounter: they closed in an instant, prow to prow; and the first blood was shed among the Waikatos. Te Koturu and his bravest warriors stood on the prow of their separate vessels. The Waikatos, in their eagerness to engage, parted their canoes a little, so as to bring more men into the engagement: the islanders promptly spread out their bristling canoes, whereupon the enemy, seizing an apparent chance, drove up one of his vessels side by side with an islander. When this was perceived, the nearest canoe closed upon the adventurer, and life after life was lost in the close contest: the islanders eagerly endeavoured to lash their vessels to that which had ventured amongst them, but the Waikatos fought with skill and coolness, and succeeded in backing out of the dangerous vortex into which their temerity had led them. They next sought to lay their canoes side by side with those of the islanders, but in vain. Hour after hour was spent in manœuvring of this kind; but Te Koturu's canoes re-page 202volved on their lithe pivots, and presented but a point on which the enemy might expend his fury and his strength. Nor were the Waikatos idle, they hacked and broke down the elaborate and elegantly-carved stern-posts of the islanders' canoes: one of these was so much injured that the assailants took the advantage of its crippled condition, and, making a determined effort, they grappled with its entangled woodwork, and brought a canoe side on to it; and in a few moments their arms prevailed over those of the islanders, and before a rescue or relief could be rendered, the island vessel sank with its cargo of human beings: these dived under the water, and so eluded for a time the fatal spear-thrusts of the exulting enemy: but when the islanders' heads emerged from the water, the fatal spear or heavy paddle finished the struggle, and few escaped with life. When the vessel sank, Te Koturu had its stern lashings immediately cut away, so as not to endanger or encumber those left him. It was noon ere the battle ended. The Waikatos lost many of their men, and very many of them were wounded; but the loss of the islanders was heavy, though still they adhered to their original position, and from it they would not recede: this determination perceived, the Waikatos taunted them with cowardice; but in vain was the page 203art of oratory and ridicule brought to bear on the patient and suffering islanders, not a taunt was answered. The enemy paddled round and round the canoes, and then left the scene of combat as their eyes caught sight of rolling columns of black ascending high in the bright sunshine above Wairauki.

Whilst the foregoing action was progressing, there was another act in the tragic drama of war passing between rival actors on the mainland. True to his threat, Hahaki instructed Raukawa to order the remaining prisoners out to execution: among these was Te Ori, with a few of his best warriors who were under him on the fatal morning of their capture by Hahaki, the common warriors having been disposed of some time previously.

Waiki and his warriors were stationed on the hillsides near the Wairauki pah, and could with ease and certainty see everything that took place.

Standing upon the sentinel's stage were four men: the centre figure was bound, his arms firmly pinioned behind, his legs tied with flax ropes: on either side of him stood a man holding a pole, which was passed through the angle formed by the prisoner's arms as they were held in line with his back; thus secured, he was held up, in the mockery page 204of a scornful triumph, before the assembled warriors of his people and his allies. The fourth figure of the group was armed with a short, stout spear: in a loud voice, that reverberated among the mountain peaks and gulleys, the name "Te Ori" was shouted by the executioner. The Ngatiraukawa and their allies heard, and answered with a deep groan of sorrow, mingled with rage: when this had subsided, the executioner plunged his spear into the heart of the unresisting victim; the head of the brave young chief dropped on his breast, the limbs faintly quivered, and all was past: on a tall post, a few short moments afterwards, the corse of the ill-fated Te Ori was exhibited in view of his sorrowing companions.

With a loud hoarse cry for vengeance, the Ngatiraukawa left the hill-sides, and impetuously rushing towards the gully wherein their encampment lay, they seized each a burning brand and advanced on the back defences of the hill fortress: from above the spears of the besieged gleamed dull in the eyes of the enemy: arrived at the outer fences, they piled up their fire-sticks against the palisade; but these outworks were so strong, and erected with so much care—the timbers used in their construction were so massive, that fire had but little chance of page 205mastery. In vain Waiki led and ordered his warriors to fire the outworks; when tired of these futile attempts, a large number of men were told off, and despatched to procure light wood from the forest with which to fire the palisades. The Mauopoko, however, were alive to the intentions of their enemy, so, rushing out by a small portal, they attacked Waiki with such impetuosity that he was obliged to retire with some loss and precipitancy down the hill, which was unfavourable for any military movements, the slope being steep and broken. Nevertheless he returned to the attack, bringing supplies of firewood, by means of which he at length succeeded in firing the pile and setting a portion of the outworks in flames, while the combatants on either side eagerly impeded or assisted the progress of the devouring element: in a short time a breach was made in the fences, through which Waiki led his warriors: his ingress was but feebly opposed, as there stood yet unharmed the inner palisade, a much stronger erection than the outer one. Against this also flaming brands, hissing and crackling, were thrown across the wide and deep ditch that ran along the base. The imminent danger which now threatened the pah impelled Raukawa to sally out and attack the besiegers in the confined space between the two fences, taking the page 206precaution of doing this with the wind in his favour, so that the smoke and flames from his burning wood-works might aid him in the attack. With wild war-cries they rushed onwards, women and children crowding behind the palisade, and joining their shrill voices to swell the terrible cries of the combatants as they closed in the shock of battle. Waiki led on his men, all eagerly burning with the fell passion of revenge: hand to hand the warriors closed, and when the meri or the spear only did half their work on their individual victims, the combatants clutched each other and rolled on the ground in the embrace of death, under the feet of their unheeding comrades, there to be trampled upon in their expiring agonies. The flames roared along the outer fences, as the battle raged within; blood flowed in mimic torrents and saturated the yellow clay, like streams of crimson lava that cooled and blackened as it sank through its native dust. The Mauopoko were watched over by Hahaki, who with the women remained in the pah, and busily employed themselves by throwing spears among the enemy: the old man saw how it was with his people, and thought that it were better for them to retreat into the pah than to suffer so much loss outside; so he gave his orders to Raukawa to come in, but at the moment Waiki had singled him out for a victim.

page 207

The danger to which their chief was exposed was observed by his own men, and several of them, with heroic determination and devotion, threw themselves between: the young man heard the commands of the tohunga, and having heard, was bound to obey; so, repeating the order to retreat, he firmly fell back inch by inch until the small portal was reached, through which the warriors slowly passed, with unabated courage still disputing every step taken by their antagonists. Raukawa's loss was severe; his dead and wounded were in the hands of Waiki, whose losses were also considerable; but he retained the bodies of his dead, and was at liberty to attend to his wounded, and, but for an opportune rainfall, he would have persisted in his attempt at firing the pah, and in neglecting his wounded, although amongst them were many of his minor chieftains. The rain, however, extinguished the flames, and great was the relief which the kindly shower brought to the hearts of the dwellers in Wairauki, as the fire had already begun to climb the heavy timbers of the inner fence.

The remainder of the summer evening was spent by Waiki in withdrawing his warriors from their perilous proximity to the pah: a strong guard was left by him in charge of the scene until all the dead and the wounded on both sides engaged were completely page 208removed, together with the spoils of the battle-field. Waiki interred his own dead with becoming rites of sepulture away in the forest, but the bodies of the slain and wounded of his enemy were destined for the revolting cuisine.

The pandemonium of Waiki's camp will be better allowed to remain in oblivion.