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Ena, or, The Ancient Maori

Chapter XXXII. Misfortunes Of The Mauopoko

page 225

Chapter XXXII. Misfortunes Of The Mauopoko.

"The groan of the people spread over the hills;
It was like the thunder of night."

That evening the couriers from Raukawa arrived at the Titai pah, which stood on an eminence overlooking the little bay, the same in which the islanders under Te Koturu were sheltered from the storm: almost eight in front of the settlement was the island of Mana, at a distance of four miles from the mainland. On this island several large pahs were built, and were thickly populated; the flat top of the island was studded with the fenced enclosures in which the hapus cultivated their crops, and here they lived in comparative ease and primitive happiness.

On the mainland the country lying eastward and southward, or at the back of the Titai pah, was extensively clothed in the richest semi-tropical vegetation; page 226the landscape not much broken, but sweetly diversified by rolling downs and undulating hills. This entire locality enjoyed, for many generations past, a state of undisturbed security from either cupidity or love of warfare, both of which were so painfully characteristic of the Maori at the time of our story.

Raukawa's messengers were kindly and warmly received, but their interlocutors feared that the fugitives would prove an undesirable acquisition, and that the dreaded Waiki would in time follow up his successes, and visit them in their hitherto peaceful domains: to these natural deductions the messengers answered that the unfortunates merely wished to retire beyond reach of the implacable hatred and resentment of their time-out-of-mind enemies, and to settle among this branch of their relations; and, if circumstances drove them, they would unite their arms and make a stand against their common foe: to this practical view of the situation the Titai hapu finally agreed; but before the decision was arrived at, the night was far advanced.

We must return to the forest, where a hasty council was held by Hahaki and the chieftains, as to the best course to pursue under their present dilemma: to move onwards was most desirable, but the density of the forest presented a difficulty almost insuperable; page 227to erect wharis for the night was equally difficult, as the enemy was around them; to challenge them to the combat was undesirable, as they were encumbered with women and children; while the chance of relief from Titai was extremely doubtful: so they resolved to move on, were it only a few paces at a time, still to move were better than to remain stationary. In consequence of this policy, the entire hapu crept slowly through the forest, as best they might; but their advance was quickly observed by the lurking enemy: soon as the fugitives were in motion, the wild yells of the warriors rang through the gloom of the sombre forest glades; on either hand and on their front, dark masses of blood-seeking human vampires fluttered on wings of death. Waiki, impatient of the slow movements of his prey, descended in person at the head of his warriors (as yet no blood had been shed), and, selecting an opportunity offered by the tortuousness of the paths and other natural features of the ground, he commenced his attack. With his own hand he killed an old man of the Mauopokos, the sight of whose blood maddened the warriors: they now engaged along the entire line, and hand to hand the combat raged. Hahaki ordered Raukawa and Te Koturu to place the men back to back, and so resist the onslaught that was page 228made upon them from right to left simultaneously. For some time this disposition of the tribemen was carefully adhered to; but the fight thickened, and, with passions fired, the warriors became blind to precautions; valour overrode their prudence, and the weak were left, unprotected, to the fury of the bloody storm. For a time Waiki feared that he must retreat; but, considering that if he did not at once decide the fate of his enemies, the morning might perchance bring them assistance from some unexpected source, and that his own wounded were increasing in numbers, and were being gathered in his rear, while his dead and dying were accumulating in heaps around, and his foes bleeding at every pore, his savage heart was steeled to persevere in the work of annihilation.

During this stress of conflict, Hahaki's youth seemed to return to him: he was everywhere, along the broken and ill-maintained lines of the suffering hapu. The women and children formed a temporary breast-work of branches of trees and shrubs which they hurriedly gathered together, and behind which they vainly tried to shelter themselves. Sorely pressed on every side, the Mauopoko fainted before the enemy, as Waiki broke through their line at its centre, where the old and the feeble were stationed, thus dissevering the combatants. The rear portion of this severed line page 229was commanded by men of inferior rank and abilities, and as soon as they saw their isolation, fearing their irresistible doom, they retreated through the forest, running wildly in every direction from the scene of conflict; and these fugitives Waiki would not allow his men to pursue. When this mishap was seen by the warriors and the superior chieftains, they faltered: Waiki, taking advantage of this wavering, instantly, by a clever movement, took possession of the temporary defences raised by the women, at the same time capturing their feeble defenders: he next placed his men face to face with the remaining warriors of the ill-fated Mauopoko. Panic now seized the remnant of the hapu: they broke away from the control of the chiefs, and dispersed in the depths of the forest, as did their companions before them: Hahaki and his two friends, Raukawa and Te Koturu, escaped, but with extreme difficulty, as Waiki and a few warriors pursued the routed trio for some time, until the falling night and fear of being cut off from returning compelled them to desist and rejoin their own main body. The prisoners who remained in the hands of the victors were the old of both sexes, together with the children.

Hastily-built huts were constructed, in which Waiki housed his warriors for the night, carefully page 230attending to the wants of his wounded, whilst those of the enemy were left untended: the prisoners were secured, but left without food, and without a shelter save that of the forest trees.

Over a scene of so much suffering we must not, cannot dwell: such tragedies generally precede the dawn of a happier epoch in the histories of nations.