The Adventures of Kimble Bent
Chapter XVIII — The Fight at Moturoa Stockade
The Fight at Moturoa Stockade
Kātené's vigil—Attack on the stockade—Major Hunter's death—A Hauhau warrior's desperate feat—Over the palisades—Government forces repulsed—A rear-guard fight—An unanswered prayer—Scenes of terror—Tihirua's burnt-offering—A soldier's body eaten.
Just within the stockade of the Moturoa, or Papatihakehake pa,* there was a small, roughly built taumaihi, or look-out stage, ten or twelve feet above the ground, high enough to allow a sentinel to see well over the sharp-pointed palisades, and scan the approaches to the fort.
In this bush watch-tower there stood, at misty dawn on a grey November morning, the Hauhau scout and warrior Kātené Tu-Whakaruru.
* This name Papa-tihakehake was given to the place after the fight, in commemoration of the defeat of the troops. Papa means a battle-ground; tihakehake refers to the dead bodies of the whites which strewed the ground.
Presently a faint light began to steal over the forest, and Kātené could see the outlines of the black charred stumps and burned trees in front of the pa, then beyond the gloomy woods, through which a narrow winding path led to the open fernlands of the Wairoa.
Suddenly Kātené's murmured chant ceased, and he strained his eyes into the mist. To a Maori forester the slightest sound was enough to set every faculty on the alert, asking suspiciously, “He aha tena!” He had heard a faint sound in the direction of the track beyond the black tree-stumps, a sound that he fancied resembled the striking of steel against steel.
Kātené hardly breathed. His eyes glared fixedly through the mist. In a few minutes his vision confirmed the evidence of his keen ears. He saw, just for a moment, a dark figure, then another, come hazily out of the wet fog where the track from the Wairoa emerged on the clearing, then disappear, as if they had suddenly dropped to the ground or vanished behind a tree.
That glimpse was enough for Kātené. He dropped from his sentry-perch, and ran from wharé to wharé and tent to tent giving the alarm.
“The soldiers are coming!” he said to those page 203 whom he awakened. “The soldiers are on us! They are by now entering the clearing. Get your arms quickly! Man the trenches! But don't make a sound!”
The fighting-men poured out of their sleeping huts, snatching up their weapons and accoutrements, and ran to their places in the pits and ditches behind the stockade. They hastily loaded their tuparas, their rifles, and their carbines, and, peering eagerly through the defence-works, sought to penetrate the raw, damp morning mist that shrouded their front.
The whole bush-castle was alive and ready. Every man and boy who could shoulder a gun was in the well-hidden firing lines.
The wet mist slightly lifting as the morning light came, the musketeers presently saw dim figures moving out from the dark forest on their front and right and left flanks. Moving quickly, half running, in a cautious, crouching gait, they flitted from tree to tree, and burnt stump to stump, and nearer and nearer to the stockade.
Not a sound came from the breathlessly waiting warriors, nor from the ghost-like figures that now sank to the ground, each behind a log or a great blackened stump, or the butt of a standing tree.
Gun in hand, finger on the trigger, the Hauhaus waited.
The apparitions were picked bush-fighters of the page 204 New Zealand forces, led by Colonel Whitmore, seeking to surprise Titoko in his forest-den.
Advancing silently in skirmishing order through the bush, they took cover, waiting for light enough to fight by. There were detachments of four divisions of the Armed Constabulary, many of them veteran bush-fighters, and men of the Patea Rifles and Patea Cavalry. There, too, came Kepa's Whanganui Maoris, with rifle and tomahawk, old hands on the war-trail, and eager for another brush with their ancient enemies of Taranaki.
There were two hundred Government men fronting the fort, but the fighting men behind the palisades did not, according to Maori accounts, number many more than half the number.
Amongst Titokowaru's men, however, there were some of the most renowned bush scouts and warriors in Taranaki, including—besides Kātené, the wide-awake sentry—such men as the veteran Te Waka-tapa-ruru, Paraone Tuteré, one of the best Hauhau shots, Timoti, the fiercest of the cannibals of Nga-Rauru, and the active young warrior Tutangé Waionui, he who had despatched von Tempsky on the battle-field of Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu. Tutangé says that he was asleep in a tent when Kātené gave the alarm that morning. He was with his tribe, the Nga-Rauru, most ferocious of all Maori bush-fighters, who occupied one end of the pa; the other tribes holding the fort were Ngati-Ruanui and page 205 Pakakohi. It was the side occupied by the Pakakohi men that was first attacked.
All at once, as the Hauhaus crouched behind their palisades squinting for a sight of pakeha, with impatient fingers on their gun-triggers, fifty or sixty blue and grey figures sprang from cover and charged for the stockade. Some of the assaulting party ran past the corner of the war-fence, looking for some opening or gateway by which they might charge in.
The leading files were within a few paces of the high, solidly set palisading, when suddenly the whole face of the fence flashed fire, and volleys crashed in terrifying reverberations that set flocks of sleepy kaka parrots flying, screaming harsh screams of fright, through the dark forest.
Nearly half the storming party of A.C.'s fell before that fearful fire.
The first man shot was their leader, a brave officer, Major Hunter, whose brother, Captain Hunter, had fallen at Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu two months previously. Tutangé says that it was Paraone Tuteré who shot the major; he fired at the leading figure, not knowing then who he was. Colonel Whitmore came running in with the stormers, but, with his usual luck, although in the thickest fighting he was never hit.
Those of the attacking column who were not hit instantly dropped to cover amongst the logs and page 206 stumps that surrounded the pa front. Then they returned the fire as well as they could, but one man after another was hit, without being able to see one Hauhau of the scores that occupied the pa and thrust the muzzles of their guns through the interstices of the palisades.
It was a foolish thing, that blind frontal charge on the strong stockade. Major Hunter was too good a soldier to have done such an insane thing of his own volition. He was obeying Whitmore's orders. Hunter was shot in the femoral artery, when within nine or ten yards of the stockade. He implored those near him to try to stop the gushing blood, and some of his comrades attempted to staunch it; but the wound was too close to the stomach to get at, and he died in a few minutes.
Captain W. E. Gudgeon, with about forty Government Maoris, tried to work round and take the pa in the rear. His line of charge was on Hunter's right flank, and he had good cover, but in spite of that he lost two killed and five wounded.
Now a brisk little fight went on on the flanks of the pa between Kepa's men and a party of warriors who had made a sortie from the stockade. Kepa was furiously assailed by the bushmen, leaping from tree to tree, yelling their frightful Hauhau cries; and it was as much as the plucky Whanganui men could do to hold their own. Their attempt to take the pa in the rear failed, and they at last slowly page 207 withdrew to support the shattered ranks of their white comrades.
The A.C. supports came doubling up, and a heavy fire was concentrated on the stockade, but to little purpose. It was impregnable to rifle-fire, and in their pitted works the defenders were able to pick off the white skirmishers in perfect safety.
Bullets swept the clearing in every direction, and through the infernal music of the forest-battle the white soldiers heard the loudly yelled war-cries of the chiefs and the shrill voices of the Maori women as they encouraged their warriors, husbands, and brothers, and screamed them on to slaughter with all the fury of brown tattooed Hecates.
The women were gathered in the marae and in the trenches, some armed, all filled with the fire of savage war.
“Ka horo, ka horo!” they shouted. “Kia maia, kia maia! Patua, kainga! Patua, kainga!” (“They fall, they fall! Be brave, oh, be brave! Kill them, eat them! Kill them, eat them!”)
All this time Kimble Bent was walking to and fro on the parepare, the inner breastwork, the bullets screaming zssh! zssh! over his head and all about him. The air seemed filled with flying lead, yet very few Maoris were hit. One woman he saw shot dead through the head as she rose to wave her shawl and yell a fighting cry to the men at the palisades.page 208
And here Bent was an eye-witness of the most desperately daring deed he had ever seen.
A fiery old tattooed warrior, by name Te Wakatapa-ruru—the Hauhau mentioned in an earlier chapter as the man who had killed Charles Broughton, Government Native Agent, on the Patea River, in 1865—was in a quiver of excitement while the garrison awaited the assault, and could hardly be silenced until the attack was delivered.
When the pakeha storming party rushed up at the double, the old man was one of the first to open fire on them with his tupara. And then, when the order “Kokiritia!” (“Charge!”) was given, and the Hauhaus rushed out to engage the Government men who were trying to work round to the rear of the pa, he led the wild charge.
Perfectly naked, except for the broad flax waistgirdle, which held his short-handled tomahawk, and gripping his double-barrelled gun, the tall old savage took a great running jump at the stockade from the inner parapet, and leaped clean over it!
Yelling a Pai-mariré battle-cry as he rose from the ground after his extraordinary leap, he snatched the tomahawk from his belt, and charged straight for the advancing whites.
It was a fit of whakamomori—sheer blind desperation, utter recklessness of death.
Possibly the furious old fanatic imagined that his Hauhau angel and his mesmeric password, “Hapa! page 209 Pai-mariré! Hau!” would avert the bullets of the pakeha. But he was killed in the very charge —the only Maori fighting-man killed that day.
Two white soldiers met him. He was in the act of striking a desperate blow when a pakeha ball took him square in the forehead, and with a huge con- vulsive bound and a half-choked barking “Hau!” on his lips, the old tattooed brave fell dead amongst the foremost of his enemies.
It was just the death that he desired—face to the foe, with his war-axe in his hand—the death of a true Maori toa!
This savage hero's son, Ratoia—now living in the village of Taiporohenui—a young boy at the time of the fight, saw his father's great leap over the palisade, and saw him killed.
Bent tells of a curious matakité, or prophetic dream, which Te Waka-tapa-ruru had on the night before the battle. The old man was a close friend of the white runaway, and they were accustomed to sleep side by side on the whariki-spread floor of one of the huts. He dreamed that he saw his face refleeted in a pakeha looking-glass, and that he was combing his hair. This vision disturbed the old man, and deeming it a warning from the unseen world, he asked Titokowaru—just when the approach of the troops was first announced—what it might portend. The war-chief interpreted the dream as an omen of death, and warned Te Waka page 210 not to leave the shelter of the stockade during the impending engagement or he would be killed. But he disregarded this in his fit of whakamomori, and ran amok, and so he fell.
Finding it impossible to take such a strong and well-defended position by storm, the white colonel withdrew his forces. There were dead and wounded lying all over the place. The pakehas succeeded in carrying off the wounded and some of the dead, including the gallant Major Hunter. A number of dead, however, had to be left where they were lying, for it was death to attempt their removal from under the very muzzles of the Hauhau guns.
The rescue of Hunter's body from the Hauhau tomahawks, under a heavy fire, was a gallant piece of work. Captain Gudgeon was one of those who brought the dead officer out; one of his comrades was Captain Edward McDonnell, and troopers Foote and Kelly were amongst the others. Two or three men were shot in the attempt. Kepa (Major Kemp) was there, too, but he was pretty well engaged in looking after his own men and extricating them from that place of death.
Major Kemp (Kepa Te Rangihiwinui.)
. . . . .
A grim story of that hard-fought retreat through the bush is told by Kimble Bent.
* Colonel W. E. Gudgeon writes me: “For the number engaged Moturoa was the most desperate engagement fought in the Maori War. Whitmore's return did not give nearly our losses. I made it at the time fifty-two out of less than two hundred actually engaged. At Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu all did not behave well, but at Moturoa any one might have been proud of the men. No force in the world could have behaved better.”
The Nga-Rauru man, however, stopped and looked closely at the prostrate pakeha. He said to one of his comrades, “I don't think that man is dead.” Going up to the Constabulary man, he put his hand on his shoulder, and said in English, “Wake up!”
The white man opened his eyes. He exclaimed, “Save my life! Let me go, and I'll never forget you—I'll repay you for it.”
The Nga-Rauru man, who must have been a humorous kind of barbarian, said to his victim, again in English, “Go on your knees and pray to your God to save your life!”
The soldier knelt as he was told, and ejaculated some sort of a prayer.
Playing with his prey, the savage asked, “Well, are you saved now?”
The kneeling soldier looked up, but could make no answer. He stared at his terrible-looking captor, with horror in his eyes.
“Poroporoaki ki to Atua!” (“Say farewell to your God!”) cried the Maori, and swinging his gun round in both hands, he brought it butt down with a frightful smashing blow on the soldier's head.
The man fell backwards dead. His slayer stripped him of his uniform and accoutrements, and a little page 215 later could have been seen dancing a furious haka in front of the stockade, his face blackened with charcoal from the charred tree-stumps, the soldier's cap on his head, and the captured carbine in his hand.
Young Tutangé Waionui was in the thick of the skirmishing. “My weapons that day,” he says, “were a tupara (double-barrelled gun) and a revolver. The gun was a muzzle-loader; I preferred it to the breech-loaders used by the pakeha, because something was always going wrong with them. I could load (puru-pu) very quickly; but a quicker man was old Te Waka-tapa-ruru—he who was killed; there was no one so expert as he at loading a muzzle-loader.”
What scenes of horror followed that battle in the bush!
The Hauhaus were in a delirium of triumphant savagery. Like frenzied things they came dancing and yelling back to the pa. They had blackened their ferocious faces with charcoal from the burnt tree-stumps in front of the pa. Singing war-songs, shouting Pai-mariré cries, dancing their weapons in the air, projecting their long snaky tongues and rolling their eyes till only the whites were visible, set in a petrifying glare—the grimace of the pukana—it was a sight that brought fear to the heart of the lone white man, accustomed though he was by this time to spectacles of barbaric ferocity.page 216
The women were as wild and savage-looking as the men—their dark eyes blazing with excitement, their faces black-painted like the warriors, their loosened hair flying behind them, many of them nude from the waist up—waving shawls, mats, tomahawks, in welcome to the returning heroes, shouting, singing, screaming.
. . . . .
Outside the front fence of the pa, just us they fell, among the logs and stumps and on the blood-stained ground, lay the dead men whom the retreating A.C.'s had been compelled to leave on the battle-field. There were seven of them.
Upon these fallen soldiers rushed the Hauhaus. They stripped them of their uniforms. They tied flax-leaf ropes round the necks of the dead pakehas, and hauled them away to the gateway of the pa.
As they dragged the corpses off, leaping from side to side as they hauled in a fury of blood-madness, they shouted out such sentences as these:
“Taku kai! Taku kai! E hara ka kite noho koe taku kai, taku tika, taku he! Nau te kino, naku whakahoki tou kino. Taea hokitia—te mahi o te atua a Titokowaru!” (“My food! My food! Behold my food; behold the right and the wrong of it all. 'Twas you”—addressing the slain—“that wrought the evil work. And I have returned your evil. Behold the work of the god of Titokowaru!”)
A young Hauhau, huge-limbed and naked but page 217 for a very brief waist-mat of dangling flax, leaps to the side of one of the white men's bodies, just as it is harnessed in so revolting a fashion to be dragged into the pa.
His tomahawk flashes in the air above him as he steps over the fallen soldier—once, twice, thrice!
He thrusts in a hand into a huge gaping wound in the dead man's breast; he is searching for something. He rises with some object, all bloody, in his horrible red hand. He sticks his tomahawk back into his girdle, he comes bounding from the corpse, waving his dripping trophy in his hand, swinging it round his head. His fiendish yells ring echoing over the forest clearing.
What is it he flourishes so exultingly?
It is the white man's heart!
This is the young warrior Tihirua, the priest of the burnt sacrifice. He has torn out the manawa of the soldier, as a mawé—an offering to the God of War!
At his waist, buckled to his flax girdle, is a leather pouch, such as was generally used for carrying percussion-caps. Out of this he takes matches—pakeha matches! Striking match after match, he holds them underneath the bleeding heart until it is singed, and dark smoke goes up from it—incense to Uenuku, the war-god, who appears to his savage worshippers in the arch of the rainbow.page 218
The heathen rite—the ceremony of the Whangaihau—performed, Tihirua flings down his terrible trophy, and then directs the hauling of the bodies into the palisaded inferno.
. . . . .
He turned to enter the village, when an old Maori, tugging away madly at a flax line which he had made fast to the neck of a dead man, caught sight of him, and shouted:
“You, pakeha! Come and give me a hand. Help me to drag in my food!”
The Maori replied that he wished the white man to help him haul the soldier's body into the marae.
So the war-captain and his cartridge-maker stood by watching the frightful procession of Hauhaus and their prizes. The seven naked bodies were dragged into the pa and laid out in the centre of the marae.
The excited people all gathered in a great circle around the bodies. One after another the orators page 220 leaped out from the squatting ranks, their eyes flashing wildly in the pukana glare; they bounded to and fro, and cut the air with their tomahawks as they told the thrilling episodes of the fight.
All the clothes, arms, and accoutrements taken from the dead and wounded were laid before Titokowaru.
“Whose was this?” the war-chief would ask, picking up a carbine, or an ammunition-pouch, or a soldier's tunic from the heap.
“Mine,” replied the man who had taken it on the battle-field.
“Take it away, then,” said Titokowaru. “Whose is this?” picking up another trophy.
“It is mine,” a young man would reply; “it is my first spoils of war, a tanga-ika.”
“Burn it,” was the chief's order.
Then the human bodies lying on the marae were apportioned one by one, to each tribe, as piles of food are served out at a ceremonial Maori gathering.
“Nga-Rauru, this is yours! Tangahoé, this is yours!” and so on, till the seven bodies were all disposed of.
A woman sat weeping on the marae. She was Te Hau-karewa, wife to one Te Rangi-whakairipapa and a sister of Te Waka-tapa-ruru, the old warrior who had fallen in his desperate rush upon the white enemy that morning. Though old, she page 221 was a tall, fine-looking woman, with a mass of black curly hair.
Ceasing her tangi for the dead, when the bodies of the soldiers were laid out on the ground, she rose, and, taking a stick in her hand, she walked along the row of the dead men and struck each a blow on the head.
“Upoko-kohua!” she cried vehemently, with hate flashing in her eyes; “Upoko-kohua! Ka taona koe ki te umu, he utu mo taku tungane kua mate, ko Te Waka-tapa-ruru! Mehemea ko au i tata i taku tungane i te takiwa i mate ai, ka kainga au i te karu o te tangata nana i whakamatea Te Waka!” (“Boiled heads! Cursed heads! Soon ye'll be cooked in the oven, as payment for the death of my brother, Te Waka-tapa-ruru. Had I but been near my brother when he fell, I would have swallowed the eyes of the man who slew him!”)
Then, throwing away her stick, she sat down again, and fell to weeping in the very abandonment of woe, for the savage woman of the woods loved her grim warrior-brother greatly.
. . . . .
Some of the Maoris proposed that the bodies of the slain whites, the “Fish of Whiro,” should all be burned or buried.
But up leaped Timoti, wildest of all the wild Waitotara tribe, the cannibal Nga-Rauru, a thin, savage-faced fellow, very dark of complexion, as page 222 active and agile as a wild cat. He ran up and down in front of his slain enemies, turning from one side to the other, pukana-ing—only the whites of his eyes showing—and his tongue protruded in derision and defiance. He flashed his tomahawk in the air; he yelled, “We must have one body—one body to cook in the hangi!”
“Yes,” said another of the clan, “the customs of our fathers must be observed. What is the use of killing so many pakehas if we cannot have one to eat?”
No man making objection, several Hauhaus jumped up and ran to the heap of slain Constabulary men. They selected a body, and dragged it off to the cooking-place at the rear of the marae. “He is the fattest of the pakehas,” said the saturnine Timoti.
All eyes watched them, but no man said a word.
Bent, after a while, rose with some of his Hauhau companions, and walked over to the cooking-hangis, and watched the cooks at their horrible work.
They were roasting the white man's body on the great fire of hot stones, in a hollowed-out earth-oven. “It was being cooked,” says Bent, “much as you would roast a piece of mutton; they turned it over and over until it was thoroughly done, and then they cut it up for the feast.”
When the cannibal meal was ready, it was brought on to the marae with much ceremony in flax page 223 baskets. Potatoes had been steam-boiled in other hangis at the same time, and these were carried to the assembly-ground, to be eaten with the manmeat. Bent saw the flesh of the soldier eaten. The man-eaters, he says, all belonged to the Waitotara tribe. Ten of them consumed the pakeha, or as much of him as was borne to the marae; the rest of the people did not share in the feast. Titokowaru himself would not eat human flesh, because of his tapu.
“I noticed,” says the pakeha-Maori, “Timoti and Big Kereopa, each with a basket before them, enjoying the meal of human flesh. Timoti grabbed up his portion of meat from his basket, and ate it just as if he were eating a piece of bread.”
Then Titokowaru rose and, crying in a loud voice, ordered the people to burn the rest of the corpses, so that they should not defile the marae.
The bundles of clothing from the dead lay on the marae. The Maoris gave Bent three pairs of soldiers' trousers, four shirts, and some boots. “I tell you I was pleased,” says the old pakeha-Maori, who had no inconvenient scruples on the subject of dead men's clothes; “for a long time I had been wearing only Maori-made garments of flax.”
A great pile of wood was collected, heaped up six or seven feet high, and in the evening, as dark- page 224 ness fell, the bodies of the pakehas were placed on this funeral pyre and cremated.
The people squatted round—as they had sat at a similar ceremony in the “Bird's Beak” pa—and watched the flames devour their fallen foemen. And by the light of the great fire roaring away there on the marae, Titokowaru taki'd up and down, addressing his followers, and bounding and parading to and fro, his sacred feather-plumed taiaha in his hand. He recited incantations, and chanted songs, and exhorted the Hauhaus, bidding them be of good heart and fight to the bitter end.
Then Titokowaru turned to the body of the slain warrior Te Waka-tapa-ruru, lying on a blanket on the marae, with gun and tomahawk by his side. Gazing upon the silent, tattooed features of the dead toa, his comrade in many a wild foray and forest battle, he cried the old farewells to those whose spirits have passed to the Reinga, and he chanted this lament:
“Ki konei ra, e Waka e!
Ka wehe koe i au.
Ka riro i a koe
E ngakinga mate,
Aue, e Waka e!”
(“There thou liest, O Waka!
Parted from me for ever.
Thou'rt borne away to the fields of night,
In revenge for other deaths.
Alas, O Waka!”)
And the wild korero went on. Tangi songs were chanted, and there were speeches of savage, boastful jubilation made—” great swelling words.” But from a lone little thatched hut on one side of the crowded parade ground came a long-sustained crying sound, a sobbing heart-breaking dirge, rising and falling like a Highland coronach—a keening for the dead. Te Hau-karewa made lamentation for her slain warrior.