The Adventures of Kimble Bent
Chapter VII — Bush Life with the Hauhaus
Bush Life with the Hauhaus
Wild days in the forest—The Hauhau hunters—Maori woodcraft—Bird-snaring and bird-spearing—The fowlers at Te Ngaere—The slayer of Broughton—Another runaway soldier, and his fate—The tomahawking of Humphrey Murphy.
For some weeks the fugitives remained in their well-hidden camp by the Tangahoé's stream. When the wounded were able to travel, “Ringiringi” and his Maori companions took them a few miles through the bush to a place called Rimatoto, the overgrown site of an olden village. All the able-bodied men of the tribe now set to work to build a new settlement. Thatched nikau-palm houses were quickly run up, and the forest rang day after day with the axes of the bush-fellers, clearing the ground for potato-planting.
As it was intended to make this a permanent kainga—always providing Kepa's dusky forestrangers did not find their way to it in their scouting expeditions—a large clearing was made. The felled trees were allowed to lie for about three months until they were dry enough to be fired; then the potatoes page 67 were set in amongst the half-burned stumps and logs. In the meantime the forest was scoured for food, and foraging parties were sent out to Turangarere and other villages on the outskirts of the forest and returned laden with pork and potatoes, strapped across their shoulders in the usual Maori pikau fashion.
Four miles away by a rough bush track, a track hardly discernible to any but a Maori, was the Maha village. There the white man was taken by his rangatira Tito, after the bush-felling work was over, and three or four peaceful months were passed, varied only by occasional armed scouting expeditions to the forest edge, and by long fishing, birding, and pig-hunting trips into the great wilderness of jungle-matted timber that hemmed in the lonely village on every side.
Bent had now been a year with the Maoris, and had thoroughly settled into the native life. He had quickly picked up the language of his adopted people, and there was nothing of the pakeha about him but the colour of his skin, and that was browning with constant exposure and outdoor labour. A waist-shawl or a flax kilt was his single article of everyday clothing; in cold weather a shoulder-mat or a blanket was added. In this village of the woods there were few emblems of civilisation except the weapons of the warriors. Stories of battle and skirmish now and again reached the bushmen by page 68 messengers from the plains; and the white general's great march through the forest from Ketemarae by the Whakaahurangi track around the eastern side of Mount Egmont to Mataitawa and New Plymouth—when the soldiers fell so short of food that they had to shoot and eat their pack-horses—was discussed many a night in the village wharepuni, the communal council-room and sleeping-house.
Bent's half-Indian temperament soon adapted itself to this wild life in the forest. No drill day after day, no parades, no sentry-go, no buttons to polish, and no uniform to mend—surely this savage life had its compensations. When the Maoris had urgent and laborious work on hand they worked like fury, and compelled—with the spur of a tomahawk—the white man to toil with equal industry, if not willingness. Fort-building, trench-digging and timber-felling were undertakings in which the whole strength of the community laboured from dawn till dark, and the chiefs as hard as the common men and slaves. It was warrior's work. But there were periods of halcyon, lazy days in Maoridom, when “Ringiringi” and his ragged comrades of the bush, their work over, could just “lie around” and smoke and eat, and take no thought for the morrow so long as they could procure a pipe-full of strong torori (tobacco) and a square meal of potatoes and pork. Tito proved a not unkind master, when he found that his white man neither attempted to escape page 69 from the tribe nor shirked the often heavy tasks imposed upon him.
Powder and shot were too valuable to waste on the birds of the forest in those days. One of the Maori snaring methods, as practised by “Ringiringi” and his companions, was to cut out wooden waka, or miniature canoes or troughs, fill them with water, and place them in some dry spot in the forest where pigeons and tui were plentiful. Just over these troughs flax-snares were arranged, so that when the birds, thirsting for water after feasting on the bush-berries, flew down to drink, and stretched their heads through the running loops, they were tightly noosed. Other snares were set on the miro-trees, of whose sweet berries the pigeons and tui were particularly fond. “Ringiringi” quickly learned the art of setting snares of flax or cabbage-tree leaf with cunning slip-loops in the branches of the fruitladen miro; in a clump of these pines he sometimes caught in a single day as many as three hundred or four hundred birds—kaka parrots, tui, and pigeon—for the forests were alive with feathered creatures, and in the autumn time, when the wild fruits were ripe and abundant, they were to be taken with little trouble; the noisy kaka parrot was the most easily lured of all. The only forest bird that was not welcomed by the hunters was the owl, or ruru; should page 71 one happen to be killed it was never eaten, because in Maori eyes it was an atua, a spirit or the incarnation of a tribal deity.
Bird-spearing was another forest art widely practised in those times. Long slender limber spears of tawa wood, twelve feet long and more, were used.
In making the bird-spears, the pole from which each was cut was scorched with fire till very dry, then it was scraped and scraped down with pawa-shells and scorched again, and once more scraped and shaped with great care and industry, until it had been reduced to the size desired and was perfectly smooth. These spears were armed with barbed tips, often of bone, sometimes of iron. The villagers trailed the weapons after them as they travelled through the forest, until they came to some tree where tui and pigeon perched in numbers; then the spear was slowly and cautiously pushed upwards until close to the unsuspecting bird, and a sudden, sharp thrust impaled it on the barbed point.
The pakeha was carefully schooled in the art of using the spear, and was enjoined, above all, never to strike the pigeon full in the breast, because the bone would often snap the barb-tip off; it must be speared in the side. In the late autumn the pigeons were “rolling fat"; and many hundreds of them were preserved or potted in Maori fashion by the birding-parties in taha, or cabalashes (the hué page 72 gourd), which were hermetically sealed with the fat of the cooked birds.
One foraging expedition which Bent accompanied was farther afield than usual, up northwards to the great Ngaere swamp, a huge morass near where the present township of Eltham stands, and where dairy cattle now graze on fields that in those days of'66 were seemingly irreclaimable bogs and wildernesses; lagoons, where millions of eels crawled, snake-like, in the ooze, and where countless thousands of wild fowl and water-birds fished and screamed and squabbled all day long. To the edge of the great swamp came the food-hunters; they waded across to the two islets which rose from the middle of the bog—ancient refuge-places of fugitive tribes—and camped there, catching and smoke-drying huge quantities of eels for winter food in the home kainga, and snaring many ducks and other birds. In this primeval spot the beautiful kotuku, the white heron so famous in Maori song and proverb—now never seen in the North Island—then abounded; the white man often admired this graceful bird as he stood on silent watch on the marge of some sedgy pool, then, like lightning-flash, darted his long spearbill on his prey. The birds were tame, and easily caught, and many were snared and eaten by the foragers. “Ringiringi” captured some on the shores of the lagoon by the simple expedient of a bent supplejack and an arrangement of flax loops, set page 73 near the kotuku's daily haunts; a day seldom passed without a heron being found flapping and choking tightly noosed in the snares of the fowlers.
One day in the spring of 1866, when Tito and his hapu, their bird-hunting expeditions over for the season, were gathered in their bush-village Rimatoto, three strange Maoris, fully armed, entered the settlement. They had travelled overland from the King Country, far to the north, on a mission from Tawhiao, the Waikato King, who, after the conquest of the Waikato Valley by the white troops, had taken refuge with the Ngati-Maniapoto tribe. The envoys had been sent down to recover some Waikato war-flags which were in the possession of the Taranaki Hauhaus.
In the crowded wharepuni that night, when the Waikato warriors made their errand known, one of them caught sight of the white man, sitting silently in his corner, and asked who he was. When Tito explained, the visitor asked,
“Why don't you kill him?”
“He is my pakeha,” said Tito, “and I will protect him, because our prophet Te Ua has tapu'd him, and ordered us not to harm him.”
“That is indeed a soft and foolish way to deal with pakehas,” exclaimed a fierce-looking young warrior, one of the Waikato trio. “We don't take any white prisoners in our country. You ought to have his head stuck on the fence of your pa.”page 74
Tito laughed. “Ringiringi is going to be useful to us,” he said. “Besides, he is a Maori now.”
Next morning Tito despatched the white man and an old Maori named Te Waka-tapa-ruru through the forest to Te Putahi, a stockaded village some ten miles away, on the banks of the Whenuakura River, with a message to the people of that pa requesting them to return the colours for which the king had sent. This mission accomplished, Bent stayed a while in Te Putahi, where he was treated with much kindness, because of his association with Tito.
On the morning after his arrival a man came to his sleeping-hut and, without saying a word, placed on the mat before him a couple of blankets and a watch.
The history of the watch was afterwards explained to him by Te Waka-tapa-ruru. This warrior was a typical old bush-fighter. He had a very big head; he was tattooed on the cheeks; he was wiry and wonderfully quick on his legs. He told Bent, with a devilish grin on his corrugated face, that the watch had belonged to a white man, called Paratene, whom he—Te Waka—had shot the previous year at Otoia, on the Patea River. This pakeha was Mr. C. Broughton, a native interpreter who had been sent on a special Government mission to the Hauhaus, and was barbarously page 75 murdered while in the act of lighting his pipe in the village marae.
Broughton's slayer, despite his repulsive antecedents, became a friend of Bent's, and they were close comrades until 1869, when the old man was killed in the act of charging furiously on the Armed Constabulary at the attack on the Papa-tihakéhaké stockade.
At Te Putahi “Ringiringi” was astonished to find another white man, clothed like himself in a blanket. This man walked up and greeted him, and the pakeha-Maori recognised the long-haired, roughbearded fellow as an old fellow-soldier. His name was Humphrey Murphy; he, too, had been a private in the 57th, and had become as dissatisfied with the life as Bent had done, and deserted to the Hauhaus. Bent sums him up as “a bad lot.” Murphy was an evil-tempered Irishman, faithful to neither white man nor Maori. He belonged to two chiefs, Te Onekura and Whare-matangi, who lived in the pa at Te Putahi.
Murphy, it appeared from his own story, had been taken over as a taurekareka, a slave, by one of the Hauhau chiefs when he deserted, and had been sent as a food-carrier to Te Putahi by his owner, who treated his “white trash” with scant consideration. At Te Putahi he had been taken over by the two local chiefs. The deserter bragged to Bent, as they sat side by side on the village marae, that page 76 he would shortly return to his old Maori “boss,” as he called him, and kill him, and take what money he could find as payment for his enforced labour.
While Murphy was speaking, a young Maori girl sat by quietly listening.
When the runaway soldier rose and walked off to his hut, the girl said:
“Ringi, I heard what that taurekareka white man was saying. I have learned enough of the pakeha's tongue to know that he is going to kill his rangatira and steal his money.”
“Kaati! Don't say a word about it,” cautioned Bent.
But the girl rose up in the meeting-house one night after “Ringiringi” had departed to his home at Rimatoto, and repeated the threat she had overheard from Murphy's lips.
That settled the taurekareka's fate. Bent, some time later, inquiring after Murphy from one of Tito's men who had been on a visit to Te Putahi, was told that he had been killed. The Hauhaus had a short way with such as he. He was quietly tomahawked one night as he lay asleep, and his despised remains dragged out and cast into the Whenuakura River that ran below the village.
At this time there were at least four white men living with the Hauhaus in South Taranaki. One came to Rimatoto to see “Ringiringi,” and remained with him for a week. His name was Jack Hennessy, and page 77 he had, like Bent, deserted from the 57th Regiment. He was in fact the “shut-eye sentry” who had seen Bent steal off from the Manawapou camp in 1865. He gave himself up to the white forces some time later, tired of life with the Hauhaus, and was courtmartialled and sent to prison.