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Poenamo
Book the Second - Chapter III.
We Sing and Row Ourselves over the Hauraki


We have rounded a headland and shut out of sight the great Waipeha town. The crew settle down fairly to their oars, and we are pulling through the harbour entrance, and have opened up the Hanriki Gulf. We are making straight for the opposite shore, and heading for the northern point of Waiheki, high land which we can see distinctly some fourteen miles distant.

The day is magnificent, not a cloud to be seen, the sun shines down with a genial warmth, it is a dead calm, and the sea as smooth as a mirror, and as flat as one too, for no swell comes in from the open sea: we might have been in a millpond. And very lucky it was we had such weather, for had it come on to blow even a moderate breeze we should have been compelled to lighten the boat, and poor Cook's impedimenta would have found a watery burial, and some of ourselves a grave.

The Maories pulled well and lustily, keeping time with their oars to a song which sometimes had one word, sometimes two, as a chorus, which the crew took up and repeated as they pulled the oar out of the water. These boat-songs were very often unprovised, all save the refrain, and when the Pakeha was a passenger, generally referred to him. All the native village gossip of the day, whether social or political, came to light in these extemporised boat or canoe songs; and if any new scandal was on the tapis, it was jubilantly given forth in terse and unmistakable language. The Maori being an intense gossip, has an insatiable curiosity to know everything that is going on, and generally does manage to know.

The "best authority" in native circles, and from whom the best supply of gossip was drawn, was generally one of their own young chieftainesses, wedded for the time being to a Waipeha or other Pakeha. I ought to tell you that in those old lawless bygone days the chiefs generally made it a condition that the Pakeha who took up his quarters with them should be respectably wived—that is, according to Maori custom—and the Pakeha had to accept matrimony as one of the conditions on which he was allowed to locate himself. The Maori reasoning was simple as conclusive—the Pakeha once wived, he had then no excuse for "paying attentions" beyond his own legitimate whare! Oh! sound Maori knowledge of human nature.

This was my first experience of a native crew and of their songs, but many were the songs I had heard both in boat and in canoe ere the half-Maori, half-Pakeha settling of the "early days" had passed away. and became exchanged for purely Saxon manners and customs.

And now the crew are improvising as fast as they are pulling, each rower, one after time other in rotation, giving a line, and all repeating the refrain at the end of it.

I got Waipehia to translate their song to me as it was sung, and I find it amongst my old manuscripts thus converted into doggrel the same night before "turning in":


In this manner, when at the oar, the natives take free licence in commenting on any of the Pakelia idiosyncrasies and having a sly hit at them, and the more especially if the Pakeha proclivities have taken the direction of admiring any of the village native beauties would it be exultingly proclaimed. The allusion to Kora, I discovered from Waipeha, was aimed at Cook, who, at the conclusion of the song, when the last long prolonged ku-me-a had died away, thus delivered himself.

"These savages must always concoct some ribaldry or other of that kind. What a noise the creatures make! Europeans would do twice the work with half the row."

One of Cook's peculiarities was to run down the Maories. He had come to the country expecting to find them a very easy race to deal with, whereas in his land speculations, and, indeed, in every. thing else, he had discovered they were as acute as they were intelligent, very ready and willing to sell bad land at a good price, but always displaying a sturdy obstinacy in not selling good land at any price at all.

Cook's remarks, therefore, on the simple aborigines might be held to savour more of the sour grape order than anything else. Waipeha, on other hand, always stood up manfully for Tongata Maori.

"Come now, Mr. Cook," he said, "don't be miming down the natives because that young lady's name was brought on carpet. You can't deny these young fellows make capital boatmen, and will work well for a whole day at the oar, happily and cheerfully, and never grumbling one bit. For my part I would never think of exchanging them for white men."

"Ah! but then you forget you yourself have turned half-native. I almost expect to see you take to a flax mat, bare legs, tattoo your face down to the very tip of your nose, and forget how to speak your own language. I am morally convinced you are fast coming to that, and when you do arrive at that delectable condition I promise you to forego all my prejudices against the Maories in so far as to hire you as one of my boat's crew, granting you free liberty to improvise at your oar and deal in personalities to your heart's content."

"Ah well! There is no saying what I may be reduced to yet. I shall take a note of your offer. But come now, between ourselves, confess, Does not your aversion extend more to the male gender than the female?"

But before Cook could make any reply to this insinuation, the crew, who had been taking a spell of quiet rowing, again broke out into song:

All end in a prolonged shout—"W-hu-u-a".

There now!" exclaimed Cook, "that is just a sample of the kind of stuff your favourites indulge in."

"All very fine to call it stuff," I said, "but I rather imagine some of these little boxes of yours 'could a tale unfold' in the shape of feminine apparel if examined. I have heard, I think, that Waiheki is famed for the beauty of its native ladies."

"And evidently you think they are all purchasable for a few yards of printed calico," retorted Cook.

"Or a Panama hat; and ten to one I'll find one in this little box of yours," said I, appropriating the one nearest me, and commencing to open it.

Cook indulged in a quiet kind of snigger to him-self while I was opening the box, but it did not escape me that when all were watching what I was about to disclose, he adroitly got hold of the only other box at hand and put it safely under the boat's thwart behind his own feet, so that no one could get hold of it.
"Well," said he as I was in the act of opening the lid, ''turn it out and let us all admire the new hat, or perhaps it is a gown done up in a small compass."

"A key-bugle, I declare!" I exclaimed, not a little surprised, and taken rather aback, as were all the others, for we had never heard its notes b1low on Herekino beach.

"Ah well!" I said, "we shall let you off the opening of any more boxes if you will only cheer us up with some music. Come now, something appropriate: 'The King of the Cannibal Islands,' or, perhaps still more appropriate, what would you say to 'Love lies bleeding?'

Cook took the instrument, put it to his lips, breathed through the bugle, touched all the keys, giving his hand a jerk upwards as he put it to his lips, and just as we expected to hear the first note ring out and float along the smooth waters, he suddenly stretched out the other hand, and seized the case, and before we knew what he was about, the bugle was safely replaced, the box closed, and it was put under the thwart to keep the other box company.

When Cook said "No" in this pronounced and Practical manner it was a decision a la Cook, final and irrevocable, so not another word was said, Waipeha merely remarking — "Well, you must sound our approach when we near the Delhi, for I am going to leave you all on board whilst I go on shore to see how my Maori workmen are getting on dragging down the cargo; the last log was to have been in the water today."

The Delhi was a barque of some 500 tons which he was loading for the Australian market, for in those days Waiheld had many a stately kouri growing on it.

As not a breath of wind had sprung up there was no respite to the rowers, and well and lustily they gave way to their oars. Occasionally they would rest for a minute or two and refresh themselves with a drink of water from a calabash, and then pull away as vigorously as ever, and as we had two spare hands the crew had a spell by turns.

Waipelia chatted away with them during any intermission of their songs, as he wanted to post himself up about the chiefs of the tribe with whom we should come in contact, with reference to the object of our expedition.

The boat at last neared the opposite shore, and as we were passing round the point of a small islet Cook took out his bugle, and the notes of a rather startling blast were echoed from the steep shore ahead of us, and all at once we opened up a passage between the islet and Wailieki, and we saw the Delhi at anchor in the fairway channel with a large raft of timber at her stern.

On coming alongside, Cook's warning notes having heralded our approach, we were welcomed, after a sailor's fashion, by the captain, who was only too glad to encounter any one who would relieve the monotony of his situation, and give him news of the outer world.

After dinner it was discovered that it would be too late, on Waipeha's return from visiting his timber-draggers, to proceed farther on our journey that day, so we determined to accompany him on shore, and return again and spend the night on board, and make an early start of it the next morning.


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