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Poenamo
Book the Third - Chapter IV.
De Pluribus Maori Rebus


If I am to be a true chronicler of the times of which I write, it devolves upon me to narrate the ways in which some of the pioneer Pakehas took the aborigines by the hand and guided them into civilisation.

Some of these ways, it is true, were not according to a strictly moral interpretation of what civilisation ought to be but great allowances must be made, and it behoves us in these later days, when the equality of the sexes is an accomplished fact, not to sit in judgment too severely over a backsliding into some native customs at a time when Mann manners only prevailed.

If one step back was taken, there still remained a credit balance to the two steps forward, and then there were those who never took the step to the rear; so, on the whole, some virtue did prevail, though no cakes or ale were to the fore.

When the old Kanini heard of our arrangement with Pama, and that we were to be taken in and cared for after the manner I have narrated, a great load of anxiety was lifted off the old man's mind. The fact was, he had been casting about to find out from what source, he could supply his newly-acquired Pakehas with temporary wives. You see, if we had chosen to forget the godly ways in which our youth had been reared, and had elected to run riot in these Polynesian ways of securing domestic drudges, young chieftainesses would not have been wanting to adorn our wraupo whare hearths. Great was the relief, therefore, to old Kanini when he learnt from Pama that we did not expect to be provided with the customary female helpmates.

But I regret to have to state the fact that the relief thus afforded to the old chief did not arise from any gratification at the moral course pursued by his Pakehas, but simply because his own only daughter, being still under her teens, was not available, and that it so happened there were no other young chieftainesses in the, tribe who were in the market; and, finally, it would have been quite a severe blow had he been compelled to go and borrow two young ladies from any other sub-tribe, for then the two Rangatera Pakehias would not have belonged wholly and solely to himself, but would have been at least one-half the property of the tribe which lia(l furnished the Pakehas with their "better- halves."

This may appear a very sad revelation, but the old Kanini was none the less a good and a moral man— after the light in which it had pleased Providence he should be brought up. Plurality of wives is a very ancient institution, as all good Christians who read their Bibles know. Kanini could not hold a candle to old Solomon in this direction, but in good sound sense I should not have minded backing him, for Kanini was a man of no ordinary intellect and ability.

Then again, as to the custom of the chiefs giving wives to all the Pakehas who came to live at their settlements, there was sound moral philosophy at the bottom of it, as, indeed, there was to be found in almost all their manners and customs, however peculiar these might appear at first sight to the uninitiated. The foible of eating each other, if not to be explained on philosophical principles, might be palliated on human nature wants, and as there were no animals upon which they could prey when the craving to eat flesh overcame them, they could not help themselves but by helping themselves—to themselves! But I have digressed from the explanation I had in hand regarding the philosophy of giving wives to all Pakehas, and it was this:

Human nature being human nature, and it being found rather impossible to convert it into anything resembling Divine nature, it had to be dealt with accordingly. "We will give the Pakeha a wife of his own, and then he will have no excuse for carrying on any flirtations with ours." Of course if any such flirtations assumed serious proportions the Divorce Court proceedings took a very summary form—the chief might have forgiven, but more probably would have tomahawked, his erring squaw, and, performing the latter process on the Pakeha, would thereafter have eaten him. But as it did not now pay to eat useful Pakehas, who supplied them with guns and powder, pipes and tobacco, it better preserved all things, and especially the moral proprieties, to supply the Pakelia with wives, and keep him alive. In this form in their midst he was good to sponge upon for a "poru" at any hour of the day, but when killed and eaten could only be a pleasing remembrance of a past gratification!

But Tongata Maori being essentially a hard, practical, matter-of-fact animal, shaped his conduct to attain the greatest possible gain at smallest possible cost, and thus it came about that young chieftainesses were a cheap bait with which to lure and secure the Pakeha.

Our first week at Wraioinu was not altogether uneventful and not altogether pleasant, as we had our patience tried to its uttermost in rather a peculiar manner. The fact that Kanini had bagged a brace of Rangatera Pakehas became known from one end of the Hauraki to the other in just about as short a time as if there had been telegraph stations the whole way. The result was that a stream of visitors set in in a strong current to rub noses with the old man—ostensibly to do this, but in reality to satiate their curiosity in having a look at us and hearing all about us, and to whom we were to be married was, of course, a point of intense interest.

Now every time any of these visitors came we had no choice but to gratify their curiosity by turning out for inspection. But inasmuch as we only knew Maori enough to the extent of being able to say "Tena koc?" ("how do you do?"), and as that terminated our conversational powers in their vernacular, nothing then was left us but to stare at each other. In this little part of the performance we had no chance against our new friends, who beat us hollow at it. Sitting squatted on the ground, rolled up in their mats, or last new blanket donated for the occasion, they had a power of endurance which put to shame us poor civilised creatures.

It was the same scene over again as that at the Debtors' Prison so graphically described in Pickwick, where all the turmkeys stood round the newly incarcerated to take his likeness, staring until the Physoignomy was indelibly stamped on their memories. I am certain the numbers that learnt us by heart, and the persevering manner in which our likenesses were taken, made it a moral impossibility that either of us could ever do an incognito excursion on the shores of the Hauraki.

We grew wiser the next day, and dodged the infliction by changing the venue to the shed where Pama was working at the boat, and pressing his services into use as interpreter we held conversations with our many visitors. In these conversations we endeavoured to impress the native mind with our superiority in the scale of human civilisation by the deep and searching questions we put regarding their own manners and customs compared with our own, as laid down to them in what we considered convincingly lucid language. But I am free to confess that when they took their departure we felt very doubtful as to the impression we had made, and we had rather a disappointing conviction when these parleys ended, and when, on the visitors leaving, Pama distributed a "poru" amongst the more distinguished and enlightened, that Pama was high in the scale of Maori estimation as compared to us - Rangateras though we were.

The incessant cooking of food which went on to administer the customary hospitality to all these strangers was something terrible, and the way in which the provisions were punished was something to remember, and was a heavy strain on the Ngatitamateras' commissariat. The tribe was paying the penalty, and a pretty smart one, for having the high privilege of possessing show Pakehas.

A week pretty nearly exhausted the supply of visitors, and we felt we were now at liberty to absent ourselves, as we could do so without wounding the feelings of "our tribe," who would not have been pleased had we not been forthcoming to be exhibited.

With the second week we had to face the question of what we were to do and how we were to occupy ourselves under the disheartening circumstances in which we were placed by Puma's inability to build us a boat from want of material. We were on the horns of a dilemma, for it was patent that it was impossible to go and take possession of our island unless we had some means of transit. True, we might get some chance of being taken and landed on it but then we should be prisoners, and might starve for want of any other food save fern-root; but if we had even a canoe, we might, when hard up, paddle up to Orakei and get a kit of potatoes. Even sulky Te Hira would not grudge us that in return, of course, for a fig of tobacco.

But on appealing to old Kanini to spare us a canoe he said he had none and we were beginning to feel rather queer over our position, when Pama, inspired by a bright idea, came to the rescue and solved the difficulty:-

"There is a grand large kouri-tree Iying felled near the edge of the forest ridge—would make a splendid canoe, though a little heavy to paddle up. Why not turn to and dig it out? Old man will sell you the tree for a couple of dollars!"

A happy thought, and one which was adopted on the spot; old Kanini was only too glad to sell us the kouri-tree, and the promised occupation chimed in with our views in every way. We wanted to kill time and get through the winter months before going to live on our island, and we wanted by living amongst the natives to get an insight into their character, and manners, and customs.

For it was very evident that our future in the land could not be disconnected with the dominant race, and it was equally evident that the Maori would remain the dominant race for a great many years.

it would, therefore, be good sound policy to acquire any knowledge which might enable us to cultivate friendly relations with the Maories, who would inevitably remain a prominent factor in the future history of the colony for a good many years to come.

By cultivating friendly relations with the Ngatitaniateras, and through them coming in contact with other tribes, we hoped to become favourably known on the shores of the Hauraki; and should the future, unhappily, foment squabbles between the two races, the time might come when we should be glad to shelter ourselves under the "rnana"—the protection—of good old Kanini. As yet we were steeped in ignorance of native character. We only knew that the race seemed one endowed with marvellous equanimity of temper, and with a keen perception of the advantage of looking after number one. Of the inner and deeper mind, of the motives which might lead to political action, we knew nothing; these had all to be discovered, and we would fain read and understand these pages of Maori character.

We were fortunately circumstanced, as it turned out, for doing this, for it soon became impressed upon us that Kanimmi was a man of no ordinary intellect, and in Pama, who would be our interpreter, we had a man who, though somewhat uneducated, had all his wits about him, and great reasoning withal.

The kouri-tree was bought. Pama furnished us with squaring-axes, and so it fell out that just as the last of the visitors to whom we had to sit for our likenesses had left, we had all our preparations completed for commencing our canoe-digging.

And one glorious morning, Erangi having given us an early pot of pork and potatoes and primed us with a small kit of boiled kumeras for a midday cold collation, we sallied forth from Pama's whare, axes on shoulder, to commence our Robinson Crusoe work.

That bright; glorious, sunny winter morning was the 14th day of June, 1840!


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