Poenamo Book the Fourth - Chapter IV.
I Learn what Taihoa Means
My patience was tested by a
three-days' residence at the Omapulua gossiping-hall. And well it earned
that name before Te Tara and his followers had fitted out and equipped their
largest canoe to take me and themselves back to my island home to build the
whare that was to be that home. But at length a start was made, and I
congratulated myself that I should sleep that night under the canvas roof of
the little tent in Motu Korea.
But I never made a greater
miscalculation in my life. I had yet to learn the true meaning of that Maori
word "taihoa"—bv-and.-by—which was doomed to be as indelibly graven on my
memory as the word "utu" had already been during my stay at the village upon
which I was now thankfully turning my back. Of the meaning of taihoa I had a
vague dread from the small experiences I had already passed through, but I
was about to be awakened to true valuation of the power of that word which
can be so fearfully and wonderfully exercised by Tongata Maori.
We had no sooner rounded
Omapuhia Point than Ave, opened the inlet, and there away at its other
extremity lay the little island, raising its little mountain aloft as if
beckoning to me and welcoming me home again.
But we had hardly faced
towards it and paddled along for more than ten minutes, when suddenly, upon
passing another point of land, we steered right in shore—we were creeping
close along it—and before I could ask why we were going in here the canoe
had already reached the beach and become emptied of its paddlers as if by
The "haeremais" and "tautemas"—"
come"—"come to my arms" of some blanketed figures standing near some limits
seemed to exercise the most uncontrollable influence over my friends, and
before I had got out of the canoe and recovered from my surprise I saw quite
a brisk nose-rubbing being performed.
I strolled up to the group,
thinking I should discover the reason why we had stopped here, but on coming
within earshot I beat an immediate retreat. I arrived just in time to hear
the commencement of the narrative of my arrival at Omapuhia, with the Kanini
letter of introduction, which was being produced and read to greedy ears.
And knew all that was to follow-:—I had said this and that and the other
thing, and I had washed my face and hands absolutely twice a day, when I got
up and when I went to bed, that I did not smoke tobacco, which always
provoked an exclamation of extreme surprise—in fact, almost every word
spoken and every act performed by this newly-caught Pakehia was faithfully
set down and retailed over again.
I had listened to this
blessed repetition at Omapuliia after every arrival of any intruder who had
come to the village until I was sick at heart of this too-oft-repeated
tale," but I now awoke to the hideous conviction that I had not yet passed
out of this small purgatory and I had still to suffer.
To mitigate the future
sufferings which I now dearly saw awaited me, I registered a vow in
confidence to myself that I would not open my mouth again except to say yes
and no, and put kuineras into it. For I had discovered that the
ever-repeated narrative grew longer and longer, and even as anything more
had been said by me, so did it become, tacked on to the story which had to
be told to every new friend encountered.
But when, when, when shall we
be at Motu Korea?" was my appeal half-a-dozen times each day.
"Taihoa, taihoa, taihoa" was
ever the answer, drawled out in the most inimitable and imperturbably
good-humoured voice, each taihoa longer than the one before.
Oh, d—n taihoaI" was the not
imperturbable or good-hurnoured reply which did not fall upon Maori ears,
for I ground it out between my teeth in such sotto voce that if relief came
to me from the anathema, no harm fell upon my listener.
For six mortal days had I to
succumb to taihoa! I am free to confess I got through all of anathematising
during those six days, totting up such a big account, that I am persuaded
that if all the swearing of my after-life was put against it in an opposite
column the tahoa one would carry the day.
Not a hamlet of half-a-dozen
whares on the shore as we skirted along—the longed-for haven of the little
island ever in sight—but the nose of the canoe was poked into the beach. In
vain my protestations.
"Taihoa, taihoa, all in good
time—what's the hurry, O Pakeha!" time was made for slaves—hurry no man's
cattle, as we in the classics say. What's the odds, a day or two sooner or
later? There's Motu Korea; it won't run away-taihoa-ne?" with a chuck back
of the head as they ended with the interrogative. I declare there never was
invented a more aggravating situation than having to stand calmly and listen
to the taihoa extinguisher with the intensely good-natured concluding ne? I
remember thinking that their heads could not be screwed on the right way,
and wishing they had been, when probably they might have lost their temper
with me, and that would have been such a chance to return the compliment and
blow off one's pent-up steam of confined passion in a grand explosion, and
my poor weak human nature—as compared to that of Tongata Maori—would have
But I smothered it all down,
and it came about that I rivalled Job himself, and inwardly congratulated
myself that I had quite taken the shine out of that ancient patriarch and
made him look quite small.
At last, however, the piu
tarde of this dolee far niente race was exchanged for the subito. This was
replaced by "aianet"—"directly;" they were now going to be at the island
directly, if not sooner. The fact was they had exhausted every little bay
and creek where dwelt even one solitary and half-toothless old woman in whom
could be found a listener to the story they had to tell, how I had envied
Canning's needy knife-grinder—"Story, sir I have none to tell "
Hurrah! round the last point
of land—the island in sight again; we have been buried away down a deep bay,
the island again almost within grasp; now we shoot past the plumed headland
of old acquaintance. The crew, one and all, male and female and children,
make a dash at the finish; in full paddling-chorus chant they send the water
flying from their paddles, and, oh marvel! I have succeeded in performing a
three-hours' easy paddle from Omapuhia to the island in just exactly twice
as many days.
Great is the power of taihoa!
The canoe-song had, of
course, warned the islands solitary occupant that we were at hand, and he
had time to walk from the tent to the end of the beach before the canoe
"Did you think I had been put
into a Maori hangi" (native oven), "and taken out again to grace 'a native
feast?'" I said on jumping ashore.
"No, wasn't the least
afraid—no danger of a man being eaten who is destined to meet another more
exalted fate—but, joking apart, what in the name of wonder has kept you?
More than once, when I was having a look-out for you from the top of the
hill, I saw the canoe crawling along in shore."
"Kept me! Nothing but that
d—d taihoa kept me—might have been here five days and nine hours ago. It is
just six since we started. Don't I wish you had been in my place, that's
all? By Jove! I'll give you the benefit next time anything of the kind is
going on. Your small organ of combativeness is eminently more fitted to cope
with tahoa than mine. Why I have done more quiet swearing than would serve
for the whole natural term of my life. I positively am afraid my angelic
temper has been next thing to ruined, and may never re-assert itself—in
which case I pity you.
"Ehoa tena koe," said Te
Tara, putting out his hand to be shaken by his new Pakeha friend.
This greeting put an end to
my tale of woe and how I had been forced to put Job to shame, and I did not
get my oar in again to dilate on subject until the tent-door closed upon us
We had no difficulty in
coming to an understanding with Te Tara and his people with regard to the
building of our whare. We staked off the dimensions on the actual site, put
a sapling in the ground to show the height the walls were to be, marked out
the passage and the two rooms on side, specified the number of layers of
raupo (sedge) that were to be put on walls, and the description of thatching
to be used, and the time within which the work was to be finished. A time-nonfulfilment-penalty
was a thing utterly unknown in Maori contracts the tahoa Maori mind simply
could not have understood what it meant. We had no fear but that the house
would be duly erected according to agreement in every respect except one,
but with regard to that one the experience of my six-days' journey to
accomplish three-hours' paddling raised such an infinitely knotty problem
for solution, that I already sighed the sigh and actually groaned the groan
of a misplaced confidence in the Maori assertion as to the three weeks in
which the whare was to be finished, and I threw myself hopefully and
trustfully into the arms of Providence, exclaiming, "Tahoa, we'll see!"
We thought, however, that the
house would be finished some time or other; for, once begun, our friends
would not go away until they got their utu foe building it, and we also knew
they would only get the utu when we gave it to them—as to their taking a
dollar's-worth unless given by us, the idea never entered into our heads;
not one of them would take even a "poro" of tobacco to fill one pipe however
much they longed for it; our whole possessions might be exposed at their
mercy, but not a pin's head would be touched. Having got from us the details
of the work which they had to do, they held a long korero together, and then
they handed its a written list—I thank thee, O missionary! for that
teaching— of what they required as utu. This consisted of blankets, cotton
print, calico, shirts, trousers (they were already imbibing civilised ideas,
and believed civilisation commenced in clothing their nether extremities)
cloth caps, spades, hatchets, and of course the inevitable and dearly-loved
pipes and ambrosial weed.
The sum total represented
some £15, We signed the utu list to show we agreed to the demand made, and
handed it back to Te Tara, both contracting parties equally pleased with the
And thus it was that we
arranged that the rooftree of our new home on our little island was to be
rajsed to cover a mansion of the noble proportions of thirty feet by
twenty-four, a grand corridor down the centre opening into four grand
apartments. Grand!--of course they were. Why any one of them could hold our
tent six feet by eight! Everything is by comparison in this world! But "we
twa" had no intention of leaving our Maori friends to be the sole builders
at work, for we had drawn upon our architectural capabilities in designing
yet another building, which was to be erected a stone's throw from the
mansion, and which, moreover, was to be a thoroughly substantial stone
building—at all events we were quite satisfied the stones would be quite
substantial whatever else was not. The structure was to be scoria and "dab."
We had abundance of scoria all around, and the dab was .also not far
off—that is, the material from which it was made, for the clay we had dug
out of our well, with a proper application of water, would enable us to
puddle the two together to the proper consistency to make our dab with which
to rear the scoria walls for our cookhouse.
Now removed the tent from the
eastern shore, where we had pitched it the first night of our arrival, to
the opposite or western shore, close beside where our whare was to be put
up, and handy to our well, so that we should have an eye to the building
going up by the Maories, and be close to our own work as well.
The natives soon ran up some
breakwind huts for themselves, and then they made trips to the mainland to
provide the necessary materials for our whare, and it was not long before
they had all the upright poles which constituted the walls stuck in the
ground and the framework formed.
The Pakehas divided their
time between "scoria and dab" and making a small garden, for no time was to
be lost in planting such seeds as we had, however roughly put into the
ground—potatoes, pumpkins, rock and water melons constituted our stock and
store; of other seeds we had none.
Our friends made a great
spurt at the first starting, and then they began to hang fire; they had
coaxed us out of some tobacco in advance, and though the whare hung fire, it
was more than their pipes did. had they shown the same assiduity in raupoing
the walls of the house as they did in smoking their pipes we should have had
no cause to grumble, but many pipes meant much tailzoa, and we began to look
with sinister eye on the manner in which the play was now being acted.
Of course we spurred them on
and began asking them when they would be finished, and of course we got the
imperturbable tahoa given to us with the customary placid good-humour--taihoa
and nothing more, just as if we had asked the question for the first time.
It is my opinion that half
the evil deeds in the world would never be committed if all nations that on
earth do dwell had only been providentially blessed by having in their
language that potent word— taihoa!
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