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Poenamo
Book the Fourth - Chapter VI.
My Maiden Venture in the Field of Commerce


That old "Pakeha Maori"—the name by which such of our countrymen as married Maori maidens and became half-Maories were known—had evidently been doing his good share of taihoa since we sent for him to come to the island, for we strained our eyes in vain down the inlet to see the white sails of his schooner making alive the solitary though lovely stretch of water; but we looked in vain.

And so we grew impatient exceedingly, and neither the carrying home of drift-wood on our backs, nor the drawing of water from the well, nor the great feats we performed in the culinary art in our cookhouse, sufficed to content us and keep the demon of discontent from our whare-door.

For we were killing the present, and were awaiting with eager anxiety that future which we hoped would dawn upon us with such bright prospects, but as yet there was no break of day, and we were both young, and youth is ever impatient.

And our impatience had been increased by our having one day seen a small topsail schooner round the north head of the harbour and steer straight across to Orakei Bay, and lie there until sunset with unfurled sails; but next morning the strange craft was not there.

Then, again, we had seen the same craft pay a second and still shorter visit about ten days later, and on this occasion she did not even anchor, but only "stood off and on" the bay, whilst her boat went ashore and returned, when away the vessel sailed again.

Now it was this visitor that had so roused our curiosity and made us discontented, for we were firmly convinced this topsail schooner could only have come from Kororareka, where the Government was then located, and we believed it had something to do with the future capital, and at this epoch of our Robinson Crusoe life in our little island we were suffering from a most persistent and continued attack of "capital on the brain."

We should have taken our canoe and paddled up to the Oralcei settlement, only every hour we expected our Pakeha Maori to turn up with his small craft, the Dart, in which I was about to make my maiden venture in the domain of commerce. In this trip I should come in contact with the Ngati- whatuas and be able to learn all that was known about the topsail schooner.

When at last the Dart arrived, she did not coe careering swiftly o'er the water like a thing of life, but, belying her name, crawled one morning slowly into sight, and, though she had been lazy in making her appearance, still the little tub was very welcome.

We got news from that late seat of kingly power, Horekino; it had lapsed into its primitive state of Pakeha-Maoridom, and Waipeha was no longer a king, but only Tunewha's white man, married to his daughter. Great had been his fall, and ere long the commerce of Te Hauraki would be transferred from Waiou to Waitemata. his oracular utterance of "Wait till you see the Waiteinata," which was to make those who heard him, figuratively speaking, fall down and worship her shores, had not been spoken in vain, nor without a presentiment that the harbour he so eulogised might one day be the seat of a great commerce, and little Waiou fade into insignificance.

The little tub Dart had her sails loose, all ready, waiting for the supercargo to go on board, and I (little more than a beardless boy, as ignorant of the ways of commerce as any green youth who had never seen life beyond the learned walls of his university from which he took his M.D. degree could be) was going to act an entirely new role, and transmogrify the "experienced surgeon," late of the Palmyra, into supercargo of the tub Dart, starting on a trading voyage!

There is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous. Supercargo is sometimes a grand title, to be supercargo of an Indianian 1,000 tons burthen, A 1, with from ten to fifty thousand pounds' worth of merchandise to barter for gold, ivory, and spices, is grand; but to be supercargo of the tub Dart—not A 1 by any means, and only 10 tons burthen, and with some "trade," only worth two or three ten-pound notes, which we intended to barter for some pigs, possibly a stray goat. or two, and the wherewithal in shape of potatoes and maize to store the cookhouse and keep body and soul together—well, it was very small rain on the tender herb of our budding commerce!

But what would you? Was the A 1 1,000-tonner built in a day? Were the tens of thousands of money made in a week? Were not grand merchants once—said I in confidence to myself as I discounted my situation--were they not once small merchants?

And why should not I, then, the supercargo of small wares, have a grand future?

And so I dreamed my happy dream of youth, far away into future days, and was comforted.

Ah! in looking back—now so long, long back—to those days buried in the past, to those days of pioneer struggles, never to be erased from the tablets of one's memory, with what a halo of romance, notwithstanding all that was then encountered, is the remembrance surrounded now that youth's brightest dreams have been far more than realised!

'Tis so easy now to set down sapient reflections— to wit, it is no use for a young man to sit down with his hands before him, and say, "It is not worth while to do anything in this small tub Dart way," for if he so says, ten to one he will never do much in a large way. It is the spirit and the feeling that you must be doing something that is the true secret of success. Put pride in your pocket and your shoulder to the wheel and early prejudices under foot, and put that foot down, fearlessly, even though it be only on the first rung of the lowliest of ladders; look not back; let your motto be "Onward ever." Providence helps those who help themselves. Go ahead and win.

These reflections are quite appropriate to the occasion which they herald—that of my finding myself floating away in the tub Dart. Here was I, all M.D. Edinensis, with a long line of highland ancestors, too numerous to mention, and too dangerous to scrutinise even through their grand baronial walls, turned incipient pig-merchant.

Yes, I floated grandly away up the Tamaki River with the flood-tide, and, stealing up a little creek, we came to where a portage of about half a mile— owing to the interlacing of the waters of the eastern and western harbours—enabled us to reach the head waters of the Manukau.

Walking across the portage we found a canoe, and having transferred to it my merchandise alias "trade," we dropped down to the Ngatiwhatuas' kuincra grounds and fishing station of former acquaintance, at Onehunga, and here we found all the tribe.

"We" consisted of the supercargo, and the commander of the Dart, who, from his Maori marriage connection, was perfectly conversant with the language of his better-half, so I had him to fall back upon if my own limited knowledge should fail me in the weighty transactions in which I was about to be engaged.

It was immediately given forth that I had come to "hoko" for pigs, as I wanted to stock the island with the unclean animal, and that I also wanted a small supply of potatoes and kumeras for domestic consumption.

So I spread out my small store of blankets, shirts, printed calico, spades; &c., to tempt the owners of pigs to drive them to a barter market, and I sat me down and began to whistle the tune of taihoa, secretly invoking the shade of Job to support me, for I now had it instilled into my youthful impatience that taihoa was a. power in the land, not to be combated except to one's own great detriment, so I whistled away "taihoa" to the English version, "hurry no man's cattle," preparing to suffer and be strong to an unlimited extent.

I was not a little startled and surprised, however, that there was not going to be any taihoa whatever as to the appropriation of my wares; as a most startling rush was made to tapu everything right and left.

This proceeding was performed after the following fashion, the chiefs and chieftainesses being allowed precedence, before the oi polloi took up the balance of tapu-ing.

When any article was fancied, the intending purchaser took a thumb from the fringe of his or her mat, and fastened it on to the chosen article. If the selector happened to be wearing a blanket or shirt or, mat without a fringe, or wearing nothing at all, as was sometimes the case, from which any tape-ing mark could be detached, then a neighbouring flax bush, or piece of flax from a potato kit, supplied the wherewithal to affix the tape.

This once done, no one ever dreamt of disturbing or disputing the choice so made. I saw all my "trade" rapidly labelled "sold," by this process, but neither heard nor saw a sign of a grunter being forthcoming.

At last old Kawaw came to close quarters, and, squatting himself down beside me, he opened fire by propounding the question—"Ehiai te tare mo teiiei paraikete?" How many dollars for this blanket? paraikete being the nearest approximation the Maori can make to the pronunciation of the word blanket. I repeated the old chief's question with an inquiring stare, as much as to say, "I don't know what you mean," and thought to myself; "Why the mischief doesn't the old fellow bring me a pig he thinks the value of the blanket?"

"Ekiai?"—How many? repeats the old man.

"Ekiai?" I repeated; "what have dollars to do with pigs?" I exclaimed aloud in my own vernacular, quite forgetting he did not understand me.

"Ekiai?" again repeats Kawaw, drawling out the word while fumbling with the corner of the blanket he wore, and which at last he succeeded in opening, when out there jerked into his lap quite a small shower of—gIittering sovereigns!

Again benignly looking me in the face, and breaking into a smile which caused to curl up still higher the tattooed wave-line at the corners of his mouth, he repeated in the most mellifluous tone-"Ekiai to tara?"

Why, the old man means what he says after all, but where the devil have all the sovereigns come from?
And on my face wonder must have been so plainly written as I stared at the old man, that he said-"Te utu mo to whenua"—The payment for the land.

"Hallo!" I sang out in the most excited manner to the commander of the Dart, "come here, look here; Kawaw has got heaps of sovereigns—payment for land he says."

"What land?" we both asked In a breath.

For this land and the Wraiteinata land," replied Kawaw quietly; "we have been to Kororareka to get the ulu and sign the puapula, and this is some of the money."

"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" shouted I, jumping up; "the isthmus is bought—the capital fixed— hurrah I hurrahI"

And I there and then extemporised a war-dance, poor old Kawaw looking unutterable amazement, and firmly believing I had gone clean mad.

Here was the explanation of the little topsail schooner we had seen from the island slipping in to Orakei Bay. The chiefs had been taken up to sign, seal, and deliver the deeds, and get part of their money, and here was some of it glittering before me in veritable proof.

"But Orakei, have you sold that?" I asked.

"Kahore, kahore!"—No, no! he said which word was chorussed from a dozen voices all around.

No, indeed! Orakei and its lovely slopes were not sold. The land was higher up the harbour, and cutting across the isthmus to Onehunga, a narrow strip only a little to the west, embracing a large shore frontage to the Waitemata and of very miserable quality. It was a Maori bargain, and he had been equal to the occasion—indeed, when was he not? he always kept the cream of the land, and sold the skimmed milk to the Pakeha. In after years it became proverbial that if in travelling through the country and crossing poor tracts of stunted fern you asked, "Whose land is this?" the reply would be "The Queen's land." "And these beautiful fertile spots?" "The land of the Maori, of course; you did not need to ask."

But enough land, and good land too, had been bought to give a shore on both east and west harbours and transit across the isthmus.

"Ehiai te tara?" quoth the old man. He was quite shrewd enough to know that, pretty as his gold looked, after all glittering, sovereigns were a very useless commodity to him. Waipeha's trading Pakeha had departed; there was not any whare hoko from which blankets and tobacco could now be drawn; the gold might remain long enough tied up in the corner of his blanket, and here was a rare chance to get rid of it.

This fact had become patent to the old chief, and he kept constantly repeating his question. But it had also dawned upon me that if I took gold it would be just as useless to me on the island as it was to the old man here, for gold would no more bring forth and multiply in my purse than in the corner of his blanket. But good breeding sows might, if left to themselves, roam over and fatten upon the rich fern-root of Motu Korea.

"Ekiai te tara?" persisted Kawaw.

"I want pigs," I rejoined.

"Healia te pai te moni?"—What is the good of money? I can't put it on my back and wear it, or in my pipe and smoke it. Very good is gold for the Pakeha."

"And what is the use of gold to me? Sovereigns put on Motu Korea won't eat up fern-root and multiply—pigs would."

"Ehoa ma"—Friend of mine—" that is what I want my pigs to do for me. I have plenty of fern-root too."

"But you have lots of pigs, and I have not any at all."

I thought I had played a good card by that remark.

Silence for some time on part of Kawaw.

"hanui pai te gora mo te Pakeha"—Exceedingly good is the gold for the white man.

Not being able to contradict that assertion, I shelved it and played the waiting game. Long silence, the old man deeming he had shut me up. At last I ventured upon saying, "Exceedingly good is the Pakeha's trade at Motu Korea—better than gold in the corner of a blanket!"

I thought this remark might serve as a draw.

"Ae pea"—Yes perhaps—at last came from him, his voice assuming a tone of superior wisdom. "Ae pea two blankets may become three at Motu Korea if the rats don't eat them. Rats don't eat gold."

Well delivered that thrust—a veritable trump card which made me feel the crisis was at hand, and if I could not play a better it looked as if the game was to be the old chief's, and he was going to take the trick.

But a happy idea came to my rescue. "There is no tribe in the land, then, but the Ngatiwhatuas, and no pigs in the land but your pigs."

And I rose and began deliberately to unfasten his tapu mark from the articles he had chosen. This was the ace of trumps.

"Haeremai nei, Iiaeremai nei"—Come here, come here, and sit down—said the old man quickly, "and
let us korero."

He could not stand seeing his tapu marks removed, which meant that I was going away with all my small wares.

And so we sat down, and it thus came about that I had to bring my shrewdest wits to bear upon this my maiden transaction in the commercial world, and I only just managed to prove equal to the great small occasion.

After much korero-ing and long battling we arranged a compromise over the glittering gold's much despised.

But I only made it a drawn game—half in gold, half in produce—half gold old Kawaw's winning card and half produce mine.

And so I departed in peace—thirty gold sovereigns in hand, sixty pigs driven on foot.

Ho for Motu Korea!


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