A BATTLE THAT
RECEIVED A NAME
Illustrated by Dennis Knight-Turner
In ancient Maoridom, battles were glorious not because of the numbers of foes killed but because of the quality of the foe. Battles were associated with the names of chiefs killed and those that killed them. If there was no chiefly name to connect the engagement with a tribal genealogy, then the battle was without a name.
“It is war,’ said the chief Rangipakia, and his people stamped their feet and shouted “Ae! Tokia! Tokia! Tokia! It is war!”
There had been an uneasy peace for many years between the people of the river and the people of the mountains. Now Rangipakia knew that peace would soon end for war seemed the only course open to him. A raiding party from the mountains had come down and ambushed one of his peaceful fishing parties. Now his people cried out for revenge! The stain had to be wiped out. And yet Rangipakia alone of all those present was not entirely carried away with the fervour of the moment. His heart filled with misgivings and he realised that the River People would be hard put to defeat their enemies. But there were no misgivings in the minds of the warriors.
“Tokia!” they shouted. “Strike them down!” and the people roared their approval. Presently when one of the orators had finished, Rangipakia stood up again.
“Our enemies are as numerous as leaves on the ground,” he said. “This will be a hard battle. We must call on all our kinfolk to aid us in avenging our honour.” The elders nodded wisely and raised their hands in assent.
After the speeches were finished and the hakas had ended, messengers were chosen from amongst the men and each was ceremoniously presented with a broken taiaha as the symbol of war. Then they were sent out to the neighbouring sub-tribes to call them to arms and to give the time and place of assembly. Meanwhile there was much to be done and the whole pa became a hive of bustling activity and noisy sound. Many times a day the booming war gong and the brassy putara sent their ringing call over the marae and the blood of the men quickened as they sharpened their weapons and practised their war dance under Rangipakia's leadership and the critical eyes of the old men.
Finally the messengers returned with the news that the sub-tribes had risen to the call of their kinsmen and were making their preparations. At this news the men practised their peruperu with even more energy than before. Several more days passed before at last the sentries gave warning of the approach of the first of the allied war parties. At this, all work stopped in the pa and the women and children hurried to the edge of the marae whilst the fighting men stripped for the war dance and quickly took up their positions kneeling in columns on the marae, each man gripping his weapon in his hand.
The shrill chatter of the spectators stilled into an expectant hush as the visitors, led by their chief Te Whareporo, strode through the gates of the pa which had been thrown open to receive them. They came forward slowly and in perfect silence.
Rangipakia knelt in front of his men and as the others neared the marae he made a quick movement with his hand and Harapaki, one of the younger warriors, stood up. He paused for a moment and then advanced with quick springy steps carrying in his left hand a rough spear made of manuka rod. This was the whakaara—the first of three challenge spears. The tail of the visiting
band was still passing through the gate when Harapaki threw his spear. It whistled through the air and then slithered across the ground in front of the silently advancing men. Then Morete stood up carrying the second whakaoho spear and minced forward with short bouncing steps. Then his spear flew through the air. Suddenly a quick breeze caused it to corkscrew and a gasp went up. If the spear turned and fell across the line it would be a bad sign. However the breeze dropped and the spear righted itself and fell true. The visitors ignored it and continued their silent march.
Then Toheriri, son of the chief, jumped to his feet. He was recognised as the fastest runner in the tribe. In his right hand he held the rakau mutu, the final challenging spear, and in his left hand he gripped his greenstone mere. All eyes were on him as he neared the silently marching war band. No sound could now be heard except the tramp of feet and the cries of the challenger. Then when the visitors were less than 100 paces away he cast his spear and at the same moment he turned right and raced back to the waiting tribesmen of Rangipakia. Straight and unwavering, the spear flew through the air and landed pointing at the visitors. Even whilst the spear was still in flight hover, the kaiwhai or pursuer, who was the fastest runner of the visitors, dashed out at full speed to catch the impudent Toheriri. The visitors gave a throaty roar and followed the runners at a quick trot waving their weapons and giving a peculiar hissing cry.
The pursuer strained every ounce of his strength to get close enough to thrust his taiaha between Toheriri's legs and bring him crashing to the ground, but with a final spurt the chief's son gained the security of his own ranks and the tensed up warrior relaxed a little. This was a good omen! The spectators roared their approval. The war band now quickened their pace and charged headlong until they were just short of Rangipakia then with heaving sides they kneeled down and glared across the intervening space.
Suddenly with bloodcurdling yells both parties sprang to their feet simultaneously and charged at one another. At the last moment, when it seemed that nothing could stop a head on collision, both forces swerved slightly and the visitors passed on the right hand side of the home forces.
“Hurihia!” Rangipakia and Te Whareporo shouted together and the two war parties spun round, passed one another again, wheeled suddenly and took up their previous positions kneeling in a rough column of fours. There was a moment of
stillness broken only by the whining of a dog and the wailing of a child from amongst the raupo-thatched whares which stood close to the marae. The sweat streamed down the naked flanks of the warriors and formed rivulets in the lines of their tattoo. The hot sun made their bodies shine like polished teak.
“Whiti! Whiti!” shouted Rangipakia and his men leaped to their feet and began the tribal peruperu. The ground quivered beneath the pounding feet of the warriors, their faces twisted into the most terrifying expressions of which each man was capable and the thunderous shouting of the words, chanted in perfect unison, rolled across the marae to be thrown back and forth by the encircling stockade. Then with a final shout the dance was finished and as the war party sank to the ground, the visitors rose to their feet and replied, each man trying his best to better the performance of those opposite.
At last the visitors were also finished and both groups broke ranks and greeted one another in the normal way with wailing and many speeches and finally feasting. The next day the second band of reinforcements arrived under their chief Matorohanga and the ceremony was repeated. Once again Rangipakia's challenger was too swift for the visitors and the chief's misgivings lessened a little at the thought of these favourable omens.
After the ceremonies of greeting were over, came the ceremonies of purification of the warriors. These were many and varied and lasted throughout the whole of the next day. As the shadows began to lengthen all that remianed was the ritual of wai taua—the ceremonial baptism into the service of Tumatauenga, God of War. The warriors trooped down to the river followed by the old men. No slaves or women or boys were allowed to be present at such a tapu ritual. The warriors stripped and entered the water and waited for the tohunga. There was a stir and the throng parted as the priest strode down to the bank. There he took two strips of flax leaf from his girdle, tied them together and entering the running water placed them so that he was standing between the two trailing strips.
The tohunga's voice rose high and clear and his chant rang above the sound of the water. He went to the man closest to him, dipped a small branch of karamu shrub into the water and sprinkled a few drops on him, chanting all the while. He moved on to the next and repeated the performance and continued this down the line. As the men felt the water swirling around their thighs, cold and clean, they knew they had stepped out of their old skins into a new body free from the fears and weaknesses of the old. Now the war tapu was on them and they were under the protection of the tribal war god.
When the men returned to the pa after the long ceremony, the people were silent. They knew that their men were now separate and apart and no longer of the same world, for one of the restrictions of the war tapu was that the warriors could have no contact with their wives or sweethearts until it was removed.
Where before there had been feasting and gaiety and bustle, there was now a hush over the pa as the warriors lay down on their mats for some much needed sleep. One by one the fires died and the night silence was broken only by the voices of the sentries as they recited watch alarms at intervals in loud voices.
“Tenei te pa, o ko roto, ko au e…. This is the fort and here within am I….”
Next morning the village was awake as the first grey streaks of dawn were in the sky. The white smoke from the fires twisted up into the still air as the women busied themselves cooking a meal and the warriors made themselves ready. After eating, the men took their weapons and gathered on the marae for the grand finale of the war dance.
All the war parties squatted together in a column five abreast. Suddenly Rangipakia bounded to the front and gave a short call. On the last word the whole body rose to its feet as one man and the dance began. The stamping feet were quiet and almost lazy at first but gradually the beat increased in intensity. Each man held a weapon in his right hand and beat his bare thigh with his left, the whole sounding like the beating of a huge drum. The thunderous chorus reverberated back and forth and the sweat-soaked earth seemed to rumble and quake beneath the frenzied feet of the warriors as if mighty Rauumoko the earthquake god had risen and himself joined in the dance. Then with a great shout that went to the heavens, the dance was finished.
A roar of farewell rose from the throats of the people as the men strode off without a backward glance. It was over a day's march to the territory of the mountain people and the war party wasted no time as they moved over the narrow bush tracks. Rangipakia led the way, for although the allied tribes were under their own chiefs, the whole party came under Rangipakia's leadership. Very soon the sounds of the waterfall close to the pa faded to a subdued rumble against the greenery which rose from either side of the path like a green wall. Overhead, the tui called and to Rangipakia it seemed to chant a prayer over and over again.
“Tuia! Tuia! Tuia mai tatou—Bind! Bind! Bind! us together!” He begged Tu that it would be so for he knew that his men were much fewer in numbers than the mountain dwellers. Victory would not come easily, but honour must be avenged. His men lacked nothing in courage and training.
That night the tohunga selected a camping spot by driving his tupou into the ground. A hurried meal was eaten, sentries posted and then the party slept. The next morning the men rubbed their naked bodies with fat and oil to make themselves slippery and hard to hold when they came to grips
with the enemy. Only the principal fighting men and those of high rank wore the war belt and the dog skin war cloak. Then the tohunga performed a short ritual over the weapons to give them greater killing powers, and strengthened and fortified the war party set off again.
About mid-morning they reached the foot hills. The bush was stunted here and it was possible to see a considerable distance ahead.
Then as the river people crossed a ridge, they saw a great host drawn up on the plateau above them. The foe had got news of their coming and were so confident of their superiority that they had left their fortified pa and come to meet them on open ground!
With a roar, the attackers surged forward until they were a mere thousand yards from the mountain people. There they pulled up and closed their ranks and warily watched the furious haka of their enemy. Then in reply the river people gave their dance with every ounce of energy of which they were capable.
When this was finished, Rangipakia threw off his cloak and stepped from the ranks and strode out across no man's land and stopped when he was half way between his own force and those opposite. In a high clear voice he challenged a member of the other side to single combat. It was the custom. There was a stir in the ranks of the mountain people and a hefty warrior came out and stopped just short of Rangipakia. The chief of the mountain people was old and had sent out instead one of his younger and tried warriors which was permissible.
Rangipakia danced at his opponent, his taiaha held vertically. The opposing armies watched with deep interest but remained where they were without movement. The chief watched his adversary's big toes. Feint blows came from the elbows and for them the feet did not need a firm grip. Striking blows however flowed from the shoulders and then the toes flexed and gripped the ground. Rangipakia saw the danger sign and deftly parried a deadly blow then suddenly he turned his staff to the upright position, crossing his hands as he did so and lowering the blade to the left, seemingly leaving his head and chest unprotected. With a low cry the enemy lunged forward and struck a vicous right-handed blow to the chief's apparently unprotected head. It was a trick! The blade of Rangipakia's taiaha rose like a flash, and turned the enemy's blade off to the right whilst at the same time its point ripped into the man's stomach sinking deep and splashing the chief with a sudden spurt of blood.
A great cry went up from the opposing armies and as if a spell was suddenly broken they lunged together with a fierce roar and clashed in conflict. All afternoon the bloody battle raged, the long line of men at times coming to grips fighting hand to hand with patu and mere and other times separating and hurling spears. They thrust forward and
fell back like a huge writhing serpent. As the sun started to go down behind the peaks, the mountain people pushed forward time and again and drove a wedge deep into the ranks of the river people who started to fall in ever increasing numbers beneath the superior weight of those who opposed them.
Gradually the gallant war bands of Rangipakia and allies gave way and soon it developed into a running battle as the line broke and fled. Back, back fell the river people fighting furiously but unable to stem the inexorable rushes of their enemies. Even when they reached the forest there was no refuge from the pursuing enemy. The rear guards fought stubbornly on the narrow bush tracks so that the main body could make good their escape. None fought more gallantly than Rangipakia and his son Toheriri until suddenly a spear pierced the chief's leg and he collapsed with the weapon protruding from the other side. With one wrench, Toheriri broke off the tip and pulled the shaft from his father's leg. Rangipakia's face twisted with pain but he said nothing. Whilst the rest of the rear guard forged a barrier in front of the enemy, Toheriri and another man picked up the chief and together they supported him along the track.
The going was slow and before long shouts from their rear told them that their pursuers had broken through. “Stop!” commanded Rangipakia. “Leave me here in this thicket beside the path. Return when all is clear by night and take me back to my people that I may fight again.” Toheriri hesitated a moment, then as his father made an impatient gesture, he and his companion turned and ran down the track whilst Rangipakia dragged himself into the bush and lay still, watching the path through a small chink in the thick curtain of greenery.
Seconds later the mountain people swept down the track and from the cries and yells further down, Rangipakia guessed that more fighting was going on. Then these sounds died away and there was only the evening songs of the birds and, amongst them, the call of the tui which seemed to cry mockingly now …
“Tuia! Tuia! Tuia! mai tatou—Bind! Bind! Bind us together!”
At these words Rangipakia thought of the defeat to his tribe and the pain in his leg seemed to inflame into fresh life. The twilight was short and night soon fell. The forest slept but Rangipakia did not. He waited for his rescuers but no one came. After a pain-racked night, dawn broke. As the light and sunshine streamed through the trees turning the dew to wisps of steam and dappling the greenery with patchwork, there was no lightness in Rangipakia's heart nor warmth in his body. Again he heard the derisive call of the tuia … “Tuia! Tuia! Tuia mai tatou!”
It had not long been light when Rangipakia heard voices from down the path. For a minute a spasm of hope gripped him until he realised that it was some of the mountain people returning from the chase. Suddenly, through his little opening, he saw one of those in front point to something on the ground and call to the others. From his words, the chief realised with horror that there must be a minute trail of blood leading from the path straight to his hiding place and the sharp-eyed enemy had seen it. Rangipakia tried to pull himself to his feet but with a rush the war party was on him and had hold of his arms.
They half carried, half dragged Rangipakia along the forest tracks until they came to the edge of the bush where the rest of the mountain people had made a hasty camp. There he was recognised and given food and drink but he refused them both. He sat on the ground a prey to his thoughts. He knew that his useless leg ruled out any chance of escape or even of making a fight for it. He also knew that the alternative was slavery for the mountain people did not eat their captives. Slavery! This was a fate far worse than death on the battlefield or in the ovens of the victors. His family would be disgraced for ever and his tribe would never again command respect for their chief would be the slave of another people, a hewer of wood and a carrier of water, a menial to be spat on and jeered at. To be defeated was bad enough, to be captured and eaten was even worse, but to be captured and become a slave …! This was the ultimate disgrace.
The thoughts crowded through Rangipakia's mind. How could he persuade the enemy to kill him and in that way save his mana and that of his family and tribe? How could he die honourable? Then at last an idea came to him. There was yet hope! If only Tu had spared the lives of his two brother chiefs who had led the allied war parties. Rangipakia struggled to his feet with a great effort. “Take me to your chief”. The chief of the mountain people received him courteously for he had no feelings of personal enmity towards Rangipakia. It was the impetuosity of some of his young men in killing the fishing party of the river people which had made events from then on inevitable…. Rangipakia asked:
“Has my brother Te Whareporo been killed in the battle or has Tu spared him?”
The chief of the mountain people shook his head. “Te Whareporo still lives and has eluded my son.”
Then Rangipakia asked the fareful question on which hung his chance of saving the honour of his family and his tribe.
“That is good! And what of my other brother Matorohanga? Has he also escaped?”
“He has escaped and presumably still lives. You, Rangipakia, are our only captive of rank!”
The lines of pain and despair on Rangipakia's face disappeared. His eye glowed with a fierce light as he got to his feet now seemingly without effort. He drew his shoulders back with dignity and stood with his arms folded across his chest.
ARCHAEOLOGY AT PAEKAKARIKI
Evidence of a much larger Maori occupation than had previously been thought had been found recently at Paekakariki by the group of archaeological enthusiasts organised by Mr C. Smart, of the Dominion Museum, some weeks ago. The group had recently explored one known site on the ridge of the Paekakariki Hill immediately above the township, he said. They had been surprised to find evidence of extensive population over a long period.
“It was evidently a pa site, a defensive position, with terraces and ridges showing the former place of fortifications,” he said. “It is difficult to reach even today, with no fortifications left to protect it.”
The group also found, lower down the hill, strange ditch and bank defences surrounding a very small area of land, hardly large enough to hold two fighting men. Little was known of the people of the area in ancient Maori times, though it was known that a group of Ngati Ira had at one time occupied part of Paekakariki, said Mr Smart. Just what the bank and ditch defence was used for was difficult to say, except that it might have been a refuge for a quick retreat for a small number of people.
“Then kill Rangipakia! Kill me that this victory of yours may be sung of in the genealogies and stories of your people. Kill me that your battle may have a name!”
There was a sudden hush. The chief of the mountain people looked into Rangipakia's face and understood. He recognised a gallant enemy and nodded slowly.
He pulled his mere from his belt. Rangipakia stood straight in front of him, his head high and proud, a smile of triumph on his lips. Slowly the chief of the mountain people raised his mere and the sun glinted on the polished greenstone as he paused for a moment and brought it sideways.
As a great blackness closed on Rangipakia, chief of the river people, he smiled and seemed to hear the voice of the tui triumphant now, calling from high above …
“Tuia! Tuia! Tuia! mai tatou—Bind! Bind! Bind us together!”
NATIONAL HISTORIC PLACES
The National Historic Places Trust has decided to attempt to remove some of the rocks containing Maori rock paintings which will otherwise be destroyed when the Benmore hydro-electric scheme is completed. The Secretary, Mr John Pascoe, said that the Trust had decided to ask the Ministry of Works to do the job, although archaeological experts will give advice. Mr Pascoe also said that the Trust had approved the fencing of three important sites of Maori rock drawings in the Pareora District, South Canterbury. One of these sites was Frenchman's Gully and the other two were at Craigmore Downs. The landowners had been exceptionally co-operative, Mr Pascoe said, and the South Canterbury Regional Committee of the Trust under the chairmanship of Mrs Arini Woodhouse was very enthusiastic about the proposed protection.
Miss Vivian Hitchings, 149 Broomfield Avenue, Worthing, Sussex, England, would like to correspond with a reader of Te Ao Hou. She is fifteen years old, and would welcome a correspondence with someone of her own age.