Jim was the best shingle-splitter in Poverty Bay. Many claimed he was the best on the East Coast. I have the old lady's word for it and she should know for Jim was her husband's uncle. I shan't mention Jim's proper name, or the old lady's or her husband's, for though it's a hundred years almost since these things happened there are still descendants around who mightn't like to hear the names bandied about. The old lady tells me she heard the story from Jim's lips many a time, and she had it confirmed by many an old koro who knew the facts.
Being the best shingle-splitter in the area Jim was kept fully employed. Turanga was a growing township and the tide of settlement was flooding into the surrounding countryside. Hamlets were springing up at Te Arai, Manutuke, Ormond, Matawhero and Makaraka and scarce a week passed by without a new house being raised. New houses meant roofs and roofs meant shingles. Shingles meant work for Jim. Most men could turn their hands to pit-sawing for even a novice could pull the pit-end of a crosscut if the top sawyer could guide the line straight. Shingle splitting was a much more demanding job as anyone who has swung a broad-bladed axe could tell you. Shingle splitters, good, bad or indifferent, were far to seek. A hard-slogging expert like Jim was given more work than he could possibly cope with. He did well, He'd contract to supply shingles by the tens of thousands where other chaps would contract only in hundreds. Having taken on his contract Jim liked to work alone. No mates. He would cruise widely through the bush until he found enough mature totara trees within the radius of an hour's walk. Then he'd pitch himself a well-found camp as near as could be to the centre of them, so that he needn't shift camp from tree to tree but could remain snug in a central position until his chosen area was worked out.
Around thirty, I'd say Jim was at that time, and been in the bush since he was old enough to lift an axe, much less swing one. He knew how to look after himself and believed in doing so. A joker who slogs it out from morn to dewy eve keeps it up the better and the longer for solid eating and sound sleeping.
So Jim would build himself a nikau whare, cunningly thatched to keep out any weather and with a wide ponga fireplace right across one end of it. He'd pack in plenty of flour and oatmeal, honey and sugar and the other basic needs. He was rated a master of the camp-oven and I'm told his camp-oven bread put to shame the finest loaf a town baker could turn out. For his vegetables
Jim didn't scorn the products of the bush, ferns whose roots made succulent eating, the shoots of Pikopiko and Kouka, the pith of the mamaku fern and of the nikau, as well as the many berries whose merits he knew as well as any Maori.
He was a master of bird snaring. One of his first tasks would be to hollow out a couple of waka keruru or pigeon troughs and he never lacked for these toothsome birds. His duck-billed rifle kept him going with wild pork and this provided him not only with strong meat but also with dripping for his bread and lard for his cooking. He could stay snug as a bug in the bush for six months and never lack a thing. You might think he'd get lonely, but not Jim. A solitary sort of joker at the best of times a week or two in the settlements at the end of a contract would sicken him of town life and set him hankering for the bush again. It may be, being a robust male and as fit as a flea, his thoughts would turn, now and again, to the idea of feminine companionship, but if they did he kept it to himself.
After about two months on this contract Jim had cleaned out all the totara handy to camp and was working on trees further and further away. He'd got to the stage where he took his midday kai with him, keeping a billy, tea and sugar on the job and taking bread and meat with him each day.
One day Jim got that kind of funny feeling in the middle of the spine that solitary folk get when they fancy someone is watching them, unseen. Not that Jim was the type to get nervous, but as the feeling grew, day after day, he began to get annoyed. He knew of course that there were always Maoris likely to be around in the bush, bird-snaring and such. But he also knew that any such who came near his workings would come and have a korero with him for he stood in well with the tribes, in spite of the recent Hauhau troubles.
There was a day when this feeling of being spied upon was so strong as to be almost a physical link between watcher and watched. You may smile as such a statement, but I can assure you from personal experience, that it was not uncommon for a solitary bushman to develop what we now speak of as extra-sensory perception. This particular day Jim not only knew for certain he was being watched but he could sense the direction from which the hidden watcher gazed. He turned suddenly and caught a glimpse of a brown face framed in long and matted hair.
‘Hey there!’ he cried. ‘Haere mai, matapopore.’ His only reply was a soft rustle in the undergrowth and the disappearance of the face. That night, either by accident or design, Jim left his tucker-bag on the job when he went back to camp. Next morning the tucker-bag was still there but the half-loaf of bread and the remains of a roast pigeon it contained had gone.
If you'd been near Jim's workings in the days that followed you'd have sworn that he had gone porangi. He seemed suddenly to have developed the habit of talking to himself in a loud voice. But there was method in his madness. He was talking to the unseen watcher, who knowing herself to be discovered, kept further away and well out of sight.
So Jim talked to himself in fluent Maori (which he spoke as well as any native) about the loneliness of a bushie's life and about the care and comfort which awaited any wahine who cared to share his camp. He kept close tab on his provisions and such in camp. If the woman was, as he suspected, one of those unfortunates banished to the bush by her people he more than half expected she would raid his tucker-store while he was away from his whare during the day. All he ever missed, however, was one of the cut-down kerosene tins he used for buckets. He missed it one evening when he got home but it was there in its usual place the following morning. He might even have thought himself mistaken if he hadn't found ashes in the corners. He tumbled to it at once that the woman had used it to carry away embers from his fire. A few days later, cruising through the bush, he came across the ashes of a fire and, close to it, a small umu in which a few karaka berry kernels still remained. He twigged at once that the woman had used the umu to steam a feed of karaka berries which, though extremely poisonous when raw, are safe and palatable when cooked and pounded to meal.
Jim had a pretty good idea of what shifts the woman was being put to. He guessed she hadn't any knife, tool or weapon, and though no Maori would ever starve in the bush, life would be pretty grim, miserable and meagre for a women so badly equipped. He often told the old lady that it was then he began to have an admiration for the woman, whoever she was. He freely confessed that, placed the same way himself, he'd certainly have taken at least a few things from such a well stocked camp as his, if he'd come across it. He thought she was foolish not to have done so, but he admired her all the more for it.
He knew she was still hovering round his workings, watching while he felled the trees, sawed them to suitable lengths, split them with maul and wedges to the required thickness, and finally split off the shingles with rapid and unerring blows of his broad axe. He still kept talking aloud, but now of course directing his remarks directly to her. He told her she was welcome to anything from his camp, and always told her what he was leaving her that night at the workings. She never took anything from the whare but the tucker he left on the job always disappeared.
As the days went by and she discovered he was friendly she'd draw nearer, but for a long time she wouldn't answer him or let him catch sight of her. Jim didn't try to force her, for he knew she was as timid as a kiwi. In the end he got
the reward of his patience. One day she spoke to him. She was hiding behind a tree, pretty close, and no doubt Jim could have caught her if he'd put his mind to it. But by this time Jim, though he'd probably not have been able to say it in so many words, had kind of got to idealising her. So he was content just to talk to her and mighty thrilled to do so, at that.
He found out that her name was Hine-mokai. Later she told him she got the name from the fact that she'd been taken captive, as a baby, in the muru raid. He asked her, point-blank, if she'd been sent to the bush and she admitted that she had. But she wouldn't tell him why. By and by she got less cautious and even came to the edge of his clearing and spoke to him in full sight. Jim was so excited he went forward to meet her, naturally, but as soon as he moved she backed into the bush and disappeared.
The old lady told me that Jim always claimed that she was hine-piwari, a beautiful girl. I gather she was in her early twenties, and I have it in my mind, I don't know why, that she wore a long shapeless dress made out of an old blanket.
In the end she came right out and met him. They'd have midday kai together and she'd talk to him for longer and longer periods. She was always shy and nervous, though not so much of Jim himself. Every now and then she'd slip off into the bush and scout around in case anyone was near.
By now Jim was fair and square in love with her. He wanted her to go back at night to his camp and live with him. But she wouldn't. Even though she got friendly to sit with him, and let him hold her hands after they'd finished the midday meal she wouldn't let him go any further. Jim had an idea it wasn't through any moral scruples, and he thought she liked him well enough. She probably did, he was a handsome well-set-up chap likely to capture any girl's fancy, Maori or pakeha.
In the end she told him why. She'd been exiled to the bush on a charge of puremu (adultery). Jim never asked her if the charge was true. He didn't care much, he was so gone on her and, anyway, he'd hardly expect her to tell him. It wasn't long before she shyly confessed she was in love with him, too. But she wouldn't give in, or go to his whare.
‘Kahore, Hemi,’ she always said. In the end she told him that she was sure the Maoris from her kainga knew she was meeting him. She told him she was taking a risk in doing so. She never actually saw them but she knew it was their custom to keep a distant watch on persons sent to the bush. If she went to his whare and lived with him, she said, they'd find the tracks going to and from the whare and that would put them both in danger. She didn't go into particulars of what would happen. Anyway, Jim knew enough Maori customs to know her fears were well founded. She had had a special tapu put on her and it would be bad for both of them if she broke it openly at any rate.
Jim could have taken her on the leaves of the bush, anytime, without dire consequences, for that would have been treating her as a taurekareka, or slave. It would have been regarded by her people as an insult to her, treating her with merited contempt, and so part of her punishment. Anyway, that wasn't what Jim wanted.
He was wild enough in some ways, but not loose. If she'd gone back to his whare and lived with him he'd have regarded her if not as his wife, pakeha-fashion, at least as his woman, pakeha-Maori fashion. When he got back to town he I have married her and the whole matter would have been accepted and condoned, if not entirely regarded as respectable, by both their peoples. Except for the matter of that tapu.
In the end they surrendered to the love that drove them. He'd go back to camp alone each night. When he got to his earlier workings, not far from camp and where he had a pile of split shingles stacked, he'd lay a trail of shingles from there to his whare. Hine-mokai would follow him, after dark, walking carefully on the shingles so as not to leave tracks. Next morning, before first light, she'd disappear. When Jim left the whare he'd pick up the shingles and re-stack them on their original pile.
They lived together, this way, for the rest of the time his contract lasted, which was about three months. By that time he'd used up all the suitable trees within working distance and he'd have to go to another bush, miles away, for his next contract. Hine-mokai knew she was with child and Jim was frantic at the idea of leaving her. He pleaded with her to come out with him to his people's place and they'd get married, fair and square, pakeha fashion. She was broken-hearted, but she wouldn't. She daren't, she told him.
She held out a faint hope. If he could get the kaumatua, the elders, of her kainga to forgive her, and agree to have the tohunga lift the tapu from her, then she'd marry him and be glad to do so. Otherwise she'd wait until he had a new camp. Then she'd come and live with him as before, even though she knew that, sooner or later, her people would find out and nemesis would descend on her.
Well, that's the way he had to leave it. They parted in tears and sorrow, with despair on her side and with grim determination for a reunion on Jim's.
He never saw her again. The old men of her village listened kindly and patiently to Jim's pleadings but they shook their heads at any suggestion that they should revoke the sentence of banishment they had placed on her. For years after, through camp after camp, Jim lived in the
hope that she would return to him. She never did.
It's a poor ending to a story, I know, and not at all the sort of thing of which my publishers approve. But real life has a way of declining to follow the paths of romance, and that's that.
What happened to Hine-mokai, or to her child if she lived to bear it, I never learned. Nor did the old lady. Nor did Jim for all his questing.
Letters to the Editor about the article on education, ‘Is This Man Right?’ in our last issue.
Te Ao Hou,
Yes, this man is right! I know Harry, Emma and Charlie and others like them. They live way up in the North and down on the Coast, in the city and in the smallest villages. I have heard all these sad comments, and even sadder ones …
Perhaps they had been told over and over by parents, church and school authorities, but words are never enough. They can see that these people lead good and useful lives, but they have no urge to live that way—it seems so dull. The elders, too, speak many fine words during the hui and the tangi, but no-one expects them to live up to such high thoughts in everyday life. When old Rangi tells them how noble the old ones were and how badly the young people behave to-day, they are impressed by his oratory, but they recall that Rangi himself was a very ‘wild man’ once … From their point of view, it is all ‘sour grapes’; the old ones want to stop the young ones from having a good time.
So we come back to the home … I am a parent too. I learn much by listening as my children talk with their friends and mine. When they behave badly or speak foolishly, I do not blame the school or the neighbour's children, but only myself. If they have wrong ideas they got them from me …
Child-rearing is like kumara cultivation. Remember the old proverbs?
Ka whaia te wahie mo takurua, ka mahia te kai mo tau.
If you cultivate your children all the year round, tending them lovingly, the cold winter need never trouble you.
Nau i whatu te kakahu he taniko taku.
The garment is made before the border is added, and you as parents make your child what he is. Outside influences may add some elaborate trimming, but let him be proud to know he is who he is!
E kore e taka te parapara a one tupuna, tuku iho ki a ia.
Te Ao Hou.
Some pakehas don't understand us Maoris. So they believe we teach our children to suspect, distrust, dislike, even hate them. Further, because they don't really understand us, they believe our children have little respect for us. And so on.
Now, when I meet this kind of pakeha, I think back to what the last editor of Te Ao Hou once wrote, in the July 1956 issue.
Briefly it was this: we must be careful not to generalise when either talking or writing about race relations in this country. In other words, we must try to avoid the mistake of believing, for instance, that ‘all Maori are lazy’ or that ‘all pakehas are mean’ …
Could it be that the pakeha school teacher was generalising when he wrote, for example, that we have indirectly taught our children never to trust a pakeha? I believe he was. But, what is possibly worse still, it's obvious he doesn't realise it!
Arene Teira (Mangere)
Te Ao Hou
Although I do not entirely agree with your anonymous writer, as a Maori teacher I find his article very interesting indeed.
I feel that he does not fully understand the true cause of Maori hate for the Pakeha. It is not to be found in the attitude of no-good parents living in no-good houses in no-good Freemans Bay. We must go back (whether we want to or not) to the Land Wars, the confiscations and the disintegration of tribal life. The mana was broken but the hate lived on, our sense of history does not allow us to forget …
I must advise him that most Maoris who are thinking about living in town usually have no choice. Economically they must. The area of Maori land is shrinking fast. Despite lavish care even the kumara does not grow as well as it used to. It is stricken with blight. So what else is there but the asphalt jungle?
I hope I do not sound too pessimistic, but your writer and many other disillusioned Pakehas must realize that the problems of the Maori child are far far greater than that of the Pakeha. Therefore they must not expect the same standard of attainment and co-operation.
Atihana Johns (Atiamuri)