The Adventures of Kimble Bent
Chapter XXVI — Bush Life on the Patea
Bush Life on the Patea
The return to Rukumoana—The forest-village—Bird-snaring and bird-spearing—Bent the canoe-builder—His third wife.
At last—about the year 1876—the Upper Waitara was sold to the Government. The white man and his Maori people cried their farewells to Ngati-Maru and journeyed back over the ranges and through the forests to their old lands in the valley of the Patea. Bent was still Rupé's servant. The old chief and his household and some Hauhau relatives, armed, and carrying their belongings on their backs, trudged through the wilderness until they reached Rukumoana, their old-time shelter-camp on the banks of the Patea, about thirty miles from the sea. Here they halted and built their hamlet of saplings and thatch, and an old overgrown clearing was burnt off and planted with potatoes and maize. The party was but a small one. Besides Bent, there were Rupé, his wife, and their two sons; old Hakopa and his wife; and their niece, a girl named Te Haurutu-wai (“The Breeze that shakes the Raindrops down”).page 307
It was an even lonelier spot than the refuge-camp in the Ngati-Maru country; life here was simple and primitive in the extreme. The people tended their little plots of food-crops, shadowed by the dark forest; they snared and speared the forest birds, they hunted the wild pig, and climbed the hollow trees for wild honey. For nearly two years the pakeha-Maori lived with his little tribe in Rukumoana.
The ancient customs of the Maori fowler's cult were observed by these bush-dwellers, brown and white. For instance, the first kaka parrot or tui or other forest creature snared or speared in a day's birding was not eaten, but was left, as an offering to the gods of the forest, beside an old tapu canoe which was lying in the bush close to the river-bank. It was a hoary relic, this ancient wakatapu, a carved dug-out covered with long grey moss. It was a small canoe, eight or ten feet long, and had lain there for years and years filled with water. Somewhat similar canoe-shaped troughs, filled with water, stood in various places in the forest; these were filled with water, and were generally placed in spots remote from streams or pools. Above them slip-knot snares were arranged, so that the pigeons and tui and other birds, flying down to quench their thirst after feeding on the miro or hinau or tawa berries, were caught in the nooses, and hung there, flapping and helpless, until the page 308 fowlers went round to collect the day's bag. This canoe was called a waka-whangai, or wai-tuhi.
When spearing birds with the long barbed spear of tawa-wood, the hunter would take great care to avoid getting any blood on his hands in withdrawing the weapon from the bird's body. Should blood stain the hands—” kaore e mana te tao “—the spear would lose its bird-killing powers; it would be an unlucky affair altogether, and the forest-man might as well throw it away. Such were the beliefs of the dwellers in those dim forest-places.
At the end of the first harvest season Rupé led his white man out into the forest one day, and, halting before a tall, straight totara-pine that grew near the steep bank of the Patea, he said:
“This is my canoe! Hew it down and carve it out! In it we will paddle down the river to Huka-téré, and you shall look upon the faces of your fellow-pakehas again.”
So now behold Bent the canoe-builder. There above him towered the tree—Tane the Forest-god personified. In his hand was his broad-axe; with it he must make his rangatira's river-boat.
He felled the tree, and, lopping off the upper part, began the laborious work of dubbing out the waka. The upper side of the trunk he levelled off with his axe, and then he gradually cut it into hollowed shape, an art he had learned on the Waitara. For this portion of the work an adze was chiefly used, page 309 a steel blade lashed to a wooden handle in the old Maori fashion. He trimmed and shaped the ends into bow and stern, and day by day the canoe assumed more shapely proportions, until at last it lay complete—a craft of about twenty-five feet in length and three feet in beam, rough and undecorated, it is true, but still a ship of the Maori, fit to carry cargo and paddlers, and run the rapids of the swift and broken Patea. Ropes were made of stout supplejack vines, and with Rupé and his family the white man lowered the canoe down the high bank to the water-edge. Te Riu-o-Tané lay ready for its crew—the Hollow Trunk of Tané.
Then paddles were shaped out, and Bent and his companions set to work catching and drying eels and gathering wild honey, in preparation for the voyage down the river to Hukatéré village, where the main body of Rupé's tribe resided.
About this time the white man entered upon his third matrimonial experience. His chief's grand-daughter, a good-looking girl of about eighteen, came to the little village with a visiting party of Ngati-Ruanui. She had already a husband, but he had quarrelled with her, and attempted to kill her; she, therefore, returned to her old tupuna, Rupé, who now gave her to Bent; and the white man and his young Maori wife lived happily there in well-hidden Rukumoana.*page 310
* This name Rukumoana originated thus, according to the Maoris: About the year 1830 a war-party from the Waikato attacked and slaughtered a number of Taranaki people here. One of the Taranakis saved his own life and that of his brother in a remarkable manner. These two men were cousins of Hakopa, the old warrior who befriended Kimble Bent in Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu pa in 1868, and later on the Waitara. One of the men was wounded, and in another moment his head would have been slashed off by a Waikato savage, but his brother seized him in his arms, and leaped over the steep bank of the Patea into the river below. He dived to the bottom, and still holding his brother, crawled along the bottom until he reached a place under the banks where the overhanging shrubs concealed them from view. The pursuers failed to find the brothers, who presently escaped to the forest. The Taranaki people commemorated this heroic deed by naming the spot where Hakopa's cousin took his daring leap “Ruku-moana” (“Deep-Sea Diving”).