A Sketch of the New Zealand War
Sir Donald Mclean's Story VII
The following narrative was related to me by Sir Donald McLean, the greatest Maori scholar of our time, with the single exception of Judge Maning, the author of Old New Zealand, who in curious lore was probably Sir Donald's superior. In variety of useful political knowledge and general acquaintanceship with the outer life of the various tribes, Sir Donald McLean was without an equal. Donald was a Highlander, about six feet two inches, with a broad, expansive chest, a flat, strong forehead, a blue-grey, open eye, a genial manner, and an affectionate nature. All this was dominated by an ambitious temper, and the wonderful Scottish talent for economy and reticence.
A chat with Sir Donald would convince any one that he was a guileless character. He was, too, in a sense. His influence with the Maori was due to his imperturbability. He could beat them at their own game of page 66"Taihoa" (i.e. "Wait a bit"). Yet he was a most touchy, irritable, excitable man. When he had a little whisky in, and was at ease with his company—which on such occasions never included a Maori—Donald would jump on the table and dance a Highland sworddance with blazing enthusiasm.
What a race these Scots are! What a fine fellow in his heart and brain was our Sir Donald!
In order to guarantee Sir Donald's story of Waitini, I want you to see the Scotchman at work. Donald McLean was Native Land Purchase Commissioner.
Land for settlement was indispensable. Often the Maori would not sell, yet if you gave Sir Donald his own time and did not interfere the land was always bought.
Donald seduced the Maori into talking the proposal over—just a korero (debate). He sent the chiefs some flour and sugar, passed round the word among all the neighbouring hapus (tribes) that at such a time "there would be a talk about the land."
Maori custom made it indispensable for a great chief to entertain all guests. All the Maori, no matter how distantly related, congregated to hear the talk (korero). Some page 67of them travelled hundreds of miles, and came accompanied by their wives and children. The great chiefs were thus eaten out of house and home, and had no alternative but to sell the land. There was one inveterately obstinate chief who would do nothing. A great korero was engineered against him. He was the only rich man left. He could not get out of the korero. His mana (i.e. prestige) was at stake. Donald McLean had nothing to do with engineering the korero. Oh dear, no. Donald's mana was also at stake. This Maori was not a Queen's native. He was a turbulent outsider. Donald would have nothing to say to him in the way of business. The hapus crowded in from all sides. The rich man had plenty; he did not care. He was a great chief; in any case he meant to show his power.
After a little time the tempter said, "A great chief like you ought not to be afraid of a mere Queen's servant (cookie) like Donald McLean. Let him be invited, that he may do homage to our Tino Rangatira." Donald was asked to the feast. Donald sat and smoked and listened for three months. The Tino Rangatira could not turn him away. Such a course was against all rules. The others could page 68not leave till Sir Donald left. It would be underbred to do so; besides, they were comfortable where they were. Not a word ever came out of Donald's mouth about the land. He narrated legends of the fallen greatness of the various hapus and tribes, and acquired an intimate knowledge of the personal history of every man of importance present. In an ordinary conversation he would say, "By the bye, Piri Piri, do you remember when you were crossing a branch of the Opotiki River in the Whakatane district in the month of April, '54—I think it was on a Wednesday. When cooling your foot (which you had struck against a jagged stump of rata) in the mudhole, you were bitten by a large crayfish, and thought it was the 'Taniwha'?" Now, Piri Piri, who was an utter stranger to McLean, and had travelled hundreds of miles to be present at the Runanga, was duly impressed. In time, many of the Maori from distant parts began to think that McLean had the second sight. (McLean had, of course, learned Piri Piri's story from the Whakatane natives.) Before such a power the influence of the Tino Rangatira began to wane. In addition, his provisions were beginning to run low. His money was all gone, his credit was suffering, page 69and yet there was no sign of movement from McLean. The Maori have a great gift of humour, which is not infrequently associated with good sense. The Tino Rangatira came to McLean and said, "For God's sake, take the land and go home."
Donald did take the land, and there was a flourishing settlement on it within five years. The Tino Rangatira had all his debts paid, and the remainder of the land was doubled in value by the nearer approach of civilization. This chief proved a great friend of ours in the troublous times, and, as he was a gentleman, a strategist, a Maori, and a man of honour, held McLean in the greatest esteem for ever after. He knew that McLean had outwitted him by his astuteness and business acumen, and as there was no trick in the game, he bore Donald no ill-will.page 70