Legends of the Maori
AT the sound of the bushmen’s axes, and the thundering crash of thefalling sons of Tane, old Parau awoke from his day dreams. The sun was shining brightly, the day was warm, and yet the old man shivered and hugged his fire closely, The reader will pardon my ottence of introducing myself first. Well, I am the last of my tribe. I was brought up as a child by my great-great-uncle. At an early age I knew the incantations of my ancestors to the various gods, to Rehua, Tane, Tu, Rongo, Tawhiri, Haumia, Kahukura and Tangaroa. I knew the history of my lost tribe, all their songs and legends, but one; and it is about that one which was withheld from me that I am going to tell you.
Parau was a strict teacher but a loving elder and a grand companion. Time soon slipped away in his company. He knew everything in the forest, from the smallest beetle to the biggest tree. He knew when, where and how to catch the sons of Tane-mahuta (the god of the forests). He knew how to fashion peculiar hooks for the peculiar sons of Tangaroa, the choice morsels that would tempt them most; he knew the glories of the night world, the significance of the appearance or disappearance of the heavenly lamps. He knew the language of birds, the speech of the clouds, and the whistling and whispering of the winds. Ah! Parau, Parau! my companion, my mentor, my friend! How often I have longed for you and cursed the gods for their stupidity in making man so imperfect that he must need die. Enough.
Time circled on in happy dreams for me, till one day a stranger appeared. He was tall and majestic, as tall and straight as a kahikatea tree. He wore pakeha clothes, and to me looked peculiar, which made me inclined to laugh, but old Parau had taught me never to write on my face what my heart wished to conceal, and so I was silent. Parau and he cried greatly and rubbed noses many times, while I watched at a distance. Mokai, our slave, also cried, but what for I could never make out. After what appeared to me hours, Parau called me to him, and said, “E hongi ki to matua” (“Rub noses with your father”), which I did.
That night I lay awake and heard Parau and my father arguing far into the night; sometimes old Parau would take out his méré and look fierce, and I knew it was something very important. At last I fell asleep, and when I awoke I did so with the wail of Mokai in my ears. “Baby, that horrid man shall not take you away to make a pakeha of you.”page 142
“What are pakehas?” I asked.
“Why, they are terrible people,” she replied, “who swallow land and men alike, and are never satisfied.”
“Keep me from pakehas, Mokai,” I said, and so slept again in her old arms.
In the morning before sunrise Parau took me by the hand and we walked to the creek, where we always bathed. “Son,” he said, “flesh of my flesh, be brave. If your voice falters and tears bedim your eyes, you are no child of mine, and so, be brave! It may be your father is right. The Maori world is passing away and it will come no more. He is right. The lands of your ancestors are slipping away from us—the insatiable maw of the pakeha is never filled. We fought him at Waitara, at Rangiriri, Orakau, Te Ngutu-o-te-manu. Son, it is no use. Te Whiti is right, the weapon of to-day is the tongue, and that is why I have brought you here to give you my last advice, and the token of my love. Now I want you to get that weapon, the tongue, sharpened on the grindstone of pakeha wisdom. See to it—see to it—and if you pass through the fire, fall on the rock. To the sound of the woodman’s axe I shall awaken and see you face to face once more. And now farewell. Do that which is just and right always and fear nothing. Take this greenstone tiki and let it always lie next to your skin and so our love will never grow cold. Press your nose to mine thrice, and so farewell. Go to your father, and say to him you are ready. I will not see him again. Farewell, my son-farewell I My son—my son!”