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The New Zealand Reader

Heke At Te Kahika

Heke At Te Kahika.

When Heke's people heard that the soldiers were coming most of them left him, and there remained but two hundred men. Then Heke left Te Ahuahu and came and built a pa not far from Taumata Tutu, on the clear ground by the lake; for he said he would fight the soldiers on the spot where the last words of Hongi Hika had been spoken. The name of this pa of Heke's was Te Kahika.

Now, when this new fort of Heke's was finished the spirit of the Nakahi* entered into To Atua Wera, who is the greatest tohunga in all the country of the Nga-Puhi. So the Nalcahi spoke in the night to Heke and his people by the mouth of Te Atua Wera, "Be brave and strong and patient. Fear not the soldiers: they will not be able to take this

* [Nakahi, for serpent, is not Maori. It is adapted from the Hebrew word in Gen. iii.]

page 173fort. Neither be afraid of all those different kinds of big guns you have heard so much talk of. I will turn aside the shot, and they shall do you no harm. But this pa and its defenders must he made tapu. You must particularly observe all the sacred rites and customs of your ancestors. If you neglect this in the smallest particular evil will befall you, and I also shall desert you. You who pray to the God of the missionaries, continue to do so; and in your praying see you make no mistakes. Fight and pray. Touch not the spoils of the slain. Abstain from human flesh, lest the European God should be angry; and be careful not to offend the Maori gods. It is good to have more than one god to trust to. This war party must be strictly sacred. Be brave, be strong, be patient."

So Heke waited there at his fort at Mawhe, near Taumata Tutu, for the coming of the soldiers; and before long they arrived at Walker's* camp at Okaihau, which was but a short distance from where Heke was. When these soldiers arrived they were very much fatigued, and quite without provisions, and not at all fit to go to light. They had been two nights on the road, one of which nights they lay out in the rain; and they had but a small quantity of ammunition. They had come by a long, bad road, up and down hill, though there was a good road open to them; and they were quite worn out, and not fit to fight at all.

What could be the reason that the pakeha, who knew the country, did not tell the soldiers to come up the Kerikeri in boats, and then along the cart road to the turn-off to Okaihau? If they had done this they could have brought big guns in the boats, and provisions, and put them in carts at the Kerikeri, and come along the cart road till they were not far from Walker's camp. If they had done this the big guns would have knocked down the pa, for it was a very weak one, and it would have been taken, and the war would have ended; for it was because this very weak pa was not taken that the Maori kept on fighting, and that so many men were afterwards killed on both sides. Heke certainly had many friends amongst the Europeans, as why should he not?

* [The writer uses the English name Walker for the Maori name Waka—i.e., Tamati Waka Nene.]

page 174

But the soldiers had with them a light gun, called a rocket; and this gun had a great name. It was said that it would go into the pa, and twist and turn about in pursuit of the people until it had killed them every one. When we heard this we were sorry for Heke and his people, and were in great fear for ourselves lest it should turn round upon us also.

When the soldiers had rested one night at Okaihau, they prepared to attack Heke's pa; but early in the morning, when they were getting something to eat, we observed many of them eating standing up. This gave us a good deal of uneasiness, for it has an unlucky look to see warriors before going to battle eat their food standing; they should sit down and eat quietly, as if nothing was going to happen out of the common. But, as I have said before, the soldiers are very inexperienced in these matters.

When they had done eating, they formed to march to attack Heke. What a fine-looking people these soldiers are! Fine, tall, handsome people, they all look like chiefs; and their advance is like the advance of a flight of curlew in the air, so orderly and straight. And along with the soldiers came the sailors. They are of a different hapu, and not at all related to the soldiers; but they are a brave people, and they came to seek revenge for the relations they had lost in the fight at Kororareka. They had different clothes from the soldiers, and short guns, and long heavy swords. They were a people who talked and laughed more than the soldiers, and they flourished their guns about as they advanced; and they ate tobacco.

So the soldiers, sailors, and other Europeans advanced to the attack of Heke's pa, and with them came also Walker and his men. But before we had gone far we observed the soldiers carrying on their shoulders certain things made of cloth and wood. These things were rolled up, and we did not know the use of them; so we asked what they were, and were told they were kaukoa* on which to carry the dead or wounded. This was the worst of all: there were those soldiers going to battle, and actually carrying on their shoulders things to put themselves on when they were dead.

* [Kauhoa, a litter.]

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So we began to say one to another, "Those soldiers walking there are all dead men: it only wants a few guns to be fired and they will be all killed." Then some of the chiefs told some of the chiefs of the soldiers what a dreadfully unlucky thing they were doing; but they all laughed, and said that they came there to fight, and that whenever people fought some one was sure to be killed or wounded, and that it was right to have something to carry them on. But our people said it was time enough to think of carrying a man when he could not stand, and that by what they were doing they were calling for death and destruction; and they tried hard to get the soldiers to throw away these things, but the soldiers would not listen to them.

Then we all said, "This is not a war party here marching on this plain, but a funeral procession." So all the Maori left the soldiers, and went and sat on the top of the hill called Taumata Kakaramu, except about forty men, Walker's relations, who would not leave him. We felt sorry for the soldiers; but we said, "Let them fight their own battle to-day, and if they are successful we will help them in every other fight." But no one could believe they would be successful.

At last the soldiers and sailors got before Heke's pa. The main body of the soldiers remained opposite to it, at the side next to Walker's camp; the rest, about one hundred men, sailors and soldiers, went round by the shore of the lake, which was on the right of the pa, and so got behind it. On that side there was but one slight fence, and no pekerangi.*

The soldiers had told us in the morning that they would rush on both sides of the pa at once, and that it would be taken in a moment, and that then they would come home to breakfast.

So now the soldiers were in front of the pa, and also behind it; and on the right was the lake, and on the left was Walker with about forty men, and behind Walker there was a wood: he was between the wood and the pa.

Then the soldiers who bad the rocket gun went a little to the left front of the pa and set the gun upon its legs,

* [Outermost fence of a stockade.]

page 176and pointed it straight at the pa. Then all the people on the top of Taumata Kakaramu fixed their eyes on this gun. We watched it closely, and held our breath, and had great fear for the people in the pa. For, although against us, they were all Nga-Puhi of the same iwi* as ourselves, and many of them our near relations; and we never expected to see them more, by reason of this gun: we had heard so much of it.

At last, a great smoke was seen to issue from one end of the gun, and the rocket came out of the other. At first it did not go very fast; but it had not gone very far before it began to flame and roar, and darted straight towards the pa. It had a supernatural appearance, and rushed upon the pa like a falling star; but just as it was about to enter the pa it swerved from its course, touched the ground outside, and then rose and flew away over the pa without doing any harm. No one could tell where that first rocket went to. It was the Nakahi, the familiar spirit of Te Atua Wera, who had blown upon it with his breath and turned it away, according to his word when he spoke by the mouth of the tohunga; for up to this time Heke and his people had kept strictly all the sacred customs, and infringed none of them. So the Nakahi remained, guarding them from all danger.

When we saw that the first rocket had gone by the pa and done no harm, we all gave a great sigh, and our minds were eased. A second rocket was fired, and a third, and so on till they were all gone; but not one did any harm, for the Nakahi had turned them all away: not one entered the pa.

Now, before the first rocket was fired, Heke came out of the front gate of the pa to watch the effect of the rocket; and he stood outside, praying a Maori prayer, and holding with one hand to a post of the fence. Then the first rocket was fired. It came very near him, and passed away without doing any harm. Then another was fired, and missed also; and when Heke saw this, he cried out in aloud voice, "What prize can be won by such a gun?" And this has become a saying amongst us from that day; for, whenever we hear a man boasting of what he can do, we think of

* [Tribe.]

page 177the rocket, and cry, "What prize can be won by such a gun?"

When the first rocket was fired it frightened all the dogs in the pa, and they ran barking away over the plain; and also one slave ran out of the pa. He was very much frightened, and he ran away by a path which went; between the hundred soldiers and sailors, who were behind the pa, and Walker's people, who were at the left side of it. This slave never stopped running till he came to a place called Kai Namu, where Kawiti, who had marched all night to relieve Heke, had just arrived. And the slave ran up to Kawiti and his people, and began to cry out, "Oh! the soldiers have a frightful gun; it comes roaring and flaming"— Here Kawiti stopped him, and said, "I know all about all sorts of guns. All guns will kill, and all guns will also miss: this is the nature of guns. But if you say one more word I will split your head with my tomahawk." So the slave became more afraid of Kawiti than he was of the rocket, and he ran away back to Heke, and told him that Kawiti with help was close at hand.

When all the rockets had been fired, then the hundred men, soldiers and sailors, who were at the back of the pa arose out of an old Maori parepare,* where they had been sheltered, and, giving a great shout, turned to rush against the pa. Then Heke shouted to his men, "Now let every man defend the spot he stands on, and think of no other; and I, on my part, will look to the great fish which lies extended on our front."

And as Heke was saying this the soldiers and sailors had begun to move towards the pa, when suddenly Kawiti with one hundred and forty men appeared close upon their right, and fired upon them. Then the soldiers turned quickly to the right, and attacked Kawiti: they were close to each other, and some fought hand to hand. Then the soldiers were pressed back, and forced to give way before the rush of Kawiti and his men; but soon they rallied to the call of their chiefs, and charged with the bayonet. A close fight ensued, in which twenty of Kawiti's men were slain, and many wounded. Several of them were chiefs, and among them was one oi Kawiti's sons, being the

* [Breastwork.]

[Line or column of men.]

page 178second son he had lost in the war: the other fell at Kororareka.

Kawiti's men then retreated, and the soldiers chased them as far as the path in the hollow, which leads to Ahuahu. There the last Maori was killed by the foremost soldier. There is a stone placed where the Maori fell, and close to that stone, by the side of the path, the soldier is also buried, for there a shot from the pa struck him, and he fell. He was a great toa, that soldier. In this fight, whenever he pointed his gun, a man fell, and he ran so fast in pursuit that there was no escape from him; but he fell there: for such is war. The musket is a bad weapon—the worst of all weapons—for, let a man be as brave as he may, he cannot stand up before it long. Great chiefs are killed from a distance by no one knows who, and the strength of a warrior is useless against it.

As the soldiers chased Kawiti the pa fired on them from the left, so that they had Kawiti in front and the pa on the left, both firing, and therefore they lost many men. But, having beaten Kawiti off, they returned and took shelter in the Maori breastwork, and began again to fire at the pa. So they fired, and the pa returned the fire, and the main body of the soldiers who were at the front of the pa fired. Lead whistled through the air in all directions; the whole country seemed on fire, and brave men worked their work.

Then Tupori, a chief who was in the pa with Heke, saw that Kawiti had elevated his name, for he had fought the soldiers hand to hand twice—once at Kororareka, and once on this day. Seeing this, Tupori wished also to do something to make his name heard. He therefore cried out for only twenty men to follow him, and he would charge the soldiers.

Then twenty men rushed out of the pa with Tupori; they ran straight up the hill to the breastwork, the soldiers firing on them all the time, but without hitting one man. So Tupori and his twenty men came quite up to the breastwork, and stood upon the top of the bank, and fired their double-barrel guns in the soldiers' faces, and drove them out of the breastwork.

The soldiers retreated a short distance, and Tupori and his people began collecting the bundles of cartridges which the soldiers had left behind. And while they were doing page 179this the soldiers suddenly came rushing upon them. Their charge was very grand, and terrible to look at. They came; rushing on in great anger, shouting and cursing at the Maori. So Tupori and his men ran away to the pa, and as they ran the soldiers fired at their backs, and killed two men, and wounded Tupori in the leg. The rest got safe into the pa, and took Tupori and the two dead men along with them. Great is the courage of Tupori! He has made his name heard as that of a toa.

But it was not right for the soldiers to curse the Maori; for up to this time nothing wrong had been done on either side, and so the Maori were much surprised to hear the soldiers cursing and swearing at them.

After this the soldiers fired at the pa all day, but only killed three men, besides the two killed in the charge of Tupori: these five were all that were killed belonging to the pa, that day. When it was near night the soldiers went back to Walker's camp at Okaihau, taking with them their wounded, and also two or three dead; but about ten dead were left behind at Taumata Tutu, where they fell in the fight with Kawiti.

So Heke remained in possession of the battle-plain, and his pa was not taken; and he buried the dead of the soldiers. But one soldier, who had been wounded and left behind by the side of the lake, was found next morning by two slaves. They pretended to be friends, and got his gun from him, and then they took him to the lake and held his head under water till he was dead.

The morning after the battle the soldiers returned to the Kerikeri, and Walker went with his people to help them to carry the wounded. And Hauraki, the young chief of the Hikutu, went also with thirteen oi his people to assist in carrying the wounded soldiers. The rest of his tribe, being one hundred men, remained behind at Okaihau, for it was not expected there would be any more fighting for some days.

F. E. Maning

("Heke's War … told by an Old Chief").