Art. LV.—A Local Tradition of Raukawa, a Legend of Maungatahi.
[Read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute, 13th August, 1888.]
Long years ago—how many it is not for me to say, nor does it matter—but not far from here, down the Maungatahi Valley, there lived two chiefs, whose pas were situated on the opposite sides of the Maungatahi Creek. Alas! how the hand of time and the white man's grass-seed alters things! When I first saw the valley I speak of, fern and tutu flourished on the hill-sides, and flax and toitoi in the valley; but this is all altered, and now more than half of its old beauty has fled: the “pakeha grass” grows everywhere, and all the swamps and flats are drained—improved they call it: well, I must say the same, but one cannot fail to regret the old days of seventeen years ago. The white mantle is descending on us all, and the most of us will soon be as bare “where the wool used to grow” as the old hill-pas are now, devoid of their old clothing of tutu and fern.
You will all ask what has this to do with the story; but you must not be too impatient: old memories crowd in upon us, and one can but feel sorry. “We are here to-day, to-morrow away:” lest, however, we go before to-morrow, let us hurry along and finish.
At the time of which I have written there was a great gathering of the different hapus, and it was decided to hold the meeting at Nga Tore Atua and Patangata, which, by the way, are fortified pas on two sugar-loaf hills, rising on opposite sides of the creek, and about three-quarters of a mile apart. Now, a dispute arose between the two pas as to who should supply the food to the people assembled. One chief considered it his sole right on the score of birth, &c.; the other chief advanced arguments so strong that the people took sides, and there was more likelihood of a free Kilkenny fight than of a peaceful gathering. All the “kaumatuas” (old men) were called
together, and after discussing the question in all its phases (and you know how many phases a Maori can get on a question) they decided to ask how much food each chief could supply, and the one who could give most was to have the honour of being made a poor man for the rest of his days.
So they set to work and they dug holes in this flat. These holes were dug in straight lines, each hole about 2ft. across and about 1½ft. deep, and shaped somewhat like a “kopa maori.” They then called on the chiefs to see who could fill most holes with food. They set all their people to work: some caught tunas, some pukekos, some kukupas, some kakas; others laid up punishment for themselves in the world to come by slaughtering those pretty little creatures the tuis; others, again, who would make a fortune at home whenever rat-terrier trials are fashionable, went in quest of the kiore. All, or nearly all, returned laden, and more holes were dug and filled; but with no better result than before: each pa was upsides with the other, and when there was nothing left to catch they had to think out some other scheme.
On the side of one of the hills, called Nga Tore Atua, and just below the earthworks of the pa, were two large blocks of limestone, each about 7ft. or 8ft. square: it was decided that these two blocks should be undermined by men appointed by the opposing chiefs, and, whichever stone rolled the furthest across the flat, the people of that stone should be the victors. So they went to work again, and down came one block, which rolled itself a good distance out across the plain, and no one thought that could be beaten; but presently away went the other, and, being, perhaps, better situated than the first stone, it travelled off at a great rate, and rolled and tumbled until it came within a few feet of the creek, at which place it stands to this day. Both stones are there to be seen. Perhaps it is all a myth; but down on the flat all the holes still exist, and one can see where the stones have rolled from.
On the sites of these two old pas fire has done its work until nothing now remains except the deep trench that surrounded one—and a deep one it must have been when the pa was in fighting-trim. Of the other pa one sees the burnt stubs of palisading showing above the surface, but, above all, amongst these are two old heart-of-totara poles, say, 12in. in diameter, and 12ft. to 14ft. high. They stand out in bold relief, sound at heart, but showing much signs of wear. How long they have stood thus no pakeha knoweth—they have been so for many, many years. If they had eyes to see and tongues to relate, what tales they could tell us! what scenes they have witnessed! what cruelties practised! They stood there when this valley was alive with people, and they stand there still.
After all those people have passed away, and unless some person with the heart of a Goth makes use of them as straining-posts in a dividing-fence, or to suit some other emergency, they will long stand erect, like two stern old warriors, exposing their weather-beaten sides to the scorching rays of the sun or the cold blasts of the pitiless storms. Yes, there they stand in their solitude, keeping watch and ward over these old deserted pas; and, as finger-posts, they may yet remain long enough to tell those who come after us of a once-numerous people the last of whom will then long enough have been laid in the dust.