THE WARS OF HONGI IKA

It was necessary to steal a march on time in order to give a connected,
though imperfect account of the foundation of Christianity in New
Zealand. Return we to Hongi Ika and his doings.

If Mr. Marsden hoped to turn the philosopher-warrior-cannibal from the
error of his ways, the good man must have been grievously disappointed.
Hongi remained a pagan; but he never broke his promise to the
missionary. He was a terrible fellow, but he was not a liar. His word
was sacred, and he regretted on his deathbed that the men of Whangaroa
had been too strong for him when they drove the Wesleyan missionaries
from their station.

Leaving Mr. Marsden and his colleagues at Rangihoua, Hongi returned to
his trade of war, and for five years or so enjoyed himself in his own
way. Then, tiring again of strife, his thoughts turned once more upon
foreign travel.

This time his ambition soared high, and with a fellow chief he sailed
for London under the wing of a missionary. He was exceedingly well
received, for the horror and fright with which the New Zealanders had
been regarded was greatly diminished in 1820, and Britons were again
looking longingly towards a country so rich in commercial possibilities.

So Hongi found himself a “lion,” and with the adaptability of his
race so comported himself, that it occurred to few to identify the
bright-eyed little fellow with the ample forehead and keen brain with
the lusty warrior and ferocious cannibal of whom startling tales had
been told.

Even His Majesty, George the Fourth, did not disdain to receive the
“Napoleon of New Zealand,” and being, perhaps, in a prophetic mood,
presented the great little man with a suit of armour.

Hongi would have preferred a present of the offensive kind in the shape
of guns and ammunition; for the Nga-Puhi had early gauged the value of
such weapons in settling tribal disputes, and had managed to acquire a
few, though not nearly enough to meet the views of Hongi Ika.

The king had set the fashion, and his subjects followed suit so
lavishly, that, if Hongi had chosen to lay aside his dignity and open a
curio shop, he could have done so. The little man was overjoyed. He was
rich now, and he gloated over his presents as a means to an end. What a
war he could wage, if he could only find a pretext. Pretexts did not,
as a rule, trouble Hongi; but the eyes of the great were upon him, and
it would be just as well to consider appearances. As he recrossed the
ocean his active brain was at work planning, planning. Ah, if he could
but find a pretext!

Hongi had been absent for two years, and with right good will the
tribes of the north-east wished that he might never return. However,
with the dominant personality of the little man lacking to the
all-conquering Nga-Puhi, there was no knowing what might happen; so
the tribes around about the Thames river, whose frith is that thing of
beauty, the Hauraki Gulf, took heart of grace, marched to the fight,
and slew, among other folk, no less a person than Hongi’s son-in-law.

Here was indeed a pretext. Hongi clung to it as a dog to his bone. In
Sydney he had melted down, so to speak, his great pile of presents
into three hundred stand of arms, which included a goodly share of the
coveted _tupara_, or double-barrelled guns. Ammunition was added, and
thus, with a very arsenal at his command, Hongi Ika came again to his
native land.

He came armed _cap-à-pie_; for he wore the armour which the king had
given him–and the good _mihonari_ stood aghast at sight of him. “Even
now the tribes are fighting,” they groaned. “When is this bitter strife
to cease?”

Pretext, indeed! To avenge his son-in-law was all very well. _Utu_
should be exacted to the full. But here was a pretext beyond all
others, and the wily Hongi instantly seized upon it.

“Fighting! Are they?” He grinned as only a Maori can grin. “I will stop
these dogs in their worrying. They shall have their fill of fighting.”
He grinned again. “That will be the surest way, my _mihonari_ friends.
I will keep them fighting until they have no more stomach for it, and
so shall there be an end.” He muttered under his breath, “because
their tribes shall be even as the _moa_.”[57] As the _moa_ was extinct,
the significance of the addition should be sufficiently clear.

Hongi kept his word–he always did that–and sailed for the front in
the proudest of his fleet of war-canoes, with a thousand warriors
behind him, armed with _mere_ and _patu_ and spear, while in his van
went a _garde de corps_ of three hundred picked men, fondling–so
pleased were they–the three hundred muskets and _tupara_ for which
their chief’s presents had been exchanged.

Southward, through the Hauraki Gulf, he sails into the estuary of
the Thames, into the Thames itself. One halt and the Totara _pa_ is
demolished, and with five hundred of its defenders dead in his rear
Hongi sweeps on, southward still, to Matakitaki. Four to one against
him! What care Hongi Ika and his three hundred musketeers? It is the
same story–fierce attack and sudden victory, ruthless slaughter of
twice a thousand foes, and Hongi, grinning in triumph, ever keeps his
face to the south and drives his enemies before him as far as the Lake
of Rotorua.

At Kawhia, on the west, there lived, when Hongi scourged the land,
the hereditary chief, Te Rauparaha, a notable fighter, but a better
diplomate. On Te Rauparaha men’s eyes were now turned. He will know how
to deal with the proud Nga-Puhi. Hongi’s triumphal progress is nearing
its end.

No. Hongi, at Mauinaina, is too close. Besides, he is a demon. He
carries a charm which renders him invulnerable. That shining headpiece,
that sparkling plate upon his chest–what are they, if not charms to
keep him whole and sound? At Totara did not some strong arm deal him a
buffet which would have scattered the brains of any mere man? Yet he
did but stagger, while all around heard the sullen clang which was the
howl of the evil spirit protecting his head. At Matakitaki was not a
spear driven against his breast which should have split his heart and
let out his villainous blood? Yet the point was blunted against the
chest charm, and the spearman, poor wretch, slain. These things being
so, who can stand against Hongi?

Not Te Rauparaha. The bold raider’s nerves give way, and with black
rage and hatred in his heart he gathers his followers together and
flees southward to Otaki, giving as he goes the measure he has
received, and leaving a trail of blood and fire behind him.

Hongi “has made a solitude and calls it–peace”; he is satisfied for
the time being with what he has done and won, and must go home with his
slaves and his heads and his loot, to enter his village in triumph like
a general of old Rome.

Te Rauparaha, fleeing south, takes vengeance for the wrongs done him by
Hongi upon all who come in his way. To be sure, it is not their affair;
but Te Rauparaha cares nothing for that. Vengeance he wants; so hews a
bloody path from north to south, till stayed by the rippling streak at
the end of the land. Beyond that lies Te Wai Pounamou, The Waters of
Greenstone, the Middle Island, washed by the Tasman Sea.

Te Rauparaha’s smouldering rage blazes up again. What! Shall that strip
of water stop him? Not while he has an arm to strike, and there is a
canoe to be had for the striking.

So again the fearful drama–murder and rapine. The canoes are seized,
the owners left stark upon the beach. Then across the strait, where a
wondering crowd await his coming, not without apprehension. They have
reason.

“Who is it that comes?” “It is Te Rauparaha!” In a moment the chief is
among them. Blood flows again. Te Rauparaha is once more the victor.
Will it never end?

Not yet. Hongi Ika comes not here to stop fighting by fighting, and Te
Rauparaha has learned the lesson of the _tupara_, for he now has guns.
Once more tearing a leaf from Hongi’s book, he springs at the cowering
population upon the great plain. Some he slaughters, some he enslaves;
some, frantic with terror, braving the heaving Pacific, speed eastwards
to Wari Kauri (Chatham Islands) six hundred miles away.

Again we have been obliged to fly ahead of time in order to give full
impression–not a complete picture–of these sinister happenings; for
the wars of Hongi in the north, and Te Rauparaha’s sanguinary progress
to the south were not over and done with in a month or a year. It was
in 1821 that Hongi started upon his self-imposed mission to cure like
with like, and for the next twenty years–long after the death of
Hongi–quarrel was piled upon quarrel, war led to war, till the whole
of the north was involved.

We left Hongi marching home in triumph, unconcerned that his hammering
of the north had turned loose in the south a devil in the shape of
Te Rauparaha. He had sustained no serious losses, and for some time
continued pre-eminent. But his many and powerful foes had by now
appreciated the reason of his success, and provided themselves with
firearms. From that time Hongi, though victorious, paid more dearly for
his victories.

Hongi, when in battle, as a rule shone resplendent in the armour which
George the Fourth had given him, and which was supposed to render him
invulnerable. The belief received justification from the issue of
Hongi’s last fight at Hokianga in 1827.

For some reason the great chief wore only his helmet upon that fatal
day.

Ill fared it then with Roderick Dhu,
When on the field his targe he threw.

Ill fared it with Hongi when he rushed into the fight without his
shining breastplate; for hardly was the battle joined when a bullet
passed through his body, and the day of the great Hongi, the Lion of
the North, was done.




Fifteen months later, as he lay upon his death mats at Whangaroa,
feasting his glazing eyes upon the array of clubs, battleaxes, muskets,
and _tupara_ set around the bed, he called to him his relatives, his
dearest friends, and his fighting-chiefs, and spoke to them this
word:–

“Children, and you who have carried my arms to victory, this is my word
to you. I promised long ago to be kind to the _mihonari_, and I have
kept my promise. It is not my fault if they have not been well treated
by others. Do as I have done. Let them dwell in peace; for they do no
harm, and some good.

“Hear ye this word also. The ends of the world draw together, and men
of a strong race come ever over the sea to this our land. Let these
likewise dwell in peace. Trade with them. Give them your daughters in
marriage. Good shall come of it.

“But, if there come over the sea men in red coats, who neither sow nor
reap, but ever carry arms in their hands, beware of them. Their trade
is war and they are paid to kill. Make you war upon them and drive them
out. Otherwise evil will come of it.

“Children, and you, my old comrades, be brave and strong in your
country’s cause. Let not the land of your ancestors pass into the hands
of the Pakeha. Behold! I have spoken.”

With that the mighty chief Hongi drew the corner of his mat across his
face and passed through the gates to the waters of Reinga.

So died Hongi Ika, aged fifty-five, or thereabouts, who had made his
influence felt from his youth until his death, and whose words and acts
deeply swayed the fortunes of his country. Paradoxical as it may sound,
these combined with the spread of Christianity to render colonisation
possible, while they helped to foment the discontent with which
Hongi’s successors viewed the coming of armed forces, and the gradual
absorption of their land by the Pakeha.

In the first place, Hongi protected the missionaries. In the second
place, during his wars and the wars they induced, more than twenty
thousand Maori fell in the score of years occupied in civil strife.
Concerned with their own wars, and with numbers thinned, the Maori left
the white settlers time and opportunity to increase, whereby they grew
daily better able to resist the power of the brown men when this was at
last sternly directed against them. In the third place, Hongi’s dying
advice was without the shadow of a doubt the part cause of Honi Heke’s
outbreak at Kororareka fifteen years later, and of the strife which
immediately followed it.

After the death of Hongi the leading spirits among the warriors in
the neighbourhood of the Bay of Islands were the chiefs Pomare and
Kawiti–the latter a thorn in the colonials’ flesh for many a long
year; while the Waikato tribe boasted a leader of no ordinary parts in
Te Wherowhero, whose descendant, the Honourable Mahuta Tawhiao Potatau
te Wherowhero, sits to-day in the Legislative Council of the Dominion
of New Zealand.

Te Wherowhero had himself captained the Waikato on that day when Hongi
decimated them and cooked two thousand of their slain to celebrate
his victory, and a memory so red would not, one would have said, be
likely soon to pale. Yet Te Wherowhero led his men not against his old
enemies, but against the men of Taranaki.

Both Waikato and Taranaki owed Nga-Puhi a grudge, and reasonable men
would have combined against a common foe. But the Maori were ever
unreasonable where war was concerned, holding tribal grudges more
important than unification of the nation; so, instead of combining
against Nga-Puhi, Waikato and Taranaki warred the one against the other.

This disunion among the tribes materially assisted the colonists in
their own long struggle for supremacy; for the “friendly” Maori often
helped their cause not so much from love of them, as from hate of some
tribe in opposition to British rule.

Even a particular tribe sometimes divided against itself. A civil
strife of this nature broke out in 1827 among the Bay of Islands folk.
It was a small affair, and is mentioned only to illustrate the chivalry
with which the Maori could behave on occasion.

A European settlement had been established at a charming spot, known as
Kororareka. There were decent people there, and a missionary station
stood hard by; but for the most part drunkenness and profligacy
prevailed, while Pomare, whose village lay close at hand, pandered to
the vices of the whites in return for the coveted _tupara_.

Bad as many of the settlers were, they were white men; so when news of
the war reached Sydney, Captain Hobson’s ship was ordered to Kororareka
to afford the residents what protection they might require.

But when H.M.S. _Rattlesnake_ entered the Bay, her decks cleared for
action, guns frowning through their ports, bare-armed, bare-footed tars
at quarters, lo! all was peace. Captain Hobson at once went ashore to
make inquiries, and was amazed at the information he received.

Not one white settler had been inconvenienced, much less injured. The
contending parties, fearing lest one side or the other might be forced
back upon the settlement, and so bring disaster upon its inhabitants,
had by mutual agreement transferred the theatre of war to a spot too
remote to allow of such a contingency.

After this, who shall say that the Maori were deficient in generosity,
destitute of chivalry?

NOTE.–Mr. Augustus Earle, Draughtsman to H.M. Surveying Ship
_Beagle_, in 1827, relates that the pagan Maori in the Bay of Islands
used to rise at daybreak on Sunday to finish their canoe-building
and other work before the whites were astir, thus showing their
respect for the reverence in which the Pakeha held the Day. Mr. Earle
adds: “It was more respect than we Europeans pay to any religious
ceremony we do not understand. Even their tabooed grounds would not
be so respected by us, if we were not quite certain they possessed
the power instantly to revenge any affront offered to their sacred
places.”