Reflections on Some Great Chiefs
By any standards
Tamaiharanui was a mean man —
meaner even than Te Rauparaha.
He was a chief of soaring rank,
so wickedly tapu,
he could extinguish lesser lights
merely by his presence.
Such sacredness was hard to bear …
Even a colleague, for a chance offence,
confronted sudden death
pin-pointed in his pupils.
None had a second chance
to learn his lesson.
Not all the old chiefs though
were so punctilious,
Te Wherowhero being a case in point.
After a certain battle,
greaved with carnage,
he lay down as if for an afternoon nap.
Called for his prisoners, and then
(solicitous for the coveted tattooed heads)
stove in their proffered skulls.
But in the end he had to admit defeat.
Tossing aside his mere,
he cried: ‘I am tired …
Let the rest go free.’
Such lapses would have been inexcusable,
except in a very great chief.
But Te Rauparaha also had his moments,
none more expressive of his awfulness
than his whispered order in the pulsing dark
when the Mokau stream in tidal flood
threw up a gleaming road-block,
and the circling Maniapoto
cut off all retreat.
‘Friend,’ he said to the father
whose whimpering child would have betrayed them.
‘Friend — strangle your child.
I am that child …’
Unchristian, but perfectly correct.
But Tamaiharanui, what of him?
Pride has seldom had so far to fall.
Humbled by Te Rauparaha
for Te Pehi’s murder,
the brig Elizabeth a meat-safe
stocked with his kinsmen,
his daughter Nga Roimata ear-marked
what choice was left him
but to strangle her?
Hooked up by the chin as punishment,
his body swaying with the ship,
pain was a single fare to Kapiti.
Claimed by Te Pehi’s widow
as her due,
he became a sexless nothing —
a tailor’s dummy that she titivated
with her mats and jewellery.
But bored with playing cat-and-mouse,
his bankruptcy complete,
at last she struck …
The fountain she discovered in his throat
quenched her fierce thirst
and cancelled all his debts.
By Alistair Te Ariki Campbell