Te Rauparaha in Old Age

You would not have recognized him —

 the old man throwing bits of stick

  into the campfire and poking it,

and chuckling while he reminisced

 about the old days when his blood

  ran like quicksilver

through his veins. He sat hunched up

 over the fire, a blanket

  round his shoulders, with no

regrets and as free of remorse

 as a young child, his chief

  enemy now the cold that nipped

his toes, causing his bones

 to ache. ‘Yes, the Wairau —

  bad trouble that, made worse

by the insolence and stupidity of

 the Pakeha. I didn’t want bloodshed,

  but what could I do? Rangihaeata’s

woman had been shot, and it was

 right that he should ask for utu —

  a life for a life — and that

would have been enough, honour

 would have been satisfied,

  but the Pakeha wanted …

I don’t know what the Pakeha wanted.

 Their ways even today

  are a mystery to me.

More shots were fired, and the Pakeha

 were cut down, one after the other —

  none were spared. A lot of scores

were settled that day. Some Pakeha

 hid themselves in the scrub

  and were flushed out by dogs.

It wasn’t good to see young braves

 whooping and carrying on like children

  as they ran them down.

War is not a game, but a serious matter —

 a testing time for both the slayer

  and the slain. The musket

changed all that, of course: the victor

 no longer loves the man he kills,

  nor is he loved in return …

All that was long ago, e hoa.

 I am tired and glad enough

  to be sitting by the fire

drinking hot tea and rum

 under a moon with the cold

  unblinking glare of a god.’


By Alistair Te Ariki Campbell