Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

To the Sound of the War-Song

The peace was a mere truce. Things seemed drifting again to war when the government at home recalled Browne, and sent back Sir George Grey, who had already proved so good a ruler.

Sir George Grey, when he came, decided that the land at Waitara had been unjustly taken, and must be given back. But it was now too late. Misunderstandings and blunders grew worse and worse, and the second Maori war broke out. From India and from Australia, troops came to help the settlers, while the Maori tribes gathered to the sound of an old war-song.

Soon the fight began. The Maoris fought well and fiercely. It was the story of Oheawai and of the Bat's Nest over again. In a night the Maoris would build a fort strong enough to keep the British for a month at bay.

For days they would defend it, and when it seemed about to be taken would forsake it and flee to another as strong or stronger. They were always far outnumbered by the white men. Yet never once did the white men gain a great victory.

It seemed of little use to capture or destroy a pah, for the Maoris fled to another a few miles off, where the attack had to be begun afresh. The whole country seemed dotted with strong fortresses.

But at length at Rangiriri, a strong fort surrounded by a river and by swamps, many of the Maoris were captured. From dawn to dark on a wintry July day the thunder of war lasted. Shot and shell were poured upon the fort from every side. Again and again the British soldiers dashed at the walls, only to be thrown back again like waves broken upon a rock. But when night fell, the fort was completely surrounded. And when day dawned the Maoris hung out a flag and surrendered.

Governor Grey would have been glad now to make peace. But his advisers would not listen. So still the war went on.

At Orakau, one of the bravest defences of the war took place. Here two or three hundred badly-armed, half-starving Maori men and women bid defiance to more than fifteen thousand British soldiers.

After trying in vain to storm the fort, the British leader resolved to mine it and blow it up. But he knew that both women and children were within the pah. He wished to save them, so he sent a messenger with a flag of truce, asking them to surrender.

"We will fight to the end, for ever and ever," was the reply.

"Then send out the women and the children," said the messenger.

"Nay, the women and children, too, will fight," they cried.

So, worn with fight and watching, weary, hungry and thirsty, the Maoris still fought on. They had no food, they had no water, their shot was almost done. Yet they would not yield.

Then in their need they turned to the Christian God. He would help them. And through the crash and roar of cannon, the plaintive notes of a hymn arose. They looked to heaven, but from the once clear sky now darkened with the heavy clouds of war, no help came.

Then fiercer, wilder thoughts laid hold of the Maoris. The Christian God was the God of deceivers, they cried. He was the God of those who sought to rob them of their land. They would have no more of Him. They would turn again for help to their ancient god of War. Then fierce and loud above the clangour rose the sounds of a "Karakia," a chant of curses, a chant long unheard in Maori land.

Now the mines began to burst all around them. In noise and flame their pah was shattered. The earth shook with death. No longer could they hold the fortress.

Then, still chanting their wild and terrible song, under the eyes of the British, they marched calmly and steadily out of their fort. "As cool and steady as if going to church," said one who saw.

For some minutes all watched in wonder. No one knew what was happening. Then, "They are escaping! they are escaping!" came the cry, and the chase began.

For six long miles the way was red with blood, and strewn with dead. Yet steadily onward the Maoris pressed, now pausing to fire, now to lift a wounded comrade, until at last a broken remnant reached the wild refuge of the hills, where no white man could follow.

The war was nearly over. But at a place called the Gate Pah, the Maoris once more beat back the British troops, who fled, leaving ten officers and twenty-five men dead upon the field.

But again, in the darkness of the night, the Maoris slipped away. How they went no man knew, for the pah was surrounded by British troops. Only in the morning it was found that the pah was empty. And yet they had gone in no wild haste, for beside each wounded British soldier was a cup of water, placed there by the Maoris before they fled.

Only a few miles off the Maoris again made a stand. But here they were attacked before they had time to build a pah. After a desperate fight they fled.

Among the dead lay their leader. On his dead body was found the order for the day. It began with a prayer, and ended with the words, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink."

"Te Waru was there with the East Coast braves,

And the chiefs famed in song and story,

Met on the spot to resist the spoilers,

Who had taken the land from the Maori

In the name of the Queen of the far land.

Only three hundred warriors were there

Entrenched within the weak unfinished pah,

Only three hundred brave men and women

To meet the Pakeha who surrounded

The sod-built fortress, with his well-drilled troops

Nearly two thousand hardy Britons.

Three hundred lion-hearted warriors

Assembled with Rewi to fan the flame

Of deadly hatred to the Pakeha

Into a vengeful blaze at Orakau,

Chanting the deeds of their ancestors,

They cried aloud, "Me mate te gangatu,

Me mate mo te whenua!" which means,

'The warrior's death is to die for the land.'

.     .     .     .     .     

Then Major Mair, with flag of truce, before the Maoris stood,

And said, "O friends, be warned in time, we do not seek your blood.

Surrender, and your lives are safe." Then, through the whole redoubt,

The swarthy rebels answered, with a fierce, defiant shout,

"Ka whawkia tonu! Ake! ake! ake!"

Again spake gallant Mair, "O friends, you wish for blood and strife,

With blind and stubborn bravery, preferring death to life;

But send your women and your children forth, they shall be free."

They answered back, "Our women brave will fight as well as we."

Again the fiery-throated cannon roared aloud for blood,

Again the hungry eagle swooped and shrieked aloud for food;

Again wild spirits soaring, saw their shattered shells beneath

In pools of gore, and still was heard defiance to the death.

Now, now the brave defenders in a solid body break

Right through the sod-built barricade, o'er palisade and stake,

And, leaping o'er the trenches, 'mid a storm of shot and shell,

They rushed to liberty or death, still shouting as they fell.

With wild, untutored chivalry, the rebels scorned disgrace,

Oh, never in the annals of the most heroic race

Was bravery recorded more noble or more high,

Than that displayed at Orakau in Rewi's fierce reply—

Ka whawkia tonu! Ake! ake! ake!"

Thomas Bracken.

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