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Book the Fourth - Chapter IV.
I Learn what Taihoa Means

My patience was tested by a three-days' residence at the Omapulua gossiping-hall. And well it earned that name before Te Tara and his followers had fitted out and equipped their largest canoe to take me and themselves back to my island home to build the whare that was to be that home. But at length a start was made, and I congratulated myself that I should sleep that night under the canvas roof of the little tent in Motu Korea.

But I never made a greater miscalculation in my life. I had yet to learn the true meaning of that Maori word "taihoa"—bv-and.-by—which was doomed to be as indelibly graven on my memory as the word "utu" had already been during my stay at the village upon which I was now thankfully turning my back. Of the meaning of taihoa I had a vague dread from the small experiences I had already passed through, but I was about to be awakened to true valuation of the power of that word which can be so fearfully and wonderfully exercised by Tongata Maori.

We had no sooner rounded Omapuhia Point than Ave, opened the inlet, and there away at its other extremity lay the little island, raising its little mountain aloft as if beckoning to me and welcoming me home again.

But we had hardly faced towards it and paddled along for more than ten minutes, when suddenly, upon passing another point of land, we steered right in shore—we were creeping close along it—and before I could ask why we were going in here the canoe had already reached the beach and become emptied of its paddlers as if by magic.

The "haeremais" and "tautemas"—" come"—"come to my arms" of some blanketed figures standing near some limits seemed to exercise the most uncontrollable influence over my friends, and before I had got out of the canoe and recovered from my surprise I saw quite a brisk nose-rubbing being performed.

I strolled up to the group, thinking I should discover the reason why we had stopped here, but on coming within earshot I beat an immediate retreat. I arrived just in time to hear the commencement of the narrative of my arrival at Omapuhia, with the Kanini letter of introduction, which was being produced and read to greedy ears. And knew all that was to follow-:—I had said this and that and the other thing, and I had washed my face and hands absolutely twice a day, when I got up and when I went to bed, that I did not smoke tobacco, which always provoked an exclamation of extreme surprise—in fact, almost every word spoken and every act performed by this newly-caught Pakehia was faithfully set down and retailed over again.

I had listened to this blessed repetition at Omapuliia after every arrival of any intruder who had come to the village until I was sick at heart of this too-oft-repeated tale," but I now awoke to the hideous conviction that I had not yet passed out of this small purgatory and I had still to suffer.

To mitigate the future sufferings which I now dearly saw awaited me, I registered a vow in confidence to myself that I would not open my mouth again except to say yes and no, and put kuineras into it. For I had discovered that the ever-repeated narrative grew longer and longer, and even as anything more had been said by me, so did it become, tacked on to the story which had to be told to every new friend encountered.

But when, when, when shall we be at Motu Korea?" was my appeal half-a-dozen times each day.

"Taihoa, taihoa, taihoa" was ever the answer, drawled out in the most inimitable and imperturbably good-humoured voice, each taihoa longer than the one before.

Oh, d—n taihoaI" was the not imperturbable or good-hurnoured reply which did not fall upon Maori ears, for I ground it out between my teeth in such sotto voce that if relief came to me from the anathema, no harm fell upon my listener.

For six mortal days had I to succumb to taihoa! I am free to confess I got through all of anathematising during those six days, totting up such a big account, that I am persuaded that if all the swearing of my after-life was put against it in an opposite column the tahoa one would carry the day.

Not a hamlet of half-a-dozen whares on the shore as we skirted along—the longed-for haven of the little island ever in sight—but the nose of the canoe was poked into the beach. In vain my protestations.

"Taihoa, taihoa, all in good time—what's the hurry, O Pakeha!" time was made for slaves—hurry no man's cattle, as we in the classics say. What's the odds, a day or two sooner or later? There's Motu Korea; it won't run away-taihoa-ne?" with a chuck back of the head as they ended with the interrogative. I declare there never was invented a more aggravating situation than having to stand calmly and listen to the taihoa extinguisher with the intensely good-natured concluding ne? I remember thinking that their heads could not be screwed on the right way, and wishing they had been, when probably they might have lost their temper with me, and that would have been such a chance to return the compliment and blow off one's pent-up steam of confined passion in a grand explosion, and my poor weak human nature—as compared to that of Tongata Maori—would have been relieved.

But I smothered it all down, and it came about that I rivalled Job himself, and inwardly congratulated myself that I had quite taken the shine out of that ancient patriarch and made him look quite small.

At last, however, the piu tarde of this dolee far niente race was exchanged for the subito. This was replaced by "aianet"—"directly;" they were now going to be at the island directly, if not sooner. The fact was they had exhausted every little bay and creek where dwelt even one solitary and half-toothless old woman in whom could be found a listener to the story they had to tell, how I had envied Canning's needy knife-grinder—"Story, sir I have none to tell "

Hurrah! round the last point of land—the island in sight again; we have been buried away down a deep bay, the island again almost within grasp; now we shoot past the plumed headland of old acquaintance. The crew, one and all, male and female and children, make a dash at the finish; in full paddling-chorus chant they send the water flying from their paddles, and, oh marvel! I have succeeded in performing a three-hours' easy paddle from Omapuhia to the island in just exactly twice as many days.

Great is the power of taihoa!

The canoe-song had, of course, warned the islands solitary occupant that we were at hand, and he had time to walk from the tent to the end of the beach before the canoe arrived.

"Did you think I had been put into a Maori hangi" (native oven), "and taken out again to grace 'a native feast?'" I said on jumping ashore.

"No, wasn't the least afraid—no danger of a man being eaten who is destined to meet another more exalted fate—but, joking apart, what in the name of wonder has kept you? More than once, when I was having a look-out for you from the top of the hill, I saw the canoe crawling along in shore."

"Kept me! Nothing but that d—d taihoa kept me—might have been here five days and nine hours ago. It is just six since we started. Don't I wish you had been in my place, that's all? By Jove! I'll give you the benefit next time anything of the kind is going on. Your small organ of combativeness is eminently more fitted to cope with tahoa than mine. Why I have done more quiet swearing than would serve for the whole natural term of my life. I positively am afraid my angelic temper has been next thing to ruined, and may never re-assert itself—in which case I pity you.

"Ehoa tena koe," said Te Tara, putting out his hand to be shaken by his new Pakeha friend.

This greeting put an end to my tale of woe and how I had been forced to put Job to shame, and I did not get my oar in again to dilate on subject until the tent-door closed upon us that evening.

We had no difficulty in coming to an understanding with Te Tara and his people with regard to the building of our whare. We staked off the dimensions on the actual site, put a sapling in the ground to show the height the walls were to be, marked out the passage and the two rooms on side, specified the number of layers of raupo (sedge) that were to be put on walls, and the description of thatching to be used, and the time within which the work was to be finished. A time-nonfulfilment-penalty was a thing utterly unknown in Maori contracts the tahoa Maori mind simply could not have understood what it meant. We had no fear but that the house would be duly erected according to agreement in every respect except one, but with regard to that one the experience of my six-days' journey to accomplish three-hours' paddling raised such an infinitely knotty problem for solution, that I already sighed the sigh and actually groaned the groan of a misplaced confidence in the Maori assertion as to the three weeks in which the whare was to be finished, and I threw myself hopefully and trustfully into the arms of Providence, exclaiming, "Tahoa, we'll see!"

We thought, however, that the house would be finished some time or other; for, once begun, our friends would not go away until they got their utu foe building it, and we also knew they would only get the utu when we gave it to them—as to their taking a dollar's-worth unless given by us, the idea never entered into our heads; not one of them would take even a "poro" of tobacco to fill one pipe however much they longed for it; our whole possessions might be exposed at their mercy, but not a pin's head would be touched. Having got from us the details of the work which they had to do, they held a long korero together, and then they handed its a written list—I thank thee, O missionary! for that teaching— of what they required as utu. This consisted of blankets, cotton print, calico, shirts, trousers (they were already imbibing civilised ideas, and believed civilisation commenced in clothing their nether extremities) cloth caps, spades, hatchets, and of course the inevitable and dearly-loved pipes and ambrosial weed.

The sum total represented some 15, We signed the utu list to show we agreed to the demand made, and handed it back to Te Tara, both contracting parties equally pleased with the bargain made.

And thus it was that we arranged that the rooftree of our new home on our little island was to be rajsed to cover a mansion of the noble proportions of thirty feet by twenty-four, a grand corridor down the centre opening into four grand apartments. Grand!--of course they were. Why any one of them could hold our tent six feet by eight! Everything is by comparison in this world! But "we twa" had no intention of leaving our Maori friends to be the sole builders at work, for we had drawn upon our architectural capabilities in designing yet another building, which was to be erected a stone's throw from the mansion, and which, moreover, was to be a thoroughly substantial stone building—at all events we were quite satisfied the stones would be quite substantial whatever else was not. The structure was to be scoria and "dab." We had abundance of scoria all around, and the dab was .also not far off—that is, the material from which it was made, for the clay we had dug out of our well, with a proper application of water, would enable us to puddle the two together to the proper consistency to make our dab with which to rear the scoria walls for our cookhouse.

Now removed the tent from the eastern shore, where we had pitched it the first night of our arrival, to the opposite or western shore, close beside where our whare was to be put up, and handy to our well, so that we should have an eye to the building going up by the Maories, and be close to our own work as well.

The natives soon ran up some breakwind huts for themselves, and then they made trips to the mainland to provide the necessary materials for our whare, and it was not long before they had all the upright poles which constituted the walls stuck in the ground and the framework formed.

The Pakehas divided their time between "scoria and dab" and making a small garden, for no time was to be lost in planting such seeds as we had, however roughly put into the ground—potatoes, pumpkins, rock and water melons constituted our stock and store; of other seeds we had none.

Our friends made a great spurt at the first starting, and then they began to hang fire; they had coaxed us out of some tobacco in advance, and though the whare hung fire, it was more than their pipes did. had they shown the same assiduity in raupoing the walls of the house as they did in smoking their pipes we should have had no cause to grumble, but many pipes meant much tailzoa, and we began to look with sinister eye on the manner in which the play was now being acted.

Of course we spurred them on and began asking them when they would be finished, and of course we got the imperturbable tahoa given to us with the customary placid good-humour--taihoa and nothing more, just as if we had asked the question for the first time.

It is my opinion that half the evil deeds in the world would never be committed if all nations that on earth do dwell had only been providentially blessed by having in their language that potent word— taihoa!

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