Volume 2 1893 > Volume 2, No.2, June 1893 > Physical endurance, by Edward Tregear, p 71-73
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- 71

MR. Havelock Ellis, the editor of the Contemporary Science Series of works dealing with anthropology, quoted in his book on “The Criminal” some remarks which I had made concerning the physical endurance of the Maori. These remarks were contained in a paper I wrote for the Anthropological Society of Great Britain, (Journal, Anth. Society, November, 1889), and were used by Mr. Ellis in speaking of criminals possessing the same insensibility to pain and much of the recuperative power of the primitive races of men.

It is possible that some further notes on this subject may be of use to scientists working over the same ground as Mr. Ellis, and that it may not be useless to put on record a few examples of the great power shown by the Maori in resisting pain, and in sustaining the vital forces.

I was recently discussing the subject with Mr. Henry Monro, Judge of the Native Land Court, who has spent a long life from boy-hood in such intimate relations with the natives, (especially with the elder generation fast dying out) that his remarks and reminiscences are of especial value. I took notes of several anecdotes which he related to me, and print them as follows. It must be remembered in their perusal that no part of them has any origin in my own experience, but in that of the expert and scholar from whom I received them.

About the year 1834, a schooner named the “Fortitude,” belonging to Captain Clendon of the Bay of Islands, and commanded by Captain Wing (the late pilot of Manakau Harbour) grounded in Hokianga at a place named Motukauri. The natives considered her their lawful prize, and the Kaitutae, a hapu (or sub-tribe) of the Rarawa tribe, boarded the stranded vessel, and plundered her contents. When Moetara, the chief of the Ngati-Korokoro of Pakanae, a friend of the Europeans, heard of it, he mustered his fighting men, and sailed with - 72 a fleet of canoes to Motukauri, to try to induce the Kaitutae to give up the plunder. At that time Motukauri belonged to an old Scotsman named Nimmo. When the men of the Kaitutae saw the fleet coming, they thought that it was a hostile war-party, so they made a fort with old Nimmo's planks, &c., he being a timber trader. Moetara and his party landed; he and two or three of his people went forward to parley with the plunderers, but they were received with a volley. The new-comers rushed back towards the canoes, when the whole party landed and attacked the fort. A hand-to-hand encounter took place; a fight of the kind which the Maories call hunu hunu, (charring or burning), when opponents fight so close together that they are singed by the blaze from the guns. Moetara's party had the best of it, but their bullets ran short, so they loaded up their guns from a keg of old Nimmo's nails. In the engagement, so obstinately continued was the fight, not half-a-dozen natives escaped unwounded, and many were killed. One of the Kaitutae, named Tamahue, received a heavy charge of nails in his right arm which was completely shattered—the arm hanging only by a few tendons. Tamahue went next day and showed his wounded arm to Mr. McLean, a settler, who, not having any knowledge of surgery, could only assist the poor fellow by slashing through the remaining ligaments with a razor. Without any more attention or care, the mangled arm healed, and the man recovered his health and strength.

During the war in the North, waged by Heke against the English, in 1845, Heke occupied a pa (fort) near the Omapere Lake. A chief named Tamati Waka Nene, an ally of the Government, was in force at another pa called Okaihau. Before the troops appeared on the scene, the native foes had daily skirmishes with one another in the open. In one of these engagements a chief named Hetaraka Repa, one of Waka's men, a very brave and hardy warrior, received a bullet wound in the thigh. The bullet took a slanting direction somewhat in the course of the bone, traversing the whole thigh from loin to knee. Hetaraka was exceedingly enraged at being hurt, and notwithstanding the severity of a painful wound, (which would have disabled an ordinary European at once) he spent the whole of a cold, rainy, night, in prowling round Heke's pa, in the hope of being able to get utu (revenge or payment for the injury he had received) by killing some chief of the enemy.

In one of the above-mentioned skirmishes between the forces of Heke and those of Waka, a certain chief was wounded. His name has been forgotten by the narrator, but he was a brother both of Waka and of Patuone the celebrated chief of Ngapuhi. The man in question was shot through the head, just behind the eyes. He was completely blinded in a moment, and his gun fell from his hand. His first act was to grope about for his gun, and, having recovered - 73 this, he was led away by his friends. He recovered from this very severe wound, and lived for many years afterwards.

Another native in one of these skirmishes received a wound from a partly spent ball which struck the end of his little finger. The bones of the finger were driven down between the hand bones of the third and fourth fingers. The wound healed with the tip of the finger and nail peeping out between the joints of the hand. No fuss or outcry was made over this casualty.

A Waikato native named Ngawhitu went to Taranaki in 1863 to join the rebel forces. During the bombardment of a pa by the white troops, Ngawhitu was struck by a fragment of a shell which carried his lower jaw completely away. He did not succumb either to loss of blood or collapse, but might be seen several years afterwards as a remarkable figure among the natives. A black silk handkerchief was passed round the place which the jaw should occupy, and was tied on the top of the head. He had a grest resemblance to a bird about the head, the nose appearing as a beak. When he partook of food, he retired to a private place, and there reduced his victuals to a semi-liquid state; he would then untie the handkerchief, and convey the food down his throat in a manner best known to himself.

Among the Maoris certain warriors were noted for combining great personal strength and prowess with unusual swiftness of foot. When one of these toa (braves) was pursuing a routed party of the enemy, it was customary for him not to waste his strength in many blows, but to give one sharp disabling blow to a flying foeman, and then leave him to be despatched by those coming on behind. One of the most celebrated of these fleet toa was the elder Mohi Tawhai of Hokianga, who had accompanied Hongi on his terrible and bloodthirsty raid on the South. Mohi was said to have slain one hundred and fifty men with his single arm in one day. On one occasion as Mohi dashed along after the fugitives, he killed until his wearied hand could not be lifted. At this moment a very powerful native turned on him and with a greenstone adze struck at Mohi's head. Mohi was quite unable to ward off the blow, which split his skull completely open. The wound healed, but left a very considerable depression in the skull, so that afterwards when the old man was sitting in the rain a little puddle of water could be seen standing on the head. Mohi lived to extreme old age, probably to considerably over 80, but did not suffer from any brain-trouble. He was killed by over-leaping himself when mounting a horse.

These instances of strong vitality may perhaps be of some slight service to students of the human race. Doubtless many of the readers of the Polynesian Journal may have similar reminiscences of the vigour and bodily power enjoyed by members of this brave and powerful family of men.