A NEW ZEALANDERÂ’S BIBLE
In the year 1835 there lived, in the interior of the North Island of New Zealand at a place called Matamata, a young chief by the name of Ngakuku. He had formerly been a desperate warrior;
bloodthirsty, cruel and savage, but he was now making an open profession of religion before his countrymen.
At Matamata a Christian mission, headed by Rev. A. N. Brown of the Church Missionary Society, had been recently established, and Ngakuku was one of its principal supporters. This mission was in frequent communication with another C.M.S. station at Tauranga on the coast, but to ensure a safe journey between these two centres an Englishman needed a bodyguard of friendly natives to accompany him, as there was constant fighting between Ngakuku’s tribe and a tribe from Rotorua.
This feud had flared up when Waharoa the uncle of Ngakuku had sought ‘utu’ or revenge for the murder of a close relative by a Rotorua chief called Huka. Waharoa, who had previously requested that a missionary dwell amongst his people never became a Christian and remained the cannibal that he was, even offering, at one time, the flesh of one of his victims to Mr. Brown to eat.
One of the journeys between Matamata and Tauranga was undertaken in the middle of October 1835 when a party consisting of twenty-one natives and one Englishman set out for Tauranga. Ngakuku was the head of the party, having with him his children, a boy and a girl. They stopped for the night in a picturesque spot at the foot of Wairere, where a magnificent waterfall, falling from the high land above, gives the name to the place. The Englishman pitched his tent, and the natives occupied a small temporary house which was often used by travelling parties. They cooked their evening meal, and then, led by Ngakuku, commended themselves to God in prayer for protection. However, the glimmering light of their evening fire had been noticed by a Rotorua party far up the valley, and they naturally concluded that there were natives, belonging either to Tauranga or Matamata, camping there for the night. Under cover of the darkness, they crept stealthily along the mountain’s side, and came upon the encampment a little before dawn. They were attracted first by the Englishman’s tent and realizing that it would contain something worth having, rushed upon it, each eager to secure some article of clothing for himself. They took practically everything, but the Englishman suffered no physical injury. The noise made, together with the barking of a dog, aroused those in the hut, who fled to safety. Ngakuku snatched up his boy by one arm, and swung him upon his back, and tried to arouse his little daughter, Tarore, but, as she was heavy with sleep
and the enemy were already rushing in at one end of the hut, the poor child was left behind. As the daylight came on, Ngakuku, who was waiting on higher ground in dreadful anxiety for his child, called out to the natives below, telling them who he was, and inquiring after the child. They told him she was safe and that if he would go down to them they would return her to him. But Ngakuku was too experienced in native treachery to trust them. He waited, therefore, until he saw the enemy depart; then descending to the hut he found the mangled corpse of his dear child. He immediately returned to Matamata to convey the sad news to his friends. The Rev. A. N. Brown wrote, “While talking to poor Ngakuku this afternoon, and endeavouring to administer consolation to him he remarked, ‘the only reason why my heart is sad, is, that I do not know whether my child has gone to heaven… She has heard Gospel with her ears and read it to Mrs. Brown, but I do not know whether she had received it into her heart.’ After evening prayers at the chapel, Ngakuku arose and spoke to the natives from John 16.1. ‘Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me.’
The next day poor Tarore was buried. Those who had narrowly escaped a like death, followed the body to the grave. After Mr. Brown had addressed the large gathering Ngakuku expressed a wish to speak a few words and with deep solemnity of feeling remarked,
“There lies my child; she has been murdered as a payment for your bad conduct. But do not you rise up to obtain satisfaction for her. God will do that. Let this be the conclusion of the war with Rotorua. Let peace be now made. My heart is not sad for Tarore, but for you. You wished teachers to come to you; they came, and now you are driving them away. You are weeping for my daughter, but I am weeping for youÂ—for myselfÂ—for all of us. Perhaps this murder is a sign of God’s anger towards us for our sins. Turn to Him; or you will all perish.”
Sadly, the destructive war between Ngakuku’s people and the Notorua tribe continued until the year 1840 and the mission station
at Matamata had to be abandoned. But a remarkable circumstance in connection with the murder of Tarore occurred at Matamata some weeks after her death. In an attack made by the enemy, five of the Rotorua natives were killed, four of whom were concerned in the murder of Tarore. What is more, after the lapse of a few years LJita, the man who led this attack, having a desire to embrace Christianity, first sought reconciliation from Ngakuku.
But an even more remarkable circumstance sprang from the murder of this child. At about the same time as the tragedy a freed slave by the name of Ripahau had gone to live with his relations at Otaki, near Wellington. Ripahau had spent some time under regular instruction at the C.M.S. headquarters at Paihia in the Bay
of Islands, north of Auckland. He talked to his relations from time to time about the teachings of the missionaries and read to them from his own book various passages in confirmation of what he told them. A few people paid attention to him and encouraged him, despite his elementary knowledge, to take up the work in a more systematic manner. He attempted to teach some to read and write but was hindered by a lack of resources; he had only his one book and no slates. A little paper was obtained from the whaling stations, which were near, and upon small slips Ripahau copied texts of Scripture, which were committed to memory. It was no wonder, then, when a visiting party from Rotorua brought with them a few fragments of books they were seized upon as a great prize. Among these leaves was a part of the Gospel of Luke having in it the name of Ngakuku, whose little girl, Tarore, had been murdered at the foot of the hill at Wairere. The party that made that attack had apparently carried off among the spoil, Ngakuku’s Bible, and part of it had been torn up for cartridges. The remainder had now found its way to Otaki and was the book from which the son, Tamihana, and nephew, Te Whiwhi, of the principal chief of that district, Te Rauparaha, had learnt to read. It was these two young men who, becoming so desirous of having a missionary amongst them, made a special journey to Paihia to put their request to Rev. Henry Williams. He listened to their account with great interest and at once said that if there was no other person to go there he would do to himself. However, when the two natives related their story to Rev. Octavious Hadfield he immediately replied, “I will go. I know I shall not live long, and I may as well die there as here.”
Hadfield had been in the country only a few months and was in a precarious state of health being an asthmatic. Yet in the Providence of God he was enabled to commence work at Otaki in 1839 and laboured with considerable success in that part of New Zealand for over fifty years. He died in 1904 at the age of 90.
A further sequel is that we find Tamihana later, at the risk of his life, taking the Gospel to Kaiapoi in the South Island to a people whose homes had been burnt and whose kinsmen and friends had been killedÂ—and eaten byÂ—his own father!
How extraordinary are the ways of God! Satan had sought to destroy the work at Matamata, but the outcome was the furtherance of the Gospel to other parts of New Zealand. How true are the words of our Lord in Isaiah 55.2 “My wordÂ—shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
Adapted mainly from Christianity among the New ZealandersÂ—by William Williams, published in 1869, and republished in The Protestant Review, June 1987.