Project Canterbury


By James W. Stack

Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin, N.Z.
Melbourne and London: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1909.

Chapter IX. Koro's Mission of Reconciliation

In 1877 the Maoris of Port Levy, who were amongst the first to embrace Tamaiharoa's teaching, expressed a desire to renounce it, and to be restored to full communion with our Church, and several of them expressed a wish to be confirmed. I knew no one better fitted to prepare them than my old friend Koro, who, when asked to do so, readily undertook the work.

In order to make the journey easy for him, it was arranged that he should travel by rail from Kaiapoi to Lyttelton, and that the natives should meet him there with a boat to take him on to his destination. But, owing to rough weather, no boat met him when he reached Lyttelton. After waiting for some days, there being no improvement in the weather, he crossed the harbour to Purau, and walked over the hills, carrying on his back rather a heavy load of baggage, and surprised the Port Levy people, who never imagined that he was capable at his age of doing what he had done.

[81] He was heartily welcomed and hospitably entertained by the Chief Pera, with whom he remained as a guest during the whole of his stay on the peninsula.

Twenty persons joined his class for Confirmation candidates, who kept him busily engaged, till a circumstance occurred which interrupted for a time his course of instruction. Koro had noticed that the enclosure round the church was very much overgrown with weeds, and he set to work, soon after his arrival, to clear them away. While doing so .he passed repeatedly the site of a hut, formerly occupied by an old man, who died there. In placing some large stones to form a step at the door of the church, Koro sprained his hand, which swelled up immediately and caused him great pain. As the inflammation did not yield to any of the remedies he applied, the people of the place began to whisper amongst themselves that Koro must have been bitten by an evil spirit; that, while clearing the rubbish from the churchyard, he must have disturbed the haunt of some disembodied spirit, who in revenge had entered his hand. At last his hostess made bold to tell him what the people were saying.

Koro pooh-poohed the notion; but three weeks of pain and low diet began to tell upon his nerves, and he decided to go to Christ-church and seek advice. There he was relieved to find that the application of a few linseed poultices and other simple remedies [81/82] soon reduced the inflammation, and he went home to Kaiapoi till the cure was completed. When he felt strong enough to return to Port Levy he expressed his intention to do so. His friends, who saw how ill he was looking, remonstrated with him, and said: "You will die on the road; you are not strong enough to go." His reply was: "I would rather death overtook me on the road while doing God's work than while sitting idle in my house."

He did go back, in spite of his friends' remonstrances, and resumed the work of preparing the candidates for confirmation, and continued it till he was satisfied that they were ready to present for examination.

When all arrangements were completed, Bishop Harper made a special visit to Port Levy, being accompanied by Archdeacon Cholmondeley, the Rev. George Mutu, Mr. Wills, and myself. The Maoris had decorated the church with flowers and evergreens, and their houses with flags, to mark their appreciation of the importance of the events which were to take place that day.

After the Confirmation service, which was most solemn and impressive, the bishop and his party were entertained in the chief's house, while the Maoris were all feasted outside. After complimentary speeches had been exchanged between the bishop and our entertainers we took our departure, and as our boat left the shore for the steamer in which we were to return to Lyttelton, the Maoris [82/83] cheered lustily, and continued to do so till we were out of hearing. Te Koro was conspicuous amongst the crowd by his violent gesticulations--he kept leaping up and down, and throwing his arms about in the most frantic manner. He told me afterwards that he could not control his feelings of thankfulness that God had permitted him to see the realisation of his hopes, and an end put to the estrangement of his beloved Port Levy, by the visit of the bishop. He felt that he must "leap for joy."

It is an interesting fact that David the Hebrew king and Koro the Maori catechist adopted the same way of expressing the emotion of spiritual joy--"they leapt and danced before the Lord."

My removal from Christchurch to Banks Peninsula in 1881 put a stop to Koro's friendly visits, for his increasing age and infirmities made it impossible for him to travel as far as our new abode. But I always saw him when I paid my quarterly visits to Kaiapoi, and found him, on most of those occasions, in a very unhappy state of mind, fretting about the growing deterioration of the younger Maoris, who, in spite of their Christian upbringing, were not maintaining the reputation for integrity which their fathers had before them.

This was forced more particularly upon his attention by the fact that, whenever a lay-reader died of late years in any part of the [83/84] diocese, no one could be found amongst the younger Maoris whose stability of character fitted him to occupy the vacant office.

The first generation of lay-readers belonged to that special class of converts--who were numerous at first in the native Church--who, on becoming Christians, found in the purer precepts of their new faith those laws of righteousness which they had dimly perceived and striven to follow when they were heathens, and which they cheerfully obeyed when they became Christians.

A good representative of the class was found in Charley Wi Teihoka, the senior lay-reader at Kaiapoi, who died in 1886. He had maintained an unblemished character for thirty years before his decease, and set a bright example of Christian conduct. Though exposed all the time to evil influences which wrecked the characters of weaker men, he never lost his refinement of manner, or lowered his standard of life.

Though a chief, he was compelled by want of money to work for hire, that he might have enough to pay the ever-increasing demands made upon his purse by conformity to civilised ways. Whether employed in the bush or the harvest-field or the shearers' shed, he always won the respect and good-will of his employers.

How he impressed them may be gathered from the terms in which he is spoken of in a letter of condolence addressed by a [84/85] well-known and highly respected English settler [Isaac Wilson, J.P., M.P.] to his brother William:

The sad news that has reached me of the death of your dear wife and brother has filled me with sorrow, and brought to my mind the many years of friendship and intercourse I have had with them and you.

I wish to take this opportunity of saying how deeply I respect the dead, having known you all intimately for over thirty years; how true and honourable I have found you all in many dealings; and how much pleasure it gave me to be able to reckon such worthy people amongst my friends.

It seemed to Koro an insoluble mystery that men like Tare and himself, whose youth was passed amidst the horrors of cannibalism and under the dark shadow of degrading superstition, should possess far more strength of character, far more refinement of feeling, far clearer views of right and wrong than those who had been brought up all their lives in the midst of English civilisation, and in close contact with the elevating and enlightening influences of the Christian faith.

And yet the reason was apparent enough. When the cannibal became a Christian, there was no fear of his mistaking the boundary line between heathen life and Christian life, between heathen notions of right and wrong and Christian notions; there was a sharp and clearly defined line between them. He saw the perfect law pointed out to him by his English teacher in the New Testament, and he did his best to conform to it, and he was [85/86] encouraged to do so by the example of all who bore the Christian name around him. And his habits of Christian thought and conduct were not warped and confused by the example of nominal and indifferent Christians. And, when after a time he was brought into contact with such persons, his good principles were too strong and well formed to be much injured by them.

But it was far otherwise with the Maori born and brought up in a nominally Christian community, consisting of persons of a superior race to his own, persons whose example he felt impelled to copy. He Avas bewildered by the varying standards of conduct presented by those around him. The line which his father and the first converts from heathenism always kept in sight had vanished, and right and wrong were mixed up together in inextricable confusion.

And so, in spite of schools and religious instruction, the young Maoris, both male and female, failed to display the same moral discernment as their elders, or to exercise the same power of self-restraint.

Knowledge of the English language had exposed the younger Maoris to new forms of temptation which their fathers' ignorance protected them from. It caused them to discontinue the practice of meeting together for daily morning and evening prayer when away from home carrying out some harvesting or shearing contract--because their European [86/87] fellow workmen expressed disapproval of the practice.

But, worst of all, it often happened that when the lads came back their mouths were full of vile language, and their minds full of evil knowledge imparted to them by their English fellow workmen; and, having lost their own belief in the Christian faith, they ridiculed those who still clung to it.

But the crowning cause of Koro's sadness of heart was the pitiful downfall of George the deacon, whose ordination on Trinity Sunday 1872 had filled our hearts with so much joy and hope. For the first few years of his ministry, all went well. But gradually George lost touch with the older Maoris. Conscious of being on a higher intellectual plane than they moved in, he was, unfortunately, unconscious of the fact that he lacked their strength of moral character, and so he grew heedless of their advice, and ventured, on the strength of his superior intellectual endowments, to encounter temptations which proved too strong for him. If he had not been exposed to exceptional dangers, he might have "endured to the end, and finished his course with joy."

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