Maturin Ballou.

Under the Southern Cross



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The action of the largest geyser here was fitful and irregular, subsiding for a few seconds now and then, and again bursting forth with renewed power, throwing a column of boiling water thirty feet into the air with startling effect. We were told that this geyser when in operation often sent up such a column to the height of sixty feet. Much wandering over the earth's surface and knowledge of terrestrial affairs has taught us not to accept unchallenged the statements of even such worthy guides as our veracious Sophia. The fact as confirmed to us by ocular demonstration was quite startling enough, and exaggeration was certainly needless. This erratic geyser emerges from a large opening eight or ten feet in diameter worn through the split rock, and is of unknown depth, – a successful attempt to sound it being impossible, as the spray would envelop the operator and scald him to death.

The water from this geyser overflows a series of bowlders running down into a broad sulphurous basin, in which are many more boiling springs and yawning chasms, with here and there overheated flat stones upon which the natives bake their food. The bowlders and slabs over which the chemicalized waters flow, receive a yellowish deposit of sparkling silica, mixed with crystals of sulphur and gleaming sparks of black manganese, which all together form beautiful colors when the sun's rays break through the clouds of mist and play upon them. We were shown among the rocks a natural stone basin capable of holding thirty or forty gallons of water, into and through which the boiling waters could be conducted at will; and here, according to Sophia, her forefathers used to boil the heads of their prisoners into a palatable soup!

The action of the subterranean forces is more demonstrative here than at Ohinemutu, and the immediate sulphurous effect upon the atmosphere is much more dense. The matter thrown up from the depths consists of crystals of alum, soda, sulphur, arsenic, iron, and other chemicals, which form cones about the several chasms. After passing in and out among these geysers, boiling rivulets, hot springs, and steam clouds, one is glad to reach an elevation where the atmosphere is comparatively clear and pure, and where a long breath may be drawn with a degree of comfort. Standing upon an elevation overlooking the whole strange scene, the air filled with heated spray, steam, and sulphurous gases, forming all together a dense vapor which clouded the sunlight, it was impossible not to recall the picture of Dante's Inferno.

Our cicerone here, as the reader has already been partially informed, was the famous Sophia, a Maori woman who has acted in this capacity for many years, and who, as she herself deposed, was the mother of fifteen children, twelve of whom were still living. Her tattooed face is well wrinkled by the hand of time, though her activity in climbing the different points of interest is marvellous. She speaks English well, is gentle in voice and remarkable for her good manners, taking great care that those whom she conducts through these novel scenes shall see and understand every object of interest.

On the green borders of all this volcanic confusion, as we were leaving Whakarewarewa, a fragrant little bouquet of the wild blossoms of the manuka were gathered and offered to us by a Maori girl, who felt so much overpaid by the shilling tendered her in return as to hesitate to receive it.

On returning to Ohinemutu we found extensive preparations going on in the Maori hamlet for a grand dance as a sort of winding-up ceremony to the four days of wailing and feasting over the death of the chief, of whom the reader has already heard. It was curious to see into what a state of excitement the natives could work themselves by means of dance and song. It recalled the infatuation and frenzy of the whirling Dervishes of Cairo. Alcohol could not more thoroughly excite them or stimulate their brains. In these exercises the women far exceeded the men in their extravagance of behavior, – jumping wildly up and down, thrusting out their arms and legs with perfect abandon and apparent unconsciousness, distorting their bodies and features, and twisting themselves generally into most impossible shapes. A dull, monotonous drum-beat was the only musical accompaniment, which was produced from a hollow log, both ends of which were covered with sheep-skin. The perfect concert of action among the dancers was marvellous, the more so because no consecutive purpose could be divined. The most weird and picturesque scene we can recall as witnessed in the Lake District was the performance of one of these dances by moonlight; but it must be acknowledged that the exhibition was more striking than decorous. Belonging to this tribe, and indeed to all that are visited by the whites, there is always a bevy of dancing-girls with a world of passion in their bold, luminous eyes, and a reckless disregard of all delicacy in their behavior, ever ready to perform before strangers for money. Some of these girls have very long, perfectly straight hair and a Jewish cast of features quite in contrast to the typical Maori faces. The indifference of parents to the conduct of their daughters is remarkable even for savages. One great objection to the haka, or native dance, is the beer-drinking which invariably accompanies it. The beer is brought from the hotel in an open bucket holding several gallons, and mugs being furnished, the performers partake freely, until by the time the dance draws to a close they are not in a condition to care much for the proprieties.

When one of these Maoris meets another after a long separation, the first thing is the mutual rubbing of noses, after which each of the parties begins to mourn and weep; but when they say good-by at parting, for however long a term, boisterous laughter is indulged in, – for it is a principle with them to speed the parting guest with feast, song, and hilarity. As the dead lies prepared for burial, the nearest relative first, and the closest friend after, rubs noses with the corpse. The natives here are in receipt of a considerable amount of money from the rents of lands, from pensions granted by the Government, and from acting in the capacity of guides, or as boatmen on the lake, and for performing other odd jobs for the whites. But they have no idea of economy or of saving anything for a time of need. The money which they receive goes as fast as it comes into their possession, and mostly for liquor and tobacco. When the money is gone, they will half starve themselves until a fresh supply comes in. After one of their continued wakes, at which food is so recklessly wasted, and all their spare cash expended in drinking and in other excesses, there follows a period of fasting, during which they live upon roots, berries, and stray bits of food picked up here and there. Such is their improvidence, that there are often times when they would absolutely starve were it not for the aid given gratuitously by the whites.

The Maoris at the present time are remarkably peaceable among themselves, – being never known, as we were told by local officials, to quarrel one with another, not even in their cups; for while liquor makes them foolish, it seldom makes them pugnacious. It was noticed that the fathers often carried the infant children on their backs, and in the same style adopted by the mothers. From this and other indications we got the impression that they are very kind to their children. One thing is certainly remarkable: these native babies never cry. We were a full week among them, witnessing their domestic life at nearly all hours, and we never heard the first cry from their lips. The same peculiarity as regards infants was also noticed by the author both in China and Japan.

As has been mentioned already, the funeral of one of their chiefs had drawn numerous representatives from other tribes to Ohinemutu, so that the number of aborigines was largely increased at the hamlet during our stay. The last day of our sojourning here was Sunday, a certain outward respect for which is observed by the natives as well as the few white residents at Ohinemutu. The little rude earthen-floored chapel, where a Roman Catholic priest officiates, was not large enough to accommodate both the resident tribe and their visitors at the same time, so they divided into two parties, – one half attending the services in the chapel, while the other half remained outside squatting upon their hams and playing cards for pennies. This seemed to us to be a little out of keeping with the church-going idea, but the average native is not at all amenable in his feelings to the conventionalities of the whites. Gambling with cards under the shadow of the church presented no anomalous aspect to these waiting worshippers. When the first audience had completed the usual religious exercises, – listening to prayers read in Latin, which of course were "all Greek" to them, – then the card-players changed places with them, and each party did as the other had just done. The afternoon was devoted to foot-ball by the men, and to bathing, gossiping, and smoking tobacco by the women. The food and stimulants had evidently become exhausted, as the visitors prepared to depart to their homes, but they were dismissed as usual with riotous tokens of joy.

The Government now owns a considerable portion of land in the Hot Lake District, which has been purchased at a fair price from the natives. The region called the King's Country contains at least ten thousand square miles, lying within clearly-defined boundaries. Its possession is sacredly secured to the Maoris by treaty with the Home Government of England. The aborigines however would in no contingency permit any encroachment upon their present domain; they would declare open war first, and fight for their rights. It is remembered by the whites that these natives can fight when incited to do so by their chiefs, and by a sense of being wronged. This was made clear enough in the early days of the European occupancy, when it cost the English thousands of lives and vast amounts of treasure before peace was finally brought about by the abundant concessions of Sir George Gray, the then Governor. The natives had very rude weapons in those days; now, however, they have fire-arms, and know how to use them. No foreigner can go into the King's Country without a native permit; no white man can travel there without a Maori guide; a murderer or other criminal cannot be pursued thither by a Government officer, except by first obtaining the proper permission. In these reserved lands the Maoris show a bold and warlike front. They enjoy full political rights in the government of the country, and return their own members to the National Assembly from the several districts in their province. The few educated members of the tribe are distinguished for a certain kind of eloquence, and can speak well and forcibly in behalf of the interests of their race. Like our own American Indians, they abound in poetical figures of speech and natural illustrations. Instances were related to us of some of these Maori representatives (generally with more or less European blood in their veins), who had electrified the legislative body to which they belonged, by their eloquent and powerful harangues, and who had more than once carried their purpose to a successful issue, against the manifest popular wish of the Assembly, by their clear force of argument and manly speech.

Government is building a sanitarium at Sulphur Point, as it is called, situated about half a mile from the Lake House. The baths attached to it are supplied with water from springs which are highly charged with chemical matter, each being quite different from the others in its peculiar properties, and supposed to possess special curative powers. There is also here a hospital already in operation under the control of the Government, in which there were a score of patients when we visited it. Several of these were grateful and enthusiastic for the benefit they believed themselves to have experienced by bathing in the ill-smelling waters. Said one to us: "I now leave my crutches under my bed; but when I came here two weeks ago I could not walk across my room without them. Now, however, I walk a mile in the open air, forenoon and afternoon, without any help, and have a grand appetite, with the digestion of an ostrich."

A large town has been arranged for by the authorities in anticipation of the future popularity of these hot springs. Broad, regular, and well-laid out streets have been graded and fenced, having nicely gravelled road-beds, lined with ornamental trees; but there are yet no dwelling-houses here except the very comfortable Hospital structure. There is, however, a grocery store, a Post-Office, and a Town Hall, – these last two being of brick. It seemed to us that the atmosphere of Sulphur Point must always prove an insuperable objection to its being adopted as a permanent home. The constant odor rising from the subterraneous fires not only excites disgust, but is disagreeably suggestive of the nearness to active volcanic agencies. The Lake House is situated upon a gentle elevation, thirty or forty feet higher than the lake, and overlooking the lands all about it; but Sulphur Point is nearly on a level with the water, and is so low that any rise of the lake would inevitably flood it, and it must always be very damp.

Yet invalids have come all the way from the North of Europe to test the advantages of these springs, and, as we were assured by the attendant physician, with almost unvarying success. A railway is constructing from Oxford hither which will connect Ohinemutu with Auckland direct, obviating the necessity for staging, which no invalid should attempt unless the road is in a very different condition from that in which we found it. The railway will doubtless be finished within a twelvemonth.

One must start before sunrise from Ohinemutu in order to reach Auckland on the same day, though the distance is only a hundred and sixty miles, all but thirty of which is by railway. We have shown that the road between the Lake District and Oxford is one requiring time to deal with. When we left the Lake House, the silvery gray of the morning was struggling through the clouds of hot vapor and sulphurous steam which hung over and about the place. The stage lanterns and those in the hands of the attendants cast a weird and fitful glamour all about us. A dog was baying down among the Maori cabins, albeit the hamlet as a whole still slept. The horses brought out from their stable into the crisp morning air were a little restless, and a hostler held the bits of the two leaders. Presently the driver called out, "All right! let them go!" and in a moment more we were rolling smartly away by the borders of Lake Rotorua.

The extended programme was completed, and now our steps would be turned toward distant America.

No intelligent person can be blind to the favorable position of New Zealand or to the promise of its future commercial importance. Situated as it were in the centre of this Austral Ocean, the future highway of the world, it is accessible from all quarters. On the west, not far away, lie the busy harbors of Australia, with which her exchanges of merchandise are constant. Within easy reach of India and China on one side, she has California, Mexico, and South America on the other. To the north lie the hundreds of islands which constitute the groups of Polynesia, notable for their voluptuous climate and primitive fertility. With the opening of the Panama Canal or other available means for crossing the isthmus, New Zealand will lie directly in the highway between Europe and the gold-fields of the great island-continent, – between England and her largest colony. The insular position of the country does not necessarily indicate inaccessibility. The many beautiful islands of the South Sea must sooner or later come under the commercial sway of New Zealand, as they may be explored and civilized. Her admirable harbors, noble estuaries, and navigable rivers are elsewhere unsurpassed. If destined to achieve greatness, these islands, like those of great Britain, will do so through the development and maintenance of maritime power; and with so many advantages as they possess, we predict for them this final accomplishment.

As an attractive country to the explorer and traveller, though so many thousands of miles away from the beaten tracks, New Zealand is rendered accessible by the growing facilities of our times, and certainly combines within itself a grand variety of natural phenomena which nowhere else are so readily reached or more striking to behold. Her soil produces all the vegetation and fruits of the teeming tropics; and yet within a few hours' travel of flower-clad plains, one can ascend mountains as lofty, and behold glaciers as frigid and grand, as in Switzerland or Norway. While perennial verdure characterizes her valleys and plains, her lofty ranges are snow-capped all through the year. In the north she has geysers, boiling springs, heated caldrons, and active craters, as endless in variety as they are countless in number; in the south she has myriads of cool lakes which for beauty of scenery excel the Lake of Geneva, and for depth vie with the famous fjords of Scandinavia, – thus giving us an epitome of the grandest exhibitions of many lands. Her native race is unique, excelling nearly all others in originality, and full of interest to the ethnological student. In the wild Maori country the paths are among a wilderness of boiling waterspouts, and in the open districts of the lower country one is sheltered by fern-trees, tall, graceful, and picturesque. From the crests of burning mountains we may look into regions where sulphurous fires never cease, and by turning the eyes in another direction behold crystal waters tumbling over precipices hundreds of feet in height, to feed the streams which irrigate the fertile plains below.

These marvellous forests, precipitous gorges, lovely rivers, and fruitful valleys have neither legend nor history to lend them fortuitous attractions; but is it not quite as fascinating to tread such unworn lands, to make one's own path in the unbroken forest, and to be brought face to face with Nature in her primal condition? He who has become blas? with travel in Europe, or even in the less worn fields of Asia, may here encounter wonder upon wonder which will be sure to "whet his almost blunted appetite," and to renew in him all the early charms of foreign discovery and travel.

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