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Forgive Fast History Story: The Woman with the Knife    © Jenny Jenkins 2015       https://sites.google.com/site/valueslessons

I felt trapped. I was stationed in the Pyes Pa blockhouse near Tauranga, New Zealand between the settlers land and the bush where wild tribes of Hauhau Maori lived, eager to spill British blood. Every day was the same – boring and dull. Early drill on the parade ground, and then nothing. Nothing to do but watch and wait. Wait and watch. For what? The Maori didn’t attack. British soldiers had killed many of them four years ago in 1864, at the Battle of Te Ranga. We had surprised them digging the trenches of a fighting pa, like the one at Gate Pa. But this time they weren't ready. So we massacred them. It helped us feel better after the whipping they gave us at the Battle of Gate Pa. Gate Pa – now that battle was best forgotten. Almost 2000 crack British soldiers beaten back by about 200 Maori… that was humiliating.

I stood up, strode into the arms room and grabbed a double-barrelled musket. I was going hunting.
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My second in command, a grey haired sergeant, looked alarmed as I strode through the gate alone, but my glare silenced him. ‘He’ll be happy with a bag of fat pigeons for dinner,’ I thought as the gate slammed shut behind me. Still, I couldn't help feeling like a naughty schoolboy going fishing while my mates were in class.

Whistling cheerily, I strode up through the fern covered slopes towards the thick bush. As I entered its shadow, I thought of the Hauhau tribes living deep in these hills. Their land was taken from them when they’d lost the Battle of Te Ranga. Now they were hostile to the British settlers. Surely they’d keep well clear of our blockhouse fort?

Following a narrow trail, I stopped and smiled. A pair of fat bush pigeons sat on the branch of a tawa tree, feasting on the ripe berries. I aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger. Bang! The rifle stock kicked my shoulder, and the bird dropped like a stone. 
(Show Image 2)  Incredibly, its mate was still there. I grinned and fired again. The gunshot echoed off the hills, and I glanced nervously around as I carefully reloaded, ramming the powder and shot down the gun barrel. Even if the Hauhau heard the shots, I told myself, I’d be back in the stockade long before they could get near me. I pushed on through the bush shooting pigeons, and before long my haversack was nearly full. My mouth watered at the thought of pigeons roasting in the oven.

I heard the faint rustling of a bush and turned. Something hit me. I was slammed violently against the ground! Fear shot through my body like a bullet! Three Maori warriors sat on me, a fourth had taken my rifle, and another was peering into my haversack.

“Kerero!” he said, glaring angrily at me. “You stole our birds!” Two of them wrenched me to my feet and pointed a musket at my heart. An angry young warrior pulled a tomahawk from his belt and swung it wildly at my head. I flinched. The leader stopped him with a glance.

Pointing to my musket, I said, “Give me my gun and let me go.”

“No. You are trespassing on our land and shooting our birds. Come with us. We shall see what Hakaraia has to say about you,” he said grimly, and set off through the bush, motioning for me to follow. I stumbled along, trying to keep up. Once I glanced backward, and shuddered as four muskets swung up at my head. My heart was pounding and my hands went cold.

After about twenty minutes walking we entered a clearing in the bush. A tall matai pine towered in the centre and thatch-walled whare with bark roofs filled the clearing. People ran from all directions, crowding around me.
 I was pushed roughly against the pine and bound with flax. Then came a council of war. The people sat in a large semicircle around me, with a tattooed old chief and his wife in the centre. What would they do to me? Would they kill me? Would they eat me? I knew that the Hauhau hated the British. Would my hunting trip end with me roasting in the oven? 
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A young Maori warrior stood to his feet and, danced before me, rolling his eyes, flashing out his tongue and thrusting his taiaha at my head.
 “Wait until Hakaraia comes,” he taunted. “He’ll sacrifice you to his gods!” I’d heard enough stories of this war leader, Hakaraia, to know he wasn’t bluffing.

One by one, the warriors rose to their feet to have their say. A few wanted to set me free. I watched the old chief carefully when they spoke. He seemed to agree, but I could see he was in a difficult position. The younger ones, eyes ablaze with hate, danced up and down in front of me, waving their guns and tomahawks, urging revenge for their lost brothers at Te Ranga.

A man stood by my side, restlessly swinging his tomahawk. Again came the words that sent chills down my spine: “Keep him for Hakaraia. He’s coming from Te Puke today, with his war party. He’ll want him for his gods.” I closed my eyes and prayed.
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Suddenly the chief’s wife stood to her feet, tall and dignified. Picking up a long sharp knife, she strode towards me. She slashed the knife at my wrists, and I was free. Swinging a flax cloak from her shoulders, she wrapped it around me.
“This man is mine!” she cried. “Come and take him if you dare! He did wrong to shoot our pigeons. But we have his gun and ammunition, and the birds he shot. It is sufficient. If anyone wants to fight the British, let him do it in battle.”

The people sat stunned and silent as she strode out of the circle, motioning for me to follow. As we entered the bush track, she moved behind me, protecting me from bullets with her own body. We walked swiftly, silently, my ears straining for sounds of pursuit, but only the sweet call of the tui rang through the bush. We reached the edge of the open fern country and she stopped. “Now, run as fast as you can,” she commanded. “My men may be close behind us.”

“Thank you,” I began, wishing to express my deep gratitude.

“Go!” she said and swung around, disappearing into the gloom of the dense bush. Not wishing to appear a coward, I walked away quickly, but as soon as a hollow hid me from the bush, I sprinted, never looking back.

I reached the blockhouse at sunset. The sergeant was watching for me, and the gate swung open at my approach. He stood in the middle of the gateway, his eyes fixed on me in a penetrating stare. Not a word did I say as I entered the blockhouse, without gun or pigeons.

But now, as an old man, I enjoy sitting around a blazing camp fire in the bush and telling the tale of the woman with the knife.

© Jenny Jenkins 2015   Resource: ‘Tales of the NZ Bush’ Cohen. 

Discussion Questions
1. Did the soldier deserve to die? Why did the Maori warriors want to kill him? (As revenge for their fallen friends at a previous battle)
2. What good values did the chief's wife show? (Compassion, fairness, courage, kindness)
3. How do you think her tribe felt towards her for helping their enemy escape? (Respect for her bravery, perhaps some resentment.)

Visual Aid
Print out the images or make a Power Point presentation from them, to help your students to visualise the story.
1. Soldiers: http://www.britishempire.co.uk/images2/ra1880.jpg
2. Pigeon: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5f/Hemiphaga_novaeseelandiae_-Kapiti_Island-8.jpg/220px-Hemiphaga_novaeseelandiae_-Kapiti_Island-8.jpg
3. Warrior: http://www.prints.co.nz/mm5/graphics/00000001/8136_Maori_Warrior_Haka_Ferris.jpg

4. Chief's wife: http://www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/dbtw-wpd/HeritageImages/images/photos/h60f/471-9762.jpg Image source:
An excellent fully illustrated story for children about forgiveness is: 'Battle at the Gate' by Jenny Jenkins:  https://sites.google.com/site/battleatthegate/ Available as an illustrated e-Book from  http://www.oceanbooks.co.nz/battle-at-the-gate.html