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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 6 (September 1, 1934)

A Lone Hand in Cannibal Land

A Lone Hand in Cannibal Land.

“Te Ahiwera” (this Maori version of his name means literally “Hot Fire”) was a man of great and dauntless heart, for all his lack of inches and weight. He went boldly into the heart of a wild land given up to cannibalism and all manner of savagery and cruelty. Waikato from 1835 to 1840 was a land of war-parties, for there was a great and bitter feud with the tribes of Rotorua and the Tauranga and Maketu country. Every few months armies of Ngati-Haua, Ngati-Maniapoto and Waikato tribes, inhabiting the country from Matamata to Kawhia and Mokau, marched off to the Lakes and the coast, armed with muskets and tomahawks, and they often returned with slaves laden with the dismembered bodies of the slain foemen, for cannibal feasts of victory.

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The Rev. B. Y. Ashwell's mission station on the Waikato, opposite Taupiri. (From a drawing by Lieut. H. S. Bates, 65th Regiment, in 1862.)

The Rev. B. Y. Ashwell's mission station on the Waikato, opposite Taupiri. (From a drawing by Lieut. H. S. Bates, 65th Regiment, in 1862.)

It was in February, 1839, that Ashwell made his first visit to the Waikato and Waipa Rivers, on his way overland to Tauranga, a long and toilsome journey. He found a large population on the fertile banks of those rivers. At Waikato Heads, where his canoe voyage began, there were the Ngati-Tipa, with their old cannibal chief Kukutai. At Tarahanga, four miles below Rangiriri, were the Ngati-Pou, the most numerous tribe on the river. The Ngati-Mahuta lived at Taupiri and adjacent parts, and also at Waahi, the present home of Potatau's direct descendants. There was a large area of kumara cultivations at Taupiri, on both sides of the river. Ngaruawahia was not then occupied. Further up, on the banks of the Waikato or Horotiu, where Hamilton, Tamahere and Cambridge now are, there were the powerful Ngati-Haua and Ngati-Koroki tribes; and in the Waipa country there were many large villages, particularly Whata-whata, Te Rore, Kopua, Otawhao (near the present railway station at Te Awa-mutu), Rangiaowhia, and Kihikihi. The Otawhao-Te Awamutu district was populated by the Ngati-Ruru tribe, whose principal chief was an old warrior named Mokorou; he was busily engaged in waging war against the tribes of Rotorua and Tauranga. Kihikihi was the northernmost village of the Ngati-Mania-poto tribe, who held all the country southward as far as the mouth of the Mokau. Such was South Auckland before Auckland was.

Ashwell visited all the kaingas he could find, and preached the Rongo-Pai—the “Good News,” the glad tidings of the pakeha. He found that it was not quite unknown to the people, for Maori converts taught by the missionaries at the Waikato Heads and Mangapouri told them about it. It is not likely that they understood much of the theology propounded in this way; still they grasped the main point which was peace, peace and goodwill towards all men. By this time most of the Maoris were becoming weary of war; they had had several years of almost continuous strife, and only the influence of the fierce old warriors such as Te Waharoa and Mokorou kept them on the fighting path. At Matamata, Ashwell met the afterwards celebrated Wiremu Tamehana, the Maori Kingmaker; he was then called Tarapipipi. He became a strong advocate of peace, and declined to follow in the footsteps of his father, Te Waharoa.