Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa
Kaiuku—A Maori Epic
Kaiuku—A Maori Epic.
Ancient historians have not forgotten to immortalize in prose and poetry the deeds of their national heroes, some of whom were exalted to the throne of the gods, and others are merely enshrined in the hearts of succeeding generations. Thus the heroes in defence of their country, at the Pass of Thermopylae for Greece, or in the Indian Mutiny for England. Epics of olden days worthy of the widest remembrance. Yet here in Maoriland, even in Old Wairoa, there were numerous instances of brave men facing death under great odds yet not blanching or exhibiting the craven heart. Ready to die for the tribe, or for the land, but no thought of surrender or of compromise. Such was the story of the defence of Kaiuku, on the Mahia peninsula, worthy to rank with the best of the heroic struggles of the ancients. To fully understand the situation as it existed on the Mahia peninsula just before this event one must go back a little to describe the movements that took place in this historic area. Maungakahia, a little to the south of Kaiuku, was fought about the year 1400, or fifty years after the great migration from Hawaiki. The peninsula was then covered with bush and scrub, but it was largely cleared on the eastern side by the refugees from Heretaunga, who had to do it to raise food for themselves. In 1817 Te Wera Hauraki attacked Waipuna pa a little north of Wainui beach. What the conflict was about does not now matter, but Ngati-Kahungunu rushed down to the beach, armed only with spears and tomahawks, but nearly all of them fell before the page 182Ngapuhi guns. The chief of Waipuna, Whareumu, was carried off as a prisoner to the Bay of Islands, on 19th April, 1821, and Te Wera returned to Okura, near Kerikeri, with forty prisoners, including Te-ao-Kapua-rangi, who became his wife. Pomare, also, was raiding the tribes in the East Coast district, and among the prisoners taken by him was Rangi-i-paea, whom he married on the principle of spoils to the victors. Te Wera and Titore, while raiding the Nukutaurua (Mahia) district, made war on the Rongowhakaata tribe, and defeated them on the banks of the Wai-o-paoa (Poverty Bay), Te Kani-a-Takirau escaping down the river in a canoe. Peace was made, and Te Wera agreed to help Te Kani after he had finished his work at Nukutaurua, that is, the restoration of Whareumu to his people, for at this time Te Wera had come under the influence of the missionaries in the Bay of Islands, who were instrumental in giving a decided check to slavery and cannibalism. Te Wera, then, at the beginning of 1824, returned to Nukutaurua, taking with him Whareumu to return him to his people, and he had with him her two ablest lieutenants, the two sons of Te-Ao-kapua-rangi by her previous husband; these were Ipu-tutu Tarakawa and Tarakawa Rauru. Whareumu then sent to collect what were called "the wild men of Rakaipaaka" on Waikawa and in the bush round Nuhaka, which was quite a difficult job, as it was hard for the refugees to decide whether or not Te Wera's designs were peaceful. When they were all gathered, Whareumu rose and said: "Behold, my people, Ngati-Hikairoa and Ngati-Rakaipaaka!page 183
Here am I. By my chief, Te Wera, was I returned to you and to the land. He shall be a father unto us. A strong pa shall he be." Then to the Ngapuhi: "Behold, O Wera, you have heard my words to my people. Now take you the people and the land. You will be a fence against this wind and that. You and your tribe must remain here permanently." Soon after this Te Wera crossed the bay to Haretaonga, at the request of Whareumu, to see the state of affairs there.
Landing at the Tukituki, he went on to Tanenui-a-rangi, where Pareihe, the leading chief of Roto-a-tara, met him. After greetings had been exchanged Pareihe sang his Tau asking Te Wera to assist him against his enemies. This was agreed to and Te Wera suggested that all the people should go to Nuku-taurua for safety. Pareihe went to Pakake (at the present-day Ahuriri) to induce the people there to go, but they refused to move. Pareihe and his people went on and joined Te Wera. Shortly after this a strong taua of Waikato, Ngati-Maniapoto, Ngati-Raukawa, and Taupo came to Pakake and took it with great slaughter, the bodies of the slain floating about in the tidal waters, the remnant fleeing to the Ruahine ranges. Then all the people from the Wairarapa to the north gathered at Nukutaurua and at Kurareinga, or as some authorities call it, Okurarenga, afterwards Kaiuku. After the death of Pomare, in 1826, and after the return of Te Wera from Heretaunga, there came a force of Arawa under Mokonui-a-rangi, and Te Heuheu Tukino, Ngatimaru under Taraia, Hauaururu and other chiefs page 184of the Ngati-Paoa. Their object was to annihilate Te Wera, whom they attacked on the historic ground of what is now known as Kaiuku. At this time there were between 10,000 and 12,000 of the Ngati-Kahungunu tribe sheltering at Mania; they came from as far as the Wairarapa and Ahuriri, and the old maps of that date bore on them the words. "No Natives on this coast." The exodus from the area mentioned was due to the man-eating raids extending from Kawhia to Wellington. The raiders paid attention in another way for they invested Pa Kaiuku with a force estimated at 1,000, though the usual total of such a taua was about 700. This pa stood above a cliff some hundreds of feet above the sea, the site having evidently been a hillock levelled down by the Maoris and then strongly palisaded. The water supply was deficient though some of the precious liquid oozed from the cliff and could be secured by the aid of ropes, and in addition there had not been time to collect much food before the enemy came. Te Wera had some guns, which he used to good advantage, but towards the end he ran short of ammunition. Day succeeded day, and the sun rose above the horizon and beat pitilessly at noon on the beseiged. Yet no thought of surrender, and a vigilant watch was kept by day from the pekerangi running along inside the walls, and by night double guards were put on at the gates. As the days wore on the men looked anxious and the women terrified, for the children cried for the food and water they could not give them. The warriors tightened their hunger-belts and set their teeth, and the women and children page 185were fed with a mixture of sea-weeds and clay for over two months, hence the name Kaiuku (clay food). All this time the thousands of Heretaunga, including Pareihe, their chief, stood idly by and failed to go to the aid of their protector, Te Wera, and so far no explanation of this extraordinary inaction has been given. It may be that they were not well armed, but against this it would seem that 500 men, by weight of numbers alone could have brushed the enemy off the peninsula. No doubt they took the enemy's guns seriously and probably they did not want to give the enemy another take, or excuse, for future warfare. Be this as it may, no explanation has yet been given, and it looks as if such were long overdue. Meantime the people in the pa fought on, hoping against hope, till early one fine morning some help did come, for a small taua of Te Kani-a-Takirau's Rongowhakaata attempted to make a landing at Pukenui beach, a short distance north of the pa, but the force never landed, being driven back in the breakers by the well-directed fire of the enemy posted in the scrub. The landing party were successful in one way, in that they killed Chief Paeaka of Tuwharetoa and Maniapoto, which quickly raised the seige, the raiders carrying away with them the body of their chief to save him from the idignity of the Maori umu, or oven. There was much joy in the pa when the enemy departed. The men rested after their heroic defence, the women set about feeding the people who as their frames again filled out were also filled with just pride which will never fade. For now is not a model pa to be built at Kaiuku as a memorial of a great epic in Maori history?