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History and traditions of the Maoris of the West Coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840

Fall of Puke-Rangiora Pa.1831 (second siege)

Fall of Puke-Rangiora Pa.1831 (second siege).

We now approach the time of one of the most momentous events and the greatest disasters that ever happened to the Taranaki people, resulting eventually in the practical abandonment of the whole coast from Mokau to Patea, with the exception of a small number of the Taranaki tribe who remained in their own country near Opunake, and an equally small party of Ati-Awa at Nga-Motu.

The battle of Te Motu-nui, fought near Ure-nui in 1821 (see Chapter XIV.), in which the Waikato tribes had suffered so severely and lost so many of their great chiefs, was not by any means forgotten, nor the Taranaki people forgiven. Waikato had by this time acquired many stand of arms through the fact of traders having become established at Kawhia, Tauranga, and other places, and consequently felt themselves more able to cope with their southern enemies. W. Te Awa-i-taia (A.H.M., Vol. VI., page 5) says, "Waikato were continually thinking about those deaths (i.e., of Te Hiakai, Hari, Mama, and others) and the page 460matter of seeking utu for them was referred to Pota-tau Te Wherowhero. The Waikato assembled together to discuss the matter, but nothing was done. This was continually repeated, but it never resulted in anything. Te Hiakai was uncle to Potatau and also to W. Te Awa-i-taia, or, in other words, he was a father to them," and it consequently devolved upon them and their particular hapus to wipe out the disgrace attaching to them for Te Hiakai's death. "When the council of Te Ao-o-te-rangi (who had been defeated by Ati-Awa, see page 446) and Muri-whenua was not heeded, the latter applied to his relative Te Awa-i-taia. He said, "Son! Are you not willing that the death of Te Hiakai should be avenged?" The reply was, "I am willing!"

It was probably after this consent of Te Awa-i-taia that the incident related by Thos. Ralph, quoted by Polack in his "New Zealand," Vol. II., p. 290, occurred: "In November, 1831, some Waikatos, under the pretence of purchasing some dried fish of a particular kind, only to be found on that part of the coast, arrived in two canoes at Taranaki (? Waitara). They were well received, and prior to their departure their canoes were repaired and filled with presents of dried fish and other provisions. These Waikatos were sent as spies to ascertain the strength of the defences of Taranaki."

There is no reason to doubt this account, and, if true, the spies would easily ascertain from the local people of the many migrations that had left the district. But many thousand people of Ati-Awa still remained, as 523

In consequence of this consent of Te Awa-i-taia, Ngati-Tipa (of Waikato Heads) arose, together with Ngati-Tahinga (of Raglan), Ngati-Hourua, Ngati-Mahanga, and Ngati-Wehi (all of Waikato) with Ngati-Haua (of Upper Thames), in all, three hundred and forty men (i.e., six hundred and eighty). They went from Raglan to Aotea, where they were joined by Te Hutu; then to Kawhia, where Te Kanawa and Tu-korehu also joined them; and from the latter place they went straight on towards Taranaki. When they reached Mokau they heard that other Waikatos had joined them in the rear. At this time, which was about November, 1831, a young man named Thos. Ralph was living at Mokau, acting as agent for Montefiore and Co., of Sydney. He estimated the numbers of this great war-party at four thousand men. They were joined by the Ngati-Mania-poto people of Mokau in the proposed expedition. Either this same party on their return, or another from Aotea, took Mr. Ralph prisoner and helped themselves to about twenty tons of goods.*

* See Sherrins' "Early New Zealand," p. 218. Mr. Ralph is probably the man known to the Mokau people as Tame (or Thomas), and according to them he was there at the time of the attack on Motu-tawa in 1832 (see ante). He had two Maori wives—Manu-te-wai and another, whose father was killed by Ati-Awa on the south side of the river at the time of Motu-tawa. Tame was landed at Mokau by the vessel already referred to, named "Ameriki [unclear: Wti]." Another white man who resided at Mokau in early days was Pero, who lived at the west side of the present village of Te Kauri—near the present wharf. He was one of the crew of the "Harriett," wrecked at Cape Egmont in 1834. Tiaki Kari (Jack Guard, captain of the "Harriett,") also visited Mokau, coming overland from Nga-Motu in the winter time, and his bare feet were terribly cut by the frost. Takerei Waitara, the then chief of Mokau, took him in charge, and by kind treatment restored the captain to health.

The present village of Te Kauri is a very small one, but in former days the flat was covered thickly with houses, as was the top of the terrace up which the present road ascends. Some long time ago a serious accident happened here, which was the cause of a great many deaths. A large totara tree formerly stood in the curve of the terrace behind the village. One night the tree and the whole side of the hill came down in an avalanche and buried a large part of the village, killing many people.

Te Kauri is so named from a large log now (1906) lying on the beach there, and which has been there beyond the memory of man. It is a totara tree, not a kauri, and is a tipua (or endowed with uncanny powers). According to my informant, not very long ago a man, daring the tipua, cut a notch in the tree with an axe. The next morning he was found lying dead on the beach; such is the power of the tipua, says my informant. My friend says that when a young man he was diving near the present wharf with another youngster, and at the bottom he saw the totara that caused the landslip, "e kura ana" (glowing there), and was so frightened thereat that he never has dived in the river since. Such is superstition.

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"Our party of Ngati-Mahanga now started on ahead from Mokau, and killed some of the enemy a little way beyond. We advanced as far as Pari-ninihi—that is, to Wai-pingao stream, where others were killed, and Nga-Rape (a chief of Ngati-Tama) taken prisoner. The attacking force still advanced—one party going inland, and the other by the principal coast road. Those pursued by the inland party were overthrown with very great slaughter. Te Ao-o-te-rangi (a chief of Ngati-Tama) was killed there; he was shot by Te Awa-i-taia. Those who were pursued by the coast party were also overthrown, and the slaughter did not end until they reached Urenui. Tu-tawha-rangi was taken prisoner, whilst Manu-ka-wehi was allowed to escape (probably of the Ngati-Mutunga tribe). We, Ngati-Tahinga, then returned (a few miles) and stayed at Ara-pawa-nui (a pa on an isolated hill, near the mouth of the Mimi river, south side—see Plate No. 9). The Waikato forces now came up to us for the first time and found that we had routed the enemy."

The foregoing account of the advance of the great taua shows that some few of Ngati-Tama had remained in the Pou-tama country, though the bulk of the tribe with their principal chiefs had left for the south, page 462and where, as we have seen, they lately suffered in Wai-rarapa. Had they remained in their ancient homes, this strong force of Waikato, large as it was, would not have passed the "gateway of Taranaki" with so much ease.

Te Awa-i-taia says that after the assemblage of the whole force at Ara-pawa-nui, "The party now urged an attacked on Puke-rangiora; the cause of this was that they learnt from slaves in that pa, who belonged to Rangi-wahia (of Ngati-Mutunga) and Hau-te-horo (of Nga-Motu), that the latter had said, 'This act of kindness shall be the weapon to destroy Waikato'" (meaning the assistance rendered by Puke-tapu and other hapus to Waikato when the latter tribe were besieged in Puke-rangiora in 1821. But the application is not very clear.) From Ara-pawa-nui the taua started on their work of destruction.

Mr. Skinner, whose narrative of the siege of Puke-rangiora will now be followed, says, "The first intimation the Ati-Awa had of the presence of the Waikato taua in the district was by observing the numerous fires of the invaders, who were engaged in cutting off small parties of the tribe living round Urenui and Onaero, etc. It appears that the invaders made a night attack on Poho-kura pa, situated on the north bank of the Urenui river, a fourth of a mile below the present bridge, on an isolated hill rising from the river flats. The inmates were quite taken by surprise and the pa easily fell into the hands of the taua, with scarce a struggle. Whakapuke of Ngati-Mutunga, chief of the pa, and a few others escaped in the darkness, and swimming the river managed to reach Kai-pikari—a pa on the wooded heights about two miles south-west of the mouth of the river. From here he probably sent messengers warning the people further south, and I believe was one of those who afterwards harried this taua on its return northwards after the defeat at Nga-Motu.

"The various northern and central hapus of Te Ati-Awa immediately gathered together to give battle to the enemy; but when the strength and numbers of the invaders were discovered, a panic seems to have taken Te Ati-Awa, and all who could, fled to the great fighting pa of Puke-rangiora, overcrowding it to a frightful extent. The total number of people in the pa was about four thousand.* So precipitate had been their flight that they quite neglected to gather the crops of potatoes and

* Watene Taungatara, who was one of the garrison of this pa, and otherwise a reliable man, told Mr. Percy Smith and myself that there were eight thousand people (men, women, and children) shut up within the pa. We thought this an exaggeration. Other estimates supplied by old natives vary from three thousand to five thousand. Ralph, already quoted, gave the population of the surrounding districts as three thousand who gathered into their fortifications. So if we estimate the population at four thousand it will not not be far from the truth.—W.H.S.

page 463other foods now nearly or quite ripe, thus weakening themselves in proportion as they strengthened the enemy, who had thus abundance of food, whilst the inmates of Puke-rangiora were soon in a state of starvation. This was due to the provisioning of the pa being quite inadequate for the purpose of a siege, owing to the unexpected nature of the attack, and the fact that the ordinary provisions within the pa at this time was at its lowest ebb, due to the previous season's crop of potatoes, kumara, etc., being just about finished prior to the gathering in of the new season's harvest. Unfortunately for Te Ati-Awa this latter had not been done. This, together with the fact that the supply of water within the pa was only sufficient for the daily use of its ordinary population, led to early and most disastrous results to the various hapus gathered within the pa.

"The first prisoners taken by the invaders as they came along—about the Urenui district—were offered as a sacrifice to their atuas, or gods. They next captured a party of twenty-five persons who were returning from an inland settlement, and who were unaware of the presence of the invaders in the district; these people were all slain and devoured by the leaders of the Waikato party. They laid waste the whole of what is now known as the Urenui, Onaero, Waihi, and Tikorangi districts, occupied at that time by the Ngati-Mutunga, Ngati-Rahiri, Otaraoa, and other hapus of Te Ati-Awa, burning the sacred cemeteries and committing with impunity every barbarity a savage is capable of.

"As the taua approached Puke-rangiora, the depredations were plainly to be seen from the pa, which commanded an extensive view of the surrounding country. To attack the place, the invaders had first to cross the Waitara river, and an excellent opportunity was then offered for Te Ati-Awa to attack their foes whilst the large straggling party was fording the river and climbing the steep hill that commanded the crossing on the southern side. The ford used is about seven hundred yards down stream from Puke-rangiora and in full view of the pa.* An immediate attack on the fort was made by the invaders, but they were repulsed with the loss of four chiefs and several others, and obliged to retire from Te Arei plateau—the north-west division of tha pa—to the

* Map No. 5 shows the Puke-rangiora pa—this was the second and final siege.

Te Arei was the marae, or plazza of the pa, and was a level piece of ground defended by bank, ditch, and palisades. It is better known as the stronghold of Hapurona—the fighting chief of Te Ati-Awa—who defended the place against the British troops in the Maori war of 1860-61. Te Ati-Awa were assisted in the defence by the Waikato and Ngati-Mania-poto, the very tribes that were fighting against them in 1831. For a description of Puke-rangiora pa, see Chapter XIV.

page 464low ground some six hundred yards to the north, where they camped for the remainder of the siege.

"On the following morning a more determined assault was made by the whole of the invaders, which was directed against different parts of the pa. This also was successively repulsed and the enemy defeated with considerable loss. In the two days' fighting the invaders lost forty killed and double that number wounded.

"After these repulses the invaders contented themselves with closely investing the pa, and awaited the effect of starvation on its over-crowded occupants. Very soon the besieged were suffering the horrors of a dreadful famine. The provisions, originally but scanty, had been early consumed with the usual Maori improvidence. Their condition was truly wretched, and a deplorable state of affairs existed within the pa. To save the strength of the garrison, it was decided to send away a large number of the old and infirm people, together with many women and children, who all helped to consume the food but were no help in the defence. This was accordingly done under cover of darkness with the hope that they would make good their escape into the forest to the southward. But the enemy, ever on the watch, soon discovered what had been done, and following up this helpless crowd, fell upon them near Pekatu, killing and taking prisoners about two hundred of their number. Several smaller parties left the pa at various times, some of which effected their escape.

"The siege had now lasted three months, and starvation had reduced the besieged to the lowest ebb of despondency, and their ultimate fate was hastened by their own foolish action. Every morsel of food having now been consumed, famine drove them to leave the shelter of the pa; but instead of doing so under the cover of darkness, they evacuated their stronghold in daylight and in full view of the enemy; all running away in all directions and in the greatest confusion. The vigilant enemy at once gave chase and soon came up with the famished wretches, who had neither strength nor power to defend themselves. Neither age nor sex was considered in the general massacre that ensued. To save their children from the brutality and lust of the conquerors, numbers of parents threw their offspring over the precipice on which the pa stood—some three hundred feet high—and then lept over after them, hoping in this way to end their woes. But their inveterate foes followed them even here by making a long detour and creeping along the face of the cliff above the Waitara river. Many of the unfortunates were still alive, saved from being dashed to pieces by the bodies of those who had lept over before them, which thus formed buffers or pillows to break the fall. Some of those who were but slightly injured page 465escaped by following up the banks of the river, which were wooded in that part; the remaining bodies were examined, and those who were still alive, if not too seriously injured to be of service as slaves, were at once despatched and their bodies taken up to the plateau to be devoured." (The Taranaki slaves of Waikato were very active in this work—see infra.)

"It is said that twelve hundred of Te Ati-Awa and their allied hapus were killed or captured in the final overthrow of the pa. The greater part of the prisoners were women and children, and these were driven back into the pa to be killed or tortured at leisure. That day Waikato glutted themselves on the bodies of the slain lying in gore around the pa.

"The next morning the prisoners were brought out, and those amongst them whose faces were well tattooed were decapitated on a block of wood, with the view of making mokaikai, or preserving them, as trophies to be taken back to the country of the Waikatos. Others, with little or none of this decoration, were immediately killed by a blow on the skull. It is asserted that Te Wherowhero*—the head chief of Waikato and principal leader of the invaders—sat in the gateway of the pa, and as the prisoners were brought to him he killed one hundred and fifty of them by a blow on the head with his jadeite mere named 'Whakarewa,' and that he only desisted because his arm became swollen with the exercise. The headless bodies were thrown across a trench, which was dug to carry off the blood lying in pools about the plateau on which Puke-rangiora stood. Others, less fortunate, were killed with every conceivable form of torture; some again were cast into the ovens alive, to the amusement of their sanguinary foes. Young children and lads were cut open by incisions made hastily down the stomach, evicerated and roasted on sticks placed round large fires, made of the palisading of the pa.

"A similar massacre to that in the morning took place in the afternoon. It is said (by Polack) that many of the invaders died from the effects of their abhorrent gluttony. These cannibal feasts were held whilst the heads of the slain, placed on sticks stuck into the ground, faced the victors, whilst the most insulting expressions were addressed to the lifeless heads. In all, some two hundred prisoners had been killed on the day after the capture of the pa; and this seems to have satisfied the victors, for the remainder of the captives were led away as slaves, and had on the return journey to carry the preserved tattoed

* Afterwards the first (so called) Maori King.

page 466heads of their unfortunate relations, which heads were to be hung up as trophies of war in various northern villages.

"Amongst those killed by Waikato were some of the leading chiefs of Ati-Awa—viz.: Whatitiri, Pekapeka, Maru-ariki, Pahau, and Taki-waru. The two first were the head chiefs of the Puke-rangiora hapu, and the leaders who had taken under their protection, and defended them against great odds from the overwhelming numbers of their own tribe, these very Waikato chiefs who had now brought about their destruction. The prime mover in this base ingratitude and treachery seems to have been Tu-korehu—the man who Whatitiri and Pekapeka rescued from imminent peril in the fight at Nga-Puke-turua —see Chapter XIV.

"The heads of Whatitiri and Pekapeka were placed on poles in front of the great council house of the pa, called 'Te-waha-o-te-marangai,' and facing towards the mouth of the Waitara river, which flowed at the base of the precipice three hundred feet below. A most striking and lovely panorama is to be observed from this spot…. and here for the last time the now sightless eyes were gazing on the view so familiar to them. But, alas! the glory of Puke-rangiora had departed, and all was death and horror around.

"Into this mute circle of the former leaders of the tribe came a woman of high rank of the Puke-rangiora hapu, bowed and emaciated with trouble and want. She crept up and sat beside the poles that supported the heads of Whatitiri and Pekapeka and began the tangi for the dead. This woman was Kanga-rangi (? Hekenga-rangi, S.P.S.), sister of the two chiefs. Some of the northern leaders, drawn to the spot by the woman's lamentations, began to taunt and jeer at the broken-hearted sister, saying, 'Cry! Cry, old woman, to your brothers who are taking a last good look over their country towards the mouth of the river.' Thus taunted, Hekenga-rangi turned on them fiercely, saying, 'Hei Whatitiri aha? Hei Pekapeka aha? Ka pa ka aku pikitanga, ho aku heketanga, ko Te Arei-o-Matuku-takotako; titinga heru o tenei iwi, o tenei iwi' (a free translation of this is: 'What of Whatitiri? What of Pekapeka? Why consider them? When you do not remember my ascendings and my descendings at Te Arei', the place where were seen the dress-combs of various people—where my people saved yours from death in former times!') Waikato was silenced and ashamed at this covert reproach for their base ingratitude and treachery. 'They had no respect for the old woman; they were ashamed at her words, for they knew they were true. They took her and cast her at once, alive, into an oven, and afterwards devoured her. This great evil of Waikato is known to all the tribes,' says the native history.

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"With this tragic story ends the history of Puke-rangiora, for it was never occupied again, and with its fall ended the federation which made up the great Ati-Awa tribe—the most renowned, perhaps, of all the greater clans of New Zealand. The whole of the surrounding country was deserted, with its great pas and innumerable plantations and gardens. To quote the words of Ihaia Te Kiri-kumara—the late chief of Otaraua, and one of those who escaped from Puke-rangiora: 'All was quite deserted—the land, the sea, the streams, the lakes, the forests, the rocks, the food, the property, the works; the dead and the sick were deserted; the land marks were deserted' (Wells, p. 11).

"Of those who escaped, numbers led a wretched, hunted life in the dense forests around the base of Mount Egmont, but the greater part made their way through the forest and sought protection among the Ngati-Ruanui people; some even going on and joining their fellow tribesmen already settled round Wai-kanae and Kapiti. Others made their way to Nga-Motu, and eventually helped in the siege of Otaka, whither the great Waikato taua had decided to proceed."

So far, Mr. Skinner's account. I have a few notes to add. Te Kope, Horo-atua, and Te Punga of Ati-Awa, and Rangi-wahia of Ngati-Mutunga were some of the chiefs besieged in the pa, but (it is believed) escaped. Amongst the leading chiefs of Waikato were, besides those mentioned, Poro-koru, Rewi-Mania-poto (of Ngati-Mania-poto), Tai-porutu (of Ngati-Haua), Te Kanawa (of Kawhia), and Kuku-tai (of Ngati-Tipa). The latter distinguished himself by following up and killing many a fleeing party of Ngati-Maru of inland Waitara.

It will be remembered that at Maru, when Waikato defeated Taranaki in 1826 (see Chapter XV., page 416), that vast numbers of slaves were taken back to the north; and also, the fact was noted that Ati-Awa had assisted Waikato in that campaign. The result of this was that the most intensely bitter feeling was engendered in these Taranaki slaves against Ati-Awa, who were really the cause of Waikato undertaking the Maru expedition. It was these slaves who kept alive the animosity of Waikato, and urged them to avenge the defeat of their own chiefs at Te Motu-nui. Hundreds of these slaves came down with Waikato against Puke-rangiora, and there they glutted their revenge on the unfortunate inmates of the pa. They caught many an Ati-Awa man on their approach to the pa, and insisted upon their acting as guides; if they showed any disinclination, they were tomahawked at once.

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After the fall of the pa, many of these Taranaki slaves went up the river bed and secured numerous bodies of those who had been thrown, or jumped, over the cliff. And this was how they cooked the bodies: They made a great big native oven—he umu-tao-roroa—in which the bodies were laid on the hot stones, all radiating from the centre, the heads outwards, which latter were left uncovered by the usual covering of earth. When the hupe, or exudation, from the nose, mouth, and eyes began to run freely, it was known that the food was properly cooked!

The following is one of the laments for Whatitiri, Pekapeka, and others that fell at Puke-rangiora. It is by Uruhina:—

Tera te pokeao whakakuru i Okakawa,
He raro mihinga atu ki te iwi ka ngaro—i—
Kati ano au i konei mihi ai,
Kohu ka tairi ki Honi-paka ra ia
Kei raro iti iho ko koe nei—e—
He kamo i maringi a wai
Te roimata ki waho ra
Kowai rawa ra he tuahine moku?
Ko "Hewa" te rakau i patua ai koe—i—
Ko "Mata-te-kaikai" he rakau anini.
Kati E Parara! te tuitui te waka,
Te tangi ai ra ki nga oranga nei
He whakahemonga mate ki Tau-whare ia.

Behold the dark cloud dashing on Okakawa1
Emblem of grief for the tribe now lost.
Leave me here in solitude to grieve,
Overwhelmed like the mists on Honipaka,2
Near where art thou, O beloved!
Like running waters my tears gush forth;
Who now shall be a sister to me?
"Hewa" was the weapon that felled thee,
And "Mata-te-kaikai," the headache giver,
Cease, O Parara!3 binding the canoe sides,
And lament over those who are left alive,
For like are they to the fainting ones at Tau-whare.

page 469

Old Taiata of Ngati-Tama tells me that a very few of his tribe assisted in the defence of Puke-rangiora, but none of their principal chiefs. During the siege, Te Puoho—the head chief of Ngati-Tama—came down from the north with a party and occupied the hills on the north bank of the Waitara river, near Tikorangi. Their intention was to succour the Ati-Awa in the pa; but they found Waikato too strongly posted and too well armed with muskets to make their help effectual, and so they returned home.

1 A place near Puke-rangioran.

2 The country near Cape Albatross.

3 Parara was one of the men in Puke-rangiora. The song was dictated by old Watene Taungatara of Te Ati-Awa, who supplied much of the information in this work. He died at Mata-rikoriko, Waitara, in 1895, aged about 80 years. He was held in much respect, and latterly was considered by the Maoris as a good doctor, many people coming from as far as Hawera for the benefit of his advice. He was one of the native police engaged by Sir George Grey at the capture of Te Rau-paraha, 23rd July, 1846.