Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century:
It seems that whilst Te Wera and Titore were raiding the coasts of Te Mahia and Hawke’s Bay, they fell in with a force of Waikato and Ngati-Maniapoto, under the distinguished chief Tu-korehu, who has already been mentioned as one of the leaders of the Amio-whenua expedition (see ante). The two forces of Nga-Puhi and Waikato combined for the purpose of attacking the Rongo-whakaata tribe of Poverty Bay. The people of the latter place having received intelligence of the approach of this invading force assembled together with some of the other branches of Ngati-Kahu-ngunu, and prepared to receive the enemy. The two war-parties met on the banks of the Wai-paoa page 172 river, and here a sanguinary battle took place, which resulted in the defeat of the Rongowhakaata and allied tribes. Te Kani-a-Takirau and many of his relatives were engaged in this fight, and amongst the slain were three of his elder brothers (or perhaps cousins), viz.: Tara-ao, Tamaiti-i-pokia, and Tama-i-tohatohaia, whilst Te Kani himself barely escaped with his life by jumping into a canoe and paddling for dear life down the river to the pa near the mouth. A valuable mere named Paiaka was taken from the Poverty Bay tribes in this fight, and it was so named after the son of Tu-korehu, who was killed whilst struggling for possession of this greenstone weapon.
Te-Kani-a-Takirau was one of those great chiefs that are occasionally met with in New Zealand, who seem more like the Arikis of Central Polynesia than are usually found in this country. He died in 1856 at Whangara, a few miles north of Gisborne, and was buried with his celebrated ancestress, Hine-matioro, on the rocky island off that place. Hinematioro was the “Great Queen” of the East Coast frequently mentioned in the Missionary records. The “Karere Maori” of 1856, in noticing the death of Te Kani-a-Takirau, says: “Captain Cook was received at Tologa Bay by Te Amaru,* the father of Te Kani. The page 173 authority of Te Kani extended from Whangaparaoa in the Bay of Plenty to Nuku-taurua on the Mahia Peninsula.” In a long genealogical table of Te Kani’s ancestors going back to Maui-potiki, the name of his father as given above, is not mentioned, but his immediate forefathers are shown thus: Hine-matioro married Te Hoa-a-Tiki and had Nga-rangi-ka-hiwa, who married Te Rongo-pu-măamā;o, who had Te Kani. The late Major Ropata Wahawaha, M.L.C., says of Te Kani, “He was a great chief of his own tribe which lives on the east coast, he had very great power over his tribe, the Ngati-Porou, but the hapu with whom he permanently lived was Te Itanga-Hauiti, at Uāwa. The reason he was so powerful was that all the lines of aristocratic descent converged to him, and to his younger brethren and cousins, i.e., Ihakara Te Hou-ka-mau and others. He was always kind and generous to the tribe and people. All the food planted by the tribe was for his benefit alone, such was the law of the tribe with respect to him even from his grandmother Hine-matioro. In the event of the pa in which Te Kani lived being besieged, one portion of the defenders would be specially told off to defend the place, whilst another party would be detailed to convey Te Kani away to the forest or some place of safety. Such was the custom from his childhood even unto his old age, and down to the time of the pakehas. Constant care for him was exercised by his people, and all of them grew food for page 174 his use. Whatever food was procured, whether from the sea or the forest, it was all taken to Te Kani. He never cultivated himself, like other chiefs who grew food for themselves, his tribe always did this and presented the food to him.”
The following incident in the childhood of Te Kani illustrates the care exercised by his people for him. Whilst one of the pas on the Mahia peninsula was being besieged, Te Kani was present as a child, and as there appeared to be danger of the pa being taken, the child was carried off by Kauhu, one of his own people and a relative. Potiki, a chief of Ngati-Maru of the Thames, one of the leaders of the besiegers, saw Kauhu and his party escaping in a body, and he knew at once that some chief was being conveyed away. He gave chase with his own warriors, and soon overtook Kauhu carrying the child on his back. This was Te Kani-a-Takirau. Potiki raised his tomahawk to kill the man and the child, when Kauhu called out to him: “Kaua ahau e patua ki te patiti takoko taha!”—“Do not kill me with a common tomahawk used for every-day use!” He then produced from his belt a celebrated greenstone mere, named “Te Heketua,” and handed it to Potiki, saying: “E Ta! Ina te patu hei patu i ahau, kia whakarongo maeneene ake ai au”—“O Sir! Here is an appropriate weapon to kill me with, so that I may feel it softly”; or, in other words, be killed with an historical and chief-like weapon. Potiki on page 175 seeing this valuable weapon handed to him, said to Kauhu: “Here, take the tomahawk in exchange, and make haste to escape with the child you are carrying!” and so let him go in peace.
The following song has reference to the greenstone mere, named “Te Heketua,” given by Kauhu to Potiki of the Thames, as related above:—
Purupuru au te tau o Te Heketua,
Kore koa koe e tino nui atu.
Kiri awhina po na tahau wahine,
Nei au ka tatari te paki o Matariki,
Wha mamao ana te ripa tau-arai,
Ki to tai-whenua,
Kei hoki atu te ingoingo,
I maringi a wai te taru nei, a te toto,
Ka whakina ki waho,
Mei ahatia koe, i pakaru mai ai?
Werohia pea he kopere tupua,
Nau, E Tuwhare!
Ka wheoro ki te rangi.
Now will I affix the wrist-cord of Te Heketua,
Thou art not very large,
But precious as the wife’s nocturnal embrace.
Here wait I for the fine weather of Matariki;
Far distant is the bounding horizon,
Beyond is thy native land,
Let not thy sorrow return thither,
For blood floweth forth like water,
How, indeed, shalt thou be broken?
Perhaps by some foreign bullet,
Shot by thee, O Tu-whare!
Then shall we bow down in tears.
The following is a brief lament for Te Kania-Takirau:—
Taku piki kotuku—e!
Taku mapihi maurea—e!
Tera ka mamate ra,
Ki tua o nga roto—e!
Ki taku kai kapua, a!
Nana i auru, e!
Nana i tekateka—e!
Kia tu ki te riri na—ē.
My plume of heron’s feathers!
My sprig of sweet-scented maurea!
Now dead and gone,
Beyond the lakes,
My cloud-like one!
’Twas he that broke their power,
’Twas he that urged on,
To arise in war.
There is another celebrated mere named “Tiwha-o-te-rangi” connected with these Nga-Puhi expeditions, though the latter tribe did not acquire it. It is the property of Te Whanau-a-Rua tribe of Tuparoa, north of Gisborne, and is said to have belonged to the great ancestor Porou (eponymous ancestor of Ngati-Porou) who flourished in the 14th century, with this mere its then owner fought his way successfully through the ranks of Nga-Puhi, soon after the attack on Whetu-mata-rau.