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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 4 (July 1, 1937)


“‘Paraparaumu; pakeha? You ask me how it came by its name? Well, there are many versions, most of which I have heard; but the true story? It concerns an insult of far-reaching effects, followed by a raid that was bloodless and—laugh if you must, my good friend—an ill-gottes pakeha shirt.”

Tamati and I sat on the beach at Paraparaumu contentedly smoking, as we watched the moonlight etching historic Kapiti Island in black and silver.

“With the older people,” went on my companion, “the significance of the name ever remains; for, as you must know, the custom of days gone by was to call a place in commemoration of some momentous event. Sadly enough, the younger generation find the age of forgetfulness a convenient thing indeed. To-day, it is ‘P'ram and ‘Paraparam—seldom if ever the title that should mean so much to the descendants of those who created it. However, it seems to have become the custom with most place names of the Maori, and no protest on our part can alter it … But the story? Very well, then.

“Kapiti is before you there … We must go back to the days of Te Rauparaha, when he had first become established on the Island, and before it became his manner to periodically issue forth on the raids that so completely drenched with blood the lower portion of Te Ika a Maui. Behind the sandhills to the right of you was the main pa of a people distantly related to the great rangatira, who had followed him in his successful migration from the North. They were not a very warlike tribe, and their main safety lay in the protection which the Kapiti warriors afforded them; so that raiding parties seldom, if ever, came near. At the same time, the mainland people were ever careful to avoid any overt act that might displease their powerful and bloodthirsty neighbours on the Island stronghold.

“At a time when both tribes were living in peace and plenty, came the whale ships, with their wild and lawless men, their goods for trade, and their rum. The big fish abounded, and Kapiti was soon made the headquarters of the fishing fleets. How Te Rauparaha turned their visits to advantage by the purchase of many muskets, with which he conquered all that opposed him, is well known to everyone who has studied Maori history.

“The beaches at the Island were regularly used by the pakehas when boiling down the whale flesh. After the men were paid for their labours always, mark you, in gold, there were nights of high revelry. There would be much singing and dancing, much gambling and mild quarrelling, and much rum passed about. Surprising though it may seem to you, there was never trouble between the two races. With what you would term his eye to the main chance, Te Rauparaha had ordered that the pakehas were to be treated as honoured guests, and not molested in the least manner, however provoking their actions towards the dark people. As I have indicated, the chief's mana was all-powerful, and none dare disobey him.

“Following a period of successful whaling, when several ships had returned with their holds full, a big feast was arranged. The main beach
A sketch of a New Zealand Railways “K” class locomotive, drawn by Mr. T. Hope, of the Department's Car and Wagon staff, Wellington.

A sketch of a New Zealand Railways “K” class locomotive, drawn by Mr. T. Hope, of the Department's Car and Wagon staff, Wellington.

was as bright as day with the huge fires that were kindled, for it was the beginning of the cold weather. When the celebration was at its height, a large party gathered to watch a game of cards which the sailors played wherein much gold (and much rum) changed hands. There was high excitement over the high stakes and the changing fortunes of the players, and loud the applause from the spectators at each big winning. As with many a similar case, the trouble started over a minor thing—a dispute between an officer and a sailor from the same ship regarding some obscure rule of the contest. After long argument, the latter player offered to wager the very fine silk shirt he wore against the other man's trousers or something that he (the sailor) was right. The decision went against him. Taking his defeat in the best of spirit he divested himself of the shirt and handed it over. The officer was about to roll up the garment when he noticed the covetous eyes of his Maori friends. Impulsively, he flung it among them with the advice ‘Go for it!’ And go for it they did.

“From the ensuing wild scramble, a young man named Tawhine, a visitor from the mainland, emerged triumphant, holding the shirt intact. But immediately, there was an angry shout from the assembled warriors. There, senseless on the ground, with much blood streaming from his face, lay the Chief's son. It was all an accident of course, but blood had been spilled, and utu must be obtained in like fashion. The tohunga advanced on Tawhine, who cowered before him. The pakehas paused in the game. One of them page 30 page 31 stood up, and made to follow the priest, but was pulled back by his comrades. Well they knew it was not safe to interfere.

“The tohunga raised his mere to strike, but lowered it as he noted in which direction the sympathy of the card players lay. He seized the trembling man, and thrust him towards the beach edge.

“‘Spawn of lowest slavery,’ he shouted, ‘we cannot insult our well-beloved pakeha guests by killing you where you stand. Take your canoe there, and get you gone at once. But, remember this: blood must be given for blood. To-morrow, we raid you in force. Away!’

“And young Tawhine paddled shore-wards, the shirt in the canoe at his feet, while the young chief was forcibly (and pleasantly) revived, and the card game resumed.

“Early next day, twelve big war canoes left the Island, and beached through the flying spray at the spit just below us. There was no one to dispute their landing. Cautiously, they approached the offending pa and then, as the position became clear to them, rushed it in force. The place was deserted. It subsequently transpired that, fearing the wrath of Te Rauparaha, the whole tribe had migrated farther up the coast. The ovens were still warm, showing evidence of a hurried meal some hours before. To the raiding party, it was one great joke, and Te Rauparaha laughed long and loud with his men as he pointed to the cooking stones, saying that the people of the land had undoubtedly fled, but that they had certainly left some token of their late habitation in the form of oven refuse.

“From this, pakeha, you will see the meaning of ‘Paraparaumu'—‘The Refuse from the Oven.’ You have noticed porridge adhering to a pot, well, there you have the idea.

“The shirt? It was found tied to one of the food houses, having perhaps been left there to soften the anger of the Kapiti men. It was now seized by the tohunga. Later on, it proved to have a curse still upon it, for one day the priest was forced to kill two of his favourite women slaves.”

“What, with the shirt?” I enquired.

“No,” replied Tamiti, glancing at me suspiciously. “It seems that the cook from one of the ships had taught these women how to make a plum pudding. The tohunga discovered them using the much-prized shirt for their first experiment.”