Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs
Taranaki was a major region of Māori settlement, its boundaries expressed in Māori as 'Waitōtara ki Parininihi': 'From the Waitōtara River to Whitecliffs'. 1 An early centre of Māori resistance to the sale of land, from 1860 the region became an important focus of operations in the New Zealand Wars. Major themes to be covered in Taranaki are the gardening traditions associated with the Aotea canoe; the pā for which the region is so well known; intertribal fighting and the southwards migrations of Waikato tribes in the 1820s and 1830s; pā of nineteenth-century origin or occupation, including Pukerangiora on the Waitara River (site of the first British use of sapping in the New Zealand Wars); and redoubts of the 'West Coast' (i.e., south Taranaki) campaigns of the mid-1860s.
Two archaeologists have been active in aerial photography in the region: Alastair Buist and Nigel Prickett, who have both written extensively on the pā and pre-European history of the region. 2 Elsdon Best also wrote about the pā of the region. 3
The landforms of the inland parts of the region consist of extremely steep, broken hill country composed of mudstone rocks not dissimilar to the very roughest country of the East Coast. These inland areas were relatively little settled except along the course of the major rivers, and on the margins associated with the coastal terrace. The coastal terrace is of ancient Pleistocene (ice age) origin and varies in width from 5 to 15 km. It is generally about 50 m above sea level and has cliffed coastlines with stony reef or wave platforms, some covering very large areas. 4 The soils on the coastal high terrace are generally fertile and well suited to Māori horticulture. The central Taranaki region is dominated by the volcanic mountain. It is surrounded by a ring page 168 plain of lahar-debris, water-borne ash and rocks from the volcanic vents, extending down to the coast on its western margins.
In the coastal region, the ring plain forms landscapes similar to the coastal terrace elsewhere, for example the Bay of Plenty, except that there are frequent small lahar mounds and it is more often cut by narrow valleys. Coastal cliffs, narrow valleys and the mounds provided the natural tactical elements sought by Māori in the construction of pā. As far south as the Waitōtara River, the pā are heavily sculpted into the surface of the ground because of the relatively thick volcanic soils. The coastal landforms were cut at intervals by rivers rising in the ranges. From north to south, the most important rivers are the Mōkau, Waitara, Pātea, Tāngāhoe, Whenuakura and Waitōtara. The coastal cliffs and their immediate hinterland, including the river valleys, were the most important localities of settlement.
Traditionally, the distinction between north and south Taranaki is important. The tribes of the north (Ngāti Tama, Te Atiawa) ascribe their origin to the Tokomaru canoe; those in the south (for example, Ngāti Ruanui) to Aotea. 5 Of traditional sites, well-known examples are those of Turi, of the Aotea canoe, whose associations with the northern harbour of Aotea were reviewed in chapter 1. Besides naming many features of the Taranaki coast, north and south, he introduced the kūmara to southern Taranaki. 6 The Whenuakura River locality is also the site of kūmara traditions relating to both the Aotea and Kurahaupō canoes. Part of the patere concerning the travels of an important traditional figure, Wharau Rangi, mentions the importance of kūmara and karaka at Whenuakura:
Ka iri mai taua i runga i Aotea,
Te waka i a Turi.
Ka u mai taua te ngutu Whenuakura;
Huaina te whare, Rangi Tawhi;
Tiri mai te kūmara;
Ka ruia mai te karaka ki te tai ao nei. . ..
We two were carried hither board Aotea,
The canoe of Turi.
We landed at the river's mouth at Whenuakura;
The house there was named Rangi Tawhi;
The kūmara was then planted;
The karaka, too, soon flourished in the land. . . 7
The reference in the tradition here to karaka is of particular interest, and I will illustrate its association with storage pits and pre-European settlement at Paekakariki, Wellington region, in chapter 13.