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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

The Urewera Country

page 43

The Urewera Country.

Away in the hinter-land of Wairoa, over forty miles to the north-west, lies the Urewera country, said to have been the home of a fair-haired race of men before ever the Maoris came from Hawaiki in 1350. Tourists visiting Wairoa will hear much of the Urewera country should they decide to make for Rotorua via the new scenic route, the printed description of which falls far short of the reality. Although the Maoris of the great migration (about 1350) trace their descent back nineteen generations, the Urewera Maoris claim as many as twenty-six. Probably they at first occupied the coastal areas, but not being adepts in the art of war they fled or were driven to the hills. The late Colonel Porter, C.B., traces the descent from Murakarake, the original ancestor of the tribe, That individual was escaping across the inhospitable Kaingaroa plains after a terrible defeat of his people, accompanied by his two sons, Tama Kaimoana and Tuhoe Potiki, when, near the Whakatane river, being both hungry and thirsty, they stopped to rest for a while. There being no food available, Murakarake ordered that the sacred dog be killed—he must have been then in dire straits—and that the choicest parts be given to the younger child. This was done—at least the killing part—but the elder son was given the lion's share, the ears only being reserved for Potiki, who wept copiously at the bad treatment accorded him. The wailing of the child aroused Murakarake, who was "pouri" (sad) at the losses of the tribe, and he reproached his elder page 44son for his disobedience. They, both being undutiful sons, jeered at their old father so that he fell on the fire in a fit, and was burned so badly that he died; hence the name Urewera.

Here is a land of mystery and romance which awaits some literary giant's pen or pencil for adequate portrayal, for the dwellers in the many fortified pas of Waikaremoana were certainly not above the influence of romance, and often took a great deal of trouble to make matrimonial alliances that might be beneficial to the tribe or add to its importance. Rakahanga-i-te-rangi was a betrothed virgin, and she lived at Turanganui (Poverty Bay). The chiefs of Tauira, who lived on the shores of Waikaremoana, determined that, if possible, the fair Rakahanga should choose one of them for a husband. Accordingly a party of sixty or seventy men, all of fine physical proportions and accomplished in every possible way, was selected to visit the fair one. Rakahanga was known to be very beautiful, as beauty was reckoned in Maoriland, and the rivalry was intense. Just before the party left, the chiefs decided that Hau, one of the number, was too ugly to have a chance, and he was ordered to stay behind. This, however, did not suit Hau, who, possessing a fair measure of conceit and some wondrous powers of witchcraft, concealed himself in the bow of the canoe and so reached the village of Rakahanga as a stowaway, the others not having eyes wherewith to see him. After all the wooers had landed Hau did the same, but concealed himself till darkness fell. In the evening all met in a big whare where the visitors page 45were to sing of their great deeds in battle and otherwise show off their many charms and seek to captivate the fair Rakahanga. In the middle of the whare was a fire built of wood that would not emit any smoke, such as matei charcoal. But the wily Hau, by means of incantations uttered in secret, caused the place to smoke so much that all had to rush out into the darkness. In the gloom Rakahanga was met by Hau, and by means of his magic power he managed to win her affections, and in order that she might know him in the morning she marked his forehead. This she accomplished with a mixture of red clay, much in the same way as sheep-farmers use ruddle. This was called "horu," and it was prepared with shark oil and the expressed juice of the poroporo shrub, a plant of the cape gooseberry species. Then Rakahanga slept, and dreamt of her lover. Next day she sought for the man of her choice and found to her great chagrin that she had verily picked the worst looking of the whole bunch. The others were, of course, much disconcerted also, and one good looking chief, Kiwi, took her for himself, unceremoniously setting aside, as only a great chief could, the claims of the ugly Hau. Kiwi started for Waikaremoana, accompanied by Weka, as best man in the adventure. Hau, baffled in securing his matrimonial prize, started in pursuit and overtook the three at Waimaha. With a famous greenstone battle-axe he killed Kiwi, the others escaping through the forest. Thus Weka and Rakahanga traversed the summit of the cliff over the engulfing waters of Te Reinga. Rakahanga advised caution as she was frightened, but page 46Weka bid her cease to fear. Then, when they reached the most dangerous spot, he suddenly turned and thrust poor Rakahanga over the edge of the rock into the abyss below, all because she favoured the ugly man at Turanganui. Thus perished the famous beauty, her last words being "Hei po Rakahanga i raru ai" (By darkness was Rakahanga confounded).

There are many conflicting accounts of this same Urewera country, or Tuhoe land, as, perhaps, it ought properly to be called, but the greatest conflict centres around the ancestors of the tribe, many of the names in genealogical tables being quite mythical. But it does seem clear that Nga Potiki flourished about sixteen generations ago, say about 1,500 or 1,485 years ago. Here again there comes in a conflict of evidence. Matatua canoe is generally believed to have arrived in Aotearoa in 1350 and Nga Potiki declare they were occupying Tuhoe land before that time. There must be some missing records, and it is very doubtful now if the lost threads will ever be picked up. However, the mythical origin of Nga Potiki is sufficiently interesting to be further preserved.

The parents of Potiki I were Te Maunga and Hine-pukohurangi. The first means a mountain, and the second "the Celestial Mist Maiden." The tale runs thus: Tutakangahau of Maungapohatu, who was admittedly a good authority, stated that Te Maunga was "a person," and that he came from Hawaiki, whilst others declare that he descended from the skies and landed at Onini, and this is the story that is most generally believed. page 47In days long ago, says the chronicler, when men held strange powers on the earth, there lived one Hine-pukohurangi. She personified mist and fog, so common over that elevated region, and her younger sister, Hine-wai, typified the light misty rain which fell to earth in the foggy weather. The first-named was also called Tairi-a-kohu. Ngati-Kahungunu adhere to the latter designation, and say she descended from the heavens and abode with one Ueneku, who later became a rainbow god. Hine-pukohurangi lured Te Maunga, the mountain, to earth at Onini, on the line of road from Galatea to Waikaremoana, at Ruatahuna, on the left bank of the Mana-o-rongo stream, and a clump of flax long marked the spot where Te Maunga landed on this planet. From the union of the Mountain and the Mist Maiden (they were very human in this anyhow) there sprung Potiki I, thus giving name to the tribe. They claimed that Potiki I was far superior to Potiki II, the former being termed the lofty Potiki, the fort-dweller, and Potiki II was Potiki tahiti kiore (the ratsnaring Potiki). So these are the children of the mist, and the late Sir James Carroll named the first Government oil launch on Lake Waikaremoana the Kohurangi.

There is a story told of the Nga-Potiki, that their lands extended to Parahaki on the Waiau river and westward to Tara-pounamu. At the latter place there lived a chief named Tamateakai - taharua about 1730. He was very eccentric yet impartial as to his diet. As he was a member of both Ngati-Ha and Ngati-Whare (of Te Whaiti) he would at one time kill a person from Ruatahuna, page 48and next time from the human stock at Te Whaiti So he acted fairly by both tribes and got the name of Kai-Taharua (eater of both sides). He was also a great bird killer, and owned a spear, the barbed point of which was not made of human bone, as customary, but of the precious greenstone. One day a pigeon flew away with the spear-point in its body, and the doughty old warrior followed it as far as Putauaki (Mount Edgecombe), forty miles away, where he recovered his precious spear-point. He gave the name to the peak where he first lost the prized spear-point.

It was in the early days of the war—indeed it had been in progress some time—when news reached a back-station cadet that England wanted all her reservists. Down came a la-de-dah gentleman, and bursting into the Guardian office demanded to know "where is the Tongariro dock, don't you know?" The editor didn't, but he nearly toppled off his chair with fright.

There were strikes of a kind in Maoriland long before the introduction of the Ballance-Seddon labour laws, and as they hinged on a ticket-of-leave they did not often prove successful. One such occurred at Nuhaka when a ship-hand sent to do a land-lubber's job, flatly refused work, when he was greeted by a volley of unprintable language and informed by "the boss "that he had just bought the man for a keg of rum! Buckle to at once was the order—and he buckled to.