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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Whataroa Massacre

page 125

Whataroa Massacre.

Shortly after the defeat of the Europeans under Colonel Whitmore at the head of the Ruakituri Valley, and when Te Kooti's star was in the ascendant, there were many efforts to bring about peace. Colonel Whitmore had a good force at Wairoa, but he was compelled to adopt a defensive rôle. There were a few weeks' quietness and the hopes of the settlers ran high, though drill and rifle practice were not neglected. Mr. (afterwards Sir Donald) McLean took up a strong pacifist attitude, and sent Colonel Whitmore to the district to strengthen its defence, but first to exhaust every means of bringing the Natives into a better frame of mind. To this end he sought to win over the outer Wairoa Natives, and among these were the remnant of Te Waru's band, who, with his brother, Reihana, still lived at Whataroa, north of the Waiau. A meeting of the friendly Wairoa Natives was called to promote this very laudable end. Kopu and Paul Apatu were there and many other loyal Natives. After a lengthy korero, some of which was heated, it was decided to send out four delegates or "scouts" as they have since been wrongly designated, to endeavour to persuade both Te Waru and Reihana, with their men, to surrender—or rather to remain inactive, especially as they were then supposed to be friendly, and they were invited to come and live close to Wairoa in which event protection and provision would be provided for them. But all the time Te Waru was planning attacks on Te Wairoa and Turanganui, to provide balm for his wounded page 126feelings over the defeat at Orakau. The delegation selected comprised Karaitiana Rotoatara, uncle of the late Mrs. J. Torr, leader of the party; Aheta, stepfather of Mr. A. J. Lewis; Reweti Pakerongo; and Karauria Kohua, all men of note in Wairoa at the time. They set off, unarmed and under the protection of the white flag, and even so, the mission was a very dangerous one, but it had a good object, for at this time trade was languishing, and both Europeans and Maoris were becoming tired of war. Te Waru had many good points, and he was a born fighter and one that British soldiers who engaged in combat with him would not feel in any way dishonoured. His brother, Reihana, however, had no redeeming features that could be discovered, beyond the undeniable fact that he, too, was a warrior. He was cunning, crafty and cruel to a degree. The heart of treachery beat beneath his cape while the wearer was professing friendship; and his greed, especially for ammunition, was immense; yet the members of the Whataroa Mission were placing themselves uttterly in his power in the interests of peace, for not one of them could be sure that Te Waru would be able, even if he were willing, to protect them. However, on 30th September, 1868, they started out with a wonderful amount of assurance that all would be well, and according to Maori custom, they had some reason for the faith that was in them. The Maoris had, and still have, a custom among them called whangai, of temporarily adopting a relative's child to whom they might have taken a particular fancy. Karaitiana had done so in regard to a daughter page 127of Te Waru and he had returned her to her father at the age of thirteen years. Thus he became her foster father, Matua Whanigai, and one might reasonably expect that he at least would be sure of Te Waru's protection. As a matter of fact, Te Waru was not present, having left the previous night to visit Te Kooti at Papuni. On the way to Whataroa the party had warning not to go on, and at least not to sleep in an enemy whare, but they did not heed the advice, to their own undoing, as we shall see. Arriving at Whataroa, under the white flag, they were received by fifteen or twenty Natives, who welcomed them in the most friendly manner and entirely removed any fear the members might have had…. Several days passed, and no one returned from Whataroa, but this did not occasion much alarm as such negotiations took some time to reach definite conclusions. The days wore on, hopes and fears alternating, then the crying of relatives and friends, and at last the fate of the Mission became known. One day a Native named Nama, belonging to Whataroa, arrived at Erepete, near Ruakituri, and told what happened to the members of the Whataroa Mission—and grief reigned in many a kainga. Colonel Lambert, with a party of Maoris set out to discover what was delaying the return of the. Mission. At that time, according to Colonel Porter, he had 800 men under his command. On arriving at a small clearing in the forest in a line between Erepete and Whataroa the place was found deserted, the whole of the Natives having gone off to join Te Kooti in his war against the whites. In hunting about for page 128traces of the Mission party foul odours in one locality led the searchers thither, and there they found the four bodies in a heap, lightly covered with earth and grass; one of the bodies had a flax rope tied round it, suggesting that it had been dragged to the place of burial. The inference was immediately drawn that in the middle of the night, while the members of the Mission slept in the house of treachery, they were set upon and tomahawked at the instance of Reihana, if, indeed, he was not the actual murderer. One of the victims, Reweti Pakerongo, fled a short distance, but was shot down. Karaitiana was stripped of his shirt and a native woman, Mere Nangahu, Te Waru's daughter, donned it, and strutted about the marae to complete the indignity, and his heart was then cut out while alive though unconscious. It was afterwards learned that when the four men arrived it was fairly dark, and after being entertained according to Maori fashion the visitors were given the place of honour, in the sleeping quarter near the window. Karaitiana, all unsuspecting, wrapped his shawl around his head and settled himself down to sleep, Reihana stretching himself on a mat on the opposite side. But before he lay down the treacherous wretch placed under his head a new tomahawk, which had that day been sharpened. Then in the dead of night he rose up stealthily, and struck Karaitiana the blow which rendered him unconscious. The bodies were properly interred on the spot and a pension of £20 a year was paid to the widows of the ill-fated party. The treacherous Reihana, otherwise known as Horotiu, or "Te Kooti's Butcher," page 129was the chief miscreant who killed "the scouts," assisted by his sister, and these, with Nama and others, killed the sleeping men. Karaitiana's heart was taken to Waikaremoana, and laid before Tu, the god of war, and deposited on the tuahu or altar of the god at the famous Whakaari pa, but later Te Kooti, with a sense that did him credit, destroyed both the heart and the altar as not being in consonance with the spirit of the times. There was much talk of vengeance, and at last a force of 800 men went out but the enemy had vanished. Opepe may have been merely a Maori surprise, largely contributed to by the laxity of the European officer in charge in not posting sentries, but Whataroa surely was a massacre, and so it remains to this day a stain on the memory of Te Waru's force.