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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

The Fall of Heipipi

page 169

The Fall of Heipipi.

It is generally admitted by the best ethnologists that when the land we now call New Zealand was a part of a great continent, it was peopled by a race of rather fair-skinned people with red hair—some of whom may still be found in the Urewera country. When the main Maori fleet arrived about 1350 the islanders found these people not in the least addicted to war, and they easily fell a prey to the fierce islanders, so much so that the aborigines fled to the hill country and to the bush. The Maoris from Hawaiki called them the "tangata whenua," or the people of the place; at other times they were called "tangata koraha," or men of the wilderness, and though many inducements were held out they could not be induced to show themselves in the open. Tauira was the name of the tribe that inhabited the Wairoa area, and that embraced nearly all the country from Turanganui to Ahuriri. About fifty years after the great migration, Mutu held the south side of the Wairoa river and Tai-popoia, Putara, and Kauma on the north, even to Turanganui (Gisborne). Peace reigned in Wairoa by the fact that Mutu's stronghold was on one of the hills where the Pakeha has now planted his water towers. Peace might have reigned still longer but for a love affair Rakai-hakeke had with the beatiful Hinekura which gave great offence to Mutu, and he showed it by exhibiting his fine set of teeth in a manner to signify his intention or willingness to eat the offender. Rakai-hakeke noted this and prepared for battle. Tauira called page 170on Rakaipaaka, a branch of Kahungunu, to assist him. The battle was fought at Taupara, on the Aranui block, and raged all day over a considerable area. The Maori chronicles state that 5,000 were killed that day, but it was Tauira that lost in the game of war and from then the sovereignty passed from Tauira to Kahungunu, though there are still some Tauira left in line of descent from Hinekura. But it was not to describe this I started out, but to detail the coming of Kahungunu. To do this properly one must open the windows of the past, and through the doubt and dust of fourteen generations scan the chapters of the unwritten story, the sagas of the islanders. Not a legend in the general acceptation of the term, but the picturesque exploits of the heroes of those far-off days, told with poetic and romantic colourings, as only the ancient Maori could tell it, but in the main details quite photographic in its accuracy. The Native of New Zealand, notwithstanding the fact that he wore the "burnished livery of the Sun," was a man of intellect, of learning, imagination and veneration. So our minds must be thrown back about fourteen generations, or 350 years ago, or more than 500 years after the great migration. Here were the islanders distracted and disintegrated almost to the verge of civil war in Turanganui (Poverty Bay). The cause was the mysterious death of two young twin chiefs of rank, Tara-ki-uta and Tara-ki-tai, and in this fact we have a parallel to the murders of the two little princes in the Tower of London, which took England out of the hands of the barons, and gave her the Tudors—the first line of English kings.

page 171

The murder of the Maori princes brought about the conquest of all the Maori territory from Turanganui to Wairarapa, and security for the Ngatikahungunu tribe. But to my story. The inter-tribal animosity became so great that one family and their followers, headed by Taraia and Aomatarahi, men of blood and prestige, shook the dust of their home from their feet and wandered southward, just as intrepid as their ancestors in reading the riddle of the South Pacific—to carve out an estate for themselves in the unknown Mahia. That historic region of early days was found to be inhabited by a section of the Great Migration, and here the wanderers pitched their tents for a period until a local fisherman was found using a hook made from human bone which was recognized as having been taken from the body of a relative of the visitors. Then blood alone could wipe out the insult, and after sufficient vengeance had been exacted, the wanderers turned their faces towards the south. Following the coast, past Nuhaka and Whakaki, and barely hindered by a few skirmishes, they called a halt on the eastern bank of the Wairoa river. A pa was located on the opposite bank (Rangihoua) on the look-out hill, but having no canoes the visitors were unable to cross. However, the inherent strategy of the race came to their rescue. Soon the eyes of the dwellers in the pa observed what they took to be the apparition of gaily painted nymphs, merry-making and frolicking in and out of the virgin bush, which then extended to the water's edge. At first suspicion and awe that they might be the fearsome patu-pae-arehe—the page 172Pucks, Oberons and Mabs of the forest—and then the characteristic inquisitiveness of the Maori reached the snapping point—

"Fair tresses man's imperial race ensnare,
And beauty draws us with a single hair."

Gaily decorated canoes manned by the gallants of the pa, moth-like rushed to ambush—and destruction. A sharp but sanguinary encounter, then the surrender of the surrounded enemy, and a final peace-making, the way is opened up. But there are still more worlds to conquer, and Taraia and his braves, skirting the coast, leave Wairoa behind them, and not till Waihua, Mohaka and Waikari are but mere recollections did their eyes feast on quarry worthy of their steel. It is the "pa whawhai"—fighting pa of Ara-paoa-nui. But here the so-far victorious company met their Waterloo, or rather came up against a stone fence, and their unflinching assaults were frustrated. Many of the leaders fall; a pause, broken ranks, fear, panic, flight and demoralization! But stay! Mars—or rather Tu the Maori war-god—has not yet deserted them, for at the psychological moment, above the cries of the vanquished and the war-whoop of the victors, is heard the voice of a woman, that of Hinepare, wife of Taraia. Standing majestic and defiant on a pinnacle of a rock, her voice rings out, clarion-like, piercing and echoing through every near-by hill and valley; and her message, as she placed her hands to her breast was, "Is this to be food for our enemies?" No trumpet-call, no slogan or pibroch ever electrified the failing hopes of a forlorn effort as did this page 173tragic appeal of Hinepare. Eyes turned from the cliffs to their Queen, their Bellona—the personification of the lust of war. Fear vanished, ranks closed, and with the magic spell still pulsating their hearts they rushed once more to the lists and to victory. Still not satisfied, their Mecca not in sight yet, the hand of Fate beckons them still to the south, and to Heipipi, near Tangoio, the weird enchanted pa, safeguarded and under the aegis of the spirit Tunui. The pa, the remnants of which may still be seen—its mounds, dykes and battlements as clear-cut as when in the dead past it challenged attack, and stood impregnable to force of arms, but as we shall presently see, merely a toy in the lap of luxury. It was inhabited by a people known as Ngati-Awanui-o-rangi, a section most likely of one of the older migrations. Heipipi was located on an eminence looking towards the eastward, over the sea on whose bosom their ancestors were borne from far Hawaiki. To the west, an unbroken vista stretched to the snow-capped Ruahines. No cover of slope, or hillock from spy or outpost, and the ever-vigilant, eager-eyed sentinel from watch-tower scanning the horizon kept Taraia and his phalanx secreted in the fastness of the distant hills. Heipipi also felt itself to be doubly secure in that it dwelt under the aegis of their familiar spirit Tunui, whose magic powers on sea and land made his subjects feared, and left them unmolested to work out their own destiny. Days passed, days of planning and councils of war, wherein the veterans, shrewd and adroit, dilated on the tactics resorted to when the odds were great against page 174them; but in this case the odds were too great—unless the gods were good. Night was at its darkest in proud Heipipi, and the inmates slept, all but the one on guard, the watchman, with the eyes of the ruru, who was charged, like the watchman in Israel, with not only the duty of detecting the approach of an enemy but also to let those in shelter know that he was awake and about. Then soft grey lights appeared across the bay, hinting that another day was about to be born, and from grey to amber, and from amber to rose, there flashed across the sky the early shaftsmen of the morn, battling with the rearguard of the night. The wavelets kissed the cinnamon sands that sloped seawards from Heipipi's base, and whispered—but falsely—that all was careless peace. Then lo! Standing transfixed, moving not a muscle, still and stately as some noble masterpiece in bronze, the guardian of the night, from the heights of the pa, with sharp-sighted, penetrating gaze looked to the silver-fringed surf. And then with voice cutting the dewy stillness of the early morn, like the notes of a bugle, "Upokohue! Upokohue! Upokohue!" he reiterated with increasing strength. In answer to the call there came rushing to points of vantage—as they would in times of peace—the chiefs, the cohorts, the slaves, the women and the children, and following the line of vision indicated by the outstretched hand of him who slept not during the long night hours, their eyes feasted on a gift from Tangaroa, the god of the ocean—for there, idly struggling with the outgoing tide, were score upon score of Upokohue or blackfish, page 175stranded, gripped in Nature's kupenga (net). Surely great were the gifts of their great patron, Tunui and his comrade Tangaroa. Gates were thrown wide, every available egress was an outlet for the rushing avalanche of humanity making seaward, until but the old and the decrepit occupied the fortress. As the fleetest runners reached their prey with eager lust each "fish" cast from itself a black pake, or mat, and there stood revealed the bravest of Taraia's legions, armed with huata, taiaha and patu. Without pause, with relentless hatred, the exulting yelling mass turned upon the now defenceless ones, and simultaneously from the palisades of Heipipi came the echoing reply of triumph from Te Aomatarahi and his gladiators left behind in ambush to make complete the morning's utu. It was terrible. It was done. Caught between two fires as it were, a moment's fierce lighting concluded the holocaust. Fighting and flight had been alike impossible to the dwellers at Heipipi. Blood and lives went out with the falling tide, and Heipipi owned a new king; but it still stood deserted, an obelisk to the dead, a monument to the prowess and strategic artifice of the victors—for the Maori of old was a classic equal to rank with the Greek or the Roman—and the fate of Heipipi proves it. So on went Taraia to Otatara near Taradale; this fortress also fell, and the ownership and mana over Heretaunga passed to Ngati-Kahungunu, and a new chapter was opened in the history of Heretaunga. The leaves, passing over the fourteen generations, recount tragedy and feast, but never a tinge of alien blood to break the purity that page 176flowed from the fountain-head, from the victor of the plains, Taraia. And as Peace hath her victories no less renowned than War, so it came to pass that Rangitaumaho took to wife Hineiao and from them descended Timi Kara, knighted by his sovereign and now passed on to the Great Beyond—one of his tribe fighting with the New Zealand soldiers was the first over the defences of the only walled town in France, Le Quesnoy, taken by the allies. His name is unknown, and he may lie in a foreign soil, but I wonder if he thought of Heipipi ere he fell on the ramparts to a Teuton bullet.