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Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Kopu's Day

Kopu's Day.

The recent removal of the old Wairoa Courthouse from the site it had occupied for over fifty years, has left standing in an isolated spot a monument erected to the memory of Pitihera Kopu, the war lord of the Maoris of olden days and a staunch friend of the Europeans. A new site is now being sought for the monument but the difficulty is to find a spot where, the mana of Kopu was paramount. The town occupies the site of Pa Manukanui, which practically extended from Kaimango (Spooner's point) to about the site of the town traffic bridge, and nowhere in between would be in territory over which Kopu held sway. Kaimoana ruled towards the west and Kopu at the east, but the town has moved away from the latter, so that a central site—Coronation Square for preference—may be selected. Kopu was a page 177member of the Ngati-Kahungunu tribe and the sub-tribe of Ngatipuku, whose territory lay between Kaimango (Spooner's point) and the Wairoa heads. Round the point resided the few Europeans then living in Wairoa and it was a great spot for trade, but there was a good deal of rivalry between Kopu's people and those of Ngatikurupakiaka, on the opposite side of the river, as to which should be the protector of the trading Pakehas. Kopu was not a chief by descent as known in Maoriland, but a highly capable war lord, though on one occasion he had to eat humble pie, believing, no doubt, that to fight over trifles did not befit a warrior of renown. Some of the Kaimango people shifted to the Heads and set up a kainga at the mouth of the Wai-o-paoa Creek, to be near the whale fishery. Here some of the party converted to their own use a sliver off a canoe belonging to Kopu and Hapurona, and the Ngatipuku demanded payment (utu). The Kurupakiaka took up arms to enforce the demand, and a minor war threatened until Kopu's people delivered up the canoes they seized. It was in 1818 or 1819 that Kopu came to the fore. During one of Pomare's raids on the East Coast he visited Wairoa by sea with a small fleet of war-canoes and landed at Whakaahurau, in the bend of the river, opposite Spooner's point. On his left lay Kaimango pa, some of the trenches of which are still visible. The pa was surrounded by thick bush at the back, and on his right, near the top of the present railway cutting, stood Pa-ho, which seemed to Pomare to be a fortress worthy of assault. There was no sign of any enemy, but Pomare page 178assumed they were only awaiting his attack, and he mounted the hill. While he was doing this the Kaimango people dashed across and captured Pomare's canoes and beached them on the south side, indulging at the same time in a dance of derision, which was soon turned into a dance of death. Pomare found Pa-ho empty, and, descending to the shore, he found his canoes gone. He promptly sent a section of his men over the hill to cut raupo, wherewith they made mokihis to enable him to make the passage of the Wairoa to punish the Kaimango Natives for having dared to flout the renowned Pomare. Another section he lined up on the foreshore, and they began firing, for they were armed with the then new weapon, the old flint-lock pieces, and soon many of Kaimango bit the dust, the thunder of the guns causing consternation. The killed and wounded were numerous, including Haputanga, father of Kopu. Soon it was seen that the manufacture of the mokihis made the case hopeless if Pomare got across, and in the evening Te Apatu, a well-known chief, advised a retreat, after a song describing the power of the guns. It was arranged that the women and children were to go out to sea, whilst the able-bodied men were to divide into relays, dance the haka, and then retire into the bush. Te Apatu led the party to sea, using Pomare's canoes for the purpose. Among those who went into the bush was Rikihini, father of Haputanga and grandfather of Kopu, then a mere lad. On reaching the high land at the rear of the present town, a pause was made and the old chief made his grandson swear in Maori fashion that when page 179he grew up he would avenge the death of his father. This he did, just about the date of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which the Maoris claimed did not bar the exaction of utu for past insults. The fight was at the Little Barrier, and there young Kopu took vengeance, slaying the killer of his father, though he lost his brother in the fight. Later, Kopu became a staunch defender of the Europeans, and was largely instrumental in the sale of the town flat for settlement. He gave a hui on that occasion which cost him £1,000. It also cost him his life, for he contracted some illness from which he died in 1867, though some of the Maoris alleged he was the victim of makutu, or sorcery, because of the sale. He fought with the Europeans against the rebel Maoris, and associated with Ihaka Whaanga, the Nuhaka loyalist chief, he rendered signal aid to the Europeans. This spirit was most apparent when the emissaries of Te Ua Haumene, the mad Taranaki tohunga, visited Wairoa with 300 armed followers. They put up at the Kurupakiaka, or Te Uhi pa, and here were made some very characteristic speeches by both Ihaka Whaanga and Kopu. The latter, stripped to the waist and mere in hand, pranced up and down before the astonished Taranaki fanatics, exclaiming: "Come," said Kopu (the Evening Star), "Come, Opotiki! Come, Turanga! Come, Ngatikahungunu! Come, all of you! Hauhaus and everybody, and I, Kopu Taurewa, will make you welcome—there is plenty of food; but," continued he, with run, bound and gesture, quite undescribable, "you must not pass the river to the other page 180side where my Pakehas live. Never, never, never!"—and they never did, near the town at all events, thanks largely to Kopu, to whose memory the stone, now the subject of discussion, was raised.

Cruel! Yes, very cruel were the old-time Maoris of Wairoa when they held, by divine right as it were, the lives of tribesmen in their hands. The late F. W. C. Sturm, who came to New Zealand with a botanizing expedition, had an experience in Wairoa which he never forgot. Coming in to Wairoa from Nuhaka one day he was a witness to an altercation between a Maori and a Pakeha storekeeper, on the site where now stands the County Club. Words ran high, and finally the Maori struck the Pakeha on the head with a stick he had in his hand. A Pakeha was a valuable asset to the Maoris in those days and there was quite a sensation over the affair. When the chief, Te Apatu heard of it he made inquiries and endeavoured to solace the storekeeper by telling him, "Before to-night the enemy's head will be cut off and his heart cut out." In vain the Pakeha protested that he was not hurt, at least not much, but Te Apatu was obdurate and issuing his orders the unfortunate. Native's head was cut off before night, and both it and the heart were taken to the supposedly injured trader as utu (payment) for his injuries and the indignity of the blow—the head it was proposed to mount on a pole close by the store, and the heart was for the white man's oven—but naturally he declined both. Oh, those good old days(?).