Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa

Mohaka—The Village by the Sea

page 193

Mohaka—The Village by the Sea.

On the 10th of April, sixty-six years ago, at 2 p.m., news reached Wairoa of a massacre committed by Te Kooti's raiders. The startling message was brought by an old Maori runner with scarcely a rag of clothing left on him after his long run to Wairoa.

When the old Maori runner whose name, even, has been forgotten, gained his breath, he told a story that for a time was disbelieved by many. Then gradually even in the minds of the local military men and the volunteers it was realized that the old Maori's tale was no foundationless war scare, but a reality testified to by the corpses laid out in the village by the sea, and the moana breaking on the rugged coast close by was singing a dirge for those who had so suddenly departed for the Reinga, the fabled abode of the Maori spirits.

Rumblings of War.

Up to the times of which I am writing the relations between the white man and the brown sons of the soil were passably good, even though at times some of the colonists over-reached the Maoris in matters of business, including trade and barter. Both lived in Arcadian simplicity. The virgin soil rendered up a rich harvest, and generally the unfulfilled wants were not much missed by either. But with the rise of Hauhauism in Taranaki at the instance of Horopapara Te Ua Haumene, "a change came o'er the spirit of the dream" and distrust soon blossomed into overt page 194acts in various parts of New Zealand, and the rumblings of the coming storm reached Hawkes Bay, and naturally soon drifted across the hills into the hitherto peaceful valley of the Mohaka. The Maori people still drew their food supplies from the moana, or the domains of Tane Mahuta, but while on sea or in the bush there was a lurking fear everywhere—and the happy-go-lucky white man scoffed at even the bare possibilities of danger, and the most inert of all were the military authorities. When Colonel Russell visited the Wairoa, in 1862, he reported favourably on the Native question, stating that there were then about thirty Europeans living on the banks of the Wairoa river, but none to the northward of the Wairoa, except at Waikokopu. He found only one chief of any note in Wairoa calling himself a "King's man," or a supporter of the Maori "King" movement. This was Henare Apatere, of Kihitu, locally known as "Bottle of Smoke," and in 1863 he went completely over to the "King" movement in a fiery speech made at Turanganui (Poverty Bay).

The Tribe in Council.

As time rolled on the Hauhau movement progressed, many small actions took place in the Poverty Bay area, then Te Kooti was, quite unjustly, deported to the Chatham Islands and there he planned the programme he afterwards tried to carry out—namely, to drive the Pakehas into the sea, and obtain possession of the lands of the Maori people and set up himself as Maori King. His escape from exile and his landing again page 195in New Zealand intensified the unrest. The men of Wairoa, white as well as brown, sought unsuccessfully to stay his progress. This angered the would-be sovereign of Te Aotearoa—for Te Kooti never would use the words "New Zealand"—and a meeting was held at Te Reinga. This was attended largely, and one of those present was Rakiroa, who had not long before been supplied with arms and ammunition for his own defence, only to be used later against us. At this meeting the question was decided that Poverty Bay should be attacked first, as having offered the greatest affront to the escapee, Wairoa being reserved for a later day. Wairoa's chief offence was that her men had fought with those of Napier against Te Kooti at Makaretu. Other engagements had been fought including Ngatapa; after this Te Kooti got into the back-ranges from where dislodgement was a difficult task, but from where he could descend upon almost any of the settlers' hamlets on the East Coast.

The Village Fortress.

In 1869, there stood on the north bank of the Mohaka river, and overlooking the sea, two pas, an old one called Te Huki, and a more modern one called Hiruharama (Jerusalem), and the latter was built under the following circumstances. On the table-land stands the Maori village of Mohaka built in accordance with the old Maori ideas of warfare. It was what was considered a strong pa before the coming of the white man, and even when the deadly firearms were introduced it made for efficient defence, as only artillery fire could page 196damage the palisading. But there came a time when the hearts of the Maoris grew restless. Some had seen the fighting pas of the Pakehas, and were much troubled about their own methods of construction. It was therefore proposed to build a new pa, and a long korero took place and among the arguments employed taihoa largely figured, though a mystic turn was given to the debate when the old minister came to speak. "Friends," he said, "I am an old man now, and must soon depart. Let us build a pa up here in the centre of the flat where we can fire on all sides, and let us build after both Maori and Pakeha style, and let us call it Jerusalem. Let it be a refuge for our women and children. Friends, I have looked into the future. Some of you say there will be no war. I tell you the weeds will not be high on my grave before war will be here." A new pa was, therefore, built, the palisades being supported by stone walls, and all arrangements made to keep up a flanking fire. Water was deficient, but there was a good spring about 400 yards to the east of the pa and specially commanded by gun-fire…. Now the pa is finished. The little children play around the angles, and the women go forth to the tillage. As the dusk fell the long files of weary ones went toiling up the hill to their haven. The old minister's grave looked red and round but the weeds were beginning to show. Sometimes around the fire the old women would remind each other of his words, while the young ones, unheeding, built love-castles in the air. Some days they went forth as usual to the kumara fields, a fog would float up the river, and the trees would page 197look through the mist like marching men. A shudder would come over them as they gazed….

War, Red War!

One day a Maori courier came to the pa saying that war had come. Te Kooti had escaped from the Chatham Islands, the Wairoas were friendly to him, and it was time to get ready for battle. Then the men marched away in long lines over the hills for Wairoa to cut in on the line of Te Kooti's march. The women returned sadly after the farewell and huddled in the pa; ammunition was stored in a cache in the centre of the pa and the people waited. The 10th of April, 1869, broke fine, with a light breeze from the south, and the fleecy clouds rolled lazily by. The river fronting the pas lay cool and still as it wended its way to the sea and as it danced over the pebbles in the sunlight it did not sound martial music. The leaves on the trees scarcely stirred and all seemed well as the morning mists rose to the hill-tops. But away to the west in the direction of the towering ranges the forests looked dark and gloomy, and a great stillness seemed to come over Nature itself, as if "the children of Tane Mahuta" feared that a storm was approaching that would snap the stoutest trees and bend the saplings to breaking point. The women felt awed as they thought of their men-folk away out on the Kiwi hills. Then came from the river the figure of a woman calling out the arrival of the enemy, and a woman carrying the dead body of her child. As the Native watchers gazed in the direction of the kumara fields they sensed danger, page 198and soon the edge of the dark forest became alive; black dots appeared in the scrub, and then began to move; then a long line of black became visible, spread out and became a line of marching men—the disciples of the cult of the uplifted hand! On they came at right angles to the line of vision till they reached a small hillock in the centre of the flat. Hidden first by this hillock it cut the line in two, but still they marched ever onward. By this time it was broad daylight, and it was soon known that the advancing men were foes and not the Ngatipahauwera coming back from the Kiwi hills. With an exclamation of "Aue," the women outside the pa rushed in, dragging their children after them and the gates were closed.

The Women's Part.

The enemy divided his forces, and one detachment sought to get possession of Te Huki pa by false promises. "Let us be friends," said Te Kooti, but one woman said, "Mothers and daughters, did you hear the cries and noise of the killing at the other pa (Te Huki). Did you see the Pakeha horsemen flying. Do you see the children around you? I, for myself, will fire if the men will load the guns." That settled the point, and a dozen rifles were levelled, and a crashing volley burst forth. The Hauhaus, surprised at the defence, scattered like sheep, but three forms stiffened on the edge of the cliff. Half an hour of silence, and the women dug holes and hid the little ones, while the men re-loaded the guns. Then the onslaught on all sides, 300 men opened fire on the pa. Ah, then the fight waxed strong all page 199day, said a Native chronicler, the smoke drifting away like fleecy clouds, and the air reeking with the pungent powder, but every approach was checked. The fire from the pa was wild at times, but it meant death to any stormers even at 500 yards. Towards evening the fight waned, and died away with the setting sun. The guards were placed; and through the night came the words, "We are ready, we are ready." So much for the first clay. In the morning the watchers on the hills saw their flag still flying defiantly. All the night the breakers had sung to it, and the morning breezes had come to fill its folds. The firing began again, but the water in the pa was all gone, and the children were wailing for drink, their plaintive cries rising fitfully in the morning air. Then spoke up a man: "I will go forth; ye have fought well. Give me the cans." Carefully the guns were laid on the lines to the spring, and the children lay behind them. Sweeping volleys guarded the water-bearer, and back he came to the pa with his precious load. The little ones slept, paid the night came down, soft and cool. The land breeze came and the slumber-song of the waves arose from the shore. The sun's rays shone on the hills turning them into green and gold, and painting the clouds purple and red. Soon the stars peeped out from the curtain of night. "Awake,! Awake! We are awake," said the women of the pa. Another day in the heat of the battle and then there came signs of succour near at hand. Away to the south, winding along the hills, came the militia troopers, and over the hills from Waihua the braves of the pa were returning home page 200from Te Kiwi. They had seen the defeated enemy making for home with the horses laden with plunder…. The women staggered out on the slopes of the pa, but their eyes were heavy, and their limbs weak, and the children clung fast to them. They sank aweary to the ground, "We are safe: let us sleep," said the women of the pa.

"And as I sat where the pa had been, I saw a vast concourse of people. Many mighty ones were there, and there was much music. The lines of the soldiers were still, and he who was the lord of the people spoke great words, and afterwards drew aside a curtain. Behold! There stood beneath the figure of a woman holding a rifle, and at her feet a child. And it was written on: 'To the women of the pa.'"

Will the girls of "Jerusalem" be like their mothers? Oh, we shall see, if ever occasion call. And, indeed, you women of New Zealand, you who have the gold of the cities, and you whose wealth comes from the land—not much these days—have you no monument to these brave hearts? Are you going to let this deed be as a thing dead? Here is something for your solicitude. You will not let it fade? Surely not.

The Runner's Story.

The story of the old runner was to the effect that early that morning and long before dawn, as was the custom in the warfare of the Maoris, a strong band of the Hauhaus, led by Te Kooti, Paora Toki, Paerau Rangikaitipuake, Anaru Matete, Whenuanui and Te Poki had swept down through the hitherto peaceful valley of Mohaka.

page 201

They had arrived the previous night at a pretty spot called Arakanihi, and from there attacked the Maori village of Maungaturanga—now the scene of important railway works at present under construction. Four men who vainly essayed to thwart the raiders, fell at this spot, but not a shot was fired lest the prey to be had lower down should be alarmed and make its escape. The "braves" under Te Kooti knew by their scouts that all the men of the Ngatipahauwera were on the warpath at Te Kiwi up the Waikaremoana road, and so they counted on an easy victory. But it was not so easy as the raiders anticipated, as the story of the women's part discloses. Te Huki was taken by treachery, the enemy stating they were simply on their way to Wairoa, to attack Toha, a prominent chief at the Wairoa Heads. This chief, it is stated, had at one time captured a Native woman of note at Ngaputahi, near Putere, with some others, and kept them prisoners at Maungaturanga. They escaped while the Mohaka Natives were in the field and got back to Ngaputahi. Then when Te Kooti's band came down by the lake they made a treaty of blood with these dwellers in the Urewera country, who had a good take, or excuse, for war, and as the bulk of the men were engaged at Te Kiwi the way was open, not only to Mohaka but to Wairoa also. The story of the runner embodied in the foregoing was disbelieved by the military authorities, but gradually the full significance of the tale became real, at least, to civilians and the Maoris. Steps were taken to send women and children to Napier, the Natives saw to the page 202palisading at their pas and a local business man constructed a bastion to help in guarding his home. Soon discipline was scattered to the winds, men got on horseback and were about to start for Mohaka, half-armed and without orders, and one had to be lodged in the guardroom. Captain Withers, the senior officer, was that day at Te Kapu (Frasertown) conducting the annual prize-firing, and Captain Spiller, who was in charge of the local forces, decided to move on Mohaka at once, and in half an hour he had forty-six men under arms, and supplied with 140 rounds of ammunition per man, and in ten minutes they would have been off. But just then Captain Withers returned from Te Kapu, and cancelled the expedition on the grounds advanced by Captain Taylor, the volunteer officer, that the enemy's objective was Wairoa. When a force did go out from Wairoa and from Napier both movements were so slow and badly handled by the officers that this chapter does not appear in the "Heroes of New Zealand," except the part played by the late "Rowley" Hill, one of four Wairoa scouts, who ran the gauntlet of the raiders, got into the pa and helped in its defence, for which he was awarded the New Zealand Cross. When the Ngatipahauwera were seen filing over the hills the raiders commenced the retreat taking away considerable loot on the horses they had stolen and made back for the Urewera country, leaving a large number of dead on the field. The defenders also suffered heavily, the official figures being killed, fifty-seven Maoris and seven Europeans, but the former is overstated and the latter under-page 203estimated. Among the raiders were Rangi-Tahau of Taupo, Baker McLean, and the notorious Timoti-te-kaka, a triumvirate equal to any deed of savagery. The part played by the Maoris might be called an epic worthy to rank with the deeds of ancient heroes. But what of the Pakehas? From beginning to end it was a shameful exhibition of ineptitude, not so much on the part of the men as the officers. Brave enough one must admit, but vaccilating, unskilful, and perhaps not too keen to help the people whom their fellows were so quickly dispossessing of their heritage. Yet there were Pakehas involved in the slaughter, for coming down the valley that early April morning the raiders surprised the two little Lavin boys while sailing their toy boats on the river, and tomahawked them. The parents fled up a scrub-covered spur, and there they were found dead, locked in each other's arms, by Mr. A. Graham, a member of the relieving force, which didn't relieve. The deed was credited to Te Kooti but wrongly so, for Lavin, an Ensign in the volunteers, was armed, and with his revolver he shot his wife and then himself, when he saw that escape was impossible. So though the tragedy of Mohaka is still remembered there is no monument to be seen inscribed—"To the Women of the Pa."

What better Birthday or Christmas Present than a copy of this Booklet?