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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

A Tame, But Interesting, Siege

A Tame, But Interesting, Siege

Poverty Bay was the scene of a siege in the earliest days of pakeha trading. It involved most of, if not all of, the tribes from Mahia to the East Cape. The date assigned to this struggle also varies in different versions, but it is certain that the year was 1832. It seems that two sub-tribes of Te WhakatoheaNgati-Rua and Ngati-Ngahere—had, for some time, been engaged upon the peaceful penetration of Mangatu and adjacent lands. Some accounts suggest that they had been invited to take up their residence there by a section of Nga-Potiki. In any event, many of Nga-Potiki joined the intruders and moved on with them to Muhunga (near Ormond).

According to the version held by the Whakatohea people, flax-dressing had been in progress throughout the Bay of Plenty for some time prior to the decision of some of their tribesmen to move into Poverty Bay. Many of the Whakatohea had gone to Thames to assist Ngati-Maru to obtain flax. On that account, Ngati-Rua and Ngati-Ngahere became afraid that they might be pounced page 90 upon by well-armed marauders. They, therefore, fled into the back portion of Poverty Bay, where they united with Nga-Potiki.

Ejected from Muhunga by T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki, the intruders moved to Tapatahi, but, realizing that they would again be attacked, they made their way to Kekeparaoa, on Puhatikotiko block, at the confluence of the Waihuka and Waipaoa rivers, and strengthened the pa there. Kaimoana asked Nga-Potiki to do their utmost to induce Whakatohea to return home. Taniwha, on behalf of Nga-Potiki, sent him an insulting reply: “that he would cut out his heart and eat it.” So angry was Kaimoana that he sent for Rongowhakaata, Ngati-Kahungunu, T'Aitanga-a-Hauiti and Te Wera to assist T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki to drive the intruders out of the district. As it was known that Kekeparaoa was but poorly provisioned, the besiegers played a waiting game.

Some blood-curdling details which Barnet Burns included in his booklet with reference to a siege (it could have been no other than Kekeparaoa) were, no doubt, introduced merely to embellish his narrative, and they require to be regarded as fiction. He says that, prior to the capture of the pa, the wife of one of the Whakatohea chiefs was caught whilst she was attempting to escape by swimming across the adjacent river.

“This unfortunate woman,” Burns avers, “was informed that she was to be killed and eaten. Each of the principal chiefs (amongst her captors) then began to bespeak some part of her body in her presence. One said that he would have a leg; another that he would have an arm; another, her heart, and so on, until she had been shared among them…. She was then ordered to go into the river and wash a quantity of potatoes…. Upon her return she was told that the oven was being got ready for her. She said that it could not be helped…. She was then ordered to prepare herself for cooking. I affirm positively that I saw the woman gather green leaves, lay them down on the hot stones, tie both her legs together herself and ask one of the party to tie her hands. When this was done, she took a friendly leave of two or three persons that she knew and threw herself down on the leaves. When she was over the fire, she begged some of the party to knock her brains out, but they would not. They kept her on the fire a few minutes, then laid potatoes over her and covered her up with earth—aye, before life was half gone—until she was cooked fit for eating.”

Whilst the siege was in progress, Captain Harris appeared on the scene and, entering the pa, removed Te Ngaue, a Whakatohea child, lest it should be killed. Relating the incident before the Native Land Court, Wi Perevide Gisborne minute book No. 26—said that, when Harris went into the fort, “his long boots were full of bullets.” Lambert (Story of Old Wairoa) says that he referred the statement to William Cooper, a native interpreter, who considered that it should have been translated: “a long gun full of bullets.” As an old ship's cannon was found off Tuamotu page 91 Island shortly after he made this inquiry, Lambert came to the conclusion that Harris must have taken that particular weapon to Kekeparaoa! The point is clarified in minute book No. 18, where another version by Wi Pere is recorded. In that account, he is credited with having rashly asserted that both Harris and Paratene Turangi “went into the pa with some bullets for the defenders.”

When the attackers found that the defenders had run out of provisions, they called upon Te Awariki, who belonged both to Whakatohea and Nga-Potiki, to come out of the pa. Contrary to the usual custom when such a step is taken, they slew him. During the hearing of the Tahora block case, Wi Pere said that he had heard that, before Te Awariki was slain, he was tortured by having some of his flesh removed and eaten! However, a general slaughter did not take place. Te Wera's Ngapuhi took the Whakatohea under their protection and T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki escorted Nga-Potiki away, or, in the picturesque language of Wi Pere, “drove them, with sticks, like pigs before them.”