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

Siege of Toka-a-Kuku

Siege of Toka-a-Kuku

A more important siege, which attracted most of the East Coast tribes, took place at Te Kaha. It is known both as “The Siege of Toka-a-Kuku” and as “Te Wera's Invasion of Te Kaha.” Various dates have also been assigned to this conflict. Smith gives the year 1836 at page 469 of Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, but, at page 420, he mentions 1834 as the date. In Christianity Among the New Zealanders, W. Williams, page 175, states that, when he reached Hicks Bay [E.C.] in January, 1834, he was told “that the party on shore was assembled for war and was only awaiting the arrival of chiefs from farther south to go and attack their enemies to the westward.” The date 1834 also had the support of Wi Pere (Gisborne N.L. Court minute book No. 26) and of J. G. Baker.

The attack upon Toka-a-Kuku was arranged by Ngati-Porou in conjunction with Te Wera. Ngati-Porou had not forgiven Whanau-a-Ehutu and Whanau-a-Apanui for joining with Ngati-Awa in attacking them at Omaru-iti in 1829–30 (Smith) or a year later (W. Williams). Te Wera desired revenge because, at Te Kaha, his kinsfolk, under Pomare and himself, had, in 1823, suffered a reverse, and he had lost his nephew, Marino, there. To this day, the attack on Toka-a-Kuku is referred to in the Bay of Plenty as “Te Wera's Invasion.”

It seems that, after the fight at Omaru-iti, Whanau-a-Ehutu and Whanau-a-Apanui went to Whangaparaoa to obtain flax from Manga-te-Waha swamp to sell to a European trader (name not page 92 traced) for guns. Wi Tamihana told the Seth Smith-Hone Heke Royal Commission (Vol. 1, p. 147) that the date was about the time the first cultivations were made on Maraehako. However, when they learned that Ngati-Porou was preparing to attack them, they returned home and built a pa at Wharekura. In 1831–32, Ngati-Porou, with help from some Whakatohea, launched their attack, but were repulsed, losing a great chief, Te Pori-o-te-Rangi, one of Hati te Houkamau's grandfathers. Whanau-a-Ehutu and Whanau-a-Apanui then went to Whakatane to dress flax to sell to Tapsell, who was established at Maketu. They remained away until 1833.

Before Ngati-Porou and their allies set off for Toka-a-Kuku, Taumata-a-Kura (the first Ngati-Porou Christian evangelist) agreed to assist only on condition that the fighting should be conducted in accordance with the principles adopted by Christian nations. His conditions were: that enemy wounded should not be slain; that no enemy bodies should be eaten; that enemy canoes that were not required for the homeward journey should not wantonly be broken up; and that no enemy food should be wilfully destroyed. All these conditions were agreed to.

J. G. Baker's account states that Taumata also said to the allied chiefs and their tohungas:

“Let me have control of this battle. My God is the God of Te Wiremu Karuwha (‘Four-Eyed Williams: the Rev. H. Williams, who had been so named by the natives because he wore spectacles’). My God is Jehovah, a mighty God.”

When Toka-a-Kuku was reached, Taumata claimed the right to initiate the attack.

“Now wait for me to give the signal,” he cried. “I will fire one barrel upwards and the other downwards, for the Whanau-a-Apanui have broken the laws of Jehovah.”

As Taumata came out unscathed from various clashes, his invulnerability was attributed by his fellow-warriors to the protective influence of the new Deity Whom he worshipped. Consequently, his prestige was considerably enhanced. Bishop W. Williams says that Taumata went into the heaviest fighting, carrying his musket in one hand and his copy of the New Testament in the other and that, although the bullets flew thickly around him, he was not hit.

Giving evidence in the Kapuarangi block case at Opotiki, Matenga Tauahikawai said that, as Toka-a-Kuku was on the sea coast, sympathizers with the defenders were able to land reinforcements and provisions for them by canoe at night. The occupants of the pa were chiefly Whanau-a-Ehutu. Whilst a Ngaitai reinforcement was approaching overland, it was joined page 93 at Maraenui by another taua recruited by Whanau-a-Apanui. At Puremutahi, this combined force was routed. Other accounts state that, in order to distract the attention of the besiegers from the oncoming reinforcements, a sortie was made from the pa, but that it also failed. Major Ropata says that heavy losses were inflicted upon Whanau-a-Ehutu and that Whanau-a-Apanui and Ngaitai suffered even more grievously. He admitted, however, that the pa did not fall. It was claimed by Wi Pere that Te Kani-a-Takirau withdrew the attackers because he felt that adequate utu (satisfaction) had been gained.

Nothing authentic is known as to how many were slain on either side. It is stated in the Journal of the Polynesian Society (June, 1906) that a huge whata (stage) was erected by the attackers in front of the pa. It consisted of uprights to which long poles were attached, and resembled a large post and rail fence. The bodies of slain defenders were tied in pairs by the feet and thrown over the poles, one body dangling over one side and the other hanging down on the other side. In this manner, a solid wall of dead was, it is said, formed and, on that account, the siege also became known as “Whata Tangata.” Another exaggerated version avers that, when the heads of the defenders' dead were piled up on a stage in front of the pa, “they were as thick as corn upon a cob!”