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


Native Crucifixion on East Coast—Woman Hanged Near Gisborne—Muru, Witchcraft and Tohungaism Rampant—British Laws Introduced Cautiously.

The introduction of the British system of law and order into Poverty Bay and on to the East Coast had to be delayed because the natives clung so tightly to their age-old customs and deep-rooted superstitions and because so many of them stoutly refused to acknowledge Queen Victoria as their ruler. Some of their chiefs had not signed the Treaty of Waitangi and they openly feared that their mana would diminish if British laws were brought into force. Te Kani-a-Takirau, the greatest among them, was not a signatory, but he proved a good friend to the Europeans. Wisely, the authorities decided to proceed cautiously.

In 1854—only a year before the first resident magistrate was stationed in Poverty Bay—an act of barbaric retribution came under the notice of pakehas residing on the East Coast. At Akuaku, a native named Tamatoi slew Te Kiri (a fellow-tribesman) by creeping up behind him whilst he was saying his grace and almost decapitating him. Wi Pokiha (Waiapu Native Land Court minute book, No. 18) told the court that the pair had quarrelled over a plantation. Tamatoi, he added, was executed by being shot.

It is stated in Colonel Porter's account that rivalry for the hand of the village beauty led to the fatal quarrel. When the culprit's relatives tried to rescue him they were repulsed with a volley of stones fired from an old cannon—a relic of a whaler wrecked in the 1830's. A native council sentenced the murderer to be crucified. Tamatoi—Porter gives the name as “Matohi”—was impaled on a cross and a firing party, in which even his own relatives joined, hastened his end. The cannon was presented by Ropata to Porter, who, in turn, gave it to the Napier Soldiers' Club.

According to a letter which W. Williams sent to the British Colonial Society (quoted by Thomson in Story of New Zealand, vol. 2, p. 176), a native woman was hanged near Gisborne in 1855 by order of a native council. It seems that a half-crazy woman named Ana destroyed some baskets of seed potatoes belonging to a neighbour, and made off with one of his pots. Enraged, the neighbour's wife chased her, threw her into a creek, and drowned her. The slow manner in which the murderess page 197 was hanged is described as “a savage imitation of the English civil method of execution.”

The first East Coast native—the Wellington newspapers supposed that he had come from Poverty Bay—to be lawfully hanged was Mairoa (or Maroro), who, in 1846, murdered a settler named Branks and his two children at Johnsonville. Entering Branks's whare, he asked for a light for his pipe. As Branks stooped to get an ember from his fire, Mairoa slew him with a hatchet which he had kept concealed. The children began to cry in terror and he slew them also. Thomson (The Story of New Zealand) says that Mairoa gave the signal to the hangman to release the lever “with the apathy of a Hindoo!”

Believing that a member of a hapu at Reporua had threatened to exercise witchcraft upon one of his relatives, Paratene Turangi, in 1843, set off from Poverty Bay with a punitive expedition. One of his flotilla of three large war canoes was Toki-a-Tapiri (now in the Auckland Museum). Aboard her were the chiefs Perohuka and Rahurahi. In Te Ahiatupari the leading chief was Te Rangituawaru. The leaders on the principal craft, Te-a-o-Mate, were Paratene and Hori Karaka. When the expedition landed at Purehua a native preacher (Eruera Pakura) intervened. There was no fighting; Paratene composed a song; and the expedition departed after having been feasted.

The best known case in which a wizard was slain in this portion of New Zealand occurred at Wairoa in 1864. There were, at that time, five exponents of black magic in that district. Porohiwi, in particular, bore a very evil reputation; he had threatened to bewitch everybody belonging to the hapu. He was shot by two of his own relatives, who had been selected to commit the deed. The murderers were brought before Mr. McLean, who released them after they had taken an oath that they would not shoot anybody else.

The East Coast natives were firm believers in ghosts as well as in witchcraft. During the hearing of the Waipiro block case in May, 1885, Major Ropata said that there was a sheet of water at Otamakorapa which had the property of bewitching and killing people. It had received its name because spirits of people flying about were caught in the water and held under until they died! The ghost of Te Mutu (who, with others, had been slain at Te Puia) had come to them on the night of his death. A woman cried out: “There is Te Mutu!” Te Mamouangi chased the ghost away with a firestick.

When a Maori boy died near Tuparoa in May, 1874, Pohipi, an old man, was accused of having bewitched him. Wi Haereroa and Hapi walked into his whare, and each put a bullet into his page 198 body. They buried it where it fell and then returned to their friends, fully satisfied that they had merely done their duty. No action was taken by the authorities.

A native council, which was attended by a native clergyman, met at Repongaere in August, 1879, to try Henare te Kotiti on a charge that he had brought about a death by the exercise of occult powers. His whare was burned down, but he escaped to W. K. Chambers's home. Mr. Chambers sent to Ormond for a constable. Kotiti was taken to Napier and then sent on to Taupo for safety.

Upon the death of Wi Kaipuke at Muriwai in March, 1886, a native named Rapaea fled to the bush when he was threatened with death for having, allegedly, used witchcraft. Fortunately for him, Kaipuke's son attributed his father's death to bad liquor. Rapaea was then permitted to return home. Even as late as 1890 a Te Arai native was bound over to keep the peace for threatening to slay a neighbour suspected of practising witchcraft.