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The Maoris of the South Island

Chapter III — The South Island Maori

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Chapter III
The South Island Maori

It is believed that the South Island (Te Wai Pounamu) has been inhabited for nine hundred or a thousand years, and that the inhabitants were contemporary with the moa bird. The Maori people have their myths and traditions. They have their tribal histories, genealogies and romantic stories. These have been handed down with much care from father to son in their priestly families.

Regarding their legends, the Maori people of Otakou used to speak about taniwhas and fabulous monsters which performed extraordinary deeds. Hoani Karetai, the paramount chief of Otakou, used to speak about a taniwha which was the guardian of the spirit of a famous Kati Mamoe chief. This taniwha lost its master and set out in search of him. From Silverstream near the base of Whare Flat, it journeyed as far as the present Mosgiel. Then it took its course down the Taieri River and wriggling, caused all the sharp bends and twists in the river. The same taniwha scooped out the Otago Harbour. The monster now lies solidified in the Saddle Hill. The humps of the hill are named Pukemakamaka and Turimakamaka.1 The story varies in detail according to the Maori narrator, but such is the outline.

Mr. Watkin, in his Journal, relates several legends commonly known in Otago in those early days. There were immense serpents of the water species, and also immense birds which formerly existed, “the bones of which are said to be often met with, but the oldest man never saw one of these gigantic birds, neither his father nor his grandfather. These birds used to destroy men, such is the legend.”

1 Article by W. A. Taylor.

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The following tradition was related to the present writer by Mrs. M. Karetai, now deceased: At Teumukuri (the Black Rock), Otakou, there was in former years a huge rock which bore the name Te Tapuae o Tinirau (The footmarks of Tinirau). Water trickled from the bank above a natural basin formed in the rock, which was always full of clear water. Tinirau, the Sea-Goddess, used this natural basin of water as a mirror before which in the early morning she used to come and comb her hair. When the road was formed, unfortunately part of the rock with the basin was destroyed.

There is another tradition associated with the same locality. Tarewai, the famous chief who fought against the Kati Mamoe, in one of his adventures to or from Pukekura, left his footprint on the rock. It may be seen today, but, alas, a shed has been built on the rock and the footprint can be seen only by stooping down and looking under the building.

In dealing with the history of the South Island tribes, the student is faced with much confusion but, as a result of modern research, a main outline of fact can be established.

Some historians claim that the first tribe of the South Island was the Rapuwai, and that they were Polynesians possessing kiri whewhero, red or copper-coloured skins. There are diversities of opinion regarding these important people. Some investigators still adhere to the theory that the Rapuwai were the first known inhabitants of the South Island, the tangata whenua. Mr. David Ellison (Te Iwi Erihana), since deceased, informed the present writer that he was of the same opinion, and that he regarded the Rapuwai as being a distinct and separate tribe. Canon Stack in his South Island Maoris states: “I am inclined to think that Te Rapuwai and Waitaha were portions of the same tribe, Te Rapuwai forming the vanguard when the migration from the North Island took place. Several of my Maori authorities,” he writes, “incline to this opinion, while others maintain they they were separate tribes; if so, they were probably contemporaries… one may have come from the west and the other from the east coast of the North Island.”

Dr. D. P. Sinclair, a descendant of the South Island page 35 chief Horomona Pohio, has made an exhaustive study of these matters and is of the opinion, adequately supported by the surviving remnants of genealogies, chants, and results of excavations made at moa hunter's sites, that the first known settlers in the South Island of New Zealand were the progenitors of the ancient Waitaha tribe. Recent researches into ancient history, he holds, disclose that the navigator Te Rakaihautu and his son Te Raikihouia who came in the Uruao canoe may have antedated Kupe who came to New Zealand in A.D. 925. Te Rakaihouiti and their people were keen and intrepid explorers, as well as masters of navigation, and they are credited with having named most of the prominent landmarks of the South Island.

To the Waitaha are credited the rock paintings in the cave shelters in the South Island. These paintings are in rough designs of birds, lizards, ngarara, and other forms and mystic symbols. These help to keep in mind some knowledge of the history of the tribe which was handed down to them from their ancestors. They are survivals of a stone-age religious cult, long forgotten by the comparatively modern Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu people. Their lore was considerable and many long genealogies, and an abundance of place-names, names of ancient Rakatira and Tipuna, are due to them. Many little camps and workshops which were used by this tribe of moa hunters have been located. It was to such places that the bands of Waitaha gathered to prepare for the moa hunt. Broken bones of the moa and ovens bear evidence to the fact that the moa was hunted for food. The bones seem to have been utilised by the artisans of the tribe. The exact significance of these artifacts has not been explained but it is possible that they may have been used as tokens signifying the importance of the owner, or they may have possessed a religious meaning. The Waitaha had pas at the mouth of the Molyneux River, at Lake Te Anau, Lake Wakatipu (Whakatipu) and Oamaru. A number of places in Otago and Southland received their names from Waitaha men and women. Otaraia bears the name of a chief. Waiwera is named after Waiwhero, a Waitaha chief. Te Anau and page 36 Aparima bear the names of chieftainesses.1

The Waitaha were a religious people and had their altars (tuahu) before which incantations were performed, and karakias were offered by their priests. The people excelled in singing, and were skilful in the use of the putara, a kind of trumpet.

The detailed history of the occupation of the Waitaha has passed into oblivion, and all that remains to bear testimony, with the exception of the data already given, are the old pa sites and hunting camps scattered widely throughout the island. The decline of this once numerous and powerful tribe began suddenly and rapidly with the advent of the Kati Mamoe tribe which crossed the strait of Raukawa (Cook Strait) and moved steadily down the coastline killing and enslaving the unprepared Waitaha, whose vast numbers melted away before the onslaught. Before the invasion of the Kati Mamoe the Waitaha had known only peace and contentment. The invasion surprised the Waitaha in their large settlements. They were herded together, killed or enslaved and made to work on the plantations of their victors. Some surviving remnants of the tribe lived in small pas at Banks Peninsula, Waimate, Lakes Te Anau, Hawea, Wakatipu and a few isolated places.

According to Canon Stack, the Kati Mamoe invasion of the South Island comenced [sic] about the year A.D. 1577. There is, however, diversity of opinion regarding the date. The southern half of the eastern coastline of the North Island was involved in tribal war. Those concerned were Ngati Kahungunu, Rangi Tane, Kati Mamoe, Kai Tahu and others. The final outcome of the northern struggle was that the Rangi Tane moved over to Marlborough and Nelson, a few scattered remnants remained in the Wairarapa and the Kati Mamoe crossed over to Cape Campbell. The subsequent history of the Kati Mamoe is connected with the story of the Kai Tahu.

The Kati Mamoe occupation, it is said, covered one hundred years, but about the year 1677 the Kai Tahu cast

1 H. Beattie, The Journal of the Polynesian Society.

page 37 their longing eyes across the stormy Raukawa Strait to the fair and attractive shores of Te Wai Pounamu. At this time the Kai Tahu were established at Hataitai and Matakikaipoinga, two large pas in the Wellington Harbour, then known as Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

Kai Tahu were sorely pressed by exhausting wars carried on with their neighbouring related tribes of the Kati Kahu, kunu, Kati Porou and Kati Ira and finally they sought relief by wholesale migrations across the strait to the peaceful shores of the South Island.

The Kati Mamoe and Rangi Tane made room for the newcomers and gave them their daughters in marriage. Soon family quarrels arose and these quarrels developed into fierce warfare. Kaikoura was captured and subsequently the chief Turakautahi established the tribal headquarters at Kaiapohia where he built a large fortress. Conquest of the Kati Mamoe was not easily attained for it was by hard fighting that the Kai Tahu gained possession of their prized tribal lands and their coveted greenstone.

Another branch of the Kai Tahu from the Wairarapa migrated to Otago and Murihiku and attacked the Kati Mamoe there. As in the north of the island, so in the south, a long-continued struggle began.

Retribution duly came to the Kati Mamoe for their treatment of the Waitaha and those few who had survived the conflict were saved from extinction by the Kai Tahu who intermarried with their chiefly lines.

The ancient fortified pa at Pukekura, Otakou, which stood on the hill of that name, now known as Taiaroa Head, was in the hands of the Kati Mamoe and was their most famous stronghold. Tarewai, a young and vigorous fighting chief of Kai Tahu, led a war party into battle against the fortress and, after hard fighting, the fortress was reduced and taken possession of by the Kai Tahu. Tarewai's uncles, Maru and Te Aparangi and their followers, settled in the pa among the captured and subdued Kati Mamoe. There was now a brief period of truce between the Kai Tahu of the Pukekura pa, and the Kati Mamoe living a few miles away on the Peninsula page 38 at Papanui. Later, unfortunately, a quarrel took place between the people of the Pukekura Pa and the Kati Mamoe people of Papanui Pa. This pa was situated about half a mile from the Cape Saunders lighthouse of modern days. The Papanui chiefs were Whaka Taka and Rangi Amoa. The bay of Papanui was a good fishing place for the Kati Mamoe people and this aroused the jealousy of the Kai Tahu of Pukekura, who persisted in fishing over the Kati Mamoe reserve. They also went over to Papanui and secretly destroyed some of the Kati Mamoe canoes. Rangi Amoa, the Papanui Chief, not to be beaten, proceeded up Point Putoki and offered a powerful karakia and brought on a terrible gale which destroyed the fleet of the Pukekura people. The truce between the two tribes now terminated.

Much has been written about the chief Tarewai, and there is much confusion and contradiction which makes it difficult to separate the tradition from the actual facts. The story of his capture by his foes and his subsequent escape differ in detail. The present writer is indebted to Mr. W. A. Taylor (Wiremu Teira) for some of the foregoing data regarding the Pukekura and Papanui Pas, and to Mr. David Ellison (Te Iwi Erihana) for information about Tarewai.

At the time mentioned the struggle was renewed and the Kati Mamoe tried to recapture the Pukekura Pa. One day, during a lull in the operations, Tarewai and several of his most trusted warriors were outside the Pukekura fortifications quietly and secretly investigating the enemy's position, His followers were overtaken, captured and killed by the wily Kati Mamoe spies. Tarewai was caught, thrown upon his back, pinned to the ground, and his whalebone patu was taken from him. His captors then proceeded to cut him open with a sharp stone with the object of taking out his heart. At the same time several strangers appeared on the scene, and the attention of those who were torturing him was directed for a moment to the intruders. Tarewai seized his chance, shook himself free, sprang to his feet and escaped into the bush. He fled to the forest-covered slopes of Harbour Cone (Portobello), known to the Maoris as Hereweka (snaring wood- page 39 hens), and hid himself. For some weeks he lay in hiding at Herewaka, on the cone known as Pukemata, for some weeks doctoring himself with herbal remedies. He was, however, distressed because of the loss of his patu and was determined to recover the precious weapon. Accordingly, one evening at dusk, disguised, he cautiously entered the enemy's camp at Papanui, and found them seated around a fire having a korero (discussion). Drawing near, he saw them examining his weapon and recalling the story of their victory. He asked permission to see the celebrated patu. It was handed to him, and he, delighted with his success, struck those nearest to him on the head, and shouted as he fled into the darkness, “Tarewai has recovered his Patu!”

Next day Tarewai reached the sandy beach below the Pukekura Pa. He was nearly captured by some Kati Mamoe men who were mending a canoe. Hotly pursued, clinging to the overhanging branches, he climbed the cliff, entered the fortress and escaped their clutches. It is of interest to note that the sandy beach below the Pukekura Pa, known today as Pilot Beach, was spoken of by the elder Maoris as Te Makahika. The cliff which Tarewai climbed by catching hold of the branches of the overhanging trees, and by which he swung himself clear of the craggy rock, is known to the Maoris as Tarewai's Leap—Te Rereka-o-Tarewai.

Tarewai's escape so inspired his comrades in arms that they made an immediate attack upon the besiegers and defeated them. Continuing the struggle, Tarewai and his warriors drove the Kati Mamoe from the Otakou Pensinsula.

There was much warfare between the two tribes, under their different chieftains in Otago and Southland. The Kai Tahu fought under various leaders, renowned for their acts of valour. They fought as recorded by Mr. Herries Beattie, at the Clutha, Balclutha, Kaitangata and Port Molyneux, and he gives what he regards as the approximate dates. There is also a tradition of stiff fighting near Waipapapa Point. It was a fierce and long-drawn struggle. Battle followed battle, and the vanquished were driven as far south as Preservation Inlet.

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Mr. Beattie states that according to information given to him by some of the elders of the Maori people, the Kati Mamoe retreated southward and built the Matauira Pa at Preservation Inlet. The Kai Tahu followed them in three double canoes and laid off a bight nearby. In the dusk and unobserved a Kati Mamoe man dived out from the shore, got under Tarewai's canoe, attached a rope which secured the craft, and the first thing Tarewai knew was that his canoe was pulled ashore and he and his warriors were prisoners. Tarewai, in attempting to escape from his captor's pa, fell on some flax lying about and was killed. There are other accounts of the final disappearance of the famous chieftain, but the above seems to be the most trustworthy.

Dr. E. Shortland states that the Kati Mamoe, after having been driven to the south, feeling themselves too much weakened to hope to regain their lost position, made peace with the invaders and formed alliances with them.

A remnant, however, of the Kati Mamoe warriors with their families escaped to the lakes and forests of the West Coast. Captain Cook, on his second voyage to New Zealand in his ship Resolution referred to the natives of Dusky Sound. This was on March 26, 1773. He found “a secure harbour where the ship could lie close to the shore, there being also, a hundred yards from her stern, a fine stream of water.” He states that there were three or four native families in the locality believed to be the remnant of a tribe which, in one of the frequent native wars, had escaped massacre. These people, no doubt, were refugees of the Kati Mamoe tribe.

It is worthy of note that a warrior chief named Taikawa of mixed Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu blood, when peace was made, returned to Pukekura and did not go on the warpath again. At the end of his days he was buried at Pikiwhara (Sandymount) on the Otakou Peninsula.

The Kai Tahu were now in undisputed possession of the South Island with the exception of Marlborough and Nelson. The leading chiefs who subjugated the Kati Mamoe were Tuahuriri and his sons. The final subjugation of the Kati Mamoe was due to the chief Te Hautapunuiotu.

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In the early part of the eighteenth century, the Kai Tahu began to quarrel among themselves and much blood was shed. Here again there are varying accounts, but there is evidence that their main lines are correct.

At this stage two chiefs appear on the scene, Taoka of Timaru and Te Wera of Huriawa, now known as Karitane. These chiefs were closely related and had been comrades in arms against the Kati Mamoe, but misunderstanding had taken place which resulted in warfare.

Taoka, the son of Ruahikihiki had built a strong pa at Timaru, but during his absence, Te Wera attacked his stronghold, wrought considerable damage and left a heap of slain. Taoka thereupon went to live at Pukekura and laid his plans of revenge. He was a strong and fierce fighter and was chief of the land from Timaru to Huriawa. There was another chief named Moki, who because of his parentage, being a younger half-brother of Taoka, was in charge of Pukekura. Another version of the story states that by reason of his canoe being intercepted by the people of Pukekura, Moki was asked by them to become their chief. Moki was not a great warrior and later was killed at Koputai.

It appears that Te Wera, Patuki and other chiefs were on a visit to a kaika a few miles south of Huriawa, afterwards known as Purakanui. At the same time a taua party from Pukekura made a night attack upon the kaika. Te Wera and his party, sitting in a whare enjoying a feast, and at the same time having a friendly korero, were unconscious of the presence of a taua or war party outside which had marked them down for death. Quite suddenly an enemy spear, meant for Te Wera, was thrust with great force through the wall of the whare but, missing its mark, killed one of the braves. The rest of the visiting party escaped but they were determined to square up the account in due time. Te Wera waited for the opportune moment and, when prepared, proceeded to Pukekura and surprised a party of women on the beach, killed them and took off their heads as utu according to ancient Maori custom. Te Wera's canoes then passed under the Pukekura Pa and the heads of the captured women were page 42 held up in view of the Otakou people. A cry of revenge rent the air from the pa above and, as speedily as possible, an expedition of retaliation was organised, and proceeded to Huriawa (Karitane of today).

Te Wera's pa at Huriawa stood high on the Peninsula overlooking the mouth of the Waikouaiti River, and occupied a fine strategic position, and also commanded an extensive view of the coastline. Standing on the west side of the peninsula, within the pa and situated on an elevated slope, there was in those days a carved meeting-house named Kuramatakitaki. At the entrance to the pa stood the historic gateway known as Tekukuatoretore (the lips of the Toretore). Taoka was determined to capture the position. He was reinforced by his confederates from Timaru and the combined forces attacked the fort with great fury. Te Wera had anticipated the attack and prepared for it by storing up a year's provisions. There was a plentiful supply of water issuing from a natural spring within the defences. The pa was strengthened and made as secure as possible against attack. The Peninsula itself with its rocky cliffs was an ideal defence against an invading foe. In this way Te Wera was prepared for a long siege.

Taoka made his camp on the sand-spit facing the Peninsula. War dances of defiance were performed by Te Wera's men, and Taoka's warriors in fury flung back their threatening challenge. Day by day Taoka's invading forces sought ways to achieve their purpose, but in vain. The siege lasted six long and weary months without definite success. The invaders could not take the pa by assault, nor could they starve the people out, and at last Taoka, in vexation of spirit, reluctantly gave up the attempt and returned to Pukekura.

Much has been written about the siege of the small peninsula which bears the name of Te Mapoutahi, unfortunately known today as Goat Island. The authorities quoted are H. Beattie, A. Bathgate and M. A. Rugby Pratt. The writer also had several conversations with Mrs. Wallscott (nee Karetai) who related the story as told by her parents.

This peaceful little peninsula situated near Purakanui page 43 Bay, connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, clothed with verdure and cabbage trees, today displays nothing to suggest tragedy, yet it was once stained with blood, and the air was torn with the hideous screams of victors, and the lament of the vanquished.

Taoka, smarting from the effects of his Huriawa failure at the hands of Te Wera, who was at that time at Te Mapoutahi, skilfully laid his plans to take the fortress. Collecting his warriors and confederates he once again set out on the war-path in order to wipe out the bitter memory. Some days passed without hostilities, for both the invaders and the defenders were cautious. It was mid-winter and the snow lay thickly upon the ground. One miserable night, Taoka's scouts cautiously crept up to the defences and found the entrance to the pa closely guarded. Taoka, not satisfied with their report, went to inspect for himself, and found that the supposed guard were dummy bodies swaying in the wind. This was his chance. He led his men within the palisade, placed a guard at the opening, and surprised his victims. The besieged within the fortress, dazed with sleep, were quickly slaughtered and only a few escaped by jumping into the sea. The following day the bodies of the dead were piled into heaps, and from that time the locality was know as Purakanui (Purakaunui)—“a great heap.”

Te Wera escaped from the slaughter and went to live at Rakiura (Stewart Island) and settled for a time at Ohekia. This place became known as Wehingao-te-Wera, and is now known as Paterson's Inlet. Later he lived at Orako, Colac Bay. There he died, saddened by the thought that he did not die in battle. Taoka, also, is said to have died a natural death. This took place, it is believed at Katiki. He had several sons of whom Te Autu and Te Whiwhi were the most noted.