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History and traditions of the Maoris of the West Coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840


page 252

It has frequently been mentioned in former pages that the brave little tribe of Ngati-Tama that occupied the country from the White Cliffs to Mohakatino river, were constantly at loggerheads with their northern neighbours of Mokau, where dwelt the southernmost hapus of the great Ngati-Mania-poto tribe—Ngati-Rakei, Ngati-wai-korora, Ngati-Mihi, Ngati-Ihia, and others—which have been referred to under the name of the "Tainui" tribes, for it was in that canoe their ancestors crossed "The great ocean of Kiwa" in 1350 when they first settled in New Zealand.

By their numerous strongholds situated along the coast, the Ngati-Tama for many generations held back the power and might of the Tainui tribes, and in nearly all instances were able to inflict defeat on the northern invaders. The first instance we have record of is when the great chief of Waikato, Runga-te-rangi, a grandson of Mania-poto, who lived twelve generations ago, was killed by Ngati-Tama at, or near, the Kawau pa when leading a hostile expedition against the latter tribe. This man, according to Maori ideas, was of supreme rank, for he was of the Kawai-ariki or agnate line of descent from Hotu-roa, captain of the "Tainui," and therefore combined in himself all the powers of chieftainship, together with those of a sacerdotal character pertaining to the ariki of a great tribe. His death occurred somewhere about 1625 to 1630—as near as can be made out. The father of Runga-te-rangi was Te Kawa-iri-rangi, and he was killed in some expedition to Tamaki (Auckland Isthmus). After his son's death at Te Kawau pa, a "saying" became common among the Waikato tribes:—"Pou-tama ki runga; Tamaki ki raro" the meaning of which is, there is always war at Pou-tama in the south, or Tamaki in the north. This death led to many expeditions against Ngati-Tama in order to wipe out the sense of defeat felt by the Tainui tribes; but the plucky little tribe (of Nga-Tama) held their own and invariably beat off their opponents, until the early years of the page 253nineteenth century, when, as we shall see, they had to succumb to superior force and to muskets. Many a noted Waikato or Ngati-Maniapoto chief fell under the taiahas of Ngati-Tama during this period, amongst whom were Maunga-tautari, Hanu, Tai-porutu, Pehi, Ahiweka, Whiti, etc. Few particulars of these obstinate fights have been preserved, at any rate with sufficient detail to enable us to place them in their proper sequence. The following notes, however, have been secured by Mr. W. H. Skinner and myself in reference thereto; and the localities will be seen on Map No. 3:—

Mr. Skinner says: "The Ngati-Tama tribe possessed all the lands along the coast from the Mokau river to Titoki, a place two miles south of Puke-aruhe pa, at the southern end of the White Cliffs. Strictly speaking, the Mohaka-tino river was their northern boundary, for the strip of country between there and Mokau was never occupied permanently by Ngati-Tama; it was a neutral or debatable ground between them and Ngati-Mania-poto. To the ancient Maori this country of the Ngati-Tama was an ideal one—a land to be desired and fought for. It offered numerous sites to the old warriors, perfect in their way, for their pas or fortified villages; positions of such great natural strength and the advantages surrounding them that it was scarce conceivable to improve upon them. The narrow strip of level or undulating land—about half a mile wide—between the sea and the foot of the wooded ranges, was rich and easily worked, and more than ample for all their wants in the growth of kumara, taro, and other vegetables. Two fine streams, the Tongaporutu and Mohaka-tino, besides numerous smaller ones, abounded with eels, whilst the forest ranges offered good returns to the bird-snarer. At their feet the ocean literally teemed with life.

"Owing to the attraction offered by the numerous mussel reefs along this part of the coast, together with the sea itself, a plentiful harvest was always provided to the fishing fleets that issued from the rivers and sandy coves in proximity to the pas, during the proper season and favourable weather… … …

"For a period of two hundred and fifty years or more warfare had existed between Ngati-Tama and Ngati-Mania-poto."