History and traditions of the Maoris of the West Coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840
Motu-Tawa at Mokau. — 1812
Motu-Tawa at Mokau.
Again the scene of our story shifts to the northern frontier, where events were happening that had far-reaching results.
After the great expedition of Ngati-Haua and other tribes, which came to Pou-tama to seek revenge for the death of Tai-porutu (see page 255, Chap. XI.) had been hurled back by the bravery of Ngati-Tama, there was apparently a transient peace or truce between the latter tribe and their northern neighbours at Mokau for some ten or twelve years. At any rate, no incident has come to my knowledge marking that period, though, no doubt, the enmity in which these tribes had lived for so many generations would not allow of any available chance of striking a blow to be passed over. But there were no great expeditions, and both sides would, no doubt, be glad of a few years' rest in order that the boys should grow to maturity and be trained as warriors.
But about the year 1812 (so far as can be ascertained) hostilities set in again through an act of brutality on the part of Ngati-Tama whilst on a visit to Motu-tawa. Motu-tawa is a pretty little island page 278situated in a deep bay in the Mokau river, about three-quarters of a mile within the heads on the northern shore, now covered with bushes and small trees. It is about half an acre in extent, with cliffs nearly all round, rising up from the waters to about fifty or sixty feet, but not equally steep on all sides. At low water the bay is dry, but as the tide rises it surrounds the island to a depth of perhaps four to six feet of water. On the flat top of this island in former days was built a strong palisaded and embanked pa, the refuge and stronghold of the Mokau people. On one side is a convenient spring of fresh water.
Ngati-Tama were apparently on such terms with the Mokau people about this time that they were admitted into the pa and were hospitably feasted, but at the same time my informant (old Rihari of Mokau) says that they were on a taua. What the exact circumstances were are not of much consequence. But during the feast two boys of the pa, named Pitonga and Nga-whakarewa-kauri, helped themselves to the food provided and set apart for Ngati-Tama. They were reproved for this, but again repeated the offence. This roused the wrath of Ngati-Tama, who—probably in seeking a take, or cause, against the pa, saw here their chance—knocked the unfortunate boys on the head. There was an immediate rush to arms and a desperate fight commenced between the two parties. But it was not of long duration; Ngati-Tama drove their hosts pell mell out of the pa and took possession of it. The parents of the boys, together with the whole of Ngati-Rakei of those parts, fled with the utmost expedition to the forest, which even to this day lines the shores of the little bay in which Motu-tawa is situated, and gradually made their way through the country to Otcorohanga in the Waipa valley—now a Station on the Main Trunk railway—to join some of their relatives there. Here the people settled down for some three years, not daring to return to their own country at Mokau, which was in occasional occupation of Ngati-Tama and some of the Ati-Awa tribes.
The exiles dwelt amongst their friends at Otorohanga, as has been said, for about three years, cultivating on the lands of others as manene, or strangers, and feeling generally uncomfortable through this fact. When the strong westerly winds used to blow from the coast the old people would listen to the far-distant sound of the breakers dashing on the shore—which they could hear from the ranges not far from Otorohanga—and sniff the salt-laden breezes of their old home. Then the people would greet and lament over the misfortunes which had taken them so far from their beloved homes. This feeling became so strong at last that the chiefs consulted together and determined to attempt the reconquest of their lands and homes.