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

Appendix to Chapter XII. — Defeat of the northern tribes at Nga-Weka. — (?) 1820

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Appendix to Chapter XII.
Defeat of the northern tribes at Nga-Weka.
(?) 1820.

Repeated, but unavailed, attempts have been made to determine the date of the above event. One good authority states it occurred during the Tu-whare—Te Rau-paraha expedition of 1820, and he is corroborated by another, but others are uncertain. As it will not do to omit an event of such importance, and especially as it was one of the few occasions on which the Taranaki tribe appear to have obtained revenge for many defeats at the hands of the Northern tribes, the account is inserted here.

Thanks to the care of the Taranaki Scenery Preservation Society, the old pa of Nga-weka is in an excellent state of preservation, and is interesting as a type of fortification not uncommon in the district round Cape Egmont, where the otherwise easy slope of the country from Mount Egmont to the sea, is broken up by volcanic hillocks, due no doubt to small explosions on the surface of the lava as it flowed from the mountain. The pa stands on the south bank of the Hangatahua, or Stony river, about three-quarters of a mile inland from the bridge on the Great South Road. It is now covered with a secondary growth of timber, which has served to preserve the many maioro, or ramparts in their integrity. The pa stands on two hills, the tops of which are separated about seventy yards, and has perpendicular cliffs along the river about thirty feet high.

On first hearing of the approach of a hostile force, the Ngamahanga hapu, of Taranaki, all assembled to consider what steps should be taken to meet it. Some proposed that each hapu should remain in its own pa and await attack, but one of the chiefs of Ngaweka arose and said, "Kia kotahi ano taringa hei ngaunga ma te hoa riri." ("Let there be only one car for the enemy to bite.") This was finally agreed to by all, so the various hapus gathered together in Nga-weka to await the enemy, the chiefs being Tama-piri, Tu-te-whakaiho, and Te Ra-whakahuru. So soon as all were assembled in page 313the pa, parties were sent out to obtain wood from a place celebrated for trees suitable for spear-making; and they obtained large quantities, many of great length (hualas). At the time of the attack there were eighty warriors within the northern part of the pa, one hundred and forty in the southern part. The taua advanced and commenced to lay siege to the pa. They are said to have been under the chiefs Kahunui and Wherori, supposed by one of my informants to belong to the Mauiui hapu of Waikato—though no such name is known to me. Other accounts state that the force was under Tu-whare, or possibly part of Tu-whare's people, and that they were assisted by some of the Puke-tapu and Puke-rangiora hapu of Te Ati-Awa.

After some time the attacking taua decided to assault the place, at a spot between the two hillocks where the ground is lower, and where was one of the entrances into the marae of the pa, situated in the hollow and overlooked by the ramparts of both pas. Here was a confined space, some fifty feet by twenty-five feet, leading out to the cliff overhanging the river. The Nga-mahanga people on learning that an attack was to take place, decided to allow the enemy to enter and occupy this narrow space. As soon as they had all gathered there, the warriors from both pas rushed down, and with their long spears killed many of the enemy. Then closing in on them, a desperate hand to hand fight took place, in which the enemy could do little, hampered as he was by the confined space. Seeing defeat imminent, the northern taua found only one way of escape open to them, and this was along the deep ditch leading out to the cliff. Hastening along this, they were closely followed by Nga-mahanga, until all were gathered on the edge of the perpendicular cliff. The pressure from behind soon drove the foremost rank over the cliff, where most of them were killed by the fall on to the boulders of the Hanga-tahua river, whilst Nga-mahanga harried and hustled those in the rear until the whole body of the attacking force was precipitated into the bed of the river, until, as is said, there was a bridge of dead and dying bodies across the river, over which a few of the defeated made their escape to the north bank of the river, and to the hill where Mr. W. Grey's house now stands, and there passed the ensuing night in lamenting their losses, departing for their homes the following morning. The people of the pa hauled up the dead bodies by aid of supplejack ropes, and then enjoyed the usual feast. The following men of rank in the northern taua were killed here: Kahu-nui, Kuri (or Kurukuru), and Rori (or Wherori)—another account adds Rakatau to the number of slain.

For some particulars of the above affair I am indebted to Mr. W. Grey of Okato.