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

Ngati-Ira of Port Nicholson

Ngati-Ira of Port Nicholson.

Here I interrupt Mr. Shand's narrative for a moment. Kekerengu, together with his father Whanake, were at that time the principal chiefs of Ngati-Ira, and the latter lived at a place called Komanga-rautawhiri —a point on the coast a little to the south of Titahi Bay, a place about one and a-half miles south of Porirua Harbour. All of the country around Porirua was Ngati-Ira land originally, and they had many settlements about the harbour, though very few pas; indeed, they do not seem to have used them to auything like the same extent as the tribes living a little to the north of them. The place where Whanake lived was a terrace overlooking Cook's Straits, from which he could see the vessels as they passed, and (a little later than this date) when ships began to trade for flax along this coast the sailors used to visit Whauake ut his home —his kainya-laketake. Ships anchored under the lee of Mana Island—just opposite to Komanga-rau-tawhiri. Whanake had page 409two other names, Huka and Tai-oru-a-Tapu, and his wife was the celebrated beauty, Tamai-rangi—a lady of the Ngati-Kuia tribe of Aropaoa Island, Queen Charlotte Sound. Immediately to the south of Komanga-rau-tawhiri is a cave called after her, Te Ana-a-Tamai-rangi; again, a sand-bank in Porirua Harbour is called the food-store of this lady—Te Whata-kai-a-Tamai-rangi. She is said to have been as great a chieftainess as Hine-matioro of Tologa Bay. When she travelled from village to village she was never allowed to walk, for her male attendants always carried her. On public occasions she was handsomely dressed in the finest mats, with plumes of albatross feathers in her hair, and a long and richly-carved taiaha in her hand.

Te Kekerengu (or Taiaha) was the son of these two people, and was said to have been an exceedingly handsome man. He lived a little above Te Ana-paura—a point about a mile south of Komanga-rau-tawhiri—with an outlook over Cook's Straits. Te Kekerengu was one of those who aided in the naval demonstration against Kapiti Island, already referred to, but at the time we write of, or, maybe, it was a little later on, according to Te Karihana of Ngati-Toa, there was peace between the latter tribe and Ngati-Ira; for at one time Ngati-Toa occupied all the north and north-west side of Porirua, whilst Ngati-Ira held the south side. But after a time the two tribes came to loggerheads again. Ngati-Ira were living in scattered villages and cultivations around Porirua, and had no large settlements. They used to be annoyed by their neighbours—the Ngati-Toa—helping themselves to the food, using their fishing places, and generally carrying matters with a high hand. On one occasion some of Ngati-Ira, being annoyed beyond endurance, killed somo of the Ngati-Toa, and this led to reprisals on the part of the latter, ending in most of Ngati-Ira being slaughtered. When Whanake heard of the preparations of Ngati-Toa to exterminate them, he said, "Waiho kia awatea, kia kitea hoki e taua te riri o te Pakeha."—("Let us wait till daylight that we may see the kind of fighting of these Pakehas" —using the latter word to signify Ngati-Toa, because they fought with Pakeha, or European weapons. Whanake, however, was not killed at this time but a few years afterwards, in a raid on Kaikoura to avenge the death of his son.

About this same period also another great lady named Ngare-wai, who was either Ngati-Ira or Rangi-tane (my informant is not sure which), lived about Porirua, who was, like Tamai-rangi, very tapu, and had great influence over her people. She was taken prisoner on one occasion by Ngati-Toa, and on her captors assigning burdens to her to carry, they found she could not do the work, but was always sitting down resting, whilst the shoulder straps of flax cut into her arms. Her page 410fellow prisoners of her own tribe, as far as they were allowed, took all her load from her. It was then that Ngati-Toa discovered what a great lady she was. She had never in her life been accustomed to carry burdens and consequently after this they treated her better. On one occasion Ngare-wai sat on a place which belonged to Topeora, Te Rau-paraha's niece—herself a chieftainess of great rank. She was reproved by Ngati-Toa for doing so, as Topeora's seat was tapu. "O!" said some of Ngare-wai's people, "Topeora's tapu is as nothing compared to that of Ngare-wai. Topeora has to cover her eyes in passing Nga-whatu (Brothers Islets, Cook's Straits) but Ngare-wai has no occasion to do so." It was the custom for all strangers to cover their eyes and not look at the islets in crossing the Straits, or the result would be a sudden storm. Ngare-wai's mana was sufficient to disregard this custom.

Tamai-rangi's influence was very great; it extended along the shores of Cook's Straits from the Ngati-Rua-nui boundaries on the north as far as Maunga-rake (near Masterton), in the Wairarapa country, where her sphere was bounded by that of Hine-matioro of Tologa Bay. The respect and almost veneration in which she was held must have been due to her character as well as her high descent. She was a direct descendant of Ira, the eponymous ancestor of Ngati-Ira.

To continue Mr. Shand's narrative: (After this visit of Ngati-Tama and Ngati-Kahungunu to Te Kekerengu and Ngati-Toa at Porirua), "Te Poki, one of the principal chiefs of Ngati-Mutunga, proposed to massacre the Ngati-Ira of Port Nicholson, otherwise they might, he was afraid, take the initiative and Ngati-Mutunga might suffer. Acting on this proposal a body of Ngati-Mutunga, with their tomahawks concealed, went to the Ngati-Ira kaingas, ostensibly on a visit of friendship. The moment having arrived, a Waikato chief of Ngati-Koroki, named Taiu, who had been adopted as one of the tribe of Ngati-Mutunga and had married Patu-kawenga's sister Tipi, gave the signal, `turn the edge' (huri kiko), and in an instant the slaughter of Ngati-Ira commenced. After a number had been slain, the remnant fled to Tapu-tē-ranga—the little islet outside Port Nicholson, in Island Bay."*

On this small islet was a pa in former times, and hither the remnant of Ngati-Ira fled for refuge; with them being their great chieftainess Tamai-rangi, but her husband Whanake was not there. Just before Ngati-Mntunga succeeded in capturing the island pa, her people carried

* See Plate 13 which shown tho islet, but it is probably reduced somewhat in size since it was occupied as a pa.

page 411her off by canoe round Cape Te Rimu-rapa (Sinclair's Head) and Cape Te Rawhiti to a little bay named Ohariu, on Cook's Straits, due west of Wellington. Whilst here, she and her party were captured by some of Ngati-Mutunga, with some of her children, but they were not put to death. Dreading, however, that the usual fate would meet her, she asked her captors to be allowed to sing a farewell to her people and her lands. This lament was of so pathetic a nature* that it appealed to Te Rangi-haeata of Ngati-Toa, who begged Ati-Awa that she might be given to him, and, on their compliance, she and her children were taken to Kapiti Island, where they lived for some time, but eventually fled to the South Island.

Mr. Best has a note to the effect that when the island pa of Tapu-tē-ranga was besieged by Ngati-Mutunga, there was a chief of Ngati-Ira there named Te Wera, who effected his escape by canoe and eventually made his way as far south as Raki-ura, or Stewart's Island, where he died. I cannot say if this man is identical with the noted. Te Wera who so distinguished himself in Otago; but Ngati-Ira and Ngai-Tahu of those parts were closely related. Ngati-Ira had two pas —the first on the south side of Titahi Bay, just to the south of Porirua Harbour, named Koro-hiwa; and Te Pa-o-Kapo, just to the north side of that bay, the maioro of which are still to be seen.

In Ngati-Ira times there dwelt at O-te-rongo, between Island Bay and Cape Te Rawhiti, a famous ngarara, or taniwha, who, however, was not of the man-eating variety. Whenever any traveller lit a fire near its abode, the monster came up from the sea and extinguished the fire and always, directly afterwards, arose a great tonga or south-easter. Such is one of the old-time stories that give an interest to these places when they are known.

Te Kume-roa tells me that Ngati-Ira killed a Ngati-Kahungunu chief at a spot a little to the east of Pencarrow Head, and in the fight a valuable greenstone mere was lost there. It has often been searched for but never found.

The details of the relations between the various tribes at about this period are somewhat difficult to make out, but it is clear that Tamai-rangi's son, Te Kekerengu, lived in friendship with Ngati-Toa whilst his people were being massacred by Ngati-Toa's allies, and it was probably due to this friendship that his mother, Tamai-rangi, was saved.

* Enquiries have failed to obtain a copy of this lament.