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

Ngati-Tama Tribe

Ngati-Tama Tribe.

We now come to the Taranaki tribes proper—that is, those tribes that live within the Province of Taranaki, from the Mokau river southwards —but we must be careful to remember that there is a tribe known by that name (i.e. Taranaki) living further south, though the outside tribes always refer to this congeries of tribes as Taranaki. Ngati-Rakei occupied the country around the mouth of the Mokau, and as far south as Mohaka-tino river, a distance of two miles; but they were so mixed up with their southern neighbours, the Ngati-Tama, as often to be confused with them. Indeed it would be difficult to separate them, for inter-marriage was frequently taking place. The lands of the Ngati-Tama tribe extended from Mohaka-tino river to a place named Titoki, two miles south of Puke-aruhe pa. They thus had a sea frontage of about fourteen miles, and their boundaries extended inland until they were met by those of Ngati-Hāua,* of Upper Whanganui, and with whom they were often allied in war and also in marriage.

* Not to be confounded with Ngati-Haua, of Matamata in the Thames Valley, which is a Waikato tribe, and the most famous man of which was Wiremu Tamihana, the so called King Maker.—See his life by Judge J. A. Wilson.

page 112

This tribe takes its name from Tama-ihu-toroa, great grandson of Tama-te-kapua, captain of the 'Arawa' canoe. Of this I have no proof beyond the statements of the people, confirmed by those of Rotorua. But if it is so, it probably means that there is a considerable amount of tangata-whenua blood in the tribe, and that one of the more forceful descendants of the heke has, as so often occurs, managed to leave his name as principal progenitor of the tribe.

Te Whetu, a well informed man of Te Ati-Awa, says that Ngati-Tama absorbed the remnant of Ngai-Tara-pounamu, left behind at Wai-iti when the rest of the tribe migrated to D'Urville Island; and that Ngati-Tama were also closely allied by marriage with Ngati-Toa and Ngati-Rarua, of Kawhia, a fact which accounts for their allowing Te Rauparaha and his men, with Tu-whare's expedition in 1819, to pass through their territories unobstructed. Tama-ohua, Ue-rata and Ue-marama were also noted ancestors of Ngati-Tama. Whatever may be their origin it is quite clear that Ngati-Tama has been at one time one of the bravest tribes in New Zealand, whose warriors have over and over again hurled back the strength of Waikato on the numerous occasions, when the latter attempted to force the passage to the south, past the Kawau and other strongholds. Their territory is a mere strip of level fertile land along the coast, and a very large extent of broken forest country behind, and includes the White Cliffs, or Pari-ninihi, 900 feet high, that barred the way to hostile incursions from the north—even if they passed the strongholds held by Ngati-Tama on the far side of the Cliffs, a feat not often accomplished. Ngati-Tama, in fact, held the keys of Taranaki, and they proved themselves very capable of doing so.

Their territory has very many fine pas in it, the most celebrated of which have been mentioned in Chapter I. There is another named Puke-kari-rua just about a mile south of Mokau, standing as a peak on the range which rises some 800 feet from the coastal flats, that is remarkable for the number of terraces still very plainly to be seen from the high road. There are eight of these terraces, each one of which, in former times, would be palisaded. It was built by a chief named Tawhao in the long ago.

Immediately on the south bank of Mokau rises a fine hill of a conical shape, some 500 feet high. This is named Puke-kahu, and on it in former days was lit the bale-fire which denoted the coming of hostile forces from the north and gave warning to many a pa to be on the alert as far south as Puke-aruhe.

The Pou-tama rock, which gives its name to that part of the district, and which has been the scene of many a fierce encounter as page 113will be related later on, has a tradition relating to its origin which partakes of the same character as so many recited in Maori legends in connection with their belief in the efficacy of karakia, and also with the movements of mountains. Pou-tama was a man of the olden time—quite possibly belonging to the nebulous period of the tangata-whenua—whose present representative is the rock, or reef, of that name. Outside it lies another reef named Paroa, also named after a man. On one occasion Poutama paid a visit to the Taranaki people living near Warea, some twenty-five miles south of New Plymouth (and which was a large palisaded village in the early fifties, situated on the sea coast. The name is now applied to a European village on the main road*). At a place named Tai-hua near there, Pou-tama beheld out at sea a reef of rocks shaped somewhat like a canoe with men in it, and off which was an excellent fishing ground. This rock was much coveted by Pou-tama, whose own coast was defective in such places. (The fact is, that the rocks around Warea are volcanic and capable of withstanding the wear and tear of the sea; whilst those along the coast at Pou-tama are either sandstone or papa, which does not resist the action of the waves to near so great an extent.) On his return to his own home, Pou-tama decided to apply his powers of magic to the removal of the rock to his own coast, and thus enjoy in perpetuity a good fishing ground. Meanwhile, Paroa, who dwelt at the Kawau pa, a little to the south of Pou-tama's home, heard of the fame of these rocks, and decided to forestall the latter and secure them for himself. So Pou-tama set to work, using his most powerful incantations, to induce the removal of the rock, and made a line and hook capable of being thrown far out to sea to catch the rock as it came along. But Paroa 'went one better.' He, likewise, recited his karakias and prepared his line, first taking a bone of one of his ancestors and lashing it to his hook, thus imbuing it with far more power than the hook of Pou-tama. The rock, induced thereto by the power of the karakias, left its original site, and came sailing along the coast, where Paroa and Pou-tama were awaiting it. The former cast his line, and lo! the rock was caught, and lies there still—which is the proof of the story! It is rarely seen however; only in heavy gales and big waves, when the tides are very low, does it appear to mortal vision, and then it is an

* I may remark here, for the sake of recording the fact, that on an excursion to Warea about 1853, I noticed a vast number of paengas, or boundaries of individual lands, which crossed the native track, and ran inland from the coast. These were all marked by flat boulders set on edge, and running in straight lines. Though then quite over-grown by high flax, they denoted a former dense population

page 114aitua, or evil omen, denoting that one of the Ngati-Mania-poto tribe is about to depart for the Reinga. Such is the story told by Te Oro, of Te Kawau. But just why the appearance of this tupua rock is an aitua to the tribe named, and not to Te Oro's tribe, is not explained.

There will be much to say about Ngati-Tama later on; in the meanwhile we pass on to their neighbours on the south.