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



The time had arrived when the tribes could muster a rau-ma-whitu, or 340 warriors, so preparations were made for tho attempted reconquest of their ancestral homes. They started off seaward, men, women, and children under the escort of the warriors', travelling by such ways as would render their course invisible to any of the enemy lurking about, until they arrived at the place where fishing-nets were formerly made, as referred to in the oracle. Here the whole party camped, and set to work on making the necessary net. They were very circumspect in all their actions. No fires wore lighted until after dark, and then only in hollows where the light would not be seen far off; no one was allowed to wander about, especially on hill tops; no noises were made, for fear that some of the enemy might be in the page 222vicinity. Whilst the majority of the people were engaged in constructing the net, between twenty and thirty young men were sent out in various directions to try and learn if there were any people in the neighbourhood, and especially towards the coast. On their return they reported that they had seen no sign of man, or fires in any part; apparently the country was desorted. Again, whilst the net was making, parties went out to fish, and to dig fern root (aruha), and saw no sign of man anywhere. After a few days at this place, and on the completion of the net, the whole party went to the coast to fish, and as they were successful, they felt that the oracle was about to be fulfilled, and success awaited them.

From this place the whole party returned to Kopua-kanakana, at the junction of the Manga-naha and Wai-o-ngana streams, just where Mr. Little's mill now stands, three-fourths of a mile E.N.E. from Sentry Hill Railway Station. They camped with the same precautions as before, and remained there two days. It was now decided to secure a retreat for the women and children, where they might be safe whilst the warriors worked out the scheme that had been formed. For this purpose the men removed to an old pa named Puke-kohatu, situated on the east bank of the Wai-o-ngana, an eighth of a mile inland from the Devon Road, on section 123, Waitara West. This place they completely fortified again, and on its completion, brought over the women and children; but still no fires were lit until after dark for fear of calling the enemy's attention. One can imagine the joy of these exiles as they returned to their old homes, and with what pleasure they would recognise each familiar feature of the landscape, associated as they were with the deeds of their ancestors. How each old man and woman would point out to the young people the various hills and streams, the pas and valleys, and tell their names, and the names of the owners of each, and of the deeds that won them in the distant past; how the old people would greet and tangi over the sight of wellknown burial places, where their forebears lay! We may, in imagination, see some old mother of the tribe standing on the parapet of the pa, with outstretched arms and hands, palms downwards, opening and shutting, as she communed with the spirits of her dead ancestors, or crooning some old time tangi in which the deeds of the departed were recited.

On the completion of the fortification of Puke-kohatu pa, and the settlement of the women and children there, the men all went to look at Omaru, another old pa, situated at a bend in the Wai-o-ngana river, three-fourths of a mile seaward of the present main road, on section 51, Waitara West district. Mr. Skinner says, "The rear of Omaru pa page 223rested on the high steep bank of the Wai-o-ngana river, and a stream named Wai-tara-iti. The front lay comparatively open with a gentle slope towards the north-east. The whole country, of course, was covered with a dense growth of flax, fern, and tutu with occasional patches of heavy scrub and bush." Finding it suitable to their purpose, they set to work that same night, and gathered together materials for putting it in a state of defence. It was part of their scheme, not to make permanent defences, indeed the palisades were built up of flax, tutu and other bushes, just like a temporary breakwind. As soon as all was ready, Koro-tiwha said, "Me tahu he ahi ki waho, ki te parae!" "Let a fire be lit outside on the plain." So a big fern fire was made, the smoke aseending up in a great column to the heavens—such a fern fire as would be seen all over the country for miles.

Now the Taranaki, or Nga-Potiki-taua tribe, from their pas around the present site of New Plymouth, of course saw this great column of smoke. The alarm was sounded, and a thousand warriors (says Heta) started forth to see who had originated the fire. They came along the beach as far as Puketapu, where the main body rested whilst a reconnoitring party was sent on in the direction of the smoke. These soon returned, and reported that a pa had been built and occupied at Omaru. The main body of Nga-Potiki-taua now advanced as far as Te Rewatapu (a place on the coast three-quarters of a mile south of Wai-o-ngana mouth) where they divided, one party going straight inland for Omaru, the other coming up the east side of Wai-o-ngana. When the taua reached Manga-where, a stream, they were seen by Ngati-Tawake and the other Ati-Awa in the pa, and preparations were accordingly made to give the taua a warm welcome. Mr. Skinner says, "The hostile taua (i.e., the Rewa-tapu party) crossed the Wai-o-ngana a little below its junction with Manga-o-raka, and (joining the other party) approached Omaru from the north-east side. Apparently they took little precaution to guard against ambuscade, or sudden attack"—and boldly advanced to the assault. As they approached Omaru, the chiefs ordered a man to ascend into the puwhara, or tower, of the pa to watch and report the approach of the enemy, whilst Koro-tiwha, the old chief in principal command, sat himself on the tihi, or summit, of the pa in order to direct matters. In Heta's account, as written down in shorthand by me, now follows a number of questions by Koro-tiwha and answers by the sentry in the tower, which need not be given in detail, for they are just such as were often asked in similar cases. The Maoris represent such an advance by a taua to attack a pa, as a rising tide, and the first answer of the sentry is to the effect that the water is up to his ankles, then his waist, then his neck, and so on. At last he page 224said, "A! up to my head!" which meant that the taua was at the pa. Then Koro-tiwha, springing up gave the command, and immediately the temporary defences of the pa were thrown down on top of the enemy, and the Ngati-Tawako dashed forth, coming down on top of the others; thus taking them at a disadvantage, and commenced the slaughter.

Nga-Potiki-taua were completely taken by surprise, and in the confusion and hurried rush of two strong parties of Ngati-Tawake on top of them, one hundred were slain on one side, one hundred on the other (says Heta). The taua fled, leaving great heaps of slain around the temporary defences of Omaru. Close on the heels of the flying taua came Ngati-Tawake, fresh after a long rest, and animated by the lust of revenge, engendered by the teaching of their old chiefs, whilst Nga-Potiki-taua were tired with a long march. The flight took the course to the beach, and as they flew along, their pursuers caught and killed them as they ran. This continued right along the beach to Te Awa-hahae, where a spurt was put on by the pursuers, and a large number of the enemy was killed at that place.

Koro-tiwha now thought that enough was accomplished for the present, so shouted out, "E aku teina! He kura!" "My brethren! Enough, we have obtained a valuable equivalent for our losses." But one of the Ati-Awa hapus, Ngati-Rangi, thought otherwise; they were, says Heta, conceited with their prowess and the success their arms had met with. So Koro-tiwha let them follow their own course, whilst he and Ngati-Tawake remained to rest after their exertions. Ngati-Rangi dashed after the retreating taua along the beach; but they were not nearly so numerous now. Nga-Potiki-taua, seeing that the pursuers were reduced in number, turned and charged back on them, with the result that Ngati-Rangi received a severe repulse, and commenced, in their turn, to retreat. Whanui, directly he saw their own relatives falling, sprung up and shouted out to Ngati-Tawake, who were resting, "E aku teina! tatou ano tatou, ratou ano ratou." "O brethren! we are ourselves, they are theirselves;" or in other words, "blood, is thicker than water." Ngati-Tawake arose at the words, and within a very short time Nga-Potiki-taua were again fleeing for very life along the hard beach of the sea-shore, the laggards falling under the patus of their pursuers. The pursuit continued up to Puketapu, and beyond. By this time the Nga-Potiki-taua were very much reduced in number, and a long line of dead marked the course of the pursuit along the beach. Night was now coming on as the fight reached the point beyond Puke-tapu, and at that time another desperate struggle took page 225place after the two parties had stopped a while to take breath. Hence this particular incident is called "Ra-ka-taha," the descending Sun.

But the Ati-Awa had not yet had enough; they followed up the enemy, killing as they went until they reached the "Wai-whakaiho river, by which time it was quite dark, and, moreover, the tide was nearly high, causing much fatigue in following over the soft sands. So the killing ended there, and the Ati-Awa people returned towards their home, gathering up as they went the spoil in the shape of weapons, ornaments, etc., which were taken home in triumph.

Thus was the first stage in the reconquest of Nga-Motu accomplished. My informant says, "Te Ati-Awa have to thank Ngati-Tawake for enabling them to return to their old homes." From this time onwards they began to come out from their hiding places in the depth of the forest, and occupied the country. For the power of Nga-Potiki-taua had been broken, indeed they were so reduced that the name as that of a powerful hapu of Taranaki had ceased in the land. It is said that very few of the one thousand warriors recrossed the Wai-whakaiho river after the fighting along the beach.

In order to assist in fixing the date of the events related above, the following table is quoted. There were many ancestors of the name Tawake, before Whanui-nui the joint conqueror with Koro-tiwha is reached:—

Table No. XLVII.

Table No. XLVII.

page 226

As Koro-tiwha and Whanui-nui were quite old men, and Ranga-pu young, when the conquest took place, we may fix an approximate date for the event at 1760.

Mr. John White, in his "Lectures," p. 218,* refers to an incident of the struggle: "I have said the priest's word was authoritative where that to which it referred would allow the influence of the gods to be inferred; but the opposite applied if the express wish of the priest, and not an omen of the gods was given in his command. An instance will show this:—The ariki and priest of Ngati-Awa, at Taranaki, on the eve of a battle between that tribe and the Taranaki tribe, uttered a contemptuous expression against a hapu of his own people, which was, 'Whoever thought that men who fish with a rod could be brave in battle?' This priest, Te Rakino, uttered it to the hapu of which Koro-tiwha was chief. When the battle did take place and was raging, Koro-tiwha held up his spear and called out to his hapu, 'My sons, the sign of blood!' At which sign they all withdrew from the combat, and Te Rakino and his party were routed by Taranaki. Then Koro-tiwha turned the fortunes of the day by attacking again and securing the victory."

* Published in T. W. Gudgeon's "History and Traditions of the. Maori," 1885.