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Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century:

Te Whetu-mata-rau, 1820–21

Te Whetu-mata-rau, 1820–21.

The following particulars were told me by Te Hati-te-Hou-ka-mau and others in 1899:—

Te Wera’s first expedition returned to the Bay of Islands in April, 1821, having been absent for sixteen months, so it would probably be in the middle of 1820 that they arrived off page 168 Te Kawakawa Bay. As the Nga-Puhi fleet approached, there was much consternation amongst the people of the place, for they had already become acquainted with the nature of the Nga-Puhi expeditions in 1818, when both Te Morenga and Hongi-Hika had passed along the coast devastating the country and killing or taking prisoner every one they came across. The people hastily provisioned their pas, Okau-whare-toa, immediately above the mouth of the Awa-tere River, on the east side—a pa of no great size, situated on a broad spur that comes down from the wooded mountains above, and also their other stronghold, Te Whetu-mata-rau, a much stronger fortress, on the west side of the river, and the summit of which is about 700 feet above the sea. This place is very strong by nature, being surrounded by inaccessible cliffs, excepting in one, or perhaps two, places. It is about 10 acres in extent on top, and nearly flat. Here the people had cultivations of kumaras, &c., whilst a spring of water rises quite close to the top. Very little work in the way of scarping would make the place impregnable, and such Pomare and Te Wera found it.

Nga-Puhi first turned their attention to Okau-whare-toa pa, which fell to their arms, and a great slaughter followed, whilst numerous prisoners were taken. Amongst the latter was Rangi-i-paea, a woman of very high rank, who afterwards became the wife of Pomare, and went back to the north with him. She already page 169 was married to Toko-mauri, and their descendant was the well-known chief, Henare Potae, as will be seen below:—

Nga-Puhi then attempted to take Te Whetumata-rau, but its impregnable cliffs presented a much more formidable task than Okau-wharetoa. They tried to take the place more than once, but always failed, whilst the besieged amused themselves by rolling down stones on the beleaguers. Seeing that the pa was not to be taken easily, Nga-Puhi occupied themselves in eating up the enemies’ stores of provisions on the Araroa Flats below the pa, where the present village of that name now stands. My informant, Hati, had forgotten most of the incidents of the siege, but he says his people remained cooped up in the pa for nine months, whilst Nga-Puhi lived on their cultivations below. It is probable that the siege did not last so long as this, but it certainly was of some months’ duration.

page 170

Tiring of this inaction, and provisions becoming scarce, Pomare decided to try what strategy would effect. Nga-Puhi now made all preparations for departure; the canoes were launched and provisioned, and to the great joy of Te Aitangi-a-Tu-whakairi-ora tribe, the fleet put to sea, and gradually disappeared behind Matakaoa Point, some eight miles to the north-west. Here they were lost to view from the pa, apparently on their way back to the Bay. In the meantime, so soon as Nga-Puhi had gone, all the people of the pa descended to the flats below to gather in the little food left by the invaders, and soon scattered to their ordinary homes amongst their cultivations, congratulating themselves on their escape from their savage foes.

But Pomare had other objects in view. After rounding Mata-kaoa Point the fleet anchored and remained there—some say one night, some three—and then returning to Te Kawakawa in the dark, landed just before daylight, and there falling on his unsuspecting enemies, slaughtered immense numbers of them, and took many prisoners, who were carried away to the Bay of Islands.

The morehu, or survivors, of Te Aitanga-a-Tu-whakairi-ora, fearing further hostile incursions of Nga-Puhi, now abandoned the Kawakawa district as it had become a most undesirable place of residence, being so open to attack by sea, and retreated to the Taitai mountains, inland of Waiapu, where they lived page 171 for some years in the fastnesses of that broken country.

On Pomare’s return to the Bay in April, 1821, with his vast number of prisoners and his new wife, Rangi-i-paea, he became—as my informants say—desirous of introducing the Gospel to his late enemies and of making peace with them. Such is the Ngati-Porou story, but, judging by Pomare’s subsequent adventures along the coast—at Whakatane, Te Kaha, &c. —it was not the Gospel of peace he had become enamoured with, at any rate so far as others outside the Ngati-Porou were concerned.

We will now return to the doings of Te Wera and Nga-Puhi at Poverty Bay.