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Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century:

Matakitaki, May, 1822

Matakitaki, May, 1822.

It has already been stated that Hongi-Hika’s object in visiting England in 1820–21, was to obtain a large supply of arms with which to wipe out the defeats his tribe—Nga-Puhi– page 225 had suffered at the hands of the southern tribes. One of these defeats was at Rahongaua,* in which the Waikato tribes under Te Kanawa, and some of the Ngati-Paoa tribe under Kohi-rangatira had attacked Nga-Puhi and beaten them. The date of this event I have been unable to fix. Again, at the taking of Te Totara pa at the Thames in December, 1821, some of the Waikato people had assisted NgatiMaru in the defence, and it was supposed had been instrumental in the killing of the two young Nga-Puhi chiefs, Tete and Pu. It is stated that some years before this period, a young relative of Hongi’s had been adopted by Te Ao-o-te-rangi of Kawhia (also a relative through a common ancestor of many generations back) and that on attaining manhood this young man—named Haranui—married into the Ngati-Koata hapu of Ngati-Toa of Kawhia. In a battle fought at Te Waro, between the above tribes and Waikato a few years previously to this period, Hongi’s relative was killed: and thus this death became an additional reason for attacking Waikato. The fight at Te Waro took place near the present town of Kawhia, before Te Rauparaha migrated to Cook Strait. Here then, were sufficient takes for Hongi Hika to undertake the punishment of Waikato, and to that end he rallied his forces at the Bay of Islands for an expedition to the tino kohanga, or “very nest” of Waikato within their own territories,

* Somewhere in the neighbourhood of Whangarei.

page 226 in the early part of 1822, or not long after the return of his forces from Te Totara.

On the 15th February, 1822, the Missionaries at the Bay record the fact that great preparations were then under way for an expedition against Waikato—whither the refugees from Mau-inaina had fled—to avenge the deaths of Tete and Pu, killed at Te Totara. Many hundreds of warriors assembled at the Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, from distant parts, to join the Nga-Puhi people of the Bay, so soon as their canoes were ready, and the intention was that this should be one of the greatest expeditions yet sent from the Bay.

“Missionary Register,” 1822, page 351: In a letter from the Rev. S. Leigh, dated 26th February, 1822, he says: “Hongi-Hika and his party have killed more than 20 slaves since their return from war (Te Totara), most of whom they have roasted and eaten. He and his friends are at war again. Since I landed here (last week in January) not less than 1,000 fighting men have left the Bay for the Thames (i.e., Waikato), and not less than 2,000 more are near us, who are preparing to march (embark) in a few days to the same place. Hongi-Hika is at the head of this party and will go with them to battle.”

The expedition under Hongi-Hika left on the 25th February, and on the 27th March news was received that two of the canoes which formed the rear-guard of the fleet had been destroyed with their crews. They had gone ashore some page 227 where to obtain fern-root for food, when they were surprised. It is not known where this occurred, or by whom the canoes were taken, but it is probable that some of the Ngati-Whatua living about Mahurangi were the assailants.

A considerable number of Ngati-Whatua were living in Waikato at this time, besides most of the Ngati-Paoa tribe. It is evident that the Waikato people expected and dreaded this visit from Nga-Puhi, for—it is said—the whole of the tribes which come under that name had assembled at Matakitaki, a very large pa situated at the junction of the Manga-piko stream with the Waipa river, and about a mile and a-half north of the present township of Alexandra or Pirongia, as it is now called, besides a great many of the Ngati-Mania-poto tribe. There were three pas in one, called respectively Matakitaki, Taura-kohia and Puketutu, with steep, almost precipitous, slopes down to the two rivers, and with a very large and deep ditch cutting off the pa from the plain on the east side. The native accounts say that they numbered ten thousand people in the pa. No doubt this number is exaggerated, but as most of the people from Manukau and Waikato were there the pa must have been very populous.*

* Rev. W. R. Wade passed Matakitaki in February 1838; it was then vacated. He learned that it had contained 5,000 inhabitants at the time of Hongi’s attack. The Missionaries in 1834 estimated that the Waikato tribes could turn out 6,580 fighting men.

page 228

Hongi’s fleet came by the usual route, first up the Tamaki inlet, at the head of which—at Otahuhu—they hauled their canoes over into the Manukau, and after crossing this they dragged them over Te-pae-o-Kai-waka, the portage between the Waiuku creek and the Awaroa stream running into the Waikato. The Waikato tribes, in anticipation of this event, had felled trees across the stream to stop the fleet, but these were cleared away, and in some places—which are pointed out still—Hongi-Hika had to cut short channels across sharp bends in the river to allow his canoes to pass. The native account says it took Hongi-Hika two months to clear the obstructions, but once clear he had the whole of the Waikato and Waipa rivers before him, along which it would not take many days’ paddling to reach Matakitaki. He was probably, therefore, before the pa about the middle of May, 1822. There was some skirmishing on the way up the Waipa, but no serious obstruction delayed Hongi-Hika in reaching the great pa, opposite to which he camped, on the west side of the Waipa, and from whence at a distance of not more than 100 yards or so guns could play on to the pa.

It is stated that very soon after fire was opened on the pa, many of the Waikato people, who were now for the first time to see the effect of guns, began to leave, and as the firing increased a panic seized them, and they retired in such numbers that they pushed one another off the narrow bridge over the great ditch, page 229 when a dreadful scramble for life ensued in which many hundreds of people were trodden to death.

Hoani Nahe, of the Thames, gives a graphic description of the scene, which is re-printed below. It will be found in the original at page 147 (Maori) of Mr. John White’s “Ancient History of the Maori,” vol. v.:

“Those who had at first fled across the ditch on the wooden bridge went in an orderly manner, but as the voice of the guns continued to speak it caused dread, and the fleeing ones in their wish to escape hustled each other in passing over the bridge. Thus many fell into the deep ditch. They could not, on account of its depth, get out again, and as the banks of the trench were perpendicular those who fell in were kept there. The first to fall in in their attempts to climb out were knocked back by others falling on them; and so it continued, some who attempted to climb up the bank and partly succeeded, were pulled back by others in their endeavours to escape. Some of those in the pa who were good jumpers tried to jump across the ditch, and, failing in the attempt, but catching hold of the opposite bank with their hands hung down with their legs dangling in the ditch, when those below seized hold of them as a means of aiding their own escape, thus bringing down those who had nearly succeeded. Many in the ditch, seeing their relatives escaping, cried out to them for help, but the fear was so great that all relation page 230 ship was forgotten in the dread that they too should be dragged into the trench. Thus, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, parents and children, called in vain to their relatives. The ditch soon became full, and those underneath were trodden to death or smothered by the others. Some who were in the ditch escaped into the Waipa river, where they were shot by Nga-Puhi.”

Nga-Puhi now assaulted the pa, and although the Waikato and their friends fought hard with their Maori weapons, they were soon overcome, being either killed or driven to flight, their enemies following up their advantage, killing and taking prisoners for many miles. The next day, however, Te Wherowhero* and Te Kanawa, two of the principal chiefs of Waikato, rallied some of their men and beat back Nga-Puhi to the pa.

At the time of the siege of Matakitaki, a large party of Waikato with some of their principal chiefs, was absent at Wai-kawau on the west coast some fourteen miles north of the Mokau river. On the news of the advance of Nga-Puhi, these people hastened back and

* Te Wherowhero was the supreme chief of all the Waikato tribes. He got his name from an incident that occurred at this time, though of course he had one before that. When Nga-Puhi camped on the west side of the Waipa river, opposite Matakitaki, someone spread out in the sun one of those brilliant red blankets, formerly so common but now never seen. This excited the imagination of Waikato so much, as an unknown and brilliant coloured garment, that their head chief took its descriptive colour, wherowhero, as his name.

page 231 joined in the defence of the pa, after the capture of which many of Waikato retreated to a place named Orongo-koekoeā, where they were again defeated by Nga-Puhi. Ngati-Maniapoto were not engaged in this affair.

In the chase after the flying Waikato, the Nga-Puhi force caught a large number of the principal women of the Ngati-Mahuta tribe of Waikato, near Orahiri; but, as Te Wherowhero and his party returned after the flight, they came suddenly on this party of Nga-Puhi and their prisoners, and killed the whole lot of them —about fifty in number—which went towards squaring the losses the Waikato suffered. This incident is known as “Hui-putea,” and Captain Mair kindly supplies some additional information, which is illustrative of Maori manners of that period. “As to Hui-putea, I am told this name was given—as the name implies — to the peculiar circumstances of the affair; and that the successful midnight surprise took place at Otorohanga, close to that fine kahi-katea tree near Ellis’ timber mills. It seems that after Matakitaki, the refugees, including Te Wherowhero fled inland, and meeting a chief of Ngati-Whakatere named Te Ota-pehi with his people near Rangitoto mountain at a place called Pamotumotu, Te Wherowhero asked him, “Tera ranei ahau e maru i a koe?” Can you shelter me, (i.e., avenge my wrongs), to which Te Otapehi replied, “Ae! ka maru koe i toku pureke; he kahu pitongatonga!” Yes, I will clothe you page 232 with an impervious and invincible garment!–I will assist you in obtaining revenge. Accordingly Te Ota-Pehi accompanied Te Wherowhero with a small band of tino toa (chosen warriors), and cautiously made their way down the valley of the Wai-pari, approching Otorohanga about dark. Here they met a woman who had escaped from Nga-Puhi who told them that a taua of between seventy and eighty strong had come up the Waipa valley from the direction of Matakitaki, taking a lot of prisoners ‘principally women’ at Orahiri, included amongst whom was one of great rank and beauty named Te Riu-toto. The Nga-Puhi had brought their captives to Otorohanga, and were then indulging in horrible excesses, feasting on the dead, and shamefully abusing poor Riu-toto. Te Wherowhero made the woman return to Nga-Puhi and convey a message to the captive women to the effect that they would be rescued as soon as the morning star rose, and in the meantime to exercise their arts of fascination on their captors to their utmost extent. The women did so, and during the night the small band of tangata-whenua approached near. At the crossing of the Waipa on the south-west side of the present township, near Mr. Mace’s house, they caught one of the Nga-Puhi who was starting off to plunder on his own account. Ere he could cry out his captors put his head under water and soon put an end to him. Cautiously surrounding the Nga-Puhi camp—where the enemy exhausted, weary, page 233 and unsuspecting were lying—Te Wherowhero and his maddened band closed in on them and before they could clear themselves from the embraces of these modern Delilahs, were stricken down never to rise again. Fully sixty of Nga-Puhi were thus accounted for, and the wholesome fear which this exploit induced into the invader’s hearts, made them listen to the mission of the Waikato chiefs, Te Kihirini and Te Kanewa-te-whakaete, who had been taken prisoners at Matakitaki” (as related below). “Riu-toto was captured at Ta-rakerake near the Orahiri mill dam. Only one of Nga-Puhi escaped from this surprise which was called “Hui-putea,” because the enemy was caught “all in one basket,” or heap, with the captured women mixed up with them.” The Waikato party had only one gun whilst nearly the whole of Nga-Puhi were thus armed.

Some of the Waikato chiefs killed at Matakitaki were Te Hiko, Te Ao-tu-tahanga, Hope, Hika, Whewhe, besides others.

After the Nga-Puhi had retired to their homes the Waikato tribe and their allies scattered to the fastnesses of the forests, most of them going to the Upper Mokau, where they lived for many years, owing to their fear of Nga-Puhi. It was here the late King Tawhiao, Te Wherowhero’s son, was born, somewhere about 1824; whilst Nga-Puhi appear to have returned straight back to the Bay, being satisfied for the time with the vengeance they had exacted. Some of the Ngati-Toa and Ngati page 234 Koata, Te Rauparaha’s tribes, were on a visit to Waikato at the time, and were killed in the fall of Matakitaki. The “Missionary Record” notes the fact that Rewa returned from this expedition on the 29th July, 1822, and from the context it appears that Hongi-Hika and the whole of the others were at the Bay a few days after, when he informed the Missionaries that he had “killed 1,500 people on the banks of the Waikato.”

I have often heard the Ngati-Whatua people describe the losses they suffered in this siege: indeed, they seemed to think the number killed was as great as at Te-Ika-a-ranga-nui a few years afterwards.

When leaving Matakitaki, Nga-Puhi had spared some few women and left them there, so as to open a way for making peace if Waikato wished it. One of these was the sister of Te Kanawa, named Pare-kohu, and another was his wife, named Te-Ra-huruake.

In the attack on Matakitaki it is said that some of the Ngati-Te-Ata tribe of Waiuku assisted Hongi-Hika, which is another instance of those combinations so incomprehensible to Europeans. On Hongi’s return, when they arrived at Te Kauri, a point in the Manukau harbour, near the heads, the ceremony of Whakatahurihuri was performed with the heads of the Waikato chiefs, which had been preserved. Mr. John White gives the following description of the custom: “We will now suppose the victorious war party on the return to page 235 their home, bearing with them the preserved heads of the great chiefs whom they have killed. Just on the borders of their own territory they dig a small hole for each; then all the people turn round towards the country from which they came, and the priests, each taking a head, repeats a song, to which all the warriors dance, and every time they leap from the ground the priests lift up the heads. This ceremony is called Whakatahurihuri (a turning round, a causing to look backwards), and is, as it were, a farewell from the heads to their own land, and a challenge to the defeated tribe to follow. The words of the song are these:—

Turn then, look back, look back!
And with a farewell glance,
Look on the road thou wast brought
From all that once was thine.
Turn then, look back, look back!

These holes are also to perpetuate the memory of the battle, and those who fell in it; and the ceremony is repeated at every subsequent halting-place.” Here at Te Kauri was performed the first Whakatahurihuri with the Waikato heads who fell at Matakitaki. The place is consequently sacred to Waikato, who would never land or stay there; “for, were they to do so, the spirits of their slaughtered friends would be sure to visit their impiety with death.”

On the 8th June, 1822, Mr. Francis Hall notes: “Tui, with his brothers, Korokoro and Te Rangi, and Korokoro’s son, William, arrived page 236 here (Keri Keri). Tui has been absent, fighting, for about two years, and has had many narrow escapes, and received many wounds. War seems to be his chief delight: he says when the people to the eastward have all been destroyed those to the northward will be attacked. He mentioned many of his marvellous deeds, and, amongst others, that on one occasion he was hemmed in, in a fortified place, for a considerable time, and had nothing to eat or drink for twenty days! His enemies appeared so confident of taking him that they prepared wood for roasting him; he was, however, relieved from his perilous situation by his friends from Mercury Bay. His face is tattooed all over, and he looks very thin. He purposes, it appears, to go again to war in about three months.”

On the 26th November died, at Waimate, Whatarau, one of the chiefs wounded at Matakitaki—his wife Tiki, hung herself, and two of his other wives were shot by Tahyree—(?) Tahiri—(?) Te Haere—his father—done, he said, to prevent them becoming the wives of others. Mr. Hall said of one of these unfortunates, that “she was the most beautiful and interesting woman I have seen in New Zealand.”

There is more than one tangi, or lament, for those who fell at Matakitaki, of which the following is one in which the causes of Hongi’s raid are referred to:—

Takiri ko te ata
Ka ngau Tawera, te tohu o te mate,
I huna ai nga iwi, ka ngaro ra-e!
page 237 Taku tuatara, o matua ra,
Ka tuku koutou.
Tuia e Kohi’ ki te kaha o te waka
Hei ranga i te mate.
Kei a Te Whare a Te Hinu.
Ka ea nga mate o te uri ra o Kokako.
E pai taku mate—
He mate taua kei tua o Manukau,
Kei roto o Kaipara, kei nga iwi e maha.
Kihai Koperu i kitea iho e au;
Tautika te haere ki roto o Tawa-tawhiti,
Mo Tu-hoehoe, mo Kaipiha ra, e pa!
Mo Taiheke i kainga hoet a e koe,
E kai ware ana ko Te Hikutu, ko te Mahurehure,
Haere ke ana, E Hika! E Hope! i a Te Rarawa
Tena Hongi-Hika, nana te hou-taewa
Huna kautia Waikato ki te mate.


Dart forth the rays of morning,
The morning star1 bites (the moon),
A token of disaster,
Presaging the death of the tribe.
Lost is my tuatara2 —thy parents,
Ye all consented that
Kohi3 should prepare the canoe,
To avenge your deaths.
’Twas Te Whare and Te Hinu
That avenged the wrongs
Of the descendants of Kokako,4
’Twere well for me to die
On battlefield beyond Manukau,
Or within the waters of Kaipara,
Amongst the numerous tribes,
Koperu5 was not seen by me.
Straight was the course to Tawa-tawhiti,6
Where Tuhoehoe and Kaipiha7 fell,
And Taiheke was eaten, paddling along,
As slaves are consumed,
The Hikutu and Mahurehure10 tribes,
O Hika! O Hope!8 Ye were killed by The Rarawa,
When Hongi-Hika brought the affliction9
That obliterated Waikato in death.

1 Tawera, or Venus, as the Morning Star, when it (or any other star) approached the moon it was a sign of coming disaster.

2 Tuatara, the great lizard, emblematical for a chief.

3 Kohi, abbreviated for Kohi-rangatira, a chief of Ngati-Paoa then living with Waikato.

4 The descendants of Kokako are with both Nga-Puhi and Waikato.

5 Koperu, killed at Mokoia, see ante.

6 Tawatawhiti, the name of a battle fought near Whangarei between Ngati-Paoa, of the Thames, and the Para-whau, of Whangarei, in which the latter were defeated.

7 Kaipiha, see ante, where, however, this incident is wrongly referred to as a battle, Kaipiha was a man.

10 Two tribes of Hokianga.

8 Names of two of the chiefs killed at Matakitaki.

9 Hou-taewa, said to be emblematical for muskets; taewa, an obsolete word for an affliction.