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Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century:

Te Roto-a-Tara

Te Roto-a-Tara.

Before relating the circumstances which led to Nga-Puhi appearing in this part of New page 289 Zealand, it may prove interesting to state the origin of the name Te Roto-a-Tara, as it is connected with very early times in New Zealand. The translation is: “The Lake of Tara,” and it was named after a famous ancestor, of whom, however, little is known. His name is also seen in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, the native name of Port Nicholson, where the City of Wellington stands. Both of these names having the active form of “of,” i.e., “a,” show that Tara is accredited with the formation of the lake and the harbour, or that he discovered them. The best genealogies show that Tara lived twenty-eight generations ago, and he was the ancestor from whom the ancient tribe of Ngai-Tara, or Ngati-Tara, derive their name. This tribe formerly inhabited the districts around Wellington, but were forced by the incoming Ngati-Ira and other northern tribes to migrate to the South Island many generations ago, and the tribe is no longer in existence.

The native tradition as to Te Roto-a-Tara is as follows:–

“The name of Port Ahuriri is ‘Te Whanganui-o-Rotu’ (or Orotu), and Ahuriri is the name of the mouth of that harbour where its waters rush out into the ocean. Here-taunga is the name of the main land adjoining the harbour. This is the origin of the name Te Roto-a-Tara: Tara was the first to arrive at Te Whanganuia-Tara, or Port Nicholson, and there are very many traditions about him. In the days of old, page 290 before Kahu-ngunu came to Ahuriri from the north, from Te Au-pouri (North Cape)* the country was occupied by Tara, and Kahungunu and his people intermarried with the descendants of Tara. In those days Tara was an exceedingly tapu man, and moreover very greedy, and preserved all the lakes Roto-a-Tara, Poukawa, and Te Roto-a-Kiwa for the sake of the wild birds and fish, which he appropriated to his own use. When the ducks and other birds were fat in their season, Tara’s people caught large quantities of them for his eating. Te Roto-a-Kiwa he used to preserve for his own bathing, and here he performed his ablutions, for he was very tapu, and no man might eat of the birds, etc., caught in waters where he had bathed, so he retained this one lake for bathing in. It was in consequence of his incantations that no birds or fish would live in Te Roto-o-Kiwa, even down to the present time, or at least to the days when the mana-Maori still overspread the land.

“In the days when Tara lived in the Heretaunga district, there was a famous taniwha, or monster named Awarua-o-Porirua, that dwelt

* This statement, as to the celebrated ancestor of Ngati-Kahu-ngunu coming from so far north, will probably not be accepted by that tribe. But Colonel Gudgeon has pretty clearly shown that Kahu-ngunu’s father, Tamatea, did migrate in early days from the neighbourhood of Mangonui. No ancestor of the Maori people has led to more discussion than this same Tamatea. The intermarriage of these northern Ngati-Kahu-ngunu with the original people of Te Roto-a-Tara referred to is probably that of Kahu-kura-nui, son of Kahungunu, of the former tribe, with Tu-te-ihonga of the original people.

page 291 at Porirua, near Wellington. Once upon a time this taniwha and a friend of his started on their travels, coming northwards by way of Wairarapa, until they arrived at Te Roto-a-Tara, killing many men and eating them on their way. They came by way of Porangahau, and at that place fell in with the original people of the country, the people ‘who grew up there,’ and who owned these islands before the arrival of the Maoris here. These people were called Rae-moiri, or Upoko-iri; they arose in wrath at the incursion of the two taniwhas, and gave them battle, killing one of them, whilst Awaruao-Porirua fled for his life, and escaped to Te Roto-a-Tara; his friend was eaten by the Raemoiri people.

“When Awarua-o-Porirua arrived at Te Roto-a-Tara he commenced to eat the birds, eels and fish which Tara had strictly preserved for himself. Tara was very much exercised at this unwarrantable proceeding, and he made up his mind to destroy his taniwha enemy, and so prevent him from interfering with the man (productions) of the lakes. So Tara assaulted the taniwha and defeated him, but whilst they were engaged in their fight the monster, with its tail, lashed the sands and gravel of the lake together in a heap, so that it became a sandbank, and eventually an island, in the very place where the taniwha’s cave was originally situated, which is now called Te Awarua-o-Porirua. On his defeat, the taniwha returned to his own home, near Wellington.

page 292

“In after times the Pane-iri* people dwelt at Te Roto-a-Tara, for it was their own country, and then came the descendants of Kahu-ngunu, who, after a time, claimed for themselves the exclusive rights to the productions of these lakes, which led to fighting, and then the Raemoiri people came to the assistance of the Pane-iri. The descendants of Kahu-ngunu had the intention of ousting the true owners of the soil together with the Pane-iri tribe. They besieged the pa in the lake, and took it from the Pane-iri people, whose chief at that time was Tanguru. The latter attempted to escape on a small mohiki, or raft, but being encumbered with his heavy clothing—parawai, kaitaka, and topuni mats—he sank. When the people of Kahu-ngunu saw him drowning they fetched a marau-tuna, or eel rake, and dragged for and secured his body, and eventually buried it in the sacred cave of his ancestors. The particular people who rescued the body of Tanguru are called to this day Ngati-marau, from that circumstance.

“Some of the Rae-moiri and Pane-iri people after this fled the district, whilst some remained and live there still.”

Such is the Maori story of the Te Roto-a-Tara, down to the early years of last century. The island, which was formed in the struggles between Tara and the taniwha, subsequently became a pa of considerable strength, which has often been besieged, and sometimes taken.

* Now called Ngati-Upoko-iri.

page 293 We have seen that the Ngati-Whatua and Waikato raid, called “Te Amio-whenua,” took the pa in 1820–21, and that was probably the third time it had fallen. We will now give the native account of some of the later sieges which properly belong to this narrative, as Nga-Puhi were engaged in the operations.