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Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century:


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IN the “Peopling of the North,”* a sketch of the history of the Ngati-Whatua tribe of Kaipara was given from the earliest times up to the close of the eighteenth century. The following account relates all that can be ascertained of the further history of that tribe up to 1840, when New Zealand became a British colony. Their history, from the close of the eighteenth century, became so mixed up with that of Nga-Puhi that both have to be treated together, especially so as the latter tribe takes by far the most prominent place. It was from the beginning of the nineteenth century that these Northern tribes—by which we generally mean Te Rarawa, Nga-Puhi, and Ngati-Whatua commenced those extensive warlike expeditions that finally led them to the extreme south of the North Island. In some of these raids, Ngati-Whatua were alone; in others they accompanied Nga-Puhi. But the facilities offered by the homes of the latter tribes—situated, as

* See Journal Polynesian Society, vol. v. and vi.

page 10 they were, on the north-east coast of New Zealand, where there were numerous excellent harbours—as places of shelter and refreshment to the whaling ships and flax traders, allowed Nga-Puhi to acquire muskets in numbers; and this was the great factor in inducing their numerous expeditions.

The visit of Captain Cook to New Zealand in 1768 and the following years, and those of subsequent voyagers during the latter part of the eighteenth century, introduced many changes into the country, which told on the people in various ways. For the first time the Maoris became acquainted with a white race far superior to themselves in all the arts and sciences—acquainted, that is, personally, for they have embalmed in their traditions the faroff recollection of a fairer race than themselves, which their ancestors encountered in some of their distant wanderings. Hence the name they gave the white man, pakeha, which means pale or fair. The immediate origin of their name for us is undoubtedly derived from Pakehakeha, a name for a mythical white race, otherwise called Turehu, or Patu-pai-arehe, and by many old Maoris said to be a name for a class of seagods, who were pale in complexion. These gods were also called Waraki, a name often applied formerly to white men. Maitai was another name given to the white man, which means “from the sea,” but it was also the name given to iron, indeed this is still the common name the Ure-wera and other tribes of the page 11 East Coast use, instead of the more general name, rino. Korako is another name applied to the Patu-pai-arehe (sometimes called fairies), and probably meant white originally, for it is also the Maori term for an Albino.* Tupua again is a name frequently given to white people, but this does not refer to their colour, but rather to their superior knowledge, strange ways and customs. It is a name given to anything out of the common, and is equally applicable to black people.

It is strange, but prior to the advent of the white man, the Maoris appear to have had an idea that they were to receive the visit of some strange race. The following is the prediction as told by Pangari, of Hokianga, somewhere about the year 1820. At that time Pangari was an old man, and he had heard the story when quite a child, as related by the old men of Nga-Puhi: “In the days of old when Maoi was alive, he told this story. Maoi was a tohunga, or priest, and when he approached his end he said to Nga-Puhi, ‘It will not be very long before I die, nor very long after I am dead, that a god will come on the crest of the wave, and ghosts (kehua) will be on his back. That god will be like the canoes in appearance, but he will be

* Hoani Marua, many years ago, explained that the original meaning of Orakei-korako, the name of the hot springs on the Waikato river, was O-rakei the place of rakei adorning, korako (at the) white sinter. At that place is a beautifully clear hot spring in the siliceous sinter, used formerly by chiefs to wash and adorn themselves at, the margins of which are beautifully white, hence korako.

page 12 much larger, and he will sail all over the ocean, over everywhere. He will never be mistaken in his course over the ocean; he will sail away, and will not be seen by the people. After a long disappearance another god will appear, who will be like the former one. The first god will come by the aid of sails, but the latter by the aid of fire.’”

Ellis, in his “Polynesian Researches,” relates a very similar prophecy as obtaining amongst the Tahitians prior to the advent of the white man.

The traditions of the Pakehakeha, or Turehu, have, like so many others, in the process of time become localised; and hence we find many hills in New Zealand assigned as their dwellingplace. The Ure-wera tribe will tell you that their sleeping-places, edged with stone, are to be seen to this day on Te Kauna range. When we come to enquire into the origin of this tradition of a white race, it is most natural to ascribe it to contact with a light-coloured race in very ancient times; it is difficult to conceive of a brown race inventing such a distinguishing racial characteristic had they not actually seen it. Prior to that time, all experiences would go to prove that mankind was of the same tint as themselves. The numbers of uru-kehu or lighthaired people amongst the Polynesian race seems to support this theory; and the Urewera learned men say that this feature runs in families and has done so for as far back as their traditions go. It will be remembered that Maori page 13 history says, they learnt the art of making fishing nets from the Patu-pai-arehe or lightcoloured race, from which we may be authorised in assuming that they were a sea-faring people, possibly visiting the shores of India when the Polynesians dwelt there. As a mere suggestion, the first part of the name Patu-pai-arehe, may be the Polynesian equivalent of the Pandu, a light-coloured race that once inhabited Ceylon and the shores of the Indian Ocean. Wyatt Gill says that in Mangaia, the god Tangaroa had sandy hair.* Fair-haired children are called “Te anau keu a Tangaroa.” “The fairhaired offspring of Tangaroa.”

This raises the question: was not some one of this fair race in the far distant past named Tangaroa, who was one of the early navigators, and hence the position that Tangaroa holds in Maori tradition as Neptune? or, might not the name originate from Tan, a god of the sea according to the Akkadians? See, on this point, the story of the introduction of the knowledge of the Breadfruit tree to the Polynesian in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. vii., p. 220.

Whatever the true origin of this tradition may be, it is clear that by the middle of the eighteenth century, the remembrance of it had become extremely attenuated, and the lightcoloured people had, to the Maoris, lost their tangible forms, and become fairies inhabiting

* Myths and Songs, p. 13.

page 14 the misty cloudy mountains, but still having human forms and attributes.

When therefore the white man appeared on the scene in the persons of Captain Cook and his companions (I exclude Tasman, for various reasons) it was like the discovery of a new world to the Maoris,—their ideas, at one bound, became enormously enlarged. They learnt that all species of mankind were not of the same soft brown colour as themselves—that there were mightier people, who held sway over the thunder and lightning (guns and powder)–who did not feast on their own kind—who paid no respect to the great laws of tapu, for they even allowed common men to walk on the decks above their sacred heads as they sat in the cabin, a terrible sacrilege to the mind of the old Maori. Looked upon as atua (gods) at first, these gods soon proved that they had very human tastes—whilst they were tangata (men) they were by no means tangata Maori (native men). Innumerable objects of unknown uses now first came under their notice, amongst which was a stone (iron) of great value—of greater value even than their prized pounamu or greenstone, for the making of axes, tools, &c. Lastly they became acquainted with diseases that quickly left their mark, defying the potent karakias of the priests.

The effect on the Maori mind of this enlargement of ideas must have been very great; but we are completely in the dark as to its immediate effects, for there was no one to note it. But page 15 as the years rolled on, and the end of the eighteenth century was approached, communication with the pakeha became more frequent, particularly in the north, and many things became modified in consequence. In the early years of the nineteenth century intercourse between the two races became more feasible by the mutual acquisition of the other’s language; and a further expansion of ideas took place when the natives began to learn, somewhat dimly at first no doubt, of particulars of other countries—of kings and queens and mighty princes, with whose wars their own tribal feuds could not compare in magnitude. To a martial race like the Maori, war was a theme that always powerfully affected them. I feel sure that the knowledge acquired by the Maoris in the early years of the nineteenth century, of European wars, and the deeds of great European heroes, had a very important effect upon some of the great Maori leaders of that time, such as Hongi, Pomare, Te Rauparaha, Te Waharoa, Muru-paenga, and many others. Emulation of the deeds of Napoleon Bonaparte certainly was a factor in the actions of some of those mentioned, as it was in the case of Polynesian leaders in other parts—notably in that of Kamehameha, the conqueror of the Hawaiian Islands. This emulation, however, was only rendered possible by the possession of muskets, and towards this end very great sacrifices were made. It is perhaps remarkable, that the possession by the Maoris of a plant, page 16 native to New Zealand, should have wrought on them such terrible disasters as we shall have to relate. But for the flax (phormium tenax) the Maoris would not have obtained by barter the number of muskets that enabled them to almost exterminate those tribes that were not conveniently situated for traffic with the white man. It was at a later date that pigs and potatoes became articles of barter. As the Nga-Puhi tribes were the first to procure these invaluable muskets, it was they who created the greatest havoc in the early years of last century, and during that period they became the dread of all the sea-coast tribes.

The Nga-Puhi tribes were essentially canoemen, and hence we find nearly all their expeditions during which they created such desolation, were undertaken by water. Their expeditions on the west coast of the North Island were usually partly by water, partly by land, for the boisterous character of the west coast often precluded the use of canoes for lengthy expeditions. Their greatest successes were, however, obtained on the east coast; and here the Tai-hoenga-tamahine, as they call it, or “girlspaddling-sea,” in its calmer features and more numerous harbours, presented opportunities of which they took full advantage with their fleets. It cannot be said that the great success of the Nga-Puhi wars was due to the greater bravery of the tribes comprised under that name, for we have seen already,* that up to the

* Peopling of the North.

page 17 close of the eighteenth century, when native weapons alone were used, that they were as often beaten as not. It was the possession of muskets that gave them power and made their name dreaded all over the North Island. They also had capable leaders, but with the exception perhaps of Hongi-Hika and Pomare, not more so than other tribes.

Judging from the traditions that have been preserved, no Nga-Puhi or other northern expedition ever penetrated further south than the Hauraki Gulf until the early years of the nineteenth century. From that time onward the northern tribes made frequent expeditions southwards, reaching even the extreme south part of the North Island, but they never crossed to the Middle Island. So long as native arms alone were used, all tribes were practically on the same footing—for bravery was common to all, and thus the military expeditions of the north were limited in extent. Possession of the musket, placed in the hands of the northern tribes the means, and imbued them with the ideas of more extended conquest.

It may be questioned if the introduction of fire-arms led to a greater loss of life than when the old weapons were used—probably it did not, for the old method of fighting was more often than not, hand to hand, in which great numbers were slain when once a rout commenced. The enormous numbers that were slain during the early years of the nineteenth century, was due rather to the greater number page 18 of wars. It may be said that the North Island was practically one great camp of armed men in those days. So soon as the power of the musket became known, together with the dread it inspired, it became the one absorbing object of all the tribes to possess it. Guns and ammunition must be purchased at any price, and as flax was the chief article of barter, the Maoris neglected their cultivations for its manufacture. Slaves became more valuable, for the purpose of preparing the flax or as barter with those tribes who were lucky enough to reside at ports frequented by trading vessels. I do not know what the relative value of a musket was in flax, in those early times; but I am informed by the Ure-wera people, that they used to pay from three to five slaves for a musket, and two to three slaves for a small keg of powder. Their market was the Thames and Waikato, to which places they made long and perilous journeys to acquire these much desired articles.

It is obvious then that the introduction of firearms led to a decrease in the population, not alone through the numbers shot, but by the withdrawal of many from the cultivation of the soil to prepare flax, thus leading to an insufficiency of food.

The Missionaries, who had fairly good means of judging, estimated that the decrease in population during the first third of the nineteenth century, due to war, famine and their accompaniments, was about 80,000 souls. We page 19 may well believe this when we look on the vast number of old pas still to be seen and known to have been inhabited during the nineteenth century.