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The Ancient History of the Maori, His Mythology and Traditions. Nga-Ti-Whatua [Vol. IX]

Letter from James MacKay to Mr. H. Smith, October 1859

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Oct. 1859
Forwarded for the information of the Govt
.......... that Mr McKay be thanked for this interesting report and I would suggested it's publication in the Gov. Gazette.

Mr H Smith


I have the honour to inform you that whilst engaged in negotiating south the Ngaitahu of the west coast of the Middle Island for the version of their claims to land - I made inquiry as to the correctness of the statement made by Captain Stokes of Hill & Acheron relative to the existence of a small tribe of uncivilized and almost unknown Natives at Bligh Sound on the south west coast. And that from the evidence which I procured from the people of Jacksons Bay, and Milford Haven, I have no doubt whatever but that such is the case.

I was told that those wild or uncivilized Natives belonged to a tribe called Ngatimamoe, that they had been one of the strongest and most numerous of the aboriginal tribes of the Middle Island, but from the incessant wars which raged between them and the Ngaitahu they had become so reduced in numbers, that the remnant, amounting to about thirty (chiefly men) withdrew to the mountain fortresses, west of Lakes Hawea and Whanaka (Oanaka on charts), from which they could not be driven.

These people have often been seen by the Natives of Milford Haven; and by the crews of the Murihiku Sealing boats. About four years ago the crew of one of these captured a woman who was gathering shell fish on some rocks. She told them that her tribe were numerous in the bush, but as she succeeded in escaping in the night but little information could be obtained from her. It appears that the Ngaitahu have often run wares, fire places, Native mats, whalebone clubs (patu paraoa), baskets .......... belonging to this tribe.

As but little is known of the landing of the aboriginal tribes of the Middle Island, and as it is supposed by many that the Ngaitahu and Rangitane were the sole inhabitants of it; it may not be out of place to mention that the following tribes were the original possessors:
1.The Rangitane, a large tribe living in the Pelorus, Wairau, and Awatere districts.
2.The Ngatitumatakokiri, exceeded the Rangitane in numbers; and inhabitated the whole of the Blind and Massacre Bay districts, and the west coast as far south as the river Karamea.
3.The Ngatiwairangi, were not so numerous as either of the above tribes, they occupied the west coast from the Karamea to Cape Foulwind (Tauranga).
4.The Ngatikopiha, was a small tribe inhabiting the west coast from Tauranga to Foveaux Straits.
5.The Ngatimamoe, were the strongest and most numerous of the aboriginal tribes of the Middle Island, they owned the whole of the south, south easterly and eastern portions of the island, commencing at Jacobs River (Apurima) and terminating at Akaroa.
6.The Waitaha, were a small tribe, and held the country from Akaroa to the Aumuri Bluffs.
7.The Omihi were not numerous, and they lived on the coast and Omiho, (from whence they derived their name) Kaikoura and from there to Cape Campbell (Karaka).

The Ngaitahu originally belonged to the Northern Island, and were descended from the Ngatikahuhunu and Ngatiawa tribes. Their place of abode was Wairarapa - from the best information which I could obtain, it appears that they emigrated to the Middle Island in several canoes, about two hundred years * since - and landed at Kaikoura on the east coast.

They at once attacked the unsuspecting Omihi tribe who were nearly exterminated; the Omihi then fled to the Waitaha people, who instead of protecting killed the miserable remnant.

The Ngaitahu having firmly established themselves at Kaikoura sent back a canoe to inform their friends at Wairarapa of their success, and also to request them to join in the conquest of the aboriginal tribes. Strong reinforcements soon arrived at Kaikoura, and war was waged with the Waitaha tribe who appear to have been conquered and eaten, with but little trouble. The Ngaitahu saying, that the Natives of the Middle Island, although large, and powerful men, were not good fighters, assigning as the reason of this that they lived at peace with one another and knew nothing of war.

After conquering these tribes the invaders took possession of their lands, and built Pa.s at Kaiapoi and Kaikoura.

Fighting parties were sent against the Ngatimamoe, but for many years no advantage was gained by either. About this time a division of the Ngaitahu proceeded to Arahaura on the west coast for the purpose of getting possession of the Ponamu or greenstone country.

They became acquainted with the ponamu in the following manner: Some of the Ngatikopiha tribe had come from Arahaura, on a visit to them at Kaiapoi, during which one of the visitors a woman named Raureka observing the Ngaitahu making axes out of a hard black stone, commenced to laugh and make fun of their work, saying her people made tools of a better kind, and of more durable materials than they did, at the same time exhibiting a small adze of greenstone. The Ngaitahu were much struck with the beauty of this adze, which was made of the kind of greenstone called Taranga, and eagerly enquired where it was procured from. It was agreed that some of the Ngaitahu should accompany the Ngatikopiha when they went back to the west coast, and see this now much coveted stone. On their return they stated that the greenstone was found in the Arahaura River, where it existed in large quantities.

The cupidity of the Ngaitahu being excited at this intelligence, a large body of them travelled across the Island. They speedily conquered the Ngatikopiha, who were all killed with the exception of a few women and children who were spared and embodied into the tribe of their enemies.

The Ngatiwairangi were the next who fell victims to the Poutini Ngaitahu. Poutini was the name taken by this tribe after their separation from the Ngatituahauriri Ngaitahu at Kaiapoi. They were completely exterminated.

After these events the Poutini Natives settled themselves on the west coast where their descendents have ever since resided. They had not been long in possession when they were attacked by the Ngatitumatakokiri and Rangitane, but as the fighting parties sent by these tribes were small no advantage was gained by them, and they withdrew to Mohua (Native name of the northern portions of the Middle Island). The Ngaitahuand Ngatitumatakokiri seem to have had occasional fights about the right of catching the Weka, Kiwi and Kakapo - in the Upper Grey and Buller districts, but nothing of any consequence took place between them during the first century of the occupation of the Middle Island by the Ngaitahu.

To return to the Ngatituahauriri Ngaitahu: Shortly after the removal of the Poutini division to the west coast – another body of the Wairarapa Ngaitahu came over and located themselves at Otago (Otakou). War was now waged with increased vigour against the Ngatimamoe, for sometime it was doubtful which would be the conquering party, some of the Ngaitahu returning to join with their friends in the war.

The Ngatimamoe at last begged for peace which was granted to them - one of the principal chiefs of the Ngaitahu, named Tarawhai was invited with his followers to visit at a Ngatimamoe Pa south of Timaru, and they were treacherously entrapped into an ambuscade, the whole of them were slain, with the exception of the chief who was after a desperate struggle made prisoner - as Tarawhai had been a great scourge to them, they determined to cut him to pieces while alive - he was accordingly laid on his back on the ground and a Native commenced to cut him down the breast and stomach with a sharp stone. The attention of the four Ngatimamoe who were holding the victim was at this moment directed to the arrival of some visitors at the Pa - and he noticing their inattention suddenly sprang on his feet, and succeeded in making his escape into the bush. Being much distressed at the loss of his whalebone club (patu paraoa) he determined to attempt it's recovery - he accordingly took advantage of the shades of evening to approach the camp of the Ngatimamoe; he noticed that a large number were seated round a fire, he drew near and saw them examining his club and heard them talking of the bravery of it's owner. Noticing the absence of one of the Ngatimamoe who had a defect in his speech he walked up to the outer circle, and seating himself on the ground, asked, feigning the voice of the man of defective speech, to be allowed to look at this celebrated patu - it was handed to him by the unsuspecting Ngatimamoe, when jumping suddenly up he struck the two nearest to him over the head crying "The brave Tarawhai has recovered his weapon." This so astonished his enemies that it was some time before any pursuit was made and he again succeeded in reaching the cover of the woods in safety. The next morning a large party of the Ngatimamoe went and formed an ambuscade near a Ngatitahu Pa which they supposed Tarawhai would attempt to reach – he had however perceived this design, and instead of proceeding by the direct inland route to it, he walked along the beach, and on coming to a point in sight of the Pa, he made signs to his friends with his long patu paraoa (whalebone club) to make a rohe on the Ngatimamoe so as to create a division in his favour - this was done successfully and under cover of it he joined his own tribe.

Messengers were at once despatched to the remainder of the Ngaitahu relating the mishap which had befallen the followers of Tarawhai, and urging them to assemble as quickly as possible and take revenge for the death of their friends. These divisions of the Ngaitahu soon combined with their southern relations, and great was the slaughter of the now doomed Ngatimamoe. They were soon driven south and being nearly surrounded by the Ngaitahu at Jacobs River (Apurima) the remnant about thirty in number fled inland to Lakes Hawea, and Whanaka (Oamaka of charts) - where it was found difficult to pursue them. Little doubt can arise but that the rarely seen inhabitants of Bligh Sound and the south west coast, are the descendents of the remnants of the once powerful and numerous Ngatimamoe tribe.

The Ngatitumatakokiri seem to have had occasional skirmishes with both the east and west coast Ngaitahu, when they met at Maruia, Matahitaki (Upper Buller) and at the sources of the Clarence, and Waiau-uwha Rivers, in the pursuits of bird hunting and eel fishing.

The Ngatitumatakokiri held undisturbed possession of their lands for about one hundred and thirty years after the first settlement of the Ngaitahu in the Middle Island. When their territory was invaded by a division of the Ngatiapa tribe from the Northern Island, who partially conquered them, but after a time withdrew again to their own district. The Ngatitumatakokiri then agreed to cross Cooks Strait (Raukawa) to Kapiti the residence of the Ngatiapa; and in attempting to do so large numbers were drowned, and those who landed were so few in number that they fell easy victims to their adversaries. No farther attempt at conquest appears to have been made by the Ngatihapa until about fifty years ago, when taking advantage of a war which then existed between the Ngaitahu and Ngatitumatakokiri, they crossed to Massacre Bay and again attacked them.

The Ngatitumatakokiri having about this time, unfortunately killed a Ngaitahu chief named Pakake at Maruia, it was determined by both the Ngatituahauriri and Poutini divisions of the Ngaitahu to take revenge for his death. Two fighting parties started almost simultaneously from Kaiapoi, and Arahaura, (unknown to one another). The former headed by their chief Te Warekino, travelling by way of the Hurunui to Lake Sumner, thence by the most northerly branch of the Waiau-uwha, to Maruia River, they followed this river to it's junction with the Buller or Rauatiri, crossing which they proceeding by the valley of the Matiri in a northerly direction, to the source of the river Karemea, they then followed that river to the coast, where they remained some days eel fishing.

The party of Poutini Natives headed by their principal chief Tuhuru (father of the present chief Tarapuhi) travelled by the west coast and reached the Karamea at the time that Warekino and his people were engaged in eel fishing. Seeing the tracks of men on the sand at Karamea they supposed it was some of the Ngatitumatakokiri. Tuhuru and another Native (I have forgotten his name) cautiously approached the Ngatituahauriri encampment - the latter in advance, he came suddenly on Te Warekino (who was unknown to him) who was baiting an eel basket - taking one another for enemies, a scuffle ensued when the Poutini Native was thrown down and would have been killed by Te Warekino but for the timely arrival of Tuhuru at the scene of conflict - he at once without ceremony made a stroke at Te Warekino with his spear and ran him through the arm, at the same time giving him a push forward on his face, before he could arise he was seized by the hair of the head by Tuhuru, who intended giving him a finishing stroke with his mere ponamu (greenstone club) when he recognised him as Te Warekino, and a cousin of his own.

The Ngatituahauriri had by this time assembled round their leader, the mistake was explained; they at once joined forces, and proceeded to west Wanganui led by Tuhuru. On their arrival there they killed several of the Ngatitumatakokiri, but after a time retired to Arahaura, from whence Te Warekino and his people returned to Kaiapoi.

The Ngatitumatakokiri being again affected by the Ngatihapa were driven on to the west coast (with the exception of a few* retained as slaves by the conquerors) - the last of them consisting of Te Pari and Te Rokihi two of the principal chiefs and about fourteen of their followers were killed by Tuhuru and the Poutini Natives on the Paparoha Range dividing the valley of the Grey from that of the Buller.

Before closing the history of the Ngatitumatakokiri it may as well be mentioned, that it was a few of this tribe who attacked Tasman.s boats crew on his visit to Taitapu (the sacred tide) from which circumstance he gave it that name of Massacre or Murderers Bay - a sandy cove within about half a mile from the Tata Islands is the locality pointed out as having been the scene of this first unfortunate meeting between the European and Maori races.

The Ngatihapa had now entire possession of the district of Massacre Bay, and held a few of the Ngatitumatakokiri as slaves. They were not allowed to hold their ill gotten gains for many years in peace, as the Ngatiawa, Ngatitoa and Ngatitama being driven from their own lands by the Waikato and other tribes of the Northern Island - crossed the straits under Te Rauparaha, Niho, Takerei, Kanae, Te Ruihua, and Te Puhou.

The first landing of this formidable force was at Rangitoto (D'Urvilles Island) and Queen Charlottes Sound. They speedily reduced the *Rangitane, who never regained their liberty or power, and are now represented by the Ngatitura of the Pelorus. some of theirs who were fired on by his boats' crew at Potara Nui in the Sound that spot having been pointed out to me by the Natives as the scene of conflict.

The invading forces seem after this to have divided, Te Rauparaha and Ranao leading part of the Ngatitoa and Ngatiawa tribes by way of the east coast to Kaiapoi where the Ngatituahauriri Ngaitahu sustained some severe losses and defeats from them. After some time Te Rauparaha withdrew to Raparatehau, where he was attacked by the Ngaitahu when collecting mussels on the beach. All who were with him (about six in number) were killed - and he only escaped by jumping into the sea and swimming under water to a Ngatiawa canoe. He then rejoined his followers at Queen Charlottes Sound and Rangitoto (D'Urvilles Island), and it was agreed that he (Rauparaha) should return to the Northern Island.

The subdivision of the Ngatitoa, called Ngatirarua led by Niho and Takerei, and part of the Ngatiawa belonging to the Puketapu and Mitiwai hapu.s under Te Ruihua - and the Ngatitama led by Te Puhou, were not ........... They proceeded to Massacre Bay and killed and made prisoners of the whole of the Ngatihapa and their Ngatitumatakokiri slaves. (Two of these slaves were the Ngatitumatakokiri I have seen.) Te Puhou and Te Ruihua remained in charge of their country. Niho and Takerei and their followers then went down the west coast to the river Okitika, where they made a prisoner of Tuhuru chief of the Poutini Ngaitahu. Peace was soon made between them and the Ngatirarua, hardly any Natives being killed. Tuhuru was ransomed for a greenstone patu, called Kai Kanohe, which is now in the possession of Matenga Te Aupouri of Motupipi. After this Tuhuru and some of his people went to visit Te Rauparaha, and the Ngatitoa at Rangitoto and Takerei and Niho located themselves at Mawhera.

Te Pehi and Pokaitara who had gone to make peace, were treacherously killed about this time by the Ngatituahauriri Ngaitahu. Shortly after Te Maiharanui the greatest chief of the Ngaitahu was entrapped by Te Rauparaha on board an English vessel and carried to Porima. He was killed I believe at Otaki - and so great was the hatred of the Ngatitoa to him, that it is said some of their women drank his blood.

Almost immediately after this a fighting party headed by Te Puhou consisting of Ngatitama, Ngatiawa, and the Ngatihapa slaves, travelled by way of the west coast to the river Awarua, thence by that river, and over a snowy range to Taku Hawea .......... Wanaka to Tuturau (Molg.......... plains), to attack the Otakou (Otago) Ngaitahu, they were however taken by surprise when sleeping in a ware and Te Puhou was killed. A few of his followers returned to tell of their mishap, but his son Paramata was for many years detained as a prisoner.

Takerei and Niho finding the number of their followers reduced - as several of them had returned to Massacre Bay - and others accompanying Te Puhou on his expedition against the southern Ngaitahu - were apprehensive that they would be attacked by either Tuhuru and his people, or by the Otakou Natives; and resolved on abandoning the Arahaura country, they accordingly retired to Massacre Bay, where they have since resided. They have never resumed their occupation of the west coast farther south than Raurangi Point.

The Ngatitoa made no other attack on the east coast Ngaitahu after the death of Te Pehi, Pokaitara and Te Puhou, but contented themselves with occupying the portions of the Middle Island adjoining Cooks Straits. It is however probably that they might have again waged war but for the provincial arrival of the Missionaries, who spreading light and civilization amongst them prevented the continuance of these cruel and worse than .......... conflicts.

Hoping that this slight sketch of the aboriginal tribes of the Middle Island though far from perfect, may not be altogether uninteresting.

I have the honour to be
Your most obedient servant

James MacKay ..........
Assistant Native Secretary

* It appears that seven generations of the Ngaitahu have been born in the Middle Island - and allowing thirty years for each, the same as in European countries would give quite two hundred years.

* Although I have resided in the province of Nelson for fourteen years, I have never seen but two individuals who were descended from the Ngatitumatakokiri - they had been twice enslaved once by the Ngatihapa, then on the conquest of that tribe by the Ngatitoa.

* The Rangitane or Ngatitura must have been the inhabitants of Queen Charlotte Sound - at the time of Cook's visit to that neighbourhood - and it must have been