Pukeahu Anthology

The Land of Tara

Elsdon Best was a prolific ethnographer who contributed to the recording of Māori tradition. In 1910 he was appointed as ethnologist at the Dominion Museum. Drawing largely on the teachings of the Wairarapa tohunga Moihi Te Matorohanga, The Land of Tara and They Who Settled It includes an account of the invasion of a Ngai Tara pa, Uruhau. This excerpt, first published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society in 1917, offers glimpses into the significance of Pukeahu to the earliest residents of the area.

Maori artifacts, particularly waka (canoes) and pataka (storehouses), inside the Maori Hall at the Dominion Museum, Buckle Street, Wellington, c.1936
Maori artifacts, particularly waka (canoes) and pataka (storehouses), inside the Maori Hall at the Dominion Museum, Buckle Street, Wellington, c.1936
Photographer: Unidentified.
1/1-003855-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

Mua-upoko arrived at the time the kowhai (Sophora tetraptera) was in bloom. When the force arrived at the summit of Te Wharau (the range above Kaiwharawhara village, north side), the members thereof saw fires burning at Te Wai-hirere, Te Aka-tarewa, Uruhau, Te Whetu-kairangi, Pae-kawakawa, Motu-haku, Makure-rua, and Wai-komaru, the last two being the fortified villages of Tu-kapua of the Ngati-Mamoe tribe. These two places were in the vicinity of Te Rimurapa (Sinclair Head).

Tamatea-kopiri enquired: — ‘To which one of the fires we see burning shall we direct our way?’

And it was said: — ‘Let us keep to the clear way of the far spread region,’ that is the part where the people dwelt in scattered communities. To this the party agreed.

Now, during the night of quite a different day, Kauhika, who was an aunt of Te Rangi-kai-kore, and a dreamer of dreams, had a vision. In a dream she saw Te Wharau ridge occupied by men: — ‘The fire kindled there cast its glow here to Uruhau, and I was alarmed and awoke.’

Te Rangi-kai-kore said: — ‘Let a person go to Te Wharau, and there stay on the eastern side of the main ridge, where the crest of the spur of Te Wharau breaks down suddenly, there to lurk aside from the path, to see if we cannot light upon a solution of the dream of the old woman.’

So Mohuia and Kaipara were sent, and on arriving at the place advised by Te Rangi-kai-kore, remained there. When the sun became suspended over the bounds of night, the invaders were seen advancing along the Wharau ridge. The scouts returned, and reported: — ‘There is a hostile force at Te Wharau examining the appearance of the burning of the fires.’ Te Rangi at once commanded: — ‘Go to Te Aka-tarewa and Uruhau in order that the women and children may be sent to Te Whetu-kairangi. Send a person to Para-ngarehu (fortified village at Pencarrow Head) to advise them of the hostile force at Te Wharau that is examining the country.’

Even so Mahuia went to Te Whetu-kairangi, and Kaipara went to Te Aka-tarewa and as far as Uruhau. The canoes of the local people were taken across to Motu-kairangi (Miramar Island), while certain persons went to watch the main ridge extending from Te Wharau by way of the spur extending towards the south. A man was despatched to Puke-ahu (Mt. Cook), above Hauwai (Basin Reserve), for it is said to have been a moonlight night. The enemy was now seen advancing along the beach at Kumu-toto (Woodward Street). The scouts of Puke-ahu returned and reported the rear of the force as passing Waititi (foot of Charlotte Street) while the head was at Kumu-toto. ‘The men are ranked as close together as trees in a forest grove.’ The scouts then remained at Kaipapa (site of Vice-regal residence), on the eastern side of Hauwai, there to await developments, and to note which fort the enemy made for. It was then seen that the force was moving directly on Uruhau to deliver an attack.

When the stars of the morning were high up, the people of Te Wai-hirere (at Point Jerningham) marched out and joined the people of Te Aka-tarewa. Then the people of Uruhau began to move out. One division of the invading force made for the sea beach below the Uruhau fortress, while the other division occupied the ridge; thus they invested the fort. Pahau, the chief of Uruhau, was now convinced that the enemy would be defeated by him, and he also knew that the men of Te Wai-hirere and Te Aka-tarewa were outside the fort waiting for him to sally forth. There also were Tara and Tautoki, who had ascended the ridge at Orongo (ridge extending from signal station to eastern head of Lyall Bay), a name given by Tamatea-ariki on his arrival at Te Whetu-kairangi. He ascended that ridge to obtain a view of the Great Harbour of Tara, also of the other island. ‘Takitumu’ (his vessel) was below, at Te Awa-a-Taia, being relashed as to her top-strakes, and having gum of the houhou (Nothopanax arboreum) worked into the lashing holes, and, when this was done, ‘Takitumu’ went to Arapawa, that is to Te Wai-pounamu (the South Island). It was Kupe who gave this name to that island; and by him also was the first greenstone found at Ara-hura, on the west side of that island.

However, Tara and Tautoki ascended that ridge at Orongo, there to await the attack of the enemy on Uruhau. As the light of morn came the enemy force was seen on the beach below the fort of Uruhau, and the men of the land had moved out of Uruhau, as was denoted by the voice of Pakau being heard shouting out, ‘Charge! Charge!’ Some of the local braves had diverged by the track to the beach, where fighting had commenced, while those of Te Wai-hirere and Te Aka-tarewa joined the Uruhau men. Te Rangi-kai-kore cried out: — ‘O Pakau! Attack! Join in!’ On hearing this the enemy fled to the forest to the west of Uruhau. Then fighting was carried on at the seaward side, and Te Toko, one of the chiefs of the enemy force, was slain in a fight at Waitaha, on the beach at the promontory on the western side of Te Awa-a-Taia.

When night fell, the people of this part, the clan Ngati-Hinewai, bethought them that the enemy might turn to and dig up their seed kumara, which had been planted and were sprouting, so they pulled them up during the night. This act was the cause of the name Ngati-hutihuti-po (The Night pullers) being assigned to the clan Ngati-Hinewai.

This task completed, all crossed over the channel and entered Te Whetu-kairangi. When Te Rangi-kai-kore, Pakau and Te Piki-kotuku, the chiefs of the forts of the mainland, arrived, the women, children and old men had crossed over to Para-ngarehu, where they were then staying. Dwelling within Te Whetu-kairangi nought remained save weapon-wielding braves; the fort was well manned, for Ngati-Tara numbered six (? hundred) twice told at that time, while the enemy force of Ngati-Ruanui and Mua-upoko was four hundred once told.

That night the bodies of Te Toko and Whakatau (two slain chiefs of the invaders) were burned with fire in Hoewai (Houghton Bay), west of Te Rae-haihau (western headland of Lyall Bay) on the coast.

Next morning the invaders burned the forts of Uruhau, Te Aka-tarewa and Te Wai-hirere, the huts in all the cultivation grounds at Pae-kawakawa and all other cultivations of the mainland. The raiders then betook themselves to the making of rafts, whereby to cross over to Motu-kairangi. Having all assembled on Motu-kairangi, they then invested the Whetu-kairangi fort. One hundred were stationed at Takapuna, one hundred at Kirikiri-tatangi (Seatoun), one hundred at Te Mirimiri, and one hundred at the side toward Kaiwaka, the lagoon on the western side of Te Whetu-kairangi, thus was Te Whetu-kairangi invested. Fern was obtained from the mainland wherewith to set fire to the stockade defences of the fortress, to be kindled when wind sprang up. A contention ensued in the rolling of bundles of fern against the defences, which did not reach them, so energetic were the men in the fort in casting whip-spears from the fighting stages of the fort. Seven men were slain by the garrison by means of these spears slung with a whip from the elevated platforms. This weapon was of this form: one end was brought to a point and deeply notched behind the point; when this notched end pierced a person, it broke off in his body. (It is said that some of these rough spears had two such notches, and, when a man was pierced with one, and a person endeavoured to pull it out, then it broke at the second notch, the one nearest the point, which end piece was left in the wound, and would assuredly cause death.)

It is said that the investing force camped out in the open, and on a certain night came on a southerly storm accompanied by rain, whereupon the invaders were greatly distressed by the rain and cold, even to the next day. Also they suffered for want of food, for they had consumed all the kumara sets they had dug up in the cultivation grounds. The food supplies of the ocean, and paua (Haliotis), Kuku (Mytilus), and pipi (Chione) of Te Awa-a-Taia were unprocurable on account of the storm.

Then Tara said to his warriors: — ‘To-morrow, in broad daylight, let us issue forth, and let three men challenge the company, while those behind press on and cover them. Grant them no rest; ere the fight has raged long, they will be wearied on account of their hunger and exposure to the storm.’

All the people within Te Whetu-kairangi agreed to this action. In the dead of night they prepared food; as they were eating it day came. Then Te Whetu-kairangi poured forth its braves. On account of the heavy fall of snow of the previous night continuing until the sortie was made by the warriors, when the enemy realised their action the whole six hundred once told had issued forth from the fort.

The invaders fled to the western side of Te Awa-a-Taia; some reached it in safety, others, owing to the flood tide, perished in the waters, while yet others were slain by the local folk. Tamatea-kopiri and Marohia were the only chiefs killed; one of the chiefs perished in the waters and his body was cast on shore. The story is that many escaped, that is they crossed the channel of Te Awa-a-Taia, floated across it, and when the pursuers arrived at the shore of Te Awa-a-Taia, the majority had already crossed. This was known by the number of dead, which amounted to one hundred odd. It is said that most of the dead were of Mua-upoko. Here ended this fight.