The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2 (May 1, 1937)
Centenary of a Famous Encounter. — The Final Clash Between North And South Island Maoris At Tuturau. — An Amazing Overland Journey
Centenary of a Famous Encounter.
The Final Clash Between North And South Island Maoris At Tuturau.
An Amazing Overland Journey
Mataura, busy little industrial town, eight miles south of Gore, in Eastern Southland, is mildly jubilant over its centenary celebrations. Nearly 100 years ago, the old kaika at Tuturau, close to the town, happened to be the scene of a clash between the Ngai-Tahu and Ngati-Tama tribes.
That fight was of Dominion-wide importance for several reasons. In the first place it marked the end of inter-island tribal warfare which had been actively participated in by bloody Te Rauparaha, a chief whose name will go down in history as a warrior endowed with a good deal of ability as a leader and strategist. Native intelligence combined with a certain shrewd cunning quickly brought him to the forefront of his tribe, the Ngati-Toa, which originally inhabited the country to the north of New Plymouth.
It was Te Rauparaha who conceived the idea of extending his realms further to the south that he might make contact with the whaling vessels and slowly accumulate, by a process of barter, sufficient arms and ammunition to satisfy his ambitions.
Te Puoho, one of the central figures in connection with the Tuturau centenary, upon whom the mantle of seniority in his tribe (the Ngati-Tama) had descended following the death of the other principal chiefs in one or other of the numerous battles with the fighting Waikato people and tribes to the north, came to associate himself with Te Rauparaha. Between them they subjected their neighbours, led strong tauas (war-parties) into south Taranaki and eventually secured the coast line as far away as Wellington.
TeIt was not long before Te Rua-paraha was preparing to put into execution plans for further conquests. Thus about 1828 we find him afloat with a powerful party, with Nelson and Marlborough as his objective. The subj ection o f the more or less peaceful tribes inhabiting those localities provides a bloody chapter in New Zealand's history. The immensely superior arms of the invaders resulted in a “slaughter of the innocents.”
TeAbout this time Te Puoho, who by virtue of his resourcefulness and general ability as a leader had aspired to the rank of right-hand supporter to Te Rauparaha, had struck a discordant note with his own people. He was reluctant to accept the dictates of the dominant Te Rauparaha and was anxious to put into effect a scheme of settlement and sub-division of his lands. This his tribe strongly resented so he determined to prosecute a quest for new territory.
TeIt so happened that he conceived the idea of marching overland to capture Murihiku (Southland). The fact that he actually accomplished this amazing journey—even though it spelled “journey's end” for him—demands special consideration. It has since been described as being the longest overland march by a taua in Maori tradition.
Those who have even the most casual acquaintance with the rugged regions of Westland, the dense bush, innumerable torrents and rivers flowing swiftly seawards from the ice-fields of the Southern Alps, towering cliffs and treacherous swamps—will realise some of the difficulties which confronted Te Puoho and his dauntless band of approximately 100 warriors, to say nothing of the few women (including two of the leader's wives) who accompanied them.
But still worse obstacles were to come. The trek across the mountain barrier, by way of what is now known as Haast Pass, into Otago took toll of the endurance, tenacity, courage and skill of Te Puoho and his men and it was a gaunt and hungry taua which emerged on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Still it continued, pressing into service prisoners captured en route as guides.
Through the barren lands of Otago Central, the Kawarau Gorge, the Nevis Valley and the Mataura Valley the warriors travelled, ultimately coming to peaceful Tuturau much frequented food supply depot of the Ngai-Tahu tribe, of Murihiku, with headquarters on the island fortress of Ruapuke. The kaika and its inhabitants, with the exception of one youth named Rakitapu, who slipped quietly into cover on seeing the stealthy approach of the strange taua, fell into the hands of Te Puoho after a short skirmish.
Blissfully unconscious of Rakitapu scurrying as fast as he was able south to the coast to give the alarm, Te Puoho settled down for a well-earned rest and a little feasting on the new potatoes and assorted stocks of preserved foods accumulated by the prisoners.
Rakitapu's news caused the greatest consternation in the south. Ruapuke was in a ferment. Careful watch had been kept by sea to guard against the approach of a hostile force, more particularly the warriors of Te Rauparaha who had sacked the regions as far south as Banks Peninsula. None had the remotest idea that fertile Murihiku would be invaded by land. Feverish preparations took place on the island, while a war party was got together.
It says much for the courage and daring of the southerners that there was no shirking the call to arms to repel a foe whose numerical strength was unknown.
Following the traditional incantations, songs of defiance, hakas, etc., the taua launched a fleet of canoes in the dawn and paddled out into the open sea to cross to the mainland, at Fortrose. That night camp was made up the Mataura river where the tohunga (priest), by the light of the camp fires, foretold the fate of the expedition. In tense silence he called upon the heart of Te Puoho to appear. Before the astonished gaze of the warriors the vital organ, bright with drops of blood, hung suspended. The omen was favourable. At daybreak the next day Tuturau was surrounded and in the surprise attack Te Puoho, descendant of Tio-Tio, a member of the Tokomaru canoe, which came to New Zealand about 1350, was slain by a musket ball fired by Topi-Patuki.