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The Story of a Maori Chief

Chapter 5 — A Versatile Chief

page 27

Chapter 5
A Versatile Chief

It has been mentioned that Mataura, the grandsire of Ngati-Hokopu, or Whanau-a-Rerewa, as the hapu was called in earlier times, lived in the Pukekiore pa. As his descendants increased in number they left the old home and began to build homes for themselves lower down the hill. It has also been mentioned that Pukemanuka, perched on a spur leading up to Pukekiore, was the home of Otauru and her husband, Te Ruinga. On the western side of Pukekiore was Paturangi pa, where Rarawa, Otauru's great father, killed Kowhaki.

And on the fertile flat land below, at the foot of the Pukekiore hill, we find traces of five pas, the homes of the descendants of Mataura and of Otauru and Te Ruinga. The names of the strongholds are Tapapanui, Popoia, Hurimoana, Torere and Waioratane. Pukekiore pa and its offshoots may be likened to a hen and her brood. The first three pas are placed so close together to one another that they look like partitions of one pa. It is perfectly clear that whoever occupied them must be of the same family. During the hearing of the Kautuku case these were all admitted, even by the opponents, to have been the homes of the Whanau-a-Rerewa, who were later named Ngati-Hokopu.

Nobody denied and denies that Hurimoana was Pakura's home. Here he lived with his wife, Moahiraia, and here their children, viz., Kakatarau, Parata, Mokena Kohere and Te Kooti Tipoki, were born. Parata, as it has been mentioned, was killed at Toka-a-Kuku.

During the lifetime of his brother, Kakatarau, Mokena Kohere was never mentioned, although he should have been old enough to have been present both at Toka-a-Kuku and Wharekura.1 We first hear of Mokena Kohere and his first wife, Erana Umutaru, living at Katikati, near the site of the Paturangi pa, on the Kautuku block. Here he was engaged in wheat growing, as was the whole sub-tribe. As a matter of fact, the whole Ngati-Porou Tribe was engaged in the industry. Paratene Ngata, describing to me the extent to which the tribe was engaged in wheat production, said: “Ura tonu page 28 te whenua katoa i te witi” (“The whole land was golden with wheat”). And yet the natives did not in those days possess agricultural implements. All they had was the pakeha's spade. The soil, free from weeds, was chipped and pulverised by hitting it with the back of the spade and then the seeds were broadcast and covered over by brushing the soil with branches of trees.

It would be impossible for one family to work its own wheat field without assistance. The work was performed by what was called “ohu” or working-bee. Only in this case the whole community or sub-tribe formed the “ohu.” When one field was finished the “ohu” moved on to the next, until all the community's fields were finished. Songs were often sung by the “ohu” to help keep time and to spur on the workers. With the singing in unison and chattering the scene was hilarious. All this work was given free; all that the owners were expected to do was to provide meals. Of course, the fattest of the family's pigs were reserved for the “ohu.” With the growing of wheat hand-grinding mills were imported from Auckland. With these simple contrivances the whole tribe ground their own flour. Along the countryside pieces of these mills may still be seen lying about, reminders of a once enterprising age. Mokena Kohere, as the head of the tribe, was foremost in leading the way. He was well on the way in the erection of a water mill when the Hauhau war broke out in 1865. The site chosen was on the Waikaka stream. I saw a long, solid puriri log laid from bank to bank to strengthen the dam to form the mill pond. The log was dragged by the whole community all the way from Tikapa, a distance of about five miles. It was a great pity that somebody commercially minded cut up the log into fence posts, instead of leaving it as a monument to the energy and enthusiasm of a bygone age.

Wheat production amongst the Ngati-Porou grew so much that a large quantity of the grain was shipped to the Auckland market. At first the grain was carried in vessels owned and manned by Europeans, but after a while the Ngati-Porou bought their own small schooners with the wheat they grew. There were about five of these schooners, viz., Mereana, Purere, Ihi Keepa, Kingi Paerata and Mawhai. They were all manned by Maoris. During the slack season the fleet was moored in the estuary of the Awatere River, to page 29 a pohutukawa tree on the right bank of the river. Strangely enough, only as recently as 1944 one of the main limbs of the tree was broken by a gale. Huripuku, who was known as the “Awatere pilot,” looked after the fleet during the cessation of trade. He owned Purere. The Kingi Paerata belonged to the sub-tribe at Tuparoa. While loading wheat at Tuparoa it was overloaded, so that when a southerly buster sprang up it foundered. When on a trip to Auckland the Kingi Paerata called in at Kennedy's Bay. The chief, Rakahurumai, before setting foot on shore, asked the local chief, Paora te Putu, to give him “a bit of soil on which to set his foot.” Paora did so, and when the land was put through the Native Land Court many years after it rose to the goodly area of 6,000 acres. Rakahurumai, with all his party, was blown out to sea by a westerly gale and was never heard of. To-day a section of the Ngati-Porou Tribe lives at Kennedy's Bay, so far away from their own ancestral territory.

Mokena Kohere was the owner of the Mereana, which he named after one of his daughters. He more often than not sailed Mereana himself to Auckland. Hori Mahue, a wellinformed Maori, told me that the chief on one occasion dropped anchor in a bay of Waiheke Island. The local chief made a gift of the island to him, but Mokena, some considerable time later, returned the island to the giver with thanks.

The end of the Mereana provides a strange story. During one of her visits to the port of Auckland she was in charge of a man of the Ngapuhi Tribe, from the north. While the Ngati-Porou members of the crew were absent in town the Ngapuhi captain took the schooner out of Waitemata Harbour. That was the last heard of the Mereana. In Te Too Takitini I wrote an article on the Ngati-Porou fleet of schooners and the mysterious disappearance of the Mereana. In 1934 a Ngapuhi clergyman told me he was much interested in the story. He said: “You know, when I was a young child I heard a song about the coming of Mereana into Whangaroa Harbour.” I was pleased to receive this proof of the reliability of my informant, old Tatari Piri, for from him only did I hear the story of the theft of the schooner. Not a word did I hear from my own people about it.

As the owner and captain of the Mereana, we may call this remarkable and versatile chief a sailor. He also had the reputation of being an intrepid boatman. During the year page 30 he would make trips by sea to Poverty Bay, for he was connected with sub-tribes in that district. He generally stayed with Paratene Turangi, Lady Carroll's grandfather. Paratene was massacred by Te Kooti after his escape from the Chatham Island in 1868. Because he was killed with a sword Mokena Kohere named his youngest son Wiremu Te Hoari (sword). Mr. Teddy Espie, a Poverty Bay settler, knew Mokena Kohere well. He told me that when coming ashore in a whaleboat he liked riding on the top of a sea that bore his boat with tremendous speed, with water arching on either side of the bow. With no concern whatever he held the steer oar and brought the boat on to the beach, high and dry.

Mokena Kohere, as all sailors should be, was a great fisherman; not that he regarded fishing in the light of sport, but because, like all Maoris, he was fond of fish diet. And yet there might have been an element of sport in his fishing, for he preferred one particular ground. That was Hapurapoi, a hapuku ground off East Cape. I suppose that point is as dangerous as any point in New Zealand. Within my own memory four boats have been wrecked off East Cape. Fishing at Hapurapoi must be attractive indeed to induce Mokena Kohere to pass by nearer and less dangerous grounds. During the years he lived at Orutua, fully eight miles north of East Cape, he never put out to sea on a fishing excursion but he preferred Hapurapoi. As a sailor he studied the weather well, and never did he visit Hapurapoi but returned with a full load and with even the largest of the hapuku towed alongside the boat. I learned from the elders that in early times, when the world was good and generous, one trip to East Island was sufficient to fill canoes with fish and crayfish enough to supply all the tribes in the Waiapu Valley. Paratene Ngata described to me the East Cape groper as “like a large, short, black pig with a small head.”

During a fairly long seafaring life Mokena Kohere was remarkably lucky. Only on one occasion did he meet with mishap at sea. He put his good luck down to the help of his nose. Whenever he had an occasion to put out to sea he always consulted his nose, for that was his unfailing guide. If that nose itched then nothing in the world would induce him to start a voyage or to go out fishing. Once, however, he disobeyed his nose's warning and he nearly lost his life, as well as that of his wife and of another. A sea trip from Te page 31 Araroa to Horoera in ordinary weather was safe enough. However, in spite of his nose's warning Mokena Kohere, with his wife, Hinekukurangi, and another, put out to sea from Te Araroa and hoisted the sail. They sailed over a submerged rock, which whipped up the sea and overturned the boat. Fortunately they were good swimmers, and all reached the shore safely, my grandmother with her precious clay pipe still in her mouth. It was, of course, full of water.

About half a century later, practically in the same locality, Mokena Kohere's son, Tuhaka, fought for his life. With two companions he had gone out from Te Araroa to do some fishing. On their way home something went wrong, and the little dinghy turned over. The mishap was not noticed from the shore. When his two companions succumbed Tuhaka tore off two pieces from the lining of the boat. With these to support him he drifted with the tide and wind and landed near Horoera, where he was found, benumbed and exhausted. It was reckoned Tuhaka drifted for about seven miles.

At the opening of this chapter it was stated that Mokena Kohere and his wife, Erana, lived at Katikati. It was during his residence here that his firstborn, Upaerangi, was burnt to death. Such an event would render the chief liable to the cruel exactions of the muru. The greater the person concerned the greater would be the demands on him. He was utterly helpless, for to resist the exactions of the muru was to lower oneself in the eyes of Maori good society. In fact, to be robbed under the principle of the muru was regarded as honouring the robbed. Parties appeared from all directions and seized everything within their reach, whether it was a horse, a cow, a pig, a goat, fowls, food, implements, furniture and clothes. Land was often confiscated. It would even be good Maori etiquette, if there was any food left in the home, to cook that and give it to the robbers, for, robbers though they were, they would still be guests. As Maning put it in his droll Irish way: “The victims welcomed the robbers.”

Aged Paratene Kamura deposed before the Native Land Court in 1913 that because of the death of Upaerangi, Mokena Kohere left Erana. And yet our opponents, in order to undermine Mokena Kohere's occupation of Katikati, claimed that Upaerangi had been adopted by their elder, Irimako, and as such he was burnt to death. That a powerful chief like Mokena Kohere should have given away his very first child, page 32 a son, to a comparative stranger is unthinkable. Our opponents succeeded, we lost. However, the case is sub judice.

After the conclusion of the fighting on the East Coast in 1865 some of the sub-tribes went to the seaside, where they could procure food, for the whole district was short of food. Mokena Kohere and some of his people went to Horoera, north of East Cape, where sea food could be found in abundance. One reason for his sojourn there was that the Whanau-a-Hunaara sub-tribe was one of the bitterest in their opposition to the Government and consequently towards the loyal chief. They were not pardoned, but were suspended. One of their number, Hakopa Te Aari, had compared Mokena Kohere to a carcass of mutton which he had cut up. To compare a chief to food was a serious insult. They were not pleased with the presence of the chief in their district, for in their opinion Mokena Kohere had intended to take their land. Events proved that their fears were groundless. Sir Donald McLean had also asked Mokena Kohere to keep an eye on the sub-tribes to see that they did not give further trouble.

After living at Horoera my grandfather moved to Orutua. Here I was born under a peach tree, as Sir James Carroll was born under a cabbage tree, or ti, as old Maoris more euphoniously called the pretty tree. Here also Mokena Kohere depastured a small flock of sheep, remnant of a larger flock he had at Waiapu before the outbreak of hostilities. As a matter of fact, Ropata Wahawaha and other chiefs also owned their own flocks. The native flocks were so badly infected that the Government in 1879 ordered that all sheep owned by Maoris were to be destroyed. As compensation the Government paid five shillings for a sheep and one shilling for a lamb. And now to-day the Ngati-Porou as a Maori tribe own the most sheep in the Dominion. Sheepfarming and dairying are their leading industries.

I being the eldest grandchild, my grandfather thought that the first anniversary of my birthday should be celebrated. I believe it was a notable occasion, attended by very many people. I shall not say any more about myself except to say that at Orutua I narrowly escaped being drowned in the Orutua River. I was old enough to walk along a pohutukawa tree that leaned over the river. Of course I lost my balance and fell into the deep water. My only companion was my uncle, William the Sword, about my own age. He had sense
Tokamapuhia To the rigth of the paddock is the side of Tokamapuhia, Aotaki's pa, where Tuwahakairiora met Ruataupere (page 5).

To the rigth of the paddock is the side of Tokamapuhia, Aotaki's pa,
where Tuwahakairiora met Ruataupere (page 5).

Pukekiore Hill The site of Pukekiore pa was on the right. This was the sence of a dramatic fight between Mataura and Paaka. To save his people, Mataura handed over his granddaughter, Whirituarangi, he Paaka (page 10).

Pukekiore Hill
The site of Pukekiore pa was on the right. This was the sence of a dramatic
fight between Mataura and Paaka. To save his people, Mataura handed over his
granddaughter, Whirituarangi, he Paaka (page 10).

page 33 enough to know I was in imminent danger. He ran towards the house, and, seeing my mother, began tugging at her skirt and pointing to the river. His importunity and pointing to the river roused my mother's fears that something was wrong with me, for I was not to be seen anywhere. My mother was just in time to save me, otherwise I would not now be trying to write a book in a language other than my own.

1 According to Dr. G. H. Scholefield Mokena Kohere was born in 1812.