1808 – Tahi’s boyhood

Tahi stood on a high terrace of the pa, Tongaroawhata, on maunga Whakaupoko.

His parents were discussing his future at a hui-aiwi in the wharenui, and he wondered about the korero taking place. His father was the rangatira, and Tahi had little idea what that might mean for him. Usually the eldest son became rangatira after his father, but not always: Tahi had been told many times that he would have to earn his place in the tribe.

From the tihi, he had an all-round view of his tribal area. He had travelled with his parents over land, on foot, and on many of the streams and rivers and the harbour by waka, to meet whanaunga at Pukekohe, Hunua, Manuka and Tamaki.

In the foreground was maunga Titi, and beyond he could see rising smoke – he knew whanau were burning fern in readiness for the next kumara planting in the rich volcanic soils. Around him in the pa, adults were busy preparing for manuwhiri expected that afternoon. During the last few days Tahi had been fishing, and helping to snare kereru, weka and other birds. That morning he had helped carry stones for a new hangi pit, and fetched some of last season’s kumara from the covered storage pit on one of the terraces.

Near the whare kai there were fires heating stones that would cook the food for their guests, and nearby were water-filled hue into which hot stones could be put to cool, for cooking the meat, fish and greens needing lower temperatures.

Tahi sometimes envied the younger children – even though they were given jobs to do, they had lots more time to play than the older boys and girls. He could see two of his younger brothers playing string games, some cousins flying kites in the brisk wind, and a group of nephews and nieces darting down a track to the bush to play hide-and-seek.

As they grew older, tamariki spent more time helping their families with gathering fern roots, puriri, karaka and other berries of many kinds, pikopiko, tawhara and many of the plants used for rongoa, and learning how to cultivate kumara and taro. They listened to the karakia, recited by the family tohunga, that accompanied every activity, and hoped one day they might learn the ancient chants.

When they were big enough, they were taught to use the short and long wooden ko with the moveable foot-plate for digging ditches and terraces. On their hill-top pa, the men sometimes needed to cut new banks, excavate new kumara storage pits, dig holes for posts and wooden stands, or dig new toilet ditches that were well away from food and living spaces.

As they grew older, young men helped with building whare too. Houses were framed with timber from kanuka trees, lashed and pinned together and covered with bound raupo leaves from nearby swamps.

When a new wooden wharenui was built, however, the front would be adorned with whakairo depicting ancestors, their histories and their deeds, and tohu important to their rohe. On the inside of the whare whakairo, whariki, tukutuku and painted kowhaiwhai completed the full whare tupuna, or ancestral house.

The women spent much of their time weaving whaariki and kete, or paake and other clothes, for everyday use.

Carvings and weavings meant a lot to Tahi – although he knew he still had a great deal to learn as well. In their wharenui at Tongaroawhata the carvings and weavings not only celebrated their ancestors and their history, but also taught respect for the atua, and the special tohu from land and water in their iwi’s rohe. And because they were iwi with a strong history of navigation and exploration, as well as gardening, the stars were there too, and the seasons.

Although Tahi and his whanau had their own whare moe, they slept in the wharenui when there were manuhiri, and Tahi listened to the stories told by the koro and kuia there; it was a special treat to sleep in one of the other big wharenui around the rohe, too, and hear the stories of other hapu and iwi. History of Mauku School – 109 The children at Tongaroawhata sometimes watched the men of their whanau working with stones in special tool-making areas nearby – their tribe was lucky because the area around Mauku had plenty of stone from the old volcanoes; whanaunga who visited from the sandy west coast or Manukau Harbour often brought dried shark to exchange for stone for their tools. Tahi had also been to a big area near Maioro where tools were made and exchanged by many inland people passing through and trading with the Manuka people for some of their abundant kaimoana.

Tahi and his parents often walked on the old, worn tracks through the dense bush to nearby pa and kainga. When they crossed swampland they would rub the juice from crushed ngaio leaves on their legs and arms to keep the millions of mosquitoes at bay.

Tahi turned away from the busy preparations for visitors, and looked to the south of the pa. The deep-green forest and dense bush was splashed with the silver of lakes and wetlands, threaded with glittering streams. It was like a giant kete filled with food. Tuna, kakahi and koura came from the streams or wetlands. You could harvest raupo heads and make delicious bread. The forest was full of birds easily snared – especially the fine fat kereru when it was drunk on makomako or puriri berries, and the ground-dwelling weka and kiwi. Their flesh was eaten, and their feathers were made into prized korowai too.

Inanga, kokopu, and other delicious fish flourished in the Mauku river, and in the Taihiki and Waikato rivers which he could see in the distance. His uncles would be willing to teach him more about the fresh-water foods, about making and using kupenga and hinaki to catch them, and managing the special waka used for navigating small streams and rivers.

The great harbours and the ocean also had a special appeal for Tahi.

He turned towards the west, and the north. He gazed at the wild western ocean, Te Moananuio- Rehua, washing the coast of the giant sand dunes of Manuka with their huge forests of puriri and kauri, between the ocean and Manukatangao- Hoturoa. Tahi had whanaunga from a big pa on the peninsula who took him fishing when he stayed with them. They took him along all the old paths on the hilltops and in the valleys, to kainga, pa, and fishing camps on the harbour coast. They knew all about the shellfish on the shores, and the fish in the sea, and taught him to row the big waka with outriggers they used around the coasts. Perhaps his parents would let him live there for a year or two to learn more about the harbour and the ocean.

His mother’s people had a special responsibility for Te-pae-o-kai-waka, the portage, and for the big pa at Waiuku. Waka laden with food and other goods for trading were paddled up the Awaroa river from the Waikato. From there, they were dragged along a specially formed track to Waiuku, using rollers made from the trunks of the ti kouka. Then they were launched into the estuary and could be rowed anywhere on the Manukau harbour. And, of course, the journey was undertaken from the Manukau to the Waikato river too.

So the area around Waiuku was a major trading centre. Tahi had been to Waiuku several times with his parents, and found the comings and goings of people from around the harbour, and from the river and further south, exciting. Inland tribes came to fish, and coastal people took fish and kumara inland too. Sometimes big groups came to talk politics. There were all kinds of speeches to listen to, and new haka and waiata to learn. Trade and politics, whaikorero, haka and waiata – they were all of great interest to Tahi.

Slowly, Tahi let his gaze drift to the north, across Manukau to the fiercely sought-after Tamaki Makaurau isthmus with its many hill pa, then to Waitemata, Rangitoto and hazy islands and mountains beyond. He had been taught his whakapapa and his relationship to the birthplace of Te Ata i Rehia, at Matukutureia, and to the great pa at Maungakiekie, Maungawhau and Maungarei. One day he hoped to visit those places, depending on whether times were peaceful.

There had been battles in Tamaki, between his iwi and others – indeed, the isthmus was known as Tamaki Makaurau because it was much sought after for its many maunga for pa sites, its volcanic soil, stones and springs for gardens, its rich harbours to north and south, and its two portages, one towards Waitakere and one at Otahuhu.

There had also been battles much closer to home, Tahi knew.

Already, Tahi was being trained as a warrior. He could wake from a deep sleep at the lightest touch on his arm. He knew many of the games he played with the other children were preparation for war. Stick games helped them learn to use taiaha when they were older, poi made their wrists flexible and strong for patu and mere. Would it be his duty to lead a group of warriors to sort out issues with a neighbouring tribe? Or to defend this pa against marauders? Or to take war parties in waka taua across the harbour, up the Waikato river, or out into the western ocean and along the coast to north or south?

As he was reflecting on the possibilities ahead of him, Tahi heard his auntie calling him. “E Tahi, haere mai – get the wood for the hangi pit now. You don’t have time to stand around staring – remember the hakari for visitors this afternoon.’’ Tahi did as he was told.

His daily life was always busy. He’d learnt some of the skills of gardening, cooking, carving wood, weaving harakeke and kiekie, and he knew quite a few haka and waiata. He was beginning to learn some of the musical instruments – koau, and putorino in particular – and he could also swim and manage waka ama, the main canoes used for transport and fishing.

Tahi was a keen learner. He knew lots about the plants, birds and fish of his area. He knew the special karakia for when a tree was to be sacrificed for a whare or a waka, and every day he took part in karakia honouring Papatuanuku, Ranginui, Tangaroa and Rongo for their gifts of life and food. He had yet to learn the karakia for weather and war, and there were some sacred rituals which only the tohunga and rangatira, performed. Perhaps he would be taught those when he was older.

His elders had already taught him about Te Ata i Rehia, the ancestor for whom his iwi, Ngaati Te Ata, were named. Grand-daughter of the famous Waiohua chief Huakaiwaka, who had been a great chief in Tamaki, she had led her people to safety during raids on Ngararapapa, near the northern head of the Manuka peninsula. Over the years the iwi who took her name had spread through the peninsula and between the Waikato and the Manukau.

Tahi had been told that his earliest ancestors, Matakore, had always lived in Aotearoa, since time immemorial; they were descended from the stars, and from Papatuanuku herself. Other tupuna were said to be descended from Maui, who fished up Te Ika a Maui. Kupe, (who had visited the Manukau nearly a thousand years before Tahi was born) had returned to his Pacific home and talked about the islands and people he had found in the south. Two explorers, Toi and Whatonga, some generations later, had arrived and settled in Aotearoa – they, too were tupuna of Tahi’s iwi. And after another two centuries many canoes, including the Tainui waka, arrived over a period of years from the north-east Pacific. Te Ata i Rehia had formed a union with Tapaue, of Ngaati Mahuta, one of the Tainui hapu.

In the years that followed, their whanau, hapu and iwi had formed links with many other tribes.

These days, Tahi’s people were close to Te Akitai – Ngaati Tamaoho, whose pa he could see towards Patumahoe and Pukekohe, Ngaati Pou, Te Aua, and many more. Tahi understand these relationships, and knew he would be involved in guarding his heritage, and forming appropriate links, when he was older.

Tahi had heard from whanaunga up north about some visitors to Aotearoa, in tall-masted waka – strange, pale fellows, in peculiar clothes, smelling odd and speaking a hissing and spitting language, it was said. They were whalers and sealers, traders and missionaries, bringing new goods and new gods. But they were also said to be dangerous, with sticks that killed from a distance. For the last forty years, more and more of these people had been arriving around the coasts. Some had sticks in their mouths, with fires burning at the end. Sometimes they offered new kinds of tools, the “tapaka’’ they smoked in their mouth-sticks, or even their killing sticks, in exchange for food, or for trees to mend their ships with. A few had left their ships and settled within hapu.

While he worked around the pa, Tahi thought about all the things he didn’t understand yet, and possibilities ahead of him. Whatever his whaea and matua and the other kaumatua decided today about his future, Tahi knew he would have to cope with many challenges.

This excerpt has been reproduced with the kind permission of the publishers of

The History Of Mauku (2009)

and the authors:

George Flavell, kaumatua of Ngaati Te Ata, historian and sculptor

Charmaine Pountney, Ngaati Pakeha, teacher and writer.