1858 – Tahi’s reflections

Half a century later, Tahi stood on Whakaupoko.

The of his ancestors had disappeared; only some crumbling palisades, and grass-covered rua and terraces, remained. Tahi was not sure whether it had been destroyed by whanaunga to prevent its occupation by Ngapuhi invaders, or sacked by the invaders themselves after his iwi moved south during the turbulent years of the musket wars. Later, settlers had used old palisade posts for fencing, and the rua, the kumara pits and house sites and the terraces were now all grass; he could barely see where his home had been, and where the wharenui had once hosted big groups of manuwhiri. On the slopes of Whakaupoko were grass, burnt tree stumps, patches of scrub, and cattle and sheep grazing.

Tahi was on his way home from Ngaruawahia, where he had been to the crowning of Kingi Potatau Te Wherowhero. Tahi had walked from the landing at Pura Pura on the portage, following the stream to the hill where he had spent much of his time as a child, to reflect on te ao hurihuri – the changing and topsyturvy world he now inhabited.

Although Tahi still treasured the old ways, the mauri of the natural world and its traditional gods, his reo and tikanga, he knew he had been changed, nearly as much as the land around him.

He could speak English as well as Māori, and could read and write in both. He often wore European clothes, he ate food from English farm animals and the stores in Waiuku, he measured time by the European calendar, and he had just been to a coronation, the first in the history of Aotearoa. Because of their concerns over land issues, many of the tribes had come together and chosen a king, like an English king or queen, in the hope this person of great mana would be able protect the rangatiratanga of Maori in negotiations with the English over issues of land and power The changes had begun with the arrival of those people from Europe Tahi remembered hearing about in his childhood. As he stood on Whakaupoko, Tahi reflected on the musket wars, the goods and the evils brought by traders, the old gods, the new ones brought by the missionaries, and recent political developments.

First, the guns.

The iwi and hapu of earlier times had maintained a balance between disputes and alliances. Battles, when they occurred, were hand-to-hand combat with mere, patu and taiaha, testing the personal courage of warriors.

However, the introduction of the “sticks that killed from a distance’’– muskets – had changed all that.

The Nga Puhi chief Hongi Hika, one of the first to acquire large numbers of muskets, decided to seek utu against tribes to the south who had been involved in the killing of relations. In the 1820s, after slaughtering large numbers in Hauraki and then near Maungarei on the Tamaki isthmus, Hongi Hika and his army hauled their waka from Waitemata over the Otahuhu portage to Manuka, and rowed to Waiuku, where they intended to use the portage and the Awaroa stream to reach the Waikato area.

Tahi was one of the warriors who felled trees along the portage to block the Awaroa. This stopped Hongi Hika and his men from transporting their large waka taua for two months; in the meantime the iwi from the area hid themselves, or, like Tahi’s family, moved south to join their related Waikato iwi and prepare to defend themselves against Hongi Hika. At the huge battle of Matakitaki Pa at Pirongia, in 1822, Tahi’s father and two of his brothers were killed, among the 2000 Waikato allies slaughtered by Hongi Hika’s guns.

Tahi himself had saved a group of Waikato men and women by organising a daring escape. He followed the group, killing with taiaha and mere many of Hongi Hika’s men who tried to stop them. He was greatly respected for his personal bravery and strategic skills as a result of this action. But that battle was a turning point for Tahi – he realised that either his people must arm themselves with these Pākehā weapons, and become mass killers in their turn, or somehow work towards more peaceful relationships with other tribes. Probably both.

Nga Puhi eventually returned to Tai Tokerau, after many years of fighting, negotiations, and arranged marriages. Tahi had been involved in all three.

As a renowned warrior, Tahi fought alongside the great Waikato chief Te Wherowhero for many years. He helped whanaunga buy guns from traders who settled in Kawhia and at Port Waikato. And as the strengths and the armaments of Waikato and Ngapuhi equalised over the years, he became one of the main negotiators for his people.

Tahi’s first wife had been a young woman to whom he had been betrothed as a child – his parents had arranged the marriage to forge a link with a highly regarded nearby chief and his whānau. She had died giving birth to their first daughter. So in the course of negotiations during the early 1830s, Tahi agreed to marry a Ngapuhi woman of high rank to seal an alliance with her people.

In 1835, Te Wherowhero, widely accepted as a leader by many of the tribes around Waikato, the river and the Manukau, brought numbers of Ngaati Te Ata, Ngaati Tamaoho, Ngaati Pou, Ngaati Tipa and others back to their traditional areas. Tahi was with him then, and again soon after when he signed He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene – the Declaration of Independence of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand.

Tahi knew that by then, there were several thousand tau iwi – foreigners – settled in Aotearoa, some around Waiuku and the mouth of the Waikato. Tahi’s relations had debated long and hard about allowing these people to stay. The guns, tools, seeds, fabrics and clothes they brought with them were very useful, and there was interest in the preaching of their missionaries – they seemed to have a powerful god, and to be able to help negotiate truces between previously warring groups. They brought new skills of great importance, as well : reading, writing and printing, which his people had adopted rapidly. Tahi still had copies of one of the early Maori newspapers, first printed in 1842.

But the settlers brought dangers, too.

Tahi’s whanau were very worried about the tobacco, alcohol and sugar the traders offered so freely, because it was clear some members of the hapu had learnt to crave these things, and would trade scarce food, precious taonga, or even land, for them.

The new settlers, or the different foods, had new brought sickness – there were many more deaths, at an earlier age, than Tahi could remember from his youth. One of Tahi’s sisters had died of something the tau iwi called “measles’’, and others had given birth to babies who were deaf and blind.

And then, of course, there were the land issues. Traditionally, tribes had sometimes permitted those from another area to come and live on their land, in exchange for gifts, or as part of a negotiated marriage or tribal alliance against another iwi. So when the tau iwi offered gifts in exchange for land, it was at first assumed that they would behave like other guests – respecting the forest, waterways and food sources, and sharing resources.

Very soon it had become clear that these settlers were different. To them ‘’buying ‘’ land, meant they owned the land, rather than the land supporting and owning them. It also meant they felt the right to keep other people off their land, and do what they liked on it. They cut down many large trees for buildings, boats and fence posts, burnt big areas of the bush, brought in large grazing animals like cattle, sheep and horses, and put up fences with no thought for local people’s right of access to wāhi tapu, or food sources like streams and swamps, many of which they blocked or drained..

There were disputes, also, about who had the right to “sell’’ land to these newcomers – in Tahi’s area, around Mauku, for instance, at least four iwi had interests. In the broader district, there were ten or more groups who believed they had a right to negotiate the use of the land and waterways. But these new settlers – increasingly being called Pākehā, because of their pale skins – seemed to believe that individual Maori could own land, and sell it. So they sought out possible sellers, and offered them payment in goods, and, increasingly, in money. Often this led to disputes between hapu and whanau; and before the disputes could be resolved, Pākehā had moved onto the land concerned and taken over.

In early 1840, Tahi had become keenly involved in the discussions about a proposed Treaty between Maori and the newcomers from England and elsewhere. Many northern chiefs – some of the same ones who had signed the Declaration of Independence – had already signed a new document at Waitangi in February which guaranteed the rangatiratanga of iwi, and the inalienable right to their lands and treasures, while offering ‘’kawanatanga’’, governance by the English Queen’s representatives over the increasing numbers of people arriving from Britain and Europe. It also offered Maori the protection of British law and citizenship, and put a stop to individual settlers trying to buy land – instead the British would appoint representatives of the English government to negotiate settlement rights.

For the chiefs signing the Treaty, it was seen as a way of stopping some of the disputes over land, and managing behaviour problems arising from the interactions between Maori and Pākehā, which were particularly troublesome, especially in Kororareka in the north, and here in Tamaki.

Others, like Te Wherowhero, had refused to sign, believing that Maori tribal sovereignty had already been protected through the Declaration, which had established the nationhood of the combined iwi of Aotearoa. Tahi agreed with Te Wherowhero; he was suspicious of this new treaty, especially of the proposed ‘’kawanatanga’’, and of the right for English Crown representatives to buy land. Like many chiefs, he had rejected the document when the missionaries brought it to the district. But he knew some local chiefs had signed an English version that, they were told, said the same things.

As Tahi looked at the farmlands around him in Mauku that day in 1858, he knew his suspicions had been well-founded. Eager for access to the goods settlers brought with them, many of the chiefs in the area had agreed to allow large areas of land to be made available, through Crown agents, for sale to new arrivals. Now there were 25 Pākehā families in the Mauku area. Most of them had farms of fifty acres or more – one former officer from the British army had taken over 750 acres beside the Mauku Stream.

Only a few whanau remained in whare scattered around the district. With most of the forest gone, local Maori had lost their natural food sources, and taken up jobs working for the new settlers, or moved to Waiuku, Pukekohe, Patumahoe, or even to Papakura and Tamaki Makaurau, to find new kinds of work there.

Tahi could hardly believe that so much could have changed in his lifetime.

That day in 1858 he wept for the loss of the bush, the damming of streams, the draining of wetlands – the hurt to the land and the people who used to live there. His heart ached for the sickness, the poverty, the drunkenness he had seen around Waiuku, and as he travelled from Waiuku to Ngaruawahia.

But he recognised that some good things were happening too.

Tahi reminded himself that day that Christianity, the new religion Pakeha had brought, had helped to stop the killing between tribes. He believed that Maori were like the Chosen People in the Old Testament of the Bible – driven out of their home country, and waiting for a messiah to lead them back to their promised land. Perhaps, he thought, Te Ua Haumene, the prophet from Taranaki, might be such a leader – or perhaps Potatau Te Wherowhero’s son, who had recently been renamed ‘’Tawhiao’’ by Te Ua.

Relationships between different iwi had become more peaceful, as they realised the futility of gun-based warfare, and the Christian missionary message of peace spread among them.

Also, tau iwi had brought not only guns, but also iron tools which made gardening and building much easier. The new fabrics like wool and calico were more colourful, easier to shape into clothes, and often warmer than those woven from harakeke.

The new foodstuffs such as pork, lamb and beef, flour, and many fruit and vegetables from Europe, had brought variety to the diet of those who could afford them. Many of Tahi’s relations were making good money growing wheat, peaches, apples and tobacco, and bringing pork and fish to Waiuku. From there they shipped produce across to Onehunga, for sale in Tamaki Makaurau, which had become in 1841 the centre of government for the settlers. Waiuku had become a thriving small town, because of the portage, and many of his whanau now lived there or nearby, farming like Pākehā the land they still owned, or working in the new jobs created by trade there.

As for himself , Tahi reflected, he and his wife were lucky to live now mainly at Ngaruawahia, near the King. And although the pa of his childhood was deserted, he was highly respected as a rangatira at the marae near Waiuku.

Tahi spent much of his time with the king, helping him deal with delegations from all over the motu who brought their concerns to him, and with the Pākehā government officials who were pressuring Waikato iwi to give up more of their land for the growing numbers of settlers arriving from England.

Tahi’s surviving son and daughter and their families worked for the Pākehā who lived in one of the large houses at Mauku and farmed much of the surrounding land. The relationship between the two families was useful to both, though not warm – the Englishman had been a soldier in several British colonies, and was obviously used to ruling local people rather than respecting them. But he did support the building of a school in Mauku, and had told Tahi that his grandchildren should go there when it was built “to learn to become good British citizens.”

As Tahi stood on Whakaupoko that day in 1858, he prayed that King Potatau Te Wherowhero and the unified group of tribes he now led would be able to slow down or stop the sale of land, and the fighting which happened as a result. He prayed that settlers would stop felling the trees, learn to cherish Papatuānuku and the streams and rivers. He prayed that tohunga would find cures for the sicknesses which were killing many of his people, that his people would hold fast to their language and customs, and that some would work hard to claim back the land they had lost. And he prayed for the school to be built in Mauku, hoping that local children, both Maori and Pākehā, would learn to live and work there together in harmony, and to share the knowledge which would help them prosper as partners in the future.

When he wrote the karakia in his diary later that day, however, he also wrote about his fears. He noted his feelings of mistrust towards settlers, particularly some of the speculators buying land around Mauku just to keep it until prices rose, some of the missionaries and ministers who seemed to compete and fight among themselves in ways inconsistent with their preaching, and the British soldiers increasingly being given or sold land around Mauku by the Pākehā government.

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.