1908 – Rua’s girlhood

Rua carefully put down the old book, and heaved a huge sigh. She had been reading parts of her greatgreat- grandfather’s diary, begun in the 1830s when he first learnt to read and write, and continued until he died in 1860, just after his beloved King Potatau Te Wherowhero. Her understanding of Tahi’s old language was limited, in spite of his elegant handwriting, but she knew enough to understand his karakia for peace and justice in land dealings, for the healing of the land and the people, and for the education and harmonious future of the tamariki, Maori and Pakeha.

She felt glad Tahi had not lived to see what had happened during the years that followed.

Rua, now 13 years old, was living with her grandparents, and had heard many times their stories of the Wars.

Her grandfather remembered that Mauku had been quite peaceful when he was a child, until one of his whanau, Eriata, was shot while out hunting. The Pakeha District Commissioner came to investigate, but could not find any proof of deliberate killing, and decided it was an accident – reluctantly, the local Ngaati Tamaoho chiefs agreed that was possible. But everyone knew there were difficulties between the Pakeha farmers and workers and local Maori, over straying cattle and land boundaries, so suspicions lingered. New Pakeha arriving in the district were obviously wary of Maori, and tried to avoid them; there were definite tensions throughout the district.

All Rua’s whanau knew that King Tawhiao, Potatau Te Whereowhero’s son, had spent many hours with the English governor, and had even been to England, to try and stop the huge numbers of Pakeha pouring into the country and demanding land. There had been battles up north, and unrest in Taranaki, over land-grabbing and other acts of injustice, in clear breach of the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi. But Governor Grey had promised to protect Waiuku in the event of any fighting, because of its importance as a trade route. Like Tawhiao, many local people had become followers of Te Ua Haumene. As staunch Kingites, and with their commitment to Pai Marire – Goodness and Peace – local hapu hoped that the largely peaceful relationships between Maori and Pakeha around this area would continue.

As the story had been told to Rua, this hope was destroyed in 1863. First, Governor Grey ordered his British troops to arrest and imprison Ngaati Tamaoho Chief Ihaka Takaanini in Papakura, even though he had been the peacemaker during earlier angry incident in Mauku. Then there was a proclamation that all Maori north of the Waikato had to swear allegiance to Queen Victoria, or move to the south. Of course their allegiance was to their own rangatira and iwi, and to Kingi Tawhiao, and many refused. The last savage blow, in July 1863, was the burning by British soldiers of all the waka they could find around the Manukau, destroying the livelihood of many hundreds of whanau in the area.

The burning of the waka was the burning of hope for most whanau. While some stayed in and around Waiuku, held by bonds of work and marriage, many left to join their relations in the Waikato. The British troops marched south, and crossed the Mangatawhiri Stream. It was understood they intended to destroy the power of Kingitanga , and seize more land for settlers.

Although most of the fighting was in the Waikato, as the British troops pushed further and further south, there were incidents around Mauku which Rua’s grandparents still talked about. One of the whanau, Hone, had been commanded by an English commissioner to row him down the Waikato with the wages for a platoon based at Port Waikato. As they passed the landing at Camerontown, Hone heard his name called, and the instruction, in Maori, “Duck your head, Hone! Duck quickly!” He did, and a bullet whistled over his head, killing the commissioner.

On another occasion, British troops attacked a group of Maori on maunga Titi who were shooting stray cattle for food. In the resulting battle, twenty of his hapu, including one of Tahi’s sons, and eight of the British soldiers, were killed and many wounded. This fight caused great alarm among the Pakeha settlers, gathered fearfully in St Bride’s Church at Mauku, which had been heavily fortified by the soldiers and settlers. They were all evacuated to Drury, and then to Tamaki soon after.

The next few years had been very hard for all Rua’s tupuna. Those who stayed were called kupapa by many of those who went to fight; all the land still owned by Maori around Mauku and further south, and some to the north, was confiscated by the government, as punishment for those who had left to fight in the Waikato. The Maori population around Mauku disappeared; their land was taken up by settlers from Britain, many of them former soldiers, who continued to destroy what was left of bush and the wetlands.

Tahi’s hopes for a school in Mauku had not been realised until 1883. Some of the Pakeha children had been able to attend classes established by the Presbyterian church near Patumahoe from 1866 onwards, and then a school in Mauku from 1873 onwards, but those of Tahi’s whanau who returned from the Waikato after the wars had settled on the outskirts of Waiuku on a small plot of land still owned by the iwi. During the long depression of the 1870s and 80s, they were just able to survive by growing their own food, and fishing. Going to the Pakeha school was out of the question, because of the fees. However, the whanau had continued to teach their children to read and write in Maori, using a family bible first owned by Tahi.

Now, in 1908, one or two of Rua’s hapu were staying in Pukekohe with whanau and attending the District High School which had opened in association with the primary school in 1904 – Rua hoped she might be allowed to go there the next year, because she wanted to become a teacher.

Rua’s grandparents were working for one of the Pakeha vegetable growers in Mauku, and had a small cottage on their farm. They were keen readers of the Maori language newspaper Pipiwharauroa, when they could obtain copies from whanaunga in Gisborne, as well as of their Maori Bible. So Rua could read and write fluently in Maori. Because she showed such a keen interest in her whakapapa and in learning, she was sometimes allowed to look at that very precious hand-written book, her tupuna Tahi’s diary.

She was enjoying Mauku School, even though she was not allowed to speak Maori there; she had learnt some English from the neighbours and their children at an early age, worked hard at school, and got on well with the mainly Pakeha girls and boys. Her teacher was firm but fair, and treated all the tamariki kindly. She was patient, too, when Rua couldn’t find the English word for something.

But she knew some of her relations in other areas didn’t go to school at all, or left early, because their teachers didn’t understand te reo or tikanga Maori, and treated children as dumb, or naughty, when they didn’t know something Pakeha. She would be different if she were a teacher, she knew. She knew that young people needed a Pakeha education these days to get a good job, and to raise their families well; she also loved the reo and tikanga of her whanau and iwi, and was determined to hold fast to them.

She looked again at her great-great-grandfather’s karakia, and hoped that she would be able to help bring it to fruition for her people and their children.