The Delectable Land of Taiamai
Tracing place names in the Taiamai district is like a game of general post. For Taiamai is now Ohaeawai, and Ohaeawai is now Ngawha, and Ngawha has to make do with being called Ngawha Springs.
But Taiamai, the very “tino o Taiamai” is still there, solid as the rock it is, but neglected and almost forgotten by all but a few of the old people and chance visitors.
cattle on Mr Ken Ludbrook's farm at Ohaeawai, about 600 yards behind the Post Office. It is roughly 12 feet high, and as much through. It is Taiamai now stands amongst the sheep and a solid block of lava with an overhang towards the north, and apparently not too securely based on an east-west axis that is narrower than the body of the stone. Under the northern overhang is the smooth surface of an ancient fracture, but most of the rest of the surface is pitted and furrowed in the shape of the original molten rock.
Apart from the smooth fracture surface, Taiamai wears a coat of grey-green lichen. The upper surface of the northern aspect has two channels about an inch and a half wide, two inches deep and two feet from top to bottom. There are also a number of other variations which in a softer material would look like water channels.
The western side has a deep chair-shaped depression, with the seat at about half the height of the rock, with the back rising almost to the full height. At the back rising of the chair, on rainy days, is a minute precipitous waterfall which tumbles steeply from cup-shaped pool to pool and then drains across the seat to the ground. Depressions on the top and sides hold water, and tufts of alien vegetation—hawkbits, grass, shepherd's purse and inkweed—grow here and there in the hollows.
Most of the Taiamai area is volcanic, and lava flows, scoria and general volcanic detritus, form the landscape. Taiamai stands out, in a field bedevilled with stones, because of its great size and its isolation above ground.
This is the Taiamai that the curious may see at the expense of a stroll across the paddock. It takes imagination in a workaday world, perhaps, to see it as the heart and essence of a famous and beautiful countryside. Legend has it that the first polynesian immigrants to sight it found that two pigeons had preceded them from Hawaiki, and were already drinking water from the pool at the top. When the land about it was cleared hundreds of years ago the pigeons were so numerous about Taiamai that their wings filled the air with a sound like the waves of the sea—hence, say the old people, the name of Taiamai.
In days gone by the tapu stone was regarded as the spirit and essence of the whole area, and its mana was prodigious. It is still so regarded by older people, but their juniors are largely unaware of its existence.
When the great Te Wera Hauraki was buried on Te Ahuahu mountain, his burial place—whether by chance or design seems now to be forgotten was placed to look across the “delectable lands of Taiamai”. Even today anyone with the wind and the will to climb to Te Wera's tomb may see several miles away in the middle of the picture as it were “te tino o Taiamai” standing almost forgotten amongst the farm animals.
To an older generation the tomb on the hill and the stone in the paddock are tangible reminders of more stirring times, when Te Uri Taniwha, though small in numbers, were a factor to be reckoned with in the Maori diplomacy of arms. Before European times every one of the many volcanic hills was fortified to guard plantations and living quarters, but nowadays the resounding names of the fighting pas are all but forgotten. Nga Huha, Te Rua Hoanga, Kaiaia, Tapaporuruku, Tapahuarau, Nga Pukepango, are no longer the common names of populated places, but mere echoes of a past buried in manuka and gorse.
Pouerua, Maungaturoto, Maungakawakawa and Te Ahuahu are big enough, or farmed enough or prominent enough in the landscape to stay in the eye and the memory. On the eastern slopes of Pouerua alone, according to Henry Williams, about 1400 people made their homes where only sheep graze now.
When Marsden saw the area towards the end of the second decade of the 19th century most of the fortified hills had been abandoned, though remnants of stockades still stood here and there. But by 1827 agriculture on the rich volcanic soil had reached such a stage as to astonish the pakeha visitor. In that year Augustus Earle, artist and world traveller, walking from the Hokianga to
the Bay of Islands reported as follows:
At midday we arrived at what in New Zealand is considered a town of great size and importance, called Ty-a-my. It is situated on the sides of a beautiful hill, the top surmounted by a pa, in the midst of a lonely and extensive plain covered with plantations of Indian corn, Kumara and potatoes. To view the cultivated parts of this country from an eminence a person might easily imagine himself in a civilised land. For miles around the village of Ty-a-my nothing but beautiful green Gelds present themselves to the eye. The exact rows in which they plant their Indian corn would do credit to a first rate English farmer, and the way in which they prepare the soil is admirable.
Here at Te Ahuahu was the original home of Te Wera Hauraki, whose outstanding personality and extraordinary activities laid a thread of direct and continuous contact across a century and a half to the present day. If Te Wera did anything ordinary, it is not remembered. He seemed born to be a creator of legends, not by word of mouth, nothing he ever said seems to be recorded—but by his actions. Piecing together what is known of him from books and conversations, ends by giving one the impression that he was able to extend his power to associates.
Te Wera was one of Hongi Hika's trusted leaders. He was visited in 1815 by Kendall, and in 1819 by Samuel Marsden, and he came to some extent under missionary influence. In 1817 he served with Titore in a taua of 500 which raided round the East Coast, heavily defeating the Ngati-Kahungunu of Mahia peninsula, who could not face the muskets of the northerners. They brought back about 40 prisoners, amongst whom was an Arawa woman of NgatiRangiwewehi, named Te Ao Kapurangi, who became Te Wera's wife. Her part in saving many of her own people when she accompanied her husband's people at the sack of Mokoia in 1823, has become a genuine piece of New Zealand folk lore.
She pressed Hongi, through her husband, to spare her NgatiRangiwewehi relatives, and Hongi rather grudgingly conceded that those who could pass between her thighs should be spared. Nobody now will ever know whether her ruse was her own idea, or whether, as a northerner by marriage she had heard the story of Te Hana who mounted the ridgepole of Tutangi Mamae to save her tribe. Whichever way it was, she out-smarted Hongi. In the confusion when that helmeted warrior was struck on his iron covered head by a ball from the only musket on Mokoia, Te Ao dashed ashore, stood astride the door-post of the meeting house, and frantically ushered her people to safety inside until the house would hold no more.
In a later raid Te Wera captured the Ngati-Kahaungunu chief Wareumu, and it was partly due to the close friendship which grew between captor and captive that Te Wera's fame and exploits came to be discussed, remembered and acted upon before Judge Prichard in the Maori Land Court only a few years ago.
After the Mokoia battle Te Wera and Pomare captured the Ngati-Awapa, Puketapu, at Whakatane, after which the taua broke up to scour the countryside. In an independent foray against Te Whanau-a-Apanui Te Wera's nephew Marino was killed at Te Kahu—a deadly victory, as it turned out, for those people.
Leaving Pomare at Waiapu, Te Wera returned Whareumu to his people at Mahia, and yielding to their persuasion, remained with them as a “stout fence against winds from all quarters”. Under this leadership, Ngati Kahungunu beat off the Ngati Raukawa and the Ngati Tuwharetoa who had driven the Kahungunu people from the plains of Hawkes Bay. Here at Mahia and on the Here-taunga plains Te Wera and his Ngapuhi lived with their friends and allies for many years. In 1836 Te Wera set out to avenge the death of his nephew Marino 13 years before. He defeated the Bay of Plenty people at Toka-a-kuku, and surprised his followers by forbidding the ceremonial eating of the dead.
Many years after Te Wera's death about 1839, another voyage of deliverance was made in his name. A Ngati Kahungunu boy, Renata Kawepo, recaptured by Te Wera from the Ngati Raukawa
people of Wellington, had been taken north and brought up by Te Wera's brother. Renata had been treated in the north as a rangatira. When he was about 30 years of age his family asked Te Wera's next of kin for his return, and as a result Te Wera's nephew Wiremu Katene accompanied Renata to Omahu.
When Kawepo died about 1870, Katene returned to pay his respects, and the past was recalled in all the detail of which Maori custom is capable. In recognition of Te Wera's leadership, and of the close ties between the two peoples over a long period of war and peace, Renata's people presented Te Wera's relatives with what can only be described as a huge collection of Maori treasures including tiki, earrings and a very large block of greenstone.
On his return, Wiremu Katene divided the gifts up amongst Te Wera's relatives, retaining himself the large block of greenstone, from which two mere were cut and shaped. (It is worth nothing that when it was desired only a few years ago to cut a piece from the remaining slab, nobody could be found in the country who could even cut the stone, let alone shape it into a mere.)
As a result of much consultation and finally of a family agreement before Judge Prichard in the Court at Kaikohe, the Te Wera mere and two pieces of greenstone were presented by family representatives Hone Haimona, Kerei Mihaka and Hare Ngawati to Lord Freyberg at Waitangi on February 6, 1952. In this way Te Wera's activities and personality have reached directly across more than a century of time to the present day. The relics at Waitangi are not rediscovered forgotten heirlooms, but tangible reminders of a remarkable character whose influence has lived on more than a hundred years after his bones were laid to rest on Te Ahuahu, in full sight of Taiamai.
Even today Te Wera is spoken of with pride by the elders of his family. But his grave on Te Ahuahu is neglected, marked only by a rough stack of lava rock, across which the grazing cattle wander. Te Ahuahu cone is too steep for the old people, and Te Wera too completely forgotten by the young. The tomb is like and unlike R. L. Stevenson's on Vaea in Samoa. Like because it rests on a steep hill and looks out across a magnificent view; unlike it because there is nobody to make it a place of pilgrimage like Vaea. Te Wera's tomb stands neglected like te tino o Taiamai, an object of occasional curiosity and a reproach to all of us too busy about our daily affairs to spare a salute to the stirring past.