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No. 29 (December 1959)
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MAUNGAPOHATU
AN EPOCH IN HISTORY

High in the mountain fastnesses, in the centre of a vast area of rugged ranges, peaks and deep valleys lies Maungapohatu, former strong-hold of the ancient Tuhoe tribes. Isolated by the formidable bush covered country, which is broken in every direction by countless tumbling streams, the Maoris' old mode of living survived here until quite recent times. In this wild realm of the kiwi and kaka, the Maori deity Tane Mahuta reigned supreme presiding over all the forests and everything that dwelt in his trees, and so the birds came to be known as the children of Tane.

Back in the dim ages, according to Maori legend when men held strange powers and god-like beings dwelt on earth there lived one, Hine-puko-hu-rangi, the Maiden of the Mists. She lured Te Maunga (the Mountain) to earth and from their son Potiki descended the tribe known as Nga Potiki. This tribe is also called Tuhoe from their ancestor Tuhoe-potiki who was partly of Mataatua and partly of Nga Potiki descent. The third name by which these people are known, Urewera, derives from an unfortunate accident that occurred many years ago when an old fighting chief Murakareke rolled over in his sleep into the fire and had his private parts scorched in the flames. Eventually the name “Urewera” came to describe the whole of the mountain area.

The Urewera country is a series of rugged, broken mountain ranges varying from 1,500 to 4,500 feet covered with a dense blanket of bush and even today this formidable area is only partly mapped and surveyed. The valleys are full of pigs, deer and wild cattle, and in some places whole hill faces appear to have received a barrage of 25 pounder shells, where pigs have been rooting. Rainbow trout are gradually appearing in the upper reaches of the tributaries of the various rivers close to Maungapohatu although the big winter floods often wash them down stream again.

A few miles past Ruatahuna, and near the summit on the Rotorua-Wairoa road stands a lone sign post which says Rua stronghold, Maungapo-hatu 9 miles (the distance is believed to be nearer to 12). Starting in a clearing, called Papa totara, below the main road, a trail winds down through the bush to the first of the many creek-beds which it alternately crosses and recrossed countless times until Maungapohatu valley is reached. Many a war party of fierce tattooed warriors has trodden this ancient track and often the old war trail is worn down chest high with the passage of the fighting Tuhoes and their enemies for full twenty five generations. Frequently the track follows cold clear stream beds, where the banks are a dense mass of ferns, surmounted by tawa, tawhero, tawai, rimu and beech bush. Everywhere in the muddy verges of the creeks are pig and deer prints, but few birds are to be heard. Finally after weary climbing up and down the ranges, a surprising view appears, the valley of Maungapohatu. A long narrow sloping area at the bottom of the valley has been cleared of bush, and amongst the remains of

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Mr Hoani Temera of Ruatahuna visits Maungapohatu occasionally. Deerskins are in the background.

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Shearing at Maungapohatu is a rare event, preceded by a grand rounding up operation extending over many miles. One handpiece is used operated from a small petrol motor at top left-hand corner.

odd slab whares, wild cattle and sheep roam at will in the unfenced clearings, and in the evenings the pigs and deer appear from the bush verges.

Looming across the skyline at the top of the valley the massive Huia-rau range rises sheer from the shadowy ravines below, and it is interesting to note that Moa bones have been found here. With a series of grotesquely weathered pinnacles, the range comes to an adrupt ending at Maungapohatu mountain, 4,353 feet high, which stands as a sentinel and age-old guardian of the lands of the

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JOHN H. ALEXANDER

Tuhoe. Legend has it that the presence of a stranger on the sacred peak is signalled by a veil of mist suddenly appearing on the towering lime-stone cliffs. Every hill-top tells of bloody battles fought in olden times, when the Urewera was full of people, and centuries of continuous warfare and countermarching in search of blood vengeance took place in the mountain hamlets and kaingas now unoccupied by man. The sole inhabitants of Maungapohatu Pa at the present time are old Hemi Toa and his wife, caretakers of the Great Rocky Mountain; although at times as many people assemble for various functions, coming up from Ruatoki or Ruatahuna.

Each summer Hoani Temera, together with his family and relatives, come in with pack horses and for a few days the old pa sees some great activity while the bush sheep are being shorn. Recently over two hundred head of wild cattle were rounded up, the most savage beasts being lassooed and tied to the clearing's trees until they became more docile, and finally the whole herd was driven out over the 12 miles of the old war-trail to the holding pen on the Rotorua road. From there they were trucked to the coast at Wairoa.

By reason of the high altitude and severe winters with snow often lying many feet thick around the kaingas, the wild bushmen of the Ureweras frequently went short of food. Cut off from the sea by hereditary enemies in possession of the coastal regions, their food supplies were hard to obtain. The only vegetable they grew regularly was a small blue potato called “papaka”, and for a kinaki or relish they produced a kind of pickle mixed with bush honey, the vegetable being first allowed to ferment. Native rats, dogs, eels and small varieties of fish were eagerly sought in ad-

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Maoris bring out wool from Maungapohatu, Rua's onetime stronghold, by packhorse over the ancient war trail which after ten miles meets the main road from Rotorua to Wairoa.

dition to berries, fern roots, etc., but it was in the hunting of birds that these hardy mountaineers really excelled. Famous places in former days, were the “ahititi” (where the mutton bird is taken at night). A fire was lit near a net triangular string on high poles, and the birds when attracted by the glare were easily killed by a blow from the bird hunter's stick.

During the 1870's, this isolated wilderness made an ideal refuge for Te Kooti and his war parties between their ferocious raids on the pioneers' settlements.

Maungapohatu Pa, scene of many historic battles, is also famous as the last place in New Zealand where there was a skirmish between the Maoris and Government forces, only 43 years ago, over the arrest of Rua, the Maori prophet. A son of one of Te Kooti's followers, Kenana, Rua attained some eminence as a prophet in succession to Te Kooti and became a sort of Messiah, and his influence extended as far as Rotorua, the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast. He built a curious circular temple at the pa, decorated with clubs and diamond symbols from playing cards, and established himself in an elaborate European styled house, the timber, fittings and furnishings being carried by packhorse up the rugged Whakatane River tracks. By accepting one tenth of all his followers' earnings, he was able to live in comfort together with a large number of wives and his numerous children. Rua had during his lifetime 12 wives and over 70 children. Following a breach of the liquor laws his arrest was ordered, but he defied the police and said he would fight to avoid arrest. A party of 42 armed constables assembled in Rotorua in April 1915 and finally made their

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Woolpressing at shearing time in Maungapohatu.

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The deserted home and Presbyterian Mission of the Very Rev. John Laughton who lived in Maungapohatu until recent years. On right: the old post office. (January 1959.)

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Wharepuni at Maungapohatu. The floor is excavated about one foot inside the building and split totara shingles are under the iron roof; toitoi facing over the doorway. This house is still used every winter. (January 1959)

PEN AND WASH DRAWINGS BY JOHN H. ALEXANDER

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Rua's temple, now destroyed. The picture shows Rua and some of his wives on the passage and stairway. (Alexander Turnbull Library Photograph.)

way over the 90 miles of extremely rough country to his stronghold. Some excitable elements among the Maoris opened fire when they saw their prophet being roughly handled, and a brisk fight of about half an hour followed, during which 4 constables were wounded and one of Rua's sons and another Maori were killed. In this street today a few slab whares still stand, and one wharepuni with earthed-up walls which is one of the last native dwellings of its kind still in use today. The floor is sunken about a foot below the level of the ground, covered with fern and mats, and during the winter when the sliding door and window are closed and a charcoal fire is lit for warmth, the pungent atmosphere has to be experienced to be believed. It was owing to these living conditions in wharepunis (sleeping houses) that eye troubles were a common complaint among old time Maoris.

After Rua's arrest, he was sentenced to a short term of imprisonment and on his release settled down to be a law abiding citizen and an ardent Government supporter, being responsible for raising many recruits for the Maori Pioneer Battalion in World War I. On the death of Rua in 1937, the Government received a shock when his wives issued a combined request for pensions, but history relates they were unsuccessful in their petition. With the passing of the prophet, failure of the potato crops over several years, combined with the rigorous climate, caused severe starvation and many Tuhoe families settled on the Development Scheme on the richer lands at Ruatoki. The tribe has recently sold timber milling rights in the area, and contractors are at present forcing a road through the mountains and soon the centuries old isolation of Maungapohatu will be broken for ever.

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This painting of Christ was done by Ralph Hotere, art instructor in Kaikohe and one of the more promising younger Maori painters. Ralph Hotere was born in Panguru.

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An old East Coast stockade post provides a good example of the ‘tara tara o kai’ type of carving. (Photograph by J. McDonald, discussed in W. J. Phillipps, Maori Carving Illustrated, pp 23–24)

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An image of the great Polynesian ocean god Tangaroa, from the Austral Islands. The small human figures on body, eyes, mouth, nose and ears probably represent the creative powers of Tangaroa who is shown in the act of creation. Originally there were many small human images of the gods in the interior of this carving; unfortunately these were lost. Photographed by Dr T. Barrow, by courtesy of the British Museum.