Easy-read Chart 2
I I I
Tukemata Hikairo I+Ngahautaua Whaeapare
Kuiatu Puku+Te Mihinga
Hikairo II (Ngati Hikairo)+Rangikopi Paretaiko
There are two ancestors named Hikairo on our whakapapa. This is the story of the first one. His grandson, Hikairo II is the ancestor after whom our tribe (Ngati Hikairo) is named.
Hikairo I was born near Pirongia about 1650 AD and rose to be the main chief of Ngati Apakura, the dominant tribe around the Waipa. Ngati Apakura shared the territory with several other groups which often led to arguments over food resources. One particular squabble blew out into a major dispute which led to bloodshed and the death of Hikairo I.
The strife began near the end of 1600 AD over an important eel weir. River and lake eels were a major food resource for inland Maori who built extensive eel traps that were permanently fixed in the best fishing spots. These eel-weirs were closely guarded because it wasn't uncommon for people from other tribes to steal the trapped eels when no-one was looking.
One of the tribes Ngati Apakura shared the territory with was Ngati Puhiawe, cousins to Apakura. Puhiawe built a big eel-weir on the Mangaotama stream which runs from the northern end of Lake Ngaroto and flows down to the Waipa River via Te Rore. As was customary they named their weir Tautepo. The old Maori believed everything had a spirit and therefore needed to be respected as if it were a living thing. If given due respect it would then respond by giving back; in this case, a plentiful supply of eels.
Ngati Apakura claimed sovereignty around the lake area and a dispute arose over the placement of the weir. Lake Ngaroto is a lot smaller today than in the older times. Farming and drainage have considerably reduced its size. In Hikairo's time it was a large deep- water lake surrounded by bush and full of eels and waterfowl. It was a coveted piece of real estate. The quarrel eventually escalated into a fight when men from both tribes were out fishing on the water in their canoes. Some shouting and taunting went on and then it got physical and a 'canoe-fight' broke out.
The canoes were usually manned by two fishermen so this 'Battle of the Canoes' as it became known, was essentially a naval action. One man on each canoe would paddle at the opposition with the second man standing at the bow with his weapon, presumably a big stick or taiaha (a long-handled blade-like instrument made of wood and used for thrusting and striking). The hand-held stone club (mere or patu) would have been unsuitable as it would have required the fighters to engage in hand-to-hand combat which, on canoes wobbling about on the water, would have made it impossible to keep any sort of balance. The taiaha allowed the combatants to stand in the canoe and swing at each other. It must have been one of the strangest battles in local history and, as it turned out, Puhiawe got the upper hand and Apakura lost the fight. Those that weren't too badly wounded or killed paddled or swam out of the lake and retreated south to a place called Kawa, near Otorohanga, with Puhiawe hot on their tails. Kawa had a swamp thick with flax plants where the Apakura men hid, hoping the pursuing Puhiawe would follow. The flax bushes provided thick cover ideal for concealment. Their long blade-like leaves also offered the advantage of making a distinct sound whenever they were even lightly disturbed. The Apakura men could hide among the bushes and pounce on their pursuers before they had a chance to respond. But the Puhiawe men sensed the danger and gave up the pursuit.
When the beaten Apakura returned home their chief, Hikairo I, was incensed at the impudence of the Puhiawe and determined to exact revenge. In those days vengeance was a law. It meant that when a wrong was done, utu (payment based on the eye-for-an-eye principle) was required to put things right. Therefore, Hikairo demanded utu and needing assistance set forth to visit his Ngati Maniapoto cousins who lived where Otorohanga is today. He was greeted warmly by his Maniapoto cousin-chief, Te Kanawa (also his brother-in-law), but the request for Maniapoto help in a war with Puhiawe was not quite so warmly received. Te Kanawa was hesitant in becoming involved in someone else's dispute, especially when Puhiawe were also his relations.
Hikairo, sensing his reluctance, took an unusual and drastic action; he jumped into the hangi pit where food for him was being prepared by Paretuiri, an Ngati Maniapoto woman. In some symbolic manner, this was an extraordinarily powerful way in which solicit the assistance of Te Kanawa. One can only imagine the shock and surprise of Te Kanawa at such an action. Perhaps it was Hikairo's way of stating, unequivocally, that he would rather be cooked in the hangi than return to his people empty handed. The ploy worked because Te Kanawa quickly promised him a contingent of warriors to accompany him back to the Waipa. And, what about Paretuiri? Again, it must be left to the imagination how shocked and terrified the poor woman must have been when Hikairo jumped into her hangi. It was an absolute sacrilege for a chief to even touch anything to do with the preparation of a hangi, let alone leap into one. She must have sprung from the hole in fear of some curse falling upon her.
The hangi, of course, would be desecrated and ruined and a fresh one would have to be dug.
Hikairo began his homeward journey with Maniapoto reinforcements and met the Ngati Puhiawe taua (war party) at Kawa. Puhiawe had got wind of Hikairo's plans and set out to meet him en-route home to 'cut-him-off-at-the-pass, so to speak. In the ensuing battle the Puhiawe chief, Ngatuera, was killed which culminated in a thorough defeat for Puhiawe. What was left of them fled to Kawhia for refuge among the Ngati Paiariki; a tribe they were closely associated with through marriages.
With Ngati Puhiawe gone and seemingly never coming back, Hikairo took all their eel-weirs and properties around the Waipa and Te Kanawa and his brother, Ingoa, took their eel-weirs and properties around Kakepuku Mountain.
But the Puhiawe people were not down-and-out just yet. At Kawhia they built a pa (settlement) which they named, Whanganamu, which means, 'Make ourselves numerous.' In fact, when they fled from Hikairo and his Maniapoto forces a warrior, Kanganui, vowed that when they were as numerous as sand-flies they would return or utu.
They must have worked on an accelerated breeding program because within a few years they returned and with the help of their Paiariki benefactors began to extract 'payment' from their Waipa cousins, launching three attacks on one of the main Apakura fortified villages at Te Awamutu, all of which had limited success. The signature battle occurred on the fourth attempt.
The pa (fortified village) was called Tupapakurua and was situated on the northern bank of the Mangapiko Stream where it formed a long loop. Tupapakurua was nestled on the bank and almost totally surrounded by the protective arm of the river. On this fourth attempt, the Puhiawe and Paiariki had gathered more numbers and completely surrounded the pa. So confident were they this time of victory that they delayed their assault until dawn the following day, choosing to first harass the inhabitants with insults, taunts, and frequent displays of their strength - a psychological softening-up strategy.
Hikairo, alerted to the Tupapakurua predicament, hurried back to Taurangamiromiro, his Ngaroto headquarters, and gathered more warriors to go to the aid of the Te Awamutu village. They travelled through the night and arrived at Tupapakurua to find it crawling with Puhiawe. There was no possibility of getting past them by force. Instead, he quietly retreated upstream and with his forces slipped into the inky river and like eels they glided with current until reaching a hidden track up to the pa he knew of and as yet undiscovered by the Puhiawe. Under the cover of darkness, and undetected, they quietly entered the village.
The next morning when the Puhiawe arose with the sun to launch their attack they were stunned to find the pa bristling with defenders. They had no choice but to abandon the campaign and pack up and leave. One account says that as a parting gesture some of the older women of the pa with the more generous posteriors stood on the parapets, and baring the said posteriors, shook them vigorously at the departing Puhiawe.
Hikairo and his people were overjoyed at their victory and watched as the Puhiawe disappeared along the trail towards Pirongia. To make sure the Puhiawe had really gone Hikairo sent some scouts to follow them at a distance and report their findings. Several hours later they returned with the all-clear; Puhiawe and their Paiariki friends were indeed gone, their footprints along the trail clear proof they were all heading back to Kawhia; they had given up and were going home. With the crisis over, the Apakura people began to leave the safety of the pa and disperse to their various homes.
But they underestimated the cunning Puhiawe who were not now trudging back to Kawhia with their tails between their legs, but were, instead, waiting in ambush among the fern and bracken. Instead of continuing to Pirongia and then on to Kawhia their leader Kanganui, the one who vowed to return when they were as numberless as sand-flies, had them walk ahead a few miles then retrace their steps walking backwards to disguise the fact that they had actually returned, their footprints all facing the same way.
Hikairo, confident the Puhiawe were gone, set out with some others along the same trail and was duly ambushed. In the resulting battle they were thoroughly outnumbered and a heavy slaughter ensued. Hikairo, the Apakura chief was among the slain. His death weakened Ngati Apakura's dominance over the region.
Kanganui, satisfied that Hikairo's death was sufficient utu, made peace with Ngati Apakura and took over the Pirongia lands owned by Apakura. Here, Puhiawe established a large settlement and by the next generation the peoples of both tribes had become close allies and lived in harmony together.
Hikairo's grandson, Hikairo II would further cement this alliance and from him would emerge a new Waikato entity, Ngati Hikairo.
Written by David Bell