Sunday, 23 June 2013

Hikairo II

Part One

The eponymous ancestor of Ngati Hikairo is without question Hikairo II, the grandson of the first Hikairo, the Ngati Apakura chief slain in an ambush by a war party of Ngati Puhiawe after the defence of Tupapakurua, the Apakura village near what is Te Awamutu today. The death of this first Hikairo ushered in the decline of Apakura as a dominant force in the area.

It appears that Hikairo's demise was enough to appease the Puhiawe people and peace was made between the two tribes. By the time Hikairo II rose to prominence Apakura and Puhiawe had become close allies and were living harmoniously with each other.

Hikairo II was born at or near Pirongia around 1730. His father was Puku, the Apakura chief, and his mother was Te Mihinga. He was a strong and healthy boy and as he grew it became clear he was a young man with much potential. As a result, he was sent with his friend and cousin, Tiriwa, a Ngati Puhiawe youth of the same age, to the Ngati Toa School of Learning (Ahurei) at Kawhia. The Ahurei could be seen as the equivalent of our modern university, albeit with a radically different curriculum. There were a few scattered around the country operated by tribes who held the rights to them and who jealously guarded those rights. In Hikairo II's time it was the Ngati Toa who ran the Kawhia Ahurei.

The instructors at the Kawhia school would have included older, well seasoned tohungas, chiefs, and other experts in their fields. The Ahurei was open for instruction seasonally and students might be there for a year or more.

Accommodation in the form of rudimentary sleeping huts was provided for Hikairo and Tiriwa while the local students went back to their own villages. Hikairo and Tiriwa lived on site but they had to get their own food, which was probably not a great problem because these schools, wherever located, were for related tribes. They would have plenty of relatives around to provide for them and being high-born would have been accorded the customary care due their station as young chiefs.

Hikairo and Tiriwa did well at the Ahurei and finished their courses to become qualified tohungas. A tohunga is a trained priest - for want of a better title. In actuality he was a lot more than that. A priest by our definition is more a minister or clergyman concerned mainly with the spiritual aspects of his community. A tohunga, on the other hand, was one who had been trained in many fields. Not only was he expert in native religion, but also in such things as genealogies, history, legends, astronomy (as it was in those times), language, culture and tradition, makutu (magic or sorcery as we would view it), martial arts and many other skills of the day. It was no mean feat to qualify as a tohunga and only the best and brightest were selected to attend the school. It should also be remembered that the Maori had no written word so all the lessons were orally transmitted and all information had to be thoroughly memorized. The tohunga developed some astonishing memorization skills.

During Hikairo's time there were some tensions between the Kawhia Ngati Toa and their inland cousin-tribes. Nevertheless, they were obliged by relationship to take in the two boys as trainee tohungas. But when they finished and left to return to the Waipa, they were sternly warned not to come back to Kawhia with any warlike intentions.

The youthful Hikairo was apparently not listening because as soon as he arrived home he found his great-uncle, Te Ahooterangi of Ngati Mahuta, and Ngati Maniapoto's Te Iwitauroa, preparing for an assault on Ngati Toa at Kawhia and he joined them. One can only speculate as to why he didn't heed the warning of his Ngati Toa hosts. Perhaps he felt he hadn't been treated well during his stay in Kawhia. There is some talk that the huts provided were substandard and that he and Tiriwa were always regarded with suspicion and treated a bit offhandedly by the host tribe. He may have seen this as an insult.

The expedition against the Ngati Toa at Kawhia turned out to be an ill-fated affair resulting in a sound defeat. Hikairo and his uncle, Te Ahooterangi, managed to come through the fighting with their heads on but Te Iwitauroa  and many others were slain. A few managed to make a dash for the safety of the hills and flee, but Hikairo stayed with Te Ahooterangi who insisted they run for their lives along the beach, fearing his older legs would not cope with the steep hillsides. He reasoned that he could run a lot faster along the hard, flat sand. His plan was to gain a good head start on his pursuers and then head for the hills further along where the bush was thicker and better in which to disappear.  Unfortunately, his legs proved too weak and he began to flag. As he increasingly slowed it became apparant that he wasn't going to make it, their pursuers now in clear sight and gaining. Finally, when all hope of escape was gone, Te Ahooterangi, gasping for breath, commanded Hikairo to turn to the bush-clad hills and leave him to his fate. To save his own life Hikairo had no option but to do as the old man said, so after helping him to a seat on the roots of a large pohutukawa tree, he bade his uncle farewell and ran off the beach and up a hillside.

Once safely out of reach of the pursuing Ngati Toa warriors he stopped and looked downed to where he left Te Ahooterangi in time to see him being clubbed to death and beheaded on the roots of the same tree upon which he was seated. The Ngati Toa then started after him but by then he had gained the advantage and being strong and fleet of foot soon made any further pursuit hopeless. He had escaped certain death by the skin of his teeth.

It was a lesson well learned because he never engaged in any more attacks on Kawhia, choosing instead to settle at Pirongia and build his support base there.

When he was of age (in those days around nineteen) he married Rangikopi, a high ranking woman from a neighbouring tribe called Ngati Horotakere who dwelt on the slopes of Pirongia mountain, their territory extending south-east to the Mangati-Ngutunui district where the Ngati Paiariki lived. It was a heavily forested land rich with bird life and eeling rivers. Hikairo and Rangikopi had a son whom they named Whakamarurangi, and it is through this line we descend. He later took another wife, Pareoranga, through which other Hikairo branches grew. Later still, he went to Rotorua and took a third wife from a tribe called Rangiwehiwehi and began a whole new Rotorua branch on his family tree. More will be mentioned about his Rotorua family in part two of this article.

As time went by Hikairo became the dominant chief over Ngati Apakura and its territories, but an ugly incident between Ngati Apakura and his wife's Horotakere people tore the two tribes apart and caused Hikairo to alienate himself from his Apakura kinsman.

While he was away, some of his Ngati Apakura people took it upon themselves to launch an unprovoked and brutal attack on Rangikopi's folk on the slopes of Pirongia Mountain. The raid was for no apparent reason than to grab the bushland territory from Horotakere for its fat wood pigeons and other food resources. It was, of course, a raid Hikairo II would never have sanctioned if he were present, hence, one would suppose, the reason it was carried out in his absence. He returned just in time to witness the aftermath; Ngati Horotakere were annihilated and ruined beyond recovery.

Greatly grieved and filled with anger, he sought out the taua (war party) responsible for the attack and threatened dire consequences upon them if they continued their activities, for they were searching frantically for Rangikopi's mother, Tengako, who had escaped the carnage. Hikairo, too, was searching for her and if she was indeed still alive it was imperative he find her first as she was the highest ranking Horotakere at the time. By killing Tengako, her assassins could claim all the Horotakere lands by right of conquest.  

While he was reading the riot act to the murderous band he caught movement coming from the tree behind them. It was a tiki (precious greenstone neck pendant) on a long string moving in and out of the lower foliage. He instantly recognized the tiki as belonging to Tengako, his mother-in-law, and, glancing up, saw her high in the tree where she had taken refuge. His confrontation was fortuitously taking place right beneath her hiding place.  But the band was in a foul mood and believing he was sheltering the old woman demanded Hikairo to tell them where she was. Outnumbered and realizing his own life was at stake, he quickly told them a false location and sent them on a wild goose chase. Another version gives a more straightforward account simply saying he heard her calling to him from the tree and confident of her safety now that he was there, came out of the tree. This could well be what really happened but the first story is well known and if not the true account, certainly the more dramatic of the two.

However, what happened next has drama aplenty and will give the reader an insight into at least one aspect of old Maori law over land rights.

Upon descending from her hiding place, Tengako begged her son-in-law to kill her on the spot so that at least her lands would remain in the possession of her posterity through her daughter Rangikopi, Hikairo's wife. It was the way in those days that when you were taking someone else's land you kill off anyone who had a legitimate claim. Once all traces of ownership were obliterated the land belonged to the victors. In this case, Tengako was the recognized guardian of the land coveted by Apakura and by killing her they could claim it all. Tengako knew she was doomed so she pleaded with Hikairo to kill her so that he would be the one who, as her killer, had the first rights to her property. And, because her daughter was his wife, it would remain in the possession of her descendants through Rangikopi. One must reason from this bizarre request that she had great faith in her son-in-law's loyalty.

Realizing he was powerless to save her he agreed to her request. After an appropriate tangi (funeral rite) was arranged and completed, he summarily dispatched the old woman. It is not known how Tengako was killed; probably hanged or clubbed. He couldn't save his mother-in-law but he was able to prevent the bodies of the slain Horotakere from going into the ovens and also ensure Rangikopi kept her land.  

Greatly offended by this attack, Hikairo II divided from the main body of Ngati Apakura and with family and followers went to live with Tiriwa, his old Ngati Puhiawe cousin and friend. He made his base at a pa called Waiari situated on the banks of the Mangapiko River near Pirongia. From that time on, probably around 1750, a new tribal entity, Ngati Hikairo, began to emerge from Ngati Apakura, and from Waiari Hikairo consolidated his position and set out on his many expeditions against old enemies, particularly the Te Arawa tribes at Rotorua.


End Part One  


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