Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Hikairo II Part Two

After some time at Waiari, Hikairo II set off on a punitive raid to Rotorua seeking utu from a tribe called Ngati Whakaue. This Rotorua tribe had earlier assisted Ngati Raukawa's chief, Hapekituarangi, to attack Ngati Maniapoto. Ngati Apakura and Ngati Maniapoto were closely allied by kinship and in that battle a prominent Apakura chief was killed. Hikairo was anxious that his death be avenged.

When his war party arrived at Rotorua he discovered the Ngati Whakaue had retreated to the safety of Mokoia pa situated on Mokoia Island in the middle of Lake Rotorua. Having no canoes to get to the island to do battle, Hikairo called across the waters challenging the Ngati Whakaue to come over and fight. They understandably refused.

Realizing it was impossible to engage the enemy as long as they stayed holed up on the island, he called across and said his revenge would be satisfied by him drinking the waters of their lake in their presence, probably hoping to anger them into coming out to fight. To the modern mind this might seem an odd thing to do, but to the ancient Maori everything had life and soul and the lake was no exception. By drinking the water of their lake he was symbolically cannibalizing them - a highly insulting act.

The Whakaue rightly suspected a trick and shouted back that he had, in fact, just drank from the waters that one of his illustrious ancestors bathed in. They were referring to Tamangarangi, the wife of Hikairo's ancestor, Haua. She was a woman of high rank and her bathing in the lake, even generations before, rendered it forbidden that any of her descendants drink from it because her mana and spirit was endowed therein. To do so would be the same as cannibalizing your own kin. The Waikato Maori had no problems about roasting and eating the flesh of their enemies but they abhorred doing the same with relatives. An incident that once occurred while some Waikato were visiting a distant tribe illustrates this quite well, but skip it if you are squeamish. It is an account given by an old man called Nepi Terekaunuku and recorded by J. B. W. Roberton, a prominent historian around the Waikato in the 1800's.

When Nepi was a boy, a young woman from the East Coast came with some friends to stay with his tribe and formed a relationship with one of the young men. Their love for each other became strong and they decided to marry. The young man asked her friends and his own tribal elders if he could have her for a wife. Neither her friends or the elders objected so a trip was planned to go to the Coast and obtain consent from her own people. The group consisted of the young couple and her friends, Nepi, and several notable members of the tribe.

When they arrived at the girl's village they were warmly greeted and well treated by the girl's father, the principal chief of that tribe. The chief gladly agreed to the match and invited his new friends to stay a few days and enjoy his hospitality.

As was the way, the young girls of the village served the meals to the guests, and the visitors couldn't help but notice one particularly fine-looking girl. Many of the visitors commented on her good looks. Even the new husband remarked to his wife how nice the girl looked and asked who she was. His wife told him she was a just a tutua (common person) and acknowledged that she was good looking with a nice covering of fat.

The next day when the food was brought to the visitors, there was a great deal of fuss and ceremony. This time the food was carried in newly woven kono (raupo baskets) by the men who danced and chanted a ngere and made much ado over the baskets and the of presentation of them to their guests.

Obviously, the visitors were keen to know what was so special about this meal and when the steaming baskets were opened they recognized baked human flesh. The chief, upon hearing the remarks about the very nice looking girl thought, as his daughter did, that his son-in-law had a cannibal appetite for her and promptly had her killed and cooked. In his eyes he was paying his son-in-law and his visitors a great compliment by having the girl served up to them as food. It was an example of supreme hospitality and he and his people were not a little offended when the Waikato visitors expressed shock and horror and refused to eat it.

The Waikato people explained that they never ate friends or relatives and were shocked that anyone could, especially one of the same tribe. The chief told him that his people had no such squeamish feelings.

The Waikato folk were so disgusted, especially when they observed their hosts eating their own young woman, that even though they they were cannibals themselves, they actually vomited at the sight.

Now, back to Hikairo's war against Ngati Whakaue at Rotorua. Hikairo was badly stung by the rebuke about him drinking the water his illustrious ancestor had once bathed in and feeling emboldened by this psychological body blow the Whakaue sallied forth and wound up getting soundly beaten by the Waikato group.

Following this victory Hikairo was invited by another Rotorua tribe, Ngati Rangiwehiwehi, to assist them in their ongoing battles with an enemy tribe, Ngati Te Rangi. He agreed and after the defeat of this tribe he stayed many years with Rangiwehiwehi and even took a third wife from among them and raised a family. The two tribes became so closely allied they eventually went by the name Ngati-Hikairo-of-Ngati-Rangiwehiwehi. It would be a safe presumption that Hikairo's first home was always Waiari in the Waipa and his second residence at Rotorua with Rangiwehiwehi. It was nothing for Maoris to walk long distances between locations so one would presume he went back and forth between Waipa and Rotorua, probably a three to four day walk.

When Hikairo II was in his sixties, a squabble that started over an argument about fish distribution escalated into a major war that is said to have involved over ten thousand warriors. It was instigated by the old foe, Ngati Toa, who gathered an enormous force of soldiers from tribes all over the North Island to engage in a war for the total annihilation of the Waikato. It culminated in the battle which became popularly known as Hingakaka, which means fallen parrots, so called because so many chiefs were slain their colored feather cloaks lay scattered about like dead parrots. My preferred name is the one given by our own ancestor, Arthur Ormsby, who said the right name is Henga aka aka, as the sight so much resembled fallen fern stalks after a fire. This name sounds more logical. It appears Hikairo was in Rotorua with his other family when this battle was fought, but there are accounts that state he was there. Perhaps he rushed back to join the fight and arrived toward its conclusion.

After Henga aka aka he seems to have remained at Waiari due to some pressing affairs once again involving wars. The first was an expedition with Maniapoto against an alliance of Wanganui tribes in retaliation for an earlier attack by those tribes on his Waikato relatives. When the Hikairo-Maniapoto war party reached the big Wanganui River the tribes had retired to the safety of their pa on the opposite banks. Seeing no chance for a military victory, Hikairo called across inviting the Wanganui chief to talk peace terms. The Wanganui leaders were suspicious of a trick and refused the offer until he invoked their relationship through Maringirangi, and important ancestress common to them both. With this the chief crossed the river and and peace was established. To this day the place is still known as Te Horangapai-a-Hikairo.

As we can see, Hikairo II was a warlike character who survived numerous military campaigns throughout the central North Island. But, as the old saying goes - with a slight modification - 'He who lives by the taiaha dies by the taiaha' and Hikairo's time came probably in the late 1790's when he joined his Ngati Hourua relatives on an expedition against his old enemy, Ngati Whakaue. By now he was well into his late sixties and the prospects of another staush against Whakaue must have been just too hard to resist.

They were met by a strong force of Whakaue and some allies at Pukerimu near Cambridge, and in the ensuing battle were sorely beaten. All his cousin chiefs were either captured or killed and those captured were tortured and executed. Only Muriwhenua was released because of some relationship to Whakaue. The wily Hikairo, though, once again escaped death and headed back to Waiari. However, along the way he made the fateful decision to turn back to be with his captured brethren. Why he chose to do this would be best known to himself, but one can conjecture that perhaps his overpowering sense of honor and loyalty to his companions-in-arms compelled him to return, knowing full well he would die. Maybe he figured he had one last trick up his sleeve to save them all, like invoking the name of some ancestor common to both tribes. It had worked before. But the more likely scenario is that he felt he was just getting too old and it was better to go out like a warrior than a weak, feeble old man. His final statement before he was executed and beheaded was an indication of this where he said, 'My sons will avenge me.'

It should be noted that the Maori of Hikairo's day lived under the constant shadow of conflict and death and whilst they wanted to live they were nevertheless not afraid to die. As a result they would throw themselves into battle with little apparent fear for their lives. This was something that greatly impressed the British during their wars with the Maori in later years.

This fearlessness had a down side, of course; they had no scruples about killing anyone deemed their enemies, and it was easy to become an enemy. One could be a friend one day and a mortal foe the next over something as simple as an affront or insult. The law of utu meant that for every wrongdoing there had to be atonement, or payment, and the payment had to be like-for-like. As a result, society by Hikairo II's time had become a constant round of raid and counter raid.

After Hikairo's execution, one Hapekituarangi, a Ngati Raukawa chief allied to Ngati Whakaue and the day before fighting against Hikairo's band, undertook to return Hikairo's severed head back to his people. He claimed this right on account of ancestry and relationship. In those times it was critical to his mana and his afterlife that the head of a fallen chief be returned to his kainga; his home and people.

Hape duly packed the head in a beautifully carved box and set off for Pirongia and Waiari pa. He was not warmly welcomed, the Waiari folk naturally regarding him as one of Hikairo's killers. However, the rules of hospitality demanded they treat him civilly. Whakamarurangi, Hikairo's son and now principal chief of the new Ngati Hikairo, beseeched Hape to stay with the neighboring Ngati Puhiawe who were not so directly involved in the affair; he could not guarantee his safety at Waiari. Hape flatly refused and duly spent the duration of his stay with Whakamarurangi. Whilst an unwelcome guest he was not harmed and in due course returned to Pukerimu.

Thus ended the days of Hikairo II, the eponymous ancestor of Ngati Hikairo.

Written by David Bell


1. J. B. W. Roberton, Maori Settlement of the Waikato District (Te Awamutu Hist. Soc. Inc., Bulletin No. 2, 1983).

2. Lesley G. Kelly, Tainui, 1949.

3. R. D. Cosby, The Musket Wars (Reed Publishing Ltd. NZ 1999).

4. From an interview with P.M. Bell, Bell family kaumatua and historian.




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