Pohepohe, son of the Kawhia chief Te Akerautangi, lived at Kawhia during the turbulent times of the 1860's when the Maori were clashing with the British over land. With the ever-increasing flow of settlers into the Waikato the Maoris found their lands disappearing from under them. The government, under pressure to supply land for farms and settlements became increasingly aggressive in their appropriation of Maori land. Pohepohe was among those who actively opposed the government, to the point of taking up arms and joining the fight against the British in the land war at Taranaki.
Mac Bell, our family historian and kaumatua (elder) gave an excellent and historic speech to the Waitangi Tribunal on 25 March 2013. This speech was given primarily as evidence of the Crown's unjustified confiscation of our tribal lands. However, it also contains an excellent account of Pohepohe. I have included the speech in its entirety because not only is it is packed with information about our tupuna (Pohepohe and others) but as time goes by it will be of significant historical, political and cultural importance with regard to further land claims on behalf of Ngati Hikairo.
IN THE WAITANGI TRIBUNAL WAI 898
IN THE MATTER of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 (as
AND Claims in the King Country Inquiry consolidated
under Wai 898
AND the Wai 2351 claim by Frank Thorne on behalf of
himself and for the benefit of Ngati Hikairo
AND the Wai 1112 claim by MANIHERA FORBES and
MERE GILMORE on behalf of themselves and
AND the Wai 1113 claim by MANIHERA FORBES and
MERE GILMORE on behalf of themselves and
BRIEF OF EVIDENCE OF
POHEPOHE MAC BELL
Dated this 25th day of March 2013
WACKROW WILLIAMS & DAVIES LIMITED
LEVEL 14, 48 EMILY PLACE
P O BOX 461
DX CP 20503
PHONE: (09) 379 5026 FAX: (09) 377 6553
SOLICITOR: Dominic G S Wilson
My name is Pohepohe Mac Bell. I’m generally known as
Mac Bell.(also known as Peter McGruther Bell)
I give this brief of evidence as a kaumātua of
I am retired farmer and live in Pirongia. I have lived here
all my life. I am a tohunga whakairo and am proud to
have been one of the founders of Te Wananga o
My evidence is about the participation of my tūpuna in
the Taranaki and Waikato wars. I want also to provide
this Tribunal with evidence about how complex the
politics of the war times were. Our whānau had to make
tough decisions to survive.
In some ways our whānau kōrero is not fulsome. When
we asked our grandparents about our tūpuna and the
land wars they tended to clam up and didn’t want to talk,
despite our persistent questioning. This was a Christian
ethic in that generation where there were painful things
you were best not to talk about. My parents were similar
about World War II.
We did learn a bit about which tūpuna fought and some
broad kōrero. Much of this evidence comes from my
discussions with Paddy Turnbull, a tribal scholar. He
took me under his wing and told me a number of matters
about Ngāti Hikairo and our histories. He told me some
things about my tūpuna’s involvement in the land wars
and I will recount some of that here.
Some our people fought in the wars in Taranaki from
about 1860. They went to the wars to support their
relations, but most of all I think they joined as they could
see the wider politics of what was happening. They
could see the Pākehā trying to get the Māori land and
felt sympathy for their Taranaki relations losing their
lands. I believe they saw that their lands were next in
line and they had to stop the spread of the Pākehā.
It had been a time when the iwi had experienced
positives and negatives along with Pākehā settlers. In
the early times we had good trade and sharing of
knowledge, but our people began to see the land being
taken and we saw the vice of alcohol entering our
I will talk of my tūpuna Pohepohe Te Ake and Toataua
Te Ake at Taranaki. They were brothers, sons of the
chief Te Akerautangi.
I remember seeing Pohepohe’s musket with whānau
some years back and have a photo somewhere. It had
a star carved in the butt. It had been hidden in Kawhia
after Pohepohe returned from Taranaki. It is a
significant taonga to the whānau as we know some
kōrero surrounding it. At a battle in Taranaki Pohepohe
was part of the last contingent surviving and was
retreating. With ammunition exhausted he used his
musket as a taiaha and managed to escape. In
recognition of that event he gave his wife the name Karo
tepenete – Parry the Bayonet. She is more commonly
known as Karopeneti.
When Pohepohe returned he came some hours ahead
of his brother Toataua. Back in Kawhia Pohepohe went
to Toataua’s whānau to let them know that Toataua was
well and was on his way some hours behind. He arrived
to find the tangi of Toataua’s wife was happening. It had
been going for over four days and nights. Pohepohe
requested the whānau to keep the tangi going as
Toataua was to arrive shortly. Toataua arrived at
Kāwhia and swam across the harbour from pipi bed to
pipi bed to arrive home to the tangi. The tangi had been
going for five days and five nights when Toataua
reached his whānau. In commemoration of Toataua’s
efforts in the wars in Taranaki and to memorialise the
tangi, his whānau changed Toataua’s name to Pōrima - meaning five nights.
This is now a well-known name among the Ngāti Hikairo
When the Crown forces saw our Ngāti Hikairo at
Rangiriri I think they felt more disposed to killing. Ngāti
Hikairo already had a warlike reputation from their
fighting in Taranaki. I was told that the Crown forces
definitely considered that Ngāti Hikairo were dangerous
and should be killed because they had fought in
Our whānau kōrero is that Te Akerautangi and his sons
Pohepohe and Toataua all fought at Rangiriri. We are
not certain, but there is kōrero that Te Akerautangi was
captured and held prisoner on a ship off Kawau Island
and then escaped.
My tūpuna lived at Waiari. It was an ancient pā for Ngāti
Hikairo. They lived alongside Ngāti Puhiawe and the
whakapapa lines became merged there.
When the fighting occurred at Waiari a number of Ngāti
Hikairo fought. I believe my Tupuna Te Akerautangi
(also known as Te Whakaea, Wiremu Te Akerautangi,
or Wiremu Te Ake Kārewa) fought there. He was quite
old at that stage but still fought alongside his two sons
Pohepohe Te Ake, and Toataua Te Ake. Te Mūnu
Waitai and his daughter Rangiāho Waitai were also
there (and they also fought at Pāterangi).
The fighting was not at all easy. They were short on
everything. Our kōrero is that they were short on food
and ammunition and were ultimately outnumbered. I
understand this was a pattern for all of the land wars for
We have kōrero that they were using stones and even
wood pieces in their muskets. We also understand that
there was a mix of fighting skills among the persons who
were present. A number were not tested warriors at all.
Pohepohe and Toataua also fought at Hairini.
In my view the confiscation took the best quality lands
from Ngāti Hikairo and other iwi of Te Rohe Pōtae. I
have farmed for many years at Waimiha, Pārāwera,
Mangati, Pirongia, and Waiari and have some
knowledge about the quality of lands for farming and
horticulture. Much of the lands that were confiscated in
the south of the district were the most fertile and rich in
the Waikato region. Our farm at Waiari was only about
60 acres, and it was difficult to manage such a small lot,
but it was really good land. The loss of such lands was
a huge loss to Ngāti Hikairo and the other iwi and hapū
of Te Rohe Pōtae.
Today our whānau have no lands outside of Kāwhia
moana. I don’t believe our tūpuna were awarded any
lands from within the confiscation district. When I
farmed in Waiari it was on land I had to purchase myself.
So it is confiscated and then you have to buy it back.
The impacts of the confiscation were absolutely
disastrous on our people. Many researchers have
discussed the matter of “urban drift” as a key cause of
problems within Maoridom, but in my view some of the
worst situations for Ngāti Hikairo, and other iwi of Te
Rohe Pōtae, had existed well before those times. The
confiscation saw lots of our people focused in little areas
which were absolute hell-holes. Numerous whānau
were crammed into kainga surviving on small stretches
of river ways. There was drinking and many associated
problems. Our culture was slipping away. It was hell for
some whānau. I am sorry to say that Te Whatiwhatihoe
was such a hell-hole for a period.
The generations after the confiscation worked hard with
what little they had. Still our whānau were always
struggling in poor housing and without running water.
Many resorted to stealing to keep up and this became a
way of life. I really do believe that the loss of land was a
key source of these troubles.
The Land Wars: A time of confusion and contradictions
It is well known that Ngāti Hikairo was divided during the
times of the land wars. We were quite split up. Our
people have seen statements that factions of Ngāti
Hikairo were “rebels” and factions were “loyalists”. It is
so much more complex than that.
It is true that a number of whānau and individuals took
quite different positions about the land wars. Some
fought against the Crown forces, some left the area,
some remained in the region but didn’t fight, and some
sought to show support for the Crown and Māori.
In our iwi kōrero we know of no Ngāti Hikairo who fought
for the Crown against Māori during the land wars. Some
persons did provide assistance with diplomacy or acted
as guides to the Crown.
My evidence to this Tribunal is that there was so much
pressure on our people that the iwi didn’t act as one
during the land wars. The pressure forced some
individuals and whānau to make their own decisions
about what they needed to do to survive.
Many of our whānau were seriously tested during the
wars. I think a number of factors worked against us.
Our rohe included some of the very desirable and fertile
lands from Pirongia maunga to the east and north. We
occupied Kāwhia Moana which was a transport and
trading hub and which was rich in marine resources.
We experienced some of the earliest interaction with
Pākehā at Kāwhia. I think the Crown forces advanced
relatively quickly to the south in 1863 and our kōrero is
that some within Ngāti Hikairo started to fear the worst
from an early time. Indeed some of the iwi had seen
first-hand what the Crown was capable of in the wars in
Taranaki. I think all these factors were part of a
pressure that the Crown exerted and applied on us.
Our customary ways were all about sticking together.
The first reaction was to fight together, but we began to
find that we could not drive Pākehā into the sea. In fact
they seemed to be growing in numbers after the wars in
Taranaki began. Our people had to make decisions as
a matter of survival and tikanga was tested.
Some of our whānau decided that to survive they should
fight the Crown forces. Others decided that survival
required some sort of support for both the Crown and
Māori. I say support for both Crown and Māori as the
question is not clear cut. It wasn’t a case of Māori being
against Māori but more a situation where some whānau
saw their fate as Māori hinging upon their relationships
with both Māori and Pākehā.
Some among Māori call those who fought with the
Crown “Kūpapa”. The term is nearly always derogatory.
It is sometimes applied to any Māori who chose not to
fight against the Crown forces and sought to remain
somewhat neutral. Again, the term is usually derogatory
even when used this way.
I understand that Kūpapa means to be neutral in an
argument. In fact, Kūpapa can mean a person who
actively tries to peacefully resolve an argument. I
understand the term can therefore be either positive or
derogatory. In our kōrero the term Kūpapa comes from
“Kū” - a pigeon. In Christian thought the dove
represented peace. This was the positive meaning.
However, when a pigeon became fat we considered that
it had become fat by cooperating with the enemy. This
was the derogatory thinking behind the term.
The tupuna of my whānau chose to fight against the
Crown forces. I know of some Ngāti Hikairo whānau
who chose to keep a relationship with the Crown and
Māori. I think most of those who kept a good
relationship with the Crown acted as intermediaries
between the warring parties and tried to broker peace. I
would like to hope that today they can be looked at as
neutral brokers of peace – using the more positive
meaning of Kūpapa.
I have headed this section of my evidence “a time of
confusion and contradictions”. I would like to give some
examples why simple terms like “rebel”, “loyalist”, or
“kūpapa” are really meaningless at this time.
For example there was our chief Hōne Te One. He
fought alongside Māori at Taranaki at Māhoetahi
and was injured and captured by Crown forces.
Hōne Te One, along with Te Akerautangi, Kikikoi,
Pikia, Te Au Makoare and other chiefs, placed the
lands of Ngāti Hikairo under the Kīngitanga.
However, when the Crown brought the land wars to
Waikato he chose not to fight with Māori but worked
between the Crown and Māori to broker peace.
Because of his decisions on this issue he was
exiled from Kāwhia to Aotea Moana (to his other
whanau connections) and stayed for the most part
of the wars at Mōtakotako. For parts of the wars he
lived at Pukerimu (a hill between Te Rore and
Pikopiko) right within the war zone and Crown
forces occupied his lands at one stage. While still
at Mōtakotako, Hōne Te One invited Tawhiao to
assure him that Ngāti Hikairo remained in full
support of the Kīngitanga. It was also during his
time at Mōtakotako that Hōne Te One worked with
the Crown building roads in the Aotea harbour
region. Later, it was he, along with Pikia, and Hōne
Wetere, who invited Tawhiao to live at
Whatiwhatihoe – onto lands he had personally been
awarded after the confiscation. He himself lived at
Pirongia at Whatiwhatihoe for some time. So Hōne
Te One did not shrink from fighting for his people,
but later promoted a relationship with the Crown
and Māori which he believed was necessary for
survival. It can be seen that the situation is simply
not clear cut.
Now I think of my tupuna Pohepohe. He fought
against Pākehā in Taranaki and in the Waikato.
Pohepohe hated Pākehā. At Taranaki he fought
against Mr McGruther, a Scottish member of the
Crown’s forces. This same McGruther was later to
marry Pohepohe’s daughter at Kāwhia. Pohepohe
went from a deadly foe to a father-in-law. This is
another example of the times and the contradictions
that it created.
I think also of Rangiāho Waitai, the daughter of Te
Mūnu Waitai. Both her and her father had fought at
Waiari and Pāterangi. Later she joined the whānau
exiled in Mōtakotako and was a wife to Tawhiao.
So, she had consistently fought against the Crown
and was to become a wife of Tawhiao, but she lived
among the exiled Ngāti Hikairo at Mōtakotako.
In the above examples I am trying to show that the
situation on the ground was complicated. Simple
explanations don’t explain the complicated layers of
customary relationships coupled with war and rapid
change. It is therefore difficult to brand any particular
whānau of any iwi with a label.
One label that was branded against Ngāti Hikairo as a
whole was “rebel”. I’m told our iwi was listed as a rebel
iwi by the Crown at the end of the wars. In those
turbulent times you did what you could to survive, but
above all you defended yourself from the Crown’s
invasion. We fought to defend not to rebel.
My tūpuna fought against the Crown and lost life and
property. Some of our Ngāti Hikairo whānau chose a
different path for their survival. It was a complicated
time of change and the Crown created various
pressures. Ultimately, we all suffered through the wars
and confiscation. Many years after the wars and
confiscation I believe our people continue to suffer
today. It is not just the land loss. Our people still hold
the pain of the wars on their shoulders.
Our iwi lost its very best lands. In the grand scheme of
things we did not lose a huge quantity of land, but we
lost our best quality lands. I know this applies to Ngāti
Apakura and Ngāti Maniapoto hapū along with Ngāti
I’m told there are a few small blocks of Ngāti Hikairo
land remaining within the confiscation district around
Pirongia Maunga. I don’t believe that any of our whānau
have any lands at all in this area. All we have are small
plots our lucky few have been able to buy back on the
open market. We now only have whānau land in
Kāwhia Moana (and much of those lands are the subject
of perpetual leases to others).