Thursday, 22 August 2013

A Half-day Hikoi

A Half-day Hikoi

The territories  our early New Zealand ancestors occupied was remarkably extensive, starting from around the Aotea-Kawhia area and expanding outward  to include holdings in much of the Waikato and King Country. It will be remembered that Hoturoa’s daughter, Kahukeke, and her husband, Rakataura, left Kawhia to explore the inland regions and in so doing laid claims to great swathes of territory on behalf of Tainui. By the time of Tawhao’s time as paramount chief, Tainui was an empire in its own right and around 1450 when he divided the territory between his two sons, Whatihua and Turongo, he ushered in a new era of Tainui expansion. Whatihua took control the lands northeast of Kawhia and over the Pirongia Mountain into the Waikato. Turongo reigned over the more southerly regions from the southwest of Kawhia into the King Country.
Of course in those days these regions were not called Waikato and King Country as we know them today; our early ancestors had their own names for their territories and their own ways of laying claims and protecting them against interlopers. Claim setting was done in a variety of ways such as establishing small settlements, leaving markers like carvings on tree trunks or rocks, the placement of mauri stones, and even burial sites where members of the group died; anything that could be used to argue that they were there first. These claims, if the proof was clear and the argument for them convincing enough (often backed up by warnings and threats), were by-and-large honoured in the earlier days when space was plentiful. It was in later times when competition for resources became more intense that territorial disputes became common causes of inter-tribal wars.

One of our ancient ancestresses, Mereaina, a woman of high birth, is a good example of how land was claimed; she owned huge tracts of land along the south-eastern side of Pirongia Mountain towards Kawhia. She kept her claims to this land valid by walking over it regularly and being able to state that she always camped at this or that place and point to her big cooking-fire sites as proof. These fire-sites soon became traditional evidences of her claims which stood for generations. They even held up when the British government first set about finding out who owned which territories so that they could know which land could be parcelled out to settlers. Mereaina kept all her holdings due to her campfire evidences.
It should be noted though, that the early Maoris did not view ownership in the same way as we do in our modern society. They did not own it individually. Rather, they laid claim to it as tribal land, meaning everyone in the tribe and even other relatives outside the main tribe, could have access to it where appropriate. I would be more inclined to say they ‘held’ their land rather than owned it. In other words they had land holdings, which is subtly different to land ownership. Nevertheless, they fiercely defended it against others trespassing on it or attempting to take it from them by force.

In August 2013, Mac and I went on a hikoi (trip) across our old ancestral lands. We did it in half a day in Mac’s diesel pickup truck, unlike Mereaina who walked the whole way and took weeks or months to cover her domain. From the air-conditioned comfort of the truck we could only get the faintest glimmer of what it was like for our ancestors in those ancient times. The terrain was mountainous, rugged and obviously dangerous. One would have to be well versed in bush survival and extremely fit and strong to traverse the length and breadth of it as she did. It was no place for weaklings. It was almost unimaginable how someone like Mereaina could walk such distances over such convoluted, forest-covered countryside. But the old Maori were fantastic walkers and thought little about a long trek through the wildest of environments.
Mac and I cruised across their ancient lands along well kept roads with an unusually warm winter sun beaming down on us. We started from Pirongia and drove past the Ormsby farm at Ngutunui - Ngati Piariki territory - then turned off along the old Pirongia West Road which goes over the mountain past Hihikiwi, the highest point. I was surprised the road went up that high and from there we could see down to Kawhia and clear across to Karioi, the mountain range near Raglan, another of our ancestral landmarks where Whatihua ended his days.

Along the way we stopped atop a high point and Mac pointed out the vast acreage that was once the farmland of our own Ormsby ancestors, the sons of Robert, the first Ormsby to arrive in New Zealand from Britain, our Arthur   among them. I was amazed at how much land those doughty old pioneers had wrested from the rugged hills and thick forests with little more than horsepower, manpower, rudimentary equipment by today’s standards, and lots of slash-and-burn. But as Mac pointed out it wasn’t as tough as we might suppose as we look back on it. Cutting trees down and removing the stumps was pretty tough going but powerful draught horses helped tremendously with these tasks. Furthermore, much of the land they broke in was vast tracts of bracken fern requiring nothing more than a good burn-off. Additionally, they didn’t have the plagues of gorse, broom and ragwort, the noxious weeds that grew rampant in later times. Their farming methods were also much more simple; somewhat ‘hunter-gatherer’ in nature. Once the land was cleared and sown with grass, cattle were released and then rounded up when needed. It wasn’t the intensive business-like farming of today.
Over time the land was sold or frittered away by seceding generations until only our cousin Keith and his nephew Raymond now occupy a couple of farms at Ngutunui.  Unless they have children that will take over their farms it is likely they will be the last guardians of what was once an important part of our ancestry. 

Mac also pointed out the enormous stretch of Ngati Horotakere territory that went from Pirongia all the way along the eastern slopes of the mountain to Oparau, not too far from Kawhia itself. All this Horotakere territory was ceded to Ngati Hikairo when Tengako, Hikairo’s Horotakere mother-in-law, requested he kill her after the treacherous annihilation of her tribe by Hikairo’s own Ngati Apakura – Hikairo was away at the time. By law, the person who had the highest (noblest) whakapapa was deemed the Manawhenua, or highest claimant, and in order to obtain the land outright, the Manawhenua had to be killed.

Tengako was Ngati Horotakere’s Manawhenua and survived the attack by hiding in a tall tree. Hikairo returned in time to rescue her before her Apakura attackers found her. Knowing that her tribe was effectively wiped out by the covetous Apakura, and realising that they would stop at nothing to kill her, she determined that her lands must remain in the possession of her generations to come through her daughter Rangikopi, Hikairo’s wife. To achieve this she had only one option; her son-in-law must be the one to kill her. She pleaded with him until he acquiesced and, after a farewell tangi, he despatched her. By being the one to kill the Manawhenua, Hikairo then took full rights to all Horotakere holdings and Rangikopi became the last remaining Horotakere Manawhenua, frustrating the plans of his rebellious tribesmen.
Deeming it now unwise for him and Rangikopi to live among his Apakura people, they took their following and went to live with his cousin tribe, Ngati Puhiawe, on the banks of the Mangapiko stream at Pirongia. It is interesting to note from this incident that even a recognised chief was not immune to dissent in the ranks and challenges to his authority. In time, Hikairo and his followers gained the ascendency and Apakura diminished as the main power in the Waipa region.

At Oparau, where the old Horotakere lands terminated, was an interesting place with some significant family history for our immediate family. It was where my mother, Jean Waireti Ormsby (McGruther) Bell owned a substantial block of land passed down to her through her father, John McGruther, who inherited it from his mother, Te Anu, daughter of the Hikairo chief, Pohepohe, who was born in the early 1800’s. Pohepohe probably died around 1880 – 1890. At his death the family land went to his children, his daughter Te Anu being one of them. Her oldest son, Honi Ruki (John McGruther) inherited it from her and he in turn passed it to his daughter Jean. It would probably have gone to Jock, the eldest son, but he was killed in World War Two. The next brother, Colin, had been given the family farm at Puketotara so that’s how Jean got the Oparau plot.  

 In the early 1950’s Jean and her husband Peter took possession of a farm at Ngutunui under the War Veterans’ scheme, and while that scheme financed the purchase they still needed money for stock and equipment. Jean sold her holdings at Oparau to an uncle (Tom French) and put the proceeds into setting up at Ngutunui. When we stopped to look at the farm and the idyllic surroundings of Oparau, Mac and I wondered why our parents chose to cash this farm in for what to us was the less appealing one at Ngutunui. But we realised we ought not to judge things from our perspective in 2013. In their day Oparau was probably an isolated (albeit beautiful) backwater and too far for their liking from civilisation. They obviously judged Ngutunui as the better option.
From Oparau we cut across into Turongo’s inheritance southeast of Kawhia. Here the land took on a whole different aspect with spectacular outcroppings of limestone cliffs that soared high above the rugged, rocky terrain. It has its own unique beauty and in many ways was more interesting and varied than Whatihua’s portion to the northeast. From here our ancestors pushed inland to colonise the King Country and establish the great Ngati Maniapoto around Te Kuiti and Otorohanga alongside Ngati Hikairo in the Waikato.

Some far more recent family history must be added to this article before I close; some notes about the years Jean’s sons Mac and Colin spent working for a construction company (Brown and McSheaynne) bringing the modern wonders of electricity to the farms and communities throughout these ancestral lands.
In the early 1960’s Mac was dissatisfied with his current employment and when he found out there were high paying jobs on offer to lay power lines through the remote countryside around Kawhia, he jumped at the chance. At the tender age of nineteen he became a linesman and set off on what was to become four years of backbreaking but life-changing work. His younger brother Colin joined him a little while later.

The job required setting poles and stringing lines to the farms and communities who, since pioneer times, were still living without power. It was tough work and done without the labour-saving equipment of today; in other words all the dragging, digging, ramming and stringing was done by pure muscle power. As we observed the terrain from the comfort of the pickup, one could easily visualise the effort it took to get power to those communities, most of the land being covered in thick bush with hard limestone rock underfoot.

Another of life's little ironies needs to be mentioned at this point; the father of Mac and Colin (Peter Bell) worked these same hills and valleys for a few years after the war, probably around 1946, also stringing power lines. Others on that post-war crew were familiar old names like Reg Jolly, Bob Whitehead, and the foreman, Tubby Douglas who went on to become the Power Board Engineer responsible for the projects Mac and Colin worked on. The poles and lines had a life of about twenty or thirty years so some of the work Mac and Colin did was to pull down the very poles and wires their father helped set up in 1946.    
Despite the hardships, Mac and Colin loved the place and enjoyed the work. The pay was exceptional for young men their age and the hard physical work made them tough and fit. In addition, the hours were regular, giving Mac time to discover his inborn love for the bush and the land. I find it a curious coincidence that his first ‘real’ job took him on a hikoi through his own ancestral lands, the very lands our old people walked over. I believe it was this experience that awakened in him the call to seek out our ancient korero (stories and whakapapa) to become our whanau kaumatua and tohunga (family elder and historian).

He recounted some of the experiences of his time on the lines, a few of which I will relate as best I remember them. One was about how tough the work was; they had to first slash and cut miles of tracks through the thick bush where the power lines were to be set. Then they dragged the big power poles over the tacks and set them in the ground in holes dug completely by hand, often having to punch through solid limestone or other harder rock with crowbars. Next, they dragged miles of heavy power cables along the tracks and strung them to the poles. On rare occasions they used explosives when they could get their hands on some.
He told of how keen the locals were to help, always ready to offer their expertise regarding the geology of the ground and so forth. Sometimes local farmers would proudly proclaim that no-one, especially a bunch of town-bred linesmen, could dig holes like they could; after all, they had spent their lives working this land. After some good-humoured ridicule at how pathetic the linesmen were at post-hole digging, the locals were permitted to help. The linesmen quickly learned that the locals could dig holes alright but they always dug them much too wide which meant that there was twice the work to fill them in and ram the earth around the poles, this being the most critical part of the operation, the rammed earth needing to be rock hard so the pole would not tip when the lines were strung and tightened. The linesmen needed small, neat holes and it was difficult getting the locals to provide holes of the right dimensions. They turned out to be more hindrance than help but it was hard to put them off and even harder to get them to change their idea of what constituted a good post-hole.  What they did appreciate, however, was when the locals came with their tractors and bulldozers to help cut the tracks and cart in the poles and gear.

The local people were overjoyed and greatly appreciative to the crew when they finally got power to their homes.  Always, there was a big celebration complete with formal speeches expressing their thanks and gifts of appreciation, not in money but with such things as fish, meat and other edibles. The womenfolk especially benefitted from the new wonder and electric stoves, vacuum cleaners and washing machines appeared in homes all over the district like mushrooms after an autumn rain. Mac and Colin saw first-hand how the miracle of electric power changed those peoples’ lives and felt glad they were part of it.
Somewhere in the Hauturu region Mac found a splendidly preserved ancient stone adze in a riverbed. One of the senior members of the gang got hold of it and never gave it back. However, this find set him and Colin off on a hunt for more artefacts, of which there would have been plenty around if you were lucky to find them, the whole place being rich in ancient Maori settlements and history. They never found any more adzes, but Colin spotted an unusual rock among the other stones in a riverbed. It was about thirty centimetres long, oblong in shape and very definitely hand worked because both ends were tapered; one end a little more than the other. They sensed it was an important find so they took it to a local old Maori woman who got a bit nervous about it. It appears it was some sort of boundary marker or perhaps even a once sacred mauri stone. This time they were careful to keep it out of the hands of the old guy who took the adze and it remains to this day in Mac's possession. It has been with him from Hauturu to Ngutunui to Waimiha, then to Parawera on to Waiari, up to the Pirongia Mountain farm on Waites Road and finally to what will be his last home on Ross Street in Pirongia. That stone has been on a long hikoi and now deserves a symbolic place in our family history; it may even have been made and used by our very own ancestors. Someone needs to make sure we keep it.

Another time, Mac, answering the call of nature, made another special find. The spot he chose to privately relieve himself was off a bush road among a clump of ferns. Under ther ferns trickled a small brook into a shallow pool of dark, shaded water, in which a small fish swam about lazily. Mac hastened his task and easily snared the fish in his hands. He determined to capture it because as soon as he saw it he noticed how different it looked to any fish he had seen in our rivers and streams. It was about twenty centimetres long, dark in colour with a myriad of spots all over its body. He showed it to Colin and together they took mental notes of its appearance then released it. They later found out it was a kokopu, or native trout. These fish are not rare but certainly hard to find unless you know their habit. They are not open water fish like the introduced trout. Instead, these more secretive creatures prefer a swampy environment with plenty of reeds and cover. They are, in fact, one of the main producers of whitebait, of which there was once a great plenitude in the Hauturu region. 

Mac incredibly remembered the exact spot where he caught the kokopu. I tried to repeat the event but had no luck.
We went to Rakaunui, a place where our grandmother, Daisy, used to come for holidays when she was young. It was part of Meriana’s territory, the Manawhenua tupuna mentioned earlier in this article. Daisy said that Granny Mereaina was a much loved and highly regarded kuia and there was always much happiness whenever she appeared. But she also had a tough and determined side, especially when it came to the guardianship over her tribal land. At one time the government blatantly grabbed a block of her land for settlement. She became so infuriated she loaded her shotgun, mounted her horse and set off for Auckland to shoot the government official responsible. Everyone knew she would do just that unless restrained. Somehow they managed to get her off the horse and calmed down enough to disarm her. We don’t know what the outcome regarding the land was but it is a good insight into what went on in those days with the land-hungry settlers and government snatching land at every opportunity. It is also a nice snippet that helps us to know a little more about Granny Mereaina.

We also saw the Rakaunui Marae nestled against a backdrop of towering limestone hills. It is an important marae in the area and a major step up from the old red woolshed they used when Mac was there as a linesman. Not far from the marae was a derelict tin building that Mac said was the local shop, now just a rusting memory. It sits on the bank of the Awaroa River that runs out into the Kawhia harbour. It was along this river canoes and boats once carried goods to and from the store. Our grandmother often rode the canoes up and down that river and described it as a most delightful little journey through farmland, pristine bush and past spectacular limestone cliffs and overhangs. Mac and I didn’t have the time or means to do the trip ourselves to see if she was right…perhaps another day.

Colin contributed a few fascinating memories of this old store and his days at Hauturu. I have included them written in his own words: This is another snippet or two from our days at Hauturu. I was reminded of it when reading again about Ma (our grandmother, Kura Daisy McGruther) riding the canoes up into that area. Way back when we were little and holidaying in Kawhia, I remember seeing a long canoe coming from eastern end of Kawhia harbour. It was powered by a two-stroke outboard motor, not very big but certainly better than paddling. About half a dozen people got out and later filled it up with what I suppose were groceries, and went back the way they came. I always looked out for it during future holidays but never saw it again.   

Many years later when we got the power to Rakaunui Marae we were told to come back after work for a celebration. We got there about 3:30 p.m. and the beer came out, but we had to wait an hour or so to eat because some of the men were still out fishing. Guess what they were fishing in? You guessed it, the old log canoe! They eventually came in loaded with flounder, kahawai, snapper and mullet. Can't beat net fishing.

Two things have stuck in my mind since then; firstly, the age of the canoe. It was a forty foot long hollowed out log with deck boards for seats with an outboard motor fixed to the stern. I was told it was very old. The other thing was they unloaded the fish onto the ground and then invited us to help ourselves. I've never forgotten that the locals would not take any for themselves until it was obvious that our work gang had all they wanted. There was about ten of us and Mac and I hung back a bit as it was a bit embarrassing the way the others were grabbing their share of the fish. We were soon pushed forward and told to help ourselves. We needn't have worried as there was still plenty left for everyone. I have never forgotten the old-time hospitality and respect shown to us that evening. Mac and I had to ride our motor bikes home to the farm half-drunk before the fish went off.

Wouldn't it be funny if Ma rode that very same canoe when she was young? 

Also, while at Hauturu, Mac got himself in a bit of trouble with the locals, some of which were his relatives, after he and another worker decided to explore some caves. In that area the huge limestone cliffs are riddled with still unexplored caverns and river tunnels that worm their way underground all the way to Waitomo. In those days it was considered by the locals to be tapu territory and people were not supposed to enter the caves without proper authority and protocol as some of them contained the bones of ancient tipuna (ancestors).The two didn't particularly believe in the old notion of tapu and one day thumbed their noses and went into the caves.

They sneaked in when they thought no-one was around and were amazed at the scale of the caves. However, they didn't bring any flashlights with them and after rounding the first bend were greeted with pitch darkness ahead. They went as far as they dared and heard running water somewhere far below them. As their eyes adjusted they could make out a deep division to the side and realised there was a river flowing along the bottom. Mac took a large rock and threw it over the edge. It seemed to take an inordinately long time for the sound of the stone hitting the water to get back to them, so they decided that they had better return to the world of light before they did themselves a misfortune in the pitch blackness.

A couple of nights later when they were sharing a few bears with the locals in the Kawhia pub an older uncle, Larsen Hapera, came up to have a word with them. "You boys been fooling around in the caves eh?" He was a giant  Maori, well over six feet with arms like tree trunks. "You were seen coming out a couple of days ago. You keep out of there or you'll be in big trouble." Then, looking at Mac said, "Just lucky you're a relative!"

He didn't need to say anything more; they got the message. They had heard that bad stuff happened to people who violated tapu things. It was pretty apparent that if the dead Maoris didn't get to you the live ones probably would. 

Mac also pointed out the house and farm where our late Uncle Jack Ormsby was raised. We were unable to see the house but not far from it was a large flat area where a tidal lake once existed. It was fed by a big hole in a limestone barrier through which the sea rushed during the incoming tide bringing with it herrings, kahawai, snapper and other sundry fish. Uncle Jack said he used to catch fish for the family in this miraculous miniature inland sea. Even the local Maori, when preparing for an event, always dragged their nets through the waters of this lake before trying the harbour. It has long ceased to be, destroyed by the farmer on whose land it sat, the farmer himself a local Maori who, for his own reasons, filled the hole with rocks and poured in tons of concrete as a dam against the sea. Needless to say it infuriated Uncle Jack and all those who fished there. Uncle Jack often threatened to go back one day and see if the hole could be reopened with a few well-placed sticks of dynamite. He never got around to it so the lake remains nothing more than a dry paddock. The locals gave it the name, Lake Disappear.

Finally, the hour grew late so we headed home stopping for a snack at the Oparau store on the main road at the Oparau turnoff. While eating our snack Mac told me a story that I will relate and bring our Half-day Hikoi to a close.
Several years earlier, Mac took his brothers Colin and Stewart and several of their family members on a similar hikoi, stopping for refreshment at the same store. It was summer so the day was hot and humid. Colin, a big man, was terribly hot, thirsty, and hungry. Everyone went into the store and duly purchased their refreshments then waited for Colin to appear; he was renowned for doing everything at his own pace. When he finally came through the door into the blazing sun he was met with gales of laughter. In each hand he held a huge ice-cream cone, each already melting over the sides. He looked every bit the picture of Billy Bunter, and, like Billy, polished off both ice creams with ease.

Mac and I opted for a piece of fried chicken and a bottle of ginger beer each to fuel us on the forty-odd kilometre drive home.

Written by David Bell (11 Aug. 2013)  




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