Ngati Hikairo: A summary
Ngati Hikairo traces its genealogy back to the Tainui canoe (said to have landed in NZ about 1350 A.D.) through Hoturoa’s daughter Kahukeke (also known as Kuhurere) who married Rakataura, a tohunga on the Tainui.
Not long after the Tainui people settled at Kawhia, Kahu and Raka went inland on an exploration expedition claiming new territories for Tainui. They never returned to Kawhia.
By the time of Kakati and his son Tawhao, Tainui had extensive holdings throughout the Waikato and King Country.
Tawhao divided the inland territories between his two sons, Whatihua and Turongo. Basically, Whatihua got the Waikato and Turongo the King Country as we know these regions today.
This division of territories marked the division of Tainui into two distinct groups; the tribes emerging from Turongo; Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Maniapoto among others, and the tribes emerging from Whatihua; Ngati Apakura, Ngati Puhiawe, and Ngati Hikairo among others.
Ngati Apakura, the dominant tribe throughout the Waipa, began to lose strength after the death and defeat of their powerful chief, Hikairo I around the mid 1600’s.
The Apakura chief, Hikairo II, grandson of Hikairo I, left the mother tribe, Ngati Apakura, after a brutal and unauthorised attack on his mother-in-law’s tribe, Ngati Horotakere. From this time on Apakura began to diminish as the main tribe as Hikairo II gained support and strength through successful alliances and military campaigns throughout the Waikato and Rotorua (Arawa country) districts. Hikairo II maintained two bases during his life; his home pa at Waiari near Pirongia, and his Rotorua home among his allied tribe, Rangiwehwehi, later called, Ngati Hikairo-o-Rangiwehiwehi.
Around the late 1600’s a huge battle took place on Hikairo lands near Te Awamutu called the battle of Henga aka aka (also known as Hingakaka) in which Ngati Hikairo was heavily involved. Ngati Hikairo and the other Waikato confederation of tribes won the fight but at a huge cost. Many men were lost and much of the land and fishing grounds were put under indefinite tapu because of the huge number of dead all over the place.
Some years later Whakamarurangi, the son of Hikairo II, helped establish a large pa at Pirongia called Matakitaki. It is said that up to ten thousand people occupied that pa and its surrounds.
The pa was attacked by the Ngapuhi from Auckland who had acquired muskets and used them to devastating effect. Matakitaki was wiped out with a dreadful loss of life. Many Hikairo people left Pirongia and went to Kawhia.
Ngati Hikairo suffered a further blow during the struggles with the British in the 1860’s over land. Some Hikairo people strived to negotiate with the British to avert all-out war and to keep their land. Others took up arms. It was a very difficult time in our history and it did much to fragment the tribe.
Those that took up arms were categorised as rebels by the British and this was used to confiscate Hikairo land. Those that chose negotiation as a means of survival for life and land were labelled Kupapa (fat pigeons, meaning collaborators) by other Hikairo and Maori.
The British won the struggle and the crown took the best land, leaving only small parcels for Hikairo people to live on; Whatiwhatihoe near Pirongia was one of these.
After the wars Ngati Hikairo was, for political reasons, considered to be part of the larger more united tribe, Ngati Maniapoto. However, Hikairo people have always considered themselves an independent entity. A movement is currently under way (2013) to establish through the Waitangi Tribunal, the reinstatement of Ngati Hikairo as a fully recognised tribe in its own right on the political landscape.
Our family, Kaumatua, Mac Pohepohe Bell, has been involved in this drive for recognition having delivered a keynote speech to the tribunal, 25 March 2013.