Volume 14 1905 > Volume 14, No.4, December 1905 > The last of the Ngati-Mamoe. Some incidents of southern Maori history, by J. Cowan, p 193-199
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- 193

PROBABLY no section of comparatively recent Maori history is so deficient in recorded detail as that which relates to the conquest and final extinction of the Ngati-Mamoe tribe, in the extreme south of the Middle Island of New Zealand. It is now at least a generation too late to gather the full story of the Ngai-Tahu—Ngati-Mamoe conflicts. Such men as the late chiefs Paitu, Rawiri Te Awha, and other well-schooled natives of Murihiku could have given much information on this subject had European historians taken the work in hand in time. Just a few fragments are now to be collected from the elders of the Murihiku people, in whom the strains of conquerors and conquered are blended. While visiting some of the Maori settlements in the south this year, I gained a little information regarding the subjugation and dispersal of the Ngati-Mamoe, chiefly from Tiemi, Kupa Haereroa, and Hone Te Paina, the two best-informed elders of Colac (Oraka) Bay, a small settlement on the shores of Foveaux Strait. Kupa Haereroa claims descent, on his mother's side, from Rakaihaitu, one of the very early Northern chiefs who explored the South Island, and whose name is preserved in the proverbial expressions, “Nga-waipuna-karikari-a-Rakaihaitu,” (the water-springs dug out by Rakaihaitu, i.e. Wakatipu and other Southern lakes), and “Nga-whata-tu-a-Rakaihaitu” (the lofty food-storehouses of Rakaihaitu), in allusion to the cliffs of the South Island coast. Forty years ago Kupa was accustomed to visit Lake Manapouri (or Moturau, as some of the natives call it), “The Lake of a Hundred Islands,” and Te Anau, in company with Rawiri Te Awha, who lived, and fished, and snared birds, on the shores of the - 194 great lakes, and who pointed out to him the sites of the ancient villages of Waitaha and Ngati-Mamoe, and narrated the story of the Ngai-Tahu conquests.

The extinction of Ngati-Mamoe as a tribe took place, as nearly as can be estimated, a hundred and fifty years ago, in the time of the noted chief Te Wera. History was but repeating itself, for Ngati-Mamoe had, a few generations previously, extinguished the land-tillers of the Waitaha tribe in the customary manner of the Maori. My notes deal chiefly with the Ngai-Tahu—Ngati-Mamoe fights, along the Waiau River (which drains Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau), and the southern and south-western shores of Te Anau.

Defeated in battle after battle in Murihiku, a section of the Ngati-Mamoe retreated to the western side of the Waiau River. One of their ancient rock-shelters is still to be seen, on Mr. Tapper's property, at Clifden, a remarkable wooded limestone “kopje.” The place is a labyrinth of caves and galleries, and secret ways and thickly matted woodland. On the northern side, the limestone face is a series of shallow caves. Deep fissures penetrate the rocky hill; these were used as shelters and dwellings by the Ngati-Mamoe. A cave hereabouts was known as “Te Ana-o-te-Ngarara” (the den of the monster); it was the fabled dwelling-place of one of those man-eating reptilian creatures with which the imaginative Maoris peopled many a gloomy cave and mountain. The remains of incinerated human bones, together with stone weapons and impliments, have been found on the kopje; and the rock itself was a Maori Necropolis.

It was most probably early in the second half of the eighteenth century that these cave-dwellers were assailed by the Ngai-Tahu from the south-east, under the Chief Tu-te-kawa. An engagement took place in the neighbouring valley of Wai-harakeke, and the tangata-whenua fled to the rock-recesses. The warriors of Ngai-Tahu slew most of the Ngati-Mamoe, and such of the women and children as were saved were enslaved; their slaughtered relatives were cooked and eaten. The principal Ngati-Mamoe chief killed was Te Whetuki, who is described as a man of strangely wild aspect, covered all over with long hair.

When the fight occurred, two of the Ngati-Mamoe men, Maka-tawhio and Pani-te-kaka, were away eel-fishing at Lake Manokiwai (now known as Monowai),1 which finds an outlet into the Waiau River, some distance above Clifden. Unaware of the fate of their friends they paddled their mokihi raft, with its load of smoked eels, - 195 out through the Manokiwai Creek and down the swift Waiau. They were about to land (just above where the Clifden suspension bridge now spans the river), when the unusual silence, and some indefinable sense of danger warned them that all was not right in the pa. All at once they saw a stranger, whom they immediately knew to be one of their inveterate enemies, stooping down to drink at the riverside. The Ngai-Tahu warrior saw them at the same moment, and shouting an alarm, sprang for his spear. Instantly the eel-fishers plunged their paddles deep into the water, and shot the raft out into the strong current again. Plying their paddles desperately, they swept down the river, and when the warriors of Ngai-Tahu rushed to the banks all they saw was the mokihi disappearing round a bend of the rapid stream. The two fugitives escaped and rejoined some of the rest of their much-harassed tribe, attributing their safety as much to the efficacy of the karakia, or incantations, to the gods which they repeated as they fled down the river, as to their prowess in paddling. A fragment of a song composed in memory of this adventure is handed down to this day amongst the Southland natives:

“Panapana tu tere poka
Ko te wairua e moea nei
Nau mai, ka whakaatu te rere
Ki Waiau, ko Maka-tawhio,

The next scene in the tragedy of the Ngati-Mamoe was on the southern shores of Lake Te Anau. This region, it may here be mentioned, had been originally peopled by some of the crew of the “Takitimu” canoe from Hawaiki. About twenty-four generations ago the “Takitimu” immigrants, under their chief Tamatea, settled at Tarahau-kapiti, near the base of Takitimu Mountain, and established kaikas around the foot of Te Anau, where eels and birds were abundant. One of these villages was O-whitianga-te-ra (the place of the shining-sun), close to the southern corner of the lake, where the Waiau River takes its exit. Here was a noted pa-tuna, or eel-weir, where great quantities of the lake tuna were taken. Another settlement was Te Kowhai, close to the present township of Te Anau. One of these lakeside villages in later years was the pa of Tu-te-makohu, a chief of Waitaha. A memory of the sailor-chieftain of “Takitimu” is preserved in a present-day proverbial expression—“Te whakatakanga o te karehu a Tamatea” (in allusion to the tattooing of Tamatea), used by the Ngai-Tahu in reference to the Murihiku people. Tamatea and his followers, while here, discovered soot obtained from the bark of certain trees made an excel- - 196 lent indelible blue dye or pigment (karehu: North Island, ngarehu), for tattooing. The pit or hole made for burning the bark, etc., was called “Te rua o te moko” (the pit of the tattoo). This, say the Maoris, was the origin of the phrase “Te Rua-o-te-Moko,” used as in reference to the country round Te Anau, and now often applied by the Southland natives to the region extending from the lakes to the west coast. Tamatea's tattooing was, no doubt, very different to that seen on the faces of old men of the present day, and was probably identical with the Tahitian and Marquesan patterns of rectilinear devices, as described by Herman Melville in “Typee,” and observed half a century later by Robert Louis Stevenson, whose two-line picture of a Marquesan chief in one of his South Sea ballads might well apply to Tamatea:

“Round all his martial body and in bands across his face,
The marks of the tattooer proclaim his lofty place.”
In the South Island are still to be seen some of the elders of Ngai-Tahu—notably two old men at Moeraki—tattooed in parallel straight lines across their cheeks, a fashion unknown in the North. Though they have forgotten its origin, this is the old, old moko (? moko-kuri) the last relic of their Eastern Pacific fatherland.

The shores of Te Anau, Manapouri, the Mavora Lakes, and the country round the bases of the Takitimu Mountains, were the last inland retreats of Ngati-Mamoe. After these defeats at Te Ihoka, Clifden, and elsewhere, a considerable body of them fled up the Waiau, and rested awhile at Te Anau. Here they were building rafts of korari (flax-stems), and raupo, in order to cross the lake, when their relentless pursuers suddenly came upon them. A number of the Ngati-Mamoe succeeded in crossing to the northern side of South Fiord, and escaped into the forests; but the majority of the fugitives were delayed by the construction of a large mokihi, which was not finished when Ngai-Tahu attacked them. The final encounter took place on the western side of the lake, near the southern point of the entrance to the South Fiord. Here most of the Ngati-Mamoe were killed, amongst them their chief, Pukutahi. The leader of the Ngai-Tahu expedition was Te Hau-tapa-nui-o-Tu. The survivors disappeared into the gloomy forests, and never again man's eye beheld them. It is supposed that they made their way on their rafts up the lake to the Middle and North Fiords, and thence worked across to the West Coast Sounds—Caswell, George and Bligh Sounds, and possibly Milford.

About the time that these events were proceeding in the Lake Country, and perhaps shortly afterwards, the coast-dwelling remnant - 197 of Ngati-Mamoe were defeated and dispersed on the shores of Preservation Inlet. One of the last Ngati-Mamoe pas was that which stood on Matauira Island; this pa was taken, and nearly all its inhabitants slain. Another spot where the unfortunate tribe were slaughtered was on the beach of the Inlet, near the present township of Oneroa. On the invader's side, one of the most redoubtable of the Ngai-Tahu warriors, a Samson-like chief named Tarewai, was killed. He was of great stature and herculean strength, and his favourite weapon was a club made from the jaw-bone of a sperm-whale. A curious stratagem, often employed in Maori warfare, was successfully practised on the Ngati-Mamoe on the shores of the Inlet. A Ngati-Kuri chief named Maru, dressed in a rough pokeka, or cloak, of toi-leaves, acted the part of a seal gambolling on the beach, in the early morning, and succeeded in decoying the Ngati-Mamoe down on the sands, armed only with their cutting-knives of obsidian. Their concealed enemies suddenly rushed upon them, cut them off from their fort, and slew nearly all. The few survivors fled in the direction of Dusky Sound. Some of the Ngati-Kuri pursued them even there. On the western side of Resolution Island (Tau-moana), they captured and killed a Ngati-Mamoe woman named Taki-te-kura.

These events apparently occurred shortly before the visit of Captain Cook to Dusky Sound, in the Resolution in 1773, when the navigator spent six weeks in the fiord, repairing his ship and refreshing his crew. According to Hone Te Paina and Kupa Haereroa, the chief Maru, who had so successfully played the seal on the beach at Preservation, pursued the Ngati-Mamoe remnants in his canoe, and was living in Dusky Sound when Cook arrived. The natives who boarded the Resolution in Pickersgill Harbour, as related by Cook, are considered by Te Paina to have been Ngati-Kuri, with perhaps Ngati-Mamoe wives. Maru, Te Ao-paraki, and a woman named Ki-mai-waho, are stated on the same authority to have been the principal inhabitants of Dusky Sound at that time; it may have been Maru who went on board the Resolution, after performing an incantation at the ship's side (“the chief took a small green branch in his hand and struck the ship's side several times, repeating a speech or prayer; when this was over he threw the branch into the main chains, and came on board,” Cook's Voyages). It was the same chief who presented Cook with a green-stone axe. When Vancouver visited Dusky in 1791 no natives were seen.

From 1773 to about 1842 there is no reliable record of native occupation in these West Coast Sounds. In, or about, the latter - 198 year a sealing schooner, commanded by Captain Howell, sailed into Bligh Sound one night and dropped anchor. To the surprise of the crew fires were seen ashore. Early in the morning a boat's crew landed to make investigations. A Maori dwelling was found, and in it some mats, a whalebone club, and other articles, but the occupants of the lone kaika had fled to the depths of the forest. The tracks of the Maoris were followed for a short distance into the bush; but Howell's native sailors did not venture far, fearing to fall into an ambuscade, and contented themselves with taking away the patuparaoa and a mat as relics of the phantom tribe.

The shores of Lake Ada, in the Arthur Valley, some miles above the head of Milford Sound, were probably the last habitat of the lost Ngati-Mamoe. Traces of these fugitive children of the mist were found here as lately as 1872. In that year Kupa Haereroa, and a number of other Maoris from Colac Bay, sailed round to Milford on one of their sealing expeditions. Leaving their long sealing-boat at the head of the Sound, Kupa and his companions explored the Valley of the Arthur, and went eel-fishing on this lonely lake. They swam the (then unnamed) Arthur River, and would have been the discoverers of the Sutherland Falls but that the bulk of Mount Pillans shut it off from their view. At first they imagined they were the first to break into this great wilderness, but soon after leaving the mouth of the Arthur they were astonished to discover three prints of naked feet in the mud beneath a cliff. They inspected these mysterious impressions with much the same emotions as Robinson Crusoe did the footprint on the sand, and on their way up the defile they kept a careful watch for any other trace that would put them on the trail of the supposed Ngati-Mamoe. On the shores of Lake Ada they found in several places indications that primitive man had had his habitation there. Under overhanging rocks they came upon deserted sleeping-places surrounded by rows of stones, and ashes of long-cold cooking fires. At one of these camps there was a separate and smaller sleeping-place, indicated by stones arranged in an oblong shape, somewhat apart from the other quarters. Kupa remarked to his companions “That must have been the bed of the chief.” But this was all, and with the exception of a number of battered axe-heads of nephrite, that Donald Sutherland discovered some years ago when clearing the site for his house at the head of the Sound, no trace has since been found of the vanished tribe.

The Westland section of the Ngati-Mamoe were probably almost exterminated about the same time as the Waiau branch were being dispersed at Te Anau. It is said that a few of the West Coast tribe succeeded in escaping southwards in the direction of Jackson's Bay, - 199 Big Bay, and Milford Sound. Until a few years ago it was thought possible that some members of this Ishmaelite tribe might yet be found living in the remoter recesses of Fiordland, still wrapped in the darkness of the stone age. This romantic hope has now, however, been completely dispelled. But sometimes a Southern native will be heard expressing a fanciful belief that the Ngati-Mamoe still haunt the great forests of the West. Says a Ngai-Tahu Maori: “A remnant of that people may be living to this day in the mountains of Te Rua-o-te-Moko, in the regions of the frost. Who knows? They were an iwi-kohuru— a treacherous tribe—and given to ambuscades. And when pursued their wise men would repeat karakias, and invoke the gods of the air, and dense fogs and mists would then descend and hid them from their pursuers, and they would escape into the depths of the forest. The mists were their salvation (na te kohu i whakaora). This is the reason that they are not now seen.”

1  The name of this lake, though so very Maori in appearance, was given to it by its discoverer, Mr. James McKerrow, afterwards Surveyor-General, from the Greek mono single, and Maori wai water—i.e., solitary-water (or lake.—Ed.