Volume 47 1938 > Volume 47, No. 187 > Puketutu pa on Weekes' Island, Manukau Harbour, by F. G. Fairfield, p 119-128
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 119

With the kind permission of the owner, Harold Bull, Esq., I have been able to make several exploratory visits to this interesting place, and there examine the extensive earthworks of ancient Maori days. Owing to the comparative seclusion of Puketutu, due to its insular position, these evidences of former Maori occupation remain in almost perfect condition. I became particularly interested in the island as the result of a flight over the area in which it lies, and which I made at the invitation of Mr. F. B. Cadman, who kindly afforded me the opportunity of taking photographs from his aeroplane. One of these photographs (Plate no. 1) shows in remarkable relief an elaborate system of stone-wall formations, demonstrating the value of aerial photography to the archaeologist in his study of the topography of a locality.


The island of Puketutu is situated in the Manukau Harbour, and is separated from the mainland by a tidal estuary about a mile in width. It was formerly accessible, except at high water, by a hard shell-bank spit, but this old-time pathway has now been replaced by a well-formed traffic roadway, thus greatly facilitating access. The island consists of a group of several volcanic cones, each of which is more or less elaborately fortified according to the best ancient Maori methods. No doubt each of these hills had its particular name, but there does not now appear to be any record of such, if they ever were recorded. Topographically, even when closely viewed, these hills appear as if one. The westernmost and highest cone is the most conspicuous on the sky-line. It culminates in a graceful pinnacle, and hence no doubt the appropriate Maori name—Puke-tutu (Pinnacle-hill) (Plate no. 2).

- 120

This pinnacle obviously has been left in its original condition by the old-time military engineers of Puketutu, the area surrounding it having been terraced to form the tihi or toi (citadel) summit. Such a position was also termed a mataī-rangi, a look-out (mataī) position whence the panorama of the skyline (rangi) might be scanned. Here were stationed the look-outs, and thence the calls summoning to arms on the approach of visitors were made by the kai-karanga (callers) or kai-whakaaraara (sentries). There also was situated, suspended on a raised staging, the pahu (gong), which sounded the signal warnings to those within, as well as to the occupants of the surrounding forts. The area of the tihi was fenced off and regarded as a place of mana and tapu. It was also the site of the tuahu or ahu-rewa, and therefore a place of ceremonial of various kinds, where the mauri (guardian mascot) of the pa reposed.


Of special interest is the aerial photograph above referred to (No. 1). This brings out in detail, so far as the focal field will permit, an extensive system of earthworks, which when examined on the ground are found to consist of stone and rubble walls. They run in parallel lines from the low-lying areas at the base of the slopes of the several hill-forts, and continue to the foreshore, in some places almost to the actual waterfront. This system of earthworks with all its ramifications extends all round the island. In occasional places, and apparently to comply with some local uneven-ness of the ground, these walls deviate somewhat from the general trend to run in parallel lines. There are also cross walls at intervals, further subdividing the enclosed areas.

These extensive wall-formations are the impressive mementoes of the former dense and industrious Maori population of Puketutu, for they mark the sites (papa) of so many separate kumara-cultivations. Over the whole area of the island, they must total several hundreds in number. These walls were the paenga-maara (cultivation-boundaries) of the various sub-hapu or family groups, who thus emulated one another in the art of ahu-whenua (the cultivation of the soil). They were also termed, paenga-maru (sheltering, dividing walls) for, as well as delineating the

- i
Aerial view from 1,000 feet showing old cultivation area at Puketutu. Arrow-points show position of pits, x shows position of boundary-stone.
- ii
The pinnacle of Puketutu.
- iii
Boundary-stone at Puketutu.
- iv
Stone-wall defences at Puketutu.
- 121

family divisions, they served to afford shelter from the winds, which at Manukau, were proverbially known as having always a cold snap about them.

These paenga were each formerly surmounted by a fence of manuka fascines (tuarai). This added to the height, and thereby increased the efficiency of the walls as wind-shelters.

These sectional paenga were permanently occupied by the different families, who inherited their occupational rights through the course of many generations. These rights were strictly respected in accord with various recognised tikanga (customary usages). Each paenga had its particular name, originating with some ancestor or connected incident from which such inherited rights were derived. Yet such occupational rights did not constitute an actual freehold; they might cease for various reasons.

In their original perfect condition these paenga were at least three or four feet high: in many places they still retain that height. In a few spots they seem to have been obliterated, the material having probably been taken to form the existing modern divisional stone walls. These paenga appear to be formed of larger-sized stones on their outer sides, the intervening space being filled in with rubble, earth, etc. All this material was no doubt collected in clearing adjacent cultivation-areas.

In some places may be seen occasional mounds or isolated heaps (puranga) of rubble, etc. A feature of these mounds is the presence of shells of the various edible molluscs such as pipi, pupu, tupa, etc. These were not the ordinary kitchen-middens of the old people. Why food remains should have been deposited in these mid-cultivation mounds is no doubt due to certain kai-nga (food refuse) observances of ceremonies known as kai-parapara and connected with offerings to particular deities of the first-fruits of cultivation.

In some places are still to be found in situ, the upright stones (pou-paenga) which marked the boundary-limits (rohe) of each of the various family plots. One of these, (25ins. by 13ins), which is typical, is shown in Plate no. 3. These are usually found at the corner-angles (kokonga) of the walled paenga. In ancient times they were tapu, and were indeed the equivalent of the landmarks mentioned in

- 122
Measurements of the Pou-Paenga at Puketutu island.

the Bible (Prov. 22, 5, 28) “Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.” No enemy dared ever to interfere with these or any other boundary marks. To do so was an act severely reprobated as a pokanoa, and an inexcusable takahi tapu. Such a transgression incurred some penalty or misfortune (aitua) inflicted upon the wrong-doer by the guardian spirits.

On p. 64 et seq. of Best's Agriculture is given much of detailed interest in regard to these boundary lines, etc. There is also reference to other forms of paenga, which consisted simply of rows of stones. There do not, however, appear to be any examples of such at Puketutu, where the rubble walls form the only lines of demarcation.


This article is not intended as a description of the extensive earthworks of the pa itself. There are some features of it, however, which merit a special description.

A feature of the fortifications of this series of hill-pa is the prominence of stone-wall defences (maioro). These walls run up the hill-slopes in various places, and also along the base of the hills. They even cross the intervening valleys, as shown in Plate 4. These maioro are composed of much - 123 larger stones than those which form the paenga, and no doubt originally supported palisading. These extensive wallings appear to be subsidiary to the ordinary terracing and rampart works. No doubt they would add much to the difficulties of an attacking party, and also afford facilities for inter-communication between the separate hill-forts during a siege. A large population quartered within the defences in time of trouble, would also necessitate this supplementary defence-system, as it enclosed an area apart from the main defences. A close study of these earthwork-defences at Puketutu is indeed well worth the attention of competent critics of military engineering.


Of Puketutu's past history we know little in detail. Tradition tells us that in very ancient times it was a tribal district of the ancient Maruiwi. When Toi-kai-rakau arrived at Tamaki (about 1150 A.D.) he sojourned there for some time. Attracted by the fires beyond Tamaki, Toi is said to have visited these localities at Puketutu. At that time the kumara had not been introduced, and was not cultivated in this district for several generations subsequent to Toi's era. Toi's son, Oho, is the reputed eponymous ancestor of the Nga-oho tribes, who appear to have been the occupants of the district when Tainui arrived at Tamaki in 1350 A.D. Puketutu then appears in the traditional narrations of that epoch-making event. Among the Tainui immigrants were Rakataura and his sister Hiaroa, who had left the canoe on her arrival on the East Coast. They had arrived at Puketutu before Tainui visited the Waitemata, apparently coming overland with some companions. Rakataura had had a quarrel with Hoturoa because of his love affairs en voyage with Kahukeke (Hotu's daughter). At Puketutu he and his company sojourned for a time with Nga-oho, already long settled there. When Rakataura heard of Tainui's arrival at Tamaki, he made incantations to prevent her being portaged into the Manukau. His sister Hiaroa remonstrated with him for doing so, and he relented. Going to Otahuhu, he, by means of favourable incantations assisted the successful portage. The canoe then passed through the Manukau Heads, eventually arriving at Kawhia.

- 124

Another version is that at Puketutu Raka's adverse spells forced the Tainui to depart from Tamaki and sail away to Muriwhenua, whence she rounded the North cape. But Rakataura's continued incantations at Puketutu prevented her being navigated inside the Manukau Heads, hence she had to sail on southward to Kawhia.

In later times, as the result of intermarriages and so on, the Tainui people dominated the aboriginal people, who, however seem to have retained their ancient name, Nga-oho though their ruling chiefs were mainly of Tainui ancestry.


There formerly grew on the extreme westerly point of the island a puriri, known as Te Pu-rakau (the tree trunk). It was a ceremonial tree connected with ancient phallic rites. This tree was visited by women desirious of child-bearing, and there also were performed many ceremonies of related ritual. This tree-trunk gave the name to the headland, and for generations served as a landmark for the canoe-men navigating the channel past the island toward cape Horn (Matenga-rahi). It was felled in 1863 by a thoughtless pioneer settler who converted it into fencing-posts. That same night a great storm arose, when the ship Orpheus was wrecked; tradition says owing to the felling of the sacred tree-trunk.


The tidal estuary between Puketutu and the mainland to the south was known as Te Tarai-o-Kaiwhare. The taniwha Kaiwhare had visited the Hauraki gulf and there made the acquaintance of Ureia, the tribal taniwha of those parts. Here, off the Puketutu foreshore, Kaiwhare awaited Ureia, whom he had invited to pay him a return visit. On the sand-flat of this estuary, as was his custom, he went to preen and comb (tarai) his furry body, no doubt for the purpose of making himself presentable to his coming guest.

How Ureia was trapped, slain, and eaten by the people of Tamaki and Manukau, and how in due course the Hauraki people came with a strong punitive force to avenge the death of Ureia and to settle other grievances, is on record else- - 125 where. 1 These unhappy doings took place some time in the middle of the 16th century.

It is said that the shiftings of the channels in the Manukau and at the bar are due to the swishing movements (tarainga) of Kaiwhare as he swims along these water-ways.


This is the name of a point on the western shore of Puketutu. Huatau, an ancestor of these people, had been drowned off Puponga when he was out there fishing. It is said that he was the victim of foul play, being struck and thrown overboard by his companions. His body, much bruised, was dashed (aki) up by the sea at this headland; hence so named (the dashing-up of Huatau). This man was an uncle of the famous Kiwi-tamaki, and his death took place during the early decades of the 18th century, when Kiwi himself was still a young lad. At this time, and in commemoration of the aitua (misfortune) these Nga-oho (or Wai-o-hua as they were also known) took the name Te Aki-tai (washed by the sea) as the pepeha or tribal motto. The pedigree annexed hereto will show the relative connection of these chiefs.


There are some interesting traditional memories recorded concerning the long sandspit-ridge, which even until recent years (before the present traffic-road was formed) was the highway from the mainland to Puketutu island. It was known appropriately as Te Ara-tahuna (the pathway on the sandbank). Here was the site of a battle with Ngati-whatua, which marks the closing chapter in the known history of Puketutu, and is therefore worth recording. It is as follows:


This battle was an incident connected with the warfare culminating in the conquest of these districts by the Ngati-whatua of Kaipara. The detail of that warfare, too, has - 126 been recorded elsewhere, 2 and need not therefore be narrated now. The first intimation of the opening of hostilities was an early morning assault on the Puketutu pa by Ngati-whatua under Te Waha-akiaki, who had crossed from Matengarahi in mokihi (raupo-rafts) and some canoes captured at Waikowhai. The assault was repelled, and the enemy camped on the opposite foreshore. Thence they endeavoured to blockade Puketutu by preventing access across the Ara-tahuna. This invasion took place in the autumn, when the kumara crops were about to be harvested—a favourite time for hostile invasions. Owing to the scarcity of water, due to a long-continued autumn drought, the Puketutu chiefs decided to evacuate the pa, and seek security within the defences of Mangere, and arrangements had been made to do so by night. Unknown to them, the besiegers got word of this. To beguile the Puketutu people, Ngati-whatua broke up camp and moved off elsewhere, but returned again that night and formed an ambush. In the late hours, long preceding dawn, the passage across the tahuna began—a long line of men, women and children, all well laden. Fortunately an advance party (ope-tutei) detected the ambuscade. A conflict began with much loss to both parties of warriors engaged, but the enemy were driven off. The name of that battle is still remembered, Te One-rangaa, (the stirred-up sands). Dawn now began to break, and the refugees from Puketutu at last reached the Mangere pa to which it would seem that the occupants of many other neighbouring pa were likewise flocking.

It would therefore appear that at this time, somewhere about the middle years of the 18th century, the Puketutu pa was abandoned, as well as many other neighbouring forts. The approximate date of the raid of Te Waha-akiaki on these Manukau forts would be about 1752 A.D. The eventual seige and fall of Mangere was some years later, there being several invading expeditions by Ngati-whatua in the time intervening. When Mangere eventually fell (about 1760 A.D.) the inhabitants of these districts, already much reduced were driven away or migrated southward to the Waikato. The conquest by Ngati-whatua was then complete,

- 127
- 128

but the details of the history of these happenings is also on record elsewhere. 3

About 1828 many decendants of the refugees began to return and occupy various locations at Mangere, Pukaki, Ihu-a-matao, but none of these hill forts were again garrisoned. A new order of things, and new methods of life had begun.

A locality map of Puketutu and surrounding districts, herewith, shows the relative positions of some of the places mentioned in this narrative.

Family Tree. HUA (Of Maungawhau, Mt. Eden)., Te Ika-maupoho, Kauahi (of Puketutu) = Huatau, Kiwi-tamaki, Te Ata-i-rehia (ancestress of Ngati-te-ata), Rangimatoru, (Descendants living at Waiuku and surrounding districts), Pepene Te Tihi, Ihaka Taka-anini, Napi Wirihana, Ru Wirihana (living at Pukaki), In respect of the historical and other data, I have also to acknowledge the assistance given me by the Waiohua Chieftainess, Kahupake (of Pukaki) Tukumana Te Taniwha (of Ngati-Paoa and Ngati-Whanaunga) also Geo. Graham and other members of Te Akarana Maori Association.
1   J. White, Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 5, “Ureia and Haumia,” p. 78 English part, p. 67 Maori part.
2   Important Judgments delivered in the Native Land Court, 1866-1879, p. 62, and S. P. Smith, The Peopling of the North, 1898, p. 85.
3   Important Judgments delivered in the Native Land Court, 1866-1879, p. 63, and S. P. Smith, The Peopling of the North, 1898, p. 88.