Volume 49 1940 > Volume 49, No. 193 > Taupiri Pa, by Leslie G. Kelly, p 148-159
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 148

HIGH above the river Waikato, on the summit of a spur projecting from the slopes of Taupiri mountain, stands an ancient Maori fortification. Its ramparts are now clothed in fern and its palisades have long since fallen and crumbled away, but its noble outline still stands clear against the sombre background of the mountain side. Down below, the broad waters of Waikato flow past to make a sweeping bend round its base on its passage to the sea. Following closely to the northern bank runs the Main Trunk railway and the main south highway, but few modern travellers pay more than passing notice to the terraced hill-top above. It is perhaps fitting that this should be so, for to the people of the river no place is more sacred or so dear to their hearts as this old-time stronghold of Taupiri. Cherished as the pa of the warrior chief Te Putu, it is now the resting-place of the Maori kings, its soil sacred to their memory. Members of the Polynesian Society will therefore appreciate the action of Princess Te Puea, the Waikato chieftainess, in granting her permission to the writer to photograph and inspect this famous spot.

The pa of Taupiri is situated at the mouth of the Manga-wara river where it joins the Waikato, and is only a few hundred yards north of the Taupiri railway station. Figure 1 shows a view taken from this position with Taupiri mountain in the background. To distinguish one from the other the mountain is called Taupiri-katua, and the pa Taupiri-kuao, but generally Taupiri indicates the old fortification.

The spur on which the pa is situated runs out from the south side of the mountain, and after rising to a slight knoll, turns at almost right angles and slopes westwards to the river. Gullies fall away on either side of the connecting ridge, that on the east facing the Mangawara and that on the west, after skirting the northern side of the western

- i
FIG. 1.
Taupiri pa with Taupiri mountain in the background.
- ii
FIG. 2.
Taupiri pa as seen from the heights above Te Mata-o-tutonga. The stream is the Mangawara.
- iii
Fig. 3.
Taupiri pa. View along the ridge showing the pa summit.

- iv Page is blank

- 149

slope, opens out by the banks of the Waikato. The earthworks, apart from some slight entrenchments on the ridge, run east and west, commencing at the summit of the knoll and extending for some distance down the slope. The highest point has been roughly levelled and measures thirty yards by twenty-five yards. On the east, where the ground falls steeply to the gully leading to the Mangawara, a defence in the form of a scarped face ten to twelve feet in height, extends for the full length of the pa. A similar scarped face runs down the slope on the south side. At this south-eastern angle the remains of a gateway faces a subsidiary spur which falls somewhat steeply to a spot just within the mouth of the Mangawara, and which has every indication of having been the former canoe landing-place. Close by the gateway a short track leads to two narrow terraces on the south side of the knoll.

On the opposite side of the summit a fosse twelve yards long and four feet deep protects the pa from an attack directed along the ridge. As a further protection an earthen wall has been formed along the inner edge of the fosse thus increasing the height of the face to ten feet. A break in this parapet at the eastern end leads to other earthworks along the crest of the ridge, the first, a scarped face, being twenty-four yards from the fosse, the second, another scarped face, twenty yards farther on. As these defences, however, are comparatively weak, they suggest outer works, and not part of the pa proper.

To return to the summit, the pa extends down the western slope in a series of terraces, the first of which is about eight yards wide and which curves back round the knoll on the north side. Two other terraces of similar area follow, differing in height by about three feet. A dense growth of fern, however, prevents accurate inspection, but here and there are discovered slight depressions which no doubt are all that remain of former house-sites. Below the terraces mentioned the ground slopes for some distance and ends in a scarped face formed by excavations made in the construction of still a lower terraced area. This last part of the pa measures twenty yards north and south, and twelve yards east and west, and joins with a long narrow terrace which runs up the entire slope on the north side. Outside of

- 150
- 151

this last-mentioned terrace a slight depression suggests that a fosse formerly existed, and which actually was a continuation of the fosse across the ridge to the north of the knoll.

Returning again to the lower terraced area, this is really the limit of the pa, although the continuation of the slope has been protected by a scarped face. The face of the lower terrace is still about twenty feet high, but has been cut away in recent years to form a track. Likewise whatever house-sites or other earthworks existed have now been destroyed in the digging of the numerous graves which occupy this part.


Central Waikato, the territory of Ngati-mahuta, the most important hapu of the river tribes, appears to have first been occupied about the time of Hekemaru, the son of the Arawa chief Pikiao and Rereiao, the descendant of Whatihua. Hekemaru was an ancestor of some importance, for he was the first-born son of Pikiao, and the fact that his - 152 mother was a woman of Tainui, has formed a lasting friendship between Ngati-pikiao and Waikato. The Taupiri district is first mentioned in tradition as being the home of Mahuta and Paoa, the sons of Hekemaru. The former lived at Komakorau in his village Te Uapata, while the latter occupied a settlement on the bend of the Waikato immediately opposite Taupiri mountain, called Kaitotehe. The home of Paoa was a delightful spot, but unfortunately it proved too handy to the river which even in those days was an important highway for travellers. Kaitotehe became a favourite calling-place for canoe-parties, with the result that continual demands were being made upon the hospitality of the people. On one occasion, when the food supplies were particularly low, Mahuta paddled down on a visit to his younger brother, and Paoa, learning of his arrival, sent a man to Tauhakari, his wife, requesting her to prepare a feast for his visitor. Aware of the state of supplies, the woman remarked, “Ka mate aku tamariki i te kai” (My children shall become starved for food).

Paoa was overcome with shame at his apparent lack of hospitality, and said to Mahuta, “He aha te pai o te korero; ma roto kia tika, ka pai ai te korero; me hoki” (What is the use of talking; if the inside is in order, then it will be well to talk; you had better return). Ashamed that he was unable to maintain the position befitting a chief of his rank, Paoa departed from his home and travelling up the Manga-wara river, crossed over to Hauraki where he started life anew and became the ancestor of Ngati-paoa.

Mahuta continued to live in the Taupiri district, and from his son Uerata the leadership of the tribe descended upon the brothers Whare and Tapaue, whose headquarters became Kaitotehe. These two weilded great power throughout Waikato, and from their many marriages established the ancestry of most of present day Waikato people. Unfortunately the two brothers abused their power and consequently were attacked by their kinsmen, and both fell in a great battle fought at the mouth of the Taupiri gorge.

The mana and chieftainship descended upon Te Putu, son of Tapaue, and on his rise to power he constructed the pa at Taupiri and there established himself. The choice of position showed a keen appreciation of its strategic value, - 153 for, apart from the natural physical features of the site, the summit of the spur commanded a wide and magnificent view of the country. To the east lay the waters of Manga-wara and Komakorau with the hills above Piako in the distance; west was the Taupiri gorge, and south the broad bosom of the Waikato, stretching away for several miles to disappear in the haze of the horizon. Visible from the ramparts of the pa were also the villages of Kaitotehe and Pepepe, on the opposite bank of the river, and communication was occasionally kept up by a system of signalling.

Taupiri was also the centre of several important highways. The most important was, naturally, the river Waikato; another was a track which, starting from Taupiri, followed the Mangawara to the valley of the Piako and eventually to Hauraki or Tauranga. Still another commenced from Kaitotehe, and, following the ridge of the Hakarimata range led, by a series of ridges, to Aotea and Kawhia. The swamps and lagoons in and around Komakorau teemed with eels and wild-fowl and these formed the main sources of food-supply. Fish and other sea-foods were, however, occasionally obtained by expeditions to the coast or from the tribes living at the mouth of the river.

About fifteen years after the death of Whare and Tapaue, or about the year 1700, there arrived at Taupiri a young chief named Papaka, a half-brother to Te Putu. His mother, Te Ata-i-rehia, was chieftainess of Ngati-te-ata, and these people had been active in the war against Tapaue. Papaka had been taken back to Waiuku by his mother, and there he later learned that his uncles had been instrumental in the killing of his father, with the result that the young man sought revenge. Having informed his mother of his intention, he received from her a cake of roi the outside of which had been coated with red ochre. This he used as an emblem of invitation presenting it to the chiefs of the various villages he visited on his way up the river. Should it be ignored Papaka knew that he could expect no support; but on the other hand, if it was accepted and then returned to him, he knew he could rely on that chief to assist him.

Eventually Papaka arrived at Taupiri and there he made known to his half-brother Te Putu his desire to attack Ngati-te-ata. Te Putu was not at first impressed by the - 154 appearance of young Papaka; he looked entirely too youthful and had not yet been proved in battle. Furthermore his face was still unmarked by the tattooer's chisel, a fact remarked upon by the Ngati-mahuta warriors. Before, therefore, Te Putu would consent to join him, he determined to test the young chief. He subjected young Papaka to all manner of unpleasant tasks and shrewdly watched his behaviour. One such test was the carrying of a bundle of eels upon his back, a most insulting task for a person of chiefly rank. The eels had been caught at Komakorau; and as Papaka was returning along the banks of the Manga-wara with his kit of eels he was suddenly assailed by a party of armed warriors who leaped upon him with fierce shouts. The young man, however, showed no fear and Te Putu decided that he was a man worthy of assisting.

A large war-party was now assembled, and under the leadership of Te Putu and Papaka, departed from Taupiri in a flotilla of canoes and paddled down stream. On their passage down the river they were joined by their kinsmen from villages visited by Papaka on his way up, and in due course the expedition arrived in the vicinity of Waiuku. The canoes were dragged across the portage and a successful attack launched against the pa of Te Ata-i-rehia. Having forced an entrance young Papaka ran from house to house until he came across his uncles, and these, after mentioning the insults he had suffered at their hands, he killed one by one. His mother, Te Ata-i-rehia, and her children, had taken refuge on the roof of her house, an arrangement made previously, and these were spared; the rest were either killed or put to rout.

Papaka had thus avenged the death of his father, and this he shared with Te Putu by handing over to him the entrails of the slain uncles to be used as skids for the canoes of the war party when they recrossed the portage to the Waikato.

Te Putu lived his life at Taupiri, and there also stayed his son Tawhia-ki-te-rangi. The time came when Ngati-raukawa, the people of Maungatautari, began to encroach upon the territory of Ngati-mahuta. Gradually moving northward they established themselves at Nukuhau and Tamahere, on the Horotiu or that part of the river between - 155 Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) and Ngaruawahia. Naturally this move was strongly resented by Waikato, and open hostilities broke out, with the result that Ngati-raukawa, under their chief Ngatokowaru, paddled down stream and attacked the chief Kakeha at Pepepe.

Te Putu was by this time an old man, and it now fell upon his son Tawhia-ki-te-rangi to lead the people. News that Pepepe was beseiged was soon communicated to Ngati-mahuta and messengers hurried off to rally their kinsmen to assist in repelling the invaders. In answer to the call a detachment of Ngati-te-ata, Ngati-tipa and Ngati-tahinga came up the river in the war canoe Taraweka and anchored opposite Pepepe, where they were joined by other canoes belonging to Tawhia-ki-te-rangi and Ngati-mahuta.

A landing was now made, and a battle raged in the open in front of the palisades of the pa. Seeing their enemies attacked by fresh warriors Kakeha and his people rushed forth to assist their friends; and thus assailed, Ngati-raukawa were badly defeated, losing many of their men, the survivors being literally driven into the river. Numbers of prisoners were taken, and among those captured was Ngatokowaru; and as he was about to be killed, he requested that he should first be allowed to see Te Putu. He was therefore temporarily allowed to live.

The victorious Waikato now paddled across to Taupiri, taking with them their prisoners and the heads of the slain chiefs, and these they set up on posts in a long row along the bank of the river. It is said that a hundred heads formed the grim line which started below Taupiri and stretched for over a quarter of a mile along the river. This part of the bank was from then on called Te Rau-angaanga.

The captive Ngatokowaru was conducted into the presence of Te Putu who was informed of what had transpired, and of the request made by the prisoner. The aged Te Putu, little knowing the sinister reason which actuated the request, came over to greet Ngatokowaru. Knowing full well that his life was forfeit, Ngatokowaru had concealed beneath his cloak a tete or dagger made from the barb of a stingray, and as Te Putu leaned forward to press noses, he suddenly stabbed him in the throat; and as the blood gushed - 156 forth, quickly smeared it over himself. Ngatokowaru was instantly seized by the horrified warriors, but because he was covered with the sacred blood of Te Putu, he was beaten to death and his body buried instead of being eaten. This incident took place at the home of Te Putu, the name of which was Te Mata-o-tutonga. The site is just outside the pa by the banks of the river and just below the present quarry entrance.

The killing of old Te Putu fully aroused Waikato, and it now became the duty of Tawhia-ki-te-rangi to avenge the death of his father. Furthermore, Ngati-raukawa had not yet been driven out of Waikato territory. Before active operations were commenced, however, Tawhia-ki-te-rangi went down the river to Waingaro, at the rear of Waahi, where he interviewed a noted tohunga and requested that he be given the assistance of a certain mana (power) that existed in the waters of the lake.

The old man immersed himself in the mud of the lake shore and recited an incantation, and when finally these rites had been performed, he instructed Tawhia-ki-te-rangi to go forward with his plans and that, when he arrived at a certain spot on the river, he would receive the mana he desired.

Accordingly Tawhia-ki-te-rangi gathered his forces, and embarking in canoes, paddled up the river. As they came to the big bend opposite Taupiri, a phantom canoe appeared in front of the war-party and led them up the river. No canoe could be seen but they could clearly hear the chant of the canoe-paddling song, the swish of the paddles, and trace the course of the vessel by the disturbance in the water.

With the power of this mana before them they continued up the Waikato and landed, in turn, at the villages of Ngati-raukawa where they found the inhabitants prostrate and helpless, so that in derision they put aside their weapons and killed them with the stalks of toetoe bushes. Such was the power of that mana! Having destroyed the enemy settlements on the Horotiu, Tawhia-ki-te-rangi attacked other outposts of Ngati-raukawa and only ceased his operations after the enemy had retired from Waikato territory to their own country in the vicinity of Maungatautari.

- 157

The history of the Taupiri pa ceases with the death of Te Putu, and there seems little doubt that his tragic death was the cause of it being abandoned. For many years it was tapu; early European travellers in the Waikato record the fact that when they neared Taupiri they were obliged by the natives to cross to the other side of the river and completely avoid touching its sacred soil.

The passing of time has seen the name Taupiri applied to the district in the vicinity of the old fortification, and early in the nineteenth century, it is mentioned as being the home of Te Wherowhero, the warrior-chief of Waikato, destined to become the first Maori King. It is doubtful whether Te Wherowhero actually occupied the old pa of Taupiri, it being far more likely that his village was on the flat nearby. It is known that he lived for a time at Kaitotehe, on the opposite bank of the river, and an illustration of this village appears in Elsdon Best's Pa Maori, page 285. In his remarks (p. 284) the author says, “Fig. 109 shows the pa of Te Wherowhero, a modern stockaded village sketched by Angus in the ‘forties’ of last century. The lower hill on the right bears the appearance of having been a stronghold in former times.”

This lower hill is the old Taupiri pa, and to the left will be observed, about the middle of the picture, a bush-clad hill. This is the spur above Te Mata-o-tutonga, and which was, in the times of Te Putu, the urupa of the tribe. Beyond the stockade, and lying between the modern village of Te Wherowhero and the pa of Taupiri, is the Waikato river, but this is not visible in the picture.

Waikato was renowned for the number of chiefs living along its banks, and reference to this is found in the two proverbial sayings, “Waikato taniwha rau” (Waikato of many chiefs) and “He piko he taniwha, he piko he taniwha” (A bend a chief, a bend a chief). In like manner the fortified villages of these chiefs occupied prominent places in the traditions of the river-tribes. The following describes the condition of the river as it was about the year 1820.

Commencing at the mouth of the Waikato was Karoro-uma-nui, a pa just within the entrance on the south side, and here lived the chiefs Tunui and Paengahuri. On the opposite - 158 bank, a little above the Awaroa stream, was Okoro, the pa of Kukutai. On the same side of the river, at the commencement of the first bend was Te Aungaaunga, a pa occupied by Te Horeta. A little up stream from this bend was the island pa Te Awamarahi where lived the chiefs Puhirawaho and Ruakeripo. While there were, of course, other villages on the way up the river, none of any importance are mentioned until we come to Tarahanga, the pa of the chiefs Taratikitiki and Rangimoewaka. This village was a little below the bend down stream from Rangiriri, on the west side of the Waikato. Opposite Rangiriri was the pa Newhaora, and here lived the famous warrior Te Kanawa, a leading chief and companion-in-arms of Te Wherowhero. A little up stream round the bend, near the outflow from Whangape lake, was the pa Ahikaeo, while a few miles farther up, just opposite to the present town of Huntly, was Kueo, the home of the chief Tihirahi; finally was Taupiri, the home of Te Wherowhero.

Such were the pa of the river in the early days of the nineteenth century. The coming of Hongi Hika saw most of them abandoned, for a time at least. Taupiri was deserted until 1826, when Te Wherowhero again came north from his refuge at Orongokoekoea and settled there once more. Shortly after the foundation of Auckland, however, Te Wherowhero moved to Mangere, on the Manukau Harbour, and Taupiri ceased to exist. The establishment of the Maori King movement once again saw Te Wherowhero resident in Waikato, and for twelve months he lived at Ngaruawahia. His son Tawhiao succeeded him, but there is no record that Taupiri was again occupied. In three years the country was overwhelmed by the Waikato War, and its conclusion saw the river tribes driven from their ancestral lands. For many years the defeated Waikato, under Tawhiao, lived south of the Puniu, and finally the aged chief came out of retirement and visited his own country once again. At his death Taupiri was chosen as his last resting place and there, beneath the shadow of its ancient ramparts, a great tangi was held. Tribes from every part of the islands assembled to pay their respects to the departed king. With their heads bowed low they sang the lament “Te Taniwha o te rua”:

- 159
Ka hua ahau ki te whatitiri I hear the thunder crashing
E whakatupuru nei And rumbling
Runga te rangi; In the sky above;
Kaore ko te unuhanga 'Tis nought but the coming
O te taniwha i te rua. Of the taniwha from its cave.
Aue! Aue! Aue! Alas! Alas! Alas!
Te mamae i au! My grief!
Ka ngaue Mokau Now trembles Mokau
Ka ngaue Tamaki And unto Tamaki
Ka ru te whenua; The earthquake shakes the land;
Ka mate te marama, The moon has disappeared,
Ka taka te whetu o te rangi, The stars of heaven fall,
Ka ara Waikato i te rua. Waikato rises from the depths.
Aue! Aue! Aue! Alas! Alas! Alas!
Taukiri e! My woe!

Because, however, of a rumour to the effect that the Europeans desired the head of the deceased king as a museum specimen, the body of Tawhiao was carried off in secret and buried at Kohanganui, near Maungakawa, and it was only after some time had elapsed that his remains were brought back and finally laid to rest on the much beloved Taupiri. There they lie undisturbed to this day.

Family Tree. Te Putu—Pareuetawhiti, Te Atairangikaahu—Tawhia-ki-te-rangi—Tawai, Te Kaahurangi—Tuata, Te Rauangaanga—Parengaope, Te Wherowhero—Whakaawi, Tawhiao—Hera, Mahuta—Te Marae, Te Rata—Te Uranga, Koroki, Te Tuhi-o-te-rangi—Kirikino, Kenehuru—Edward Meurant, Paera—John Kelly, S. M. Kelly, Leslie G. Kelly (Te Putu)