The hard won peace

GRAEME DUCKETT
Last updated 09:20 21/12/2013
tdn okoki stand
Okoki Pa at Urenui

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Just last week the leaders of Taranaki rugby signed a deal that will hopefully ensure the region remains a major player in Super rugby for many years to come.

The agreement represented a major investment by Taranaki in the Waikato-based Chiefs. It was a statement of intent that further cemented a long-held love/hate relationship with our bigger and often more powerful northern neighbour.

It is a relationship that is born of blood. Lots of it.

Many decades before the chiefs and warriors of both regions battled for supremacy on the rugby field, it was Waikato chiefs who jealously eyed their southern neighbour and made plans to plunder.

New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium has been the scene of many great contests between the powerful provincial rivals, but it was a field further to the north that would host one of the bloodiest battles of hand to hand combat in our history.

Almost 200 years ago the threat of invasion by Waikato tribes was very real and revenge for past grievances was a constant threat.

The Okoki Pa north of Urenui, where Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) is entombed, and the concrete canoe prow monument points majestically out of the bush line, was strongly fortified and easily defended. It was regarded as one of the strongest pa in the district.

It was originally built by the Kokerewai hapu of Ngati Mutunga, who were the last tribe to occupy this historic pa, and were living on the site when the Te Rauparaha and the Ngati Toa migration arrived. The chiefs were Whakapaki, Te Awaroa, Koromiko, and their chief leader Rangiwahia.

In 1822 a messenger arrived with news of a large party of Waikato heading for Taranaki. The exact number varies from 2000 to 6000 warriors, a formidable force.

The local hapu, realising the magnitude of the Waikato force heading their way, rallied for support from all the local hapu, who knew that if they did not band together to fight this force, the entire region could be taken from them.

Those who gathered for the battle included Ngati Toa, Ngati Mutunga, Manukorihi, Ngati Rahiri, Ngamotu and Ngati Tama.

It is unknown what the final numbers were, but it is assumed to have been large.

Ngati Toa was under the command of Te Rauparaha, Rangi-haeata, Te Kahukahu (also known as Te Oho), Tama-tiwha, and a Ngapuhi chief named Taki-moana.

Ngati Mutunga was under the leadership of Rangi-wahia and Rangi- tokona; Puketapu under Te Manu toheroa; Manukorihi under Takaratai and Rere Tawhangawhanga; Ngamotu under Te Wharepouri.

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The Waikato warriors arrived on the south bank of the Mimi River, at Waitoetoe, and immediately started setting up a base camp. They built shelters, gathering toetoe and other materials. They were just two miles from the Okoki pa, where Te Atiawa and Ngati Toa gathered.

Wiremu Kingi's father, Rere Tawhangawhanga, suggested a force of 80 men should be dispatched to see what the Waikato were doing, but Te Rauparaha said they should wait until they were at full strength.

Finally they agreed to send 80 warriors under Te Rangi Puahoaho of Ngati Hinetuhi, and in a frenzied surprise attack, they killed 20 Waikato, with a large group of Ngati Maniapoto chasing after them as they fled back towards the Okoki Pa.

Many of those fleeing were caught and killed, the remainder luring their Waikato pursuers towards Okoki Pa, where a strong force lay in ambush.

With the Waikato straggling, and out of breath, the full force of local warriors dashed out of cover, engaging in heavy hand-to-hand combat with stone and whalebone mere and taiaha. Their skill with these weapons meant life or death in an instant.

Waikato's leading chiefs were targeted and killed - Te Hiakai, Hore Te Kahukahu, Korania, Te Tumu - and others fell to this mighty force of allies.

Thirty Waikato fell in the first charge and 40 in the second. In the third push 30 more were dispatched, followed by 20 in the fourth and last rush.

Te Rauparaha and his allies had overpowered the Waikato.

Waikato leader Te Wherowhero, it was said, "fought like a lion" and was challenged by many who ultimately paid the price against this experienced, hardened warrior. Puanaki made a blow at Te Wherowhero, grazing his forehead, but Te Wherowhero's return blow knocked out one of Puanaki's eyes, and he barely escaped another's taiaha blow.

Te Rangi Paki also attacked the Waikato chief, but was later felled by his taiaha.

Te Tohi Maire also sparred with him but was struck in the face by Te Wherowhero's taiaha, wounding him seriously.

As the fight neared the end, the Waikato warriors were allowed to retreat, but were attacked as they fled back to their Waitoetoe beach base by parties of warriors on the northern side, from Uru-ti (a place up the Mimi valley) and others from a place near the battle site called Te Tarata. Six Waikato were killed in the heat of the exchange. The fight raged on until evening, when there was a pause in the action. At this time it is said that Waikato chief Te Rangituatea, who had previously offered Te Rauparaha protection during a passage from Kawhia, called out to the latter, "What is your generosity to us two?" (meaning to him and his war party).

Te Rauparaha, not wanting to see the Waikato annihilated because of his ancestral connections to the area, told him to head for Pukerangiora, not to the north where a large party of Ngati Tama were waiting for them. This consideration by Te Rauparaha to the beaten Waikato taua was because Te Rangituatea had helped him escape from Te Arawi Pa at Kawhia.

Of course there were losses on the Taranaki side, including the death of Takaratai, principal chief of Manukorihi hapu, Te Mamaru, and others.

As darkness fell the Waikato moved southwards, reaching Waitara at daylight. After crossing the Waitara River they headed inland, reaching Pukerangiora.

Te Atiawa, on guard at Pukerangiora, allowed them through. A great tangi followed by both parties on account of their heavy losses.

After a short stay at Pukerangiora the Waikato headed up the coast, via Tikorangi, Onaero and Urenui, taking the old coastal track through Ngati Tama country into their own lands at Mokau. They were pleased to get away, back to the safety of their ancestral lands.

The battle was a disastrous defeat for the Waikato and Ngati Maniapoto. It was 10 years before the returning Waikato got revenge, at the second siege of Pukerangiora in 1831, for the loss of their great fighting chiefs and warriors in the battle of Te Motunui.

Today maize grows on the site of the battlefield in front of Okoki Pa, a hill steeped in Maori history and the resting place of one of the famous sons of Taranaki, Te rangi Hiroa (Sir Peter Buck).

- Taranaki Daily News

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