Story: Ngāti Kahungunu

Page 6. European contact

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Muskets and war

The arrival of Pākehā, who traded muskets with Māori, had a noticeable effect on Ngāti Kahungunu from the 1820s. Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa came under attack from the musket-bearing tribes of Ngāpuhi, Hauraki, Waikato, Te Whakatōhea and Tūhoe, about 1822. Two years later Te Wera Hauraki of Ngāpuhi established himself at Māhia and became a protector of its people.

Leftovers for the enemy

When Ngāpuhi, armed with muskets, came to raid the Wairoa district the people fled to their formidable high above Mōrere, south-east of Nūhaka. Ngāpuhi laid siege, but the pā’s food stores were plentiful, and soon it was the attackers who were starving. The defenders taunted Ngāpuhi by throwing scraps of food to them – hence the name Moumoukai (wasteful of food). Eventually, Ngāpuhi lifted the siege. Before he left, Pōmare of Ngāpuhi asked that a couple name their child after him. So it was that the name Pōmare came to be a Nūhaka family name.

Around 1830 a great proportion of the Napier population of Ngāti Kahungunu from the Ahuriri (Napier) area moved to Māhia to escape the raids of a large force of Waikato, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Maniapoto.

Te Hāpuku of Ngāti Whatuiāpiti, who had kinship links with Ngāti Kahungunu, was taken prisoner at Te Pakake pā, but managed to escape to Māhia. In 1835 Te Hāpuku was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence.

Trade and treaty

By the late 1830s whaling stations were established at Māhia, Te Wairoa, Tāngōio, Pētane-Heipipi and Cape Kidnappers, mainly on land leased from Māori. Around the same time the people of the Ahuriri (Napier) area began to return from Māhia to their ancestral lands.

Te Hāpuku signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Another signatory was Mātenga Tūkareaho of Wairoa, and possibly three others of Ngāti Kahungunu. By 1851 Ngāti Kahungunu were well established as producers of wheat, maize, fruit, vegetables, pigs and potatoes for trade. Pākehā pastoralists had already established themselves in the Wairarapa and were moving north towards Ahuriri, at first illegally leasing land.

Productive plains

‘Heretaunga haukū nui’ (Heretaunga of the plentiful dews) refers to the productiveness of the Heretaunga plains area – the fertile soils, plentiful waterways and many food and plant resource areas. Swamps were valuable food and fibre resource areas for tangata whenua, and when they were drained by Pākehā for agricultural purposes the soil was very rich and fertile.

Land sales

By 1859 an estimated 1,404,700 acres (568,462 hectares) of land had been purchased by the British Crown from Ngāti Kahungunu in Hawke’s Bay, sometimes by very questionable means. Only 3,000 to 4,000 acres (1,200–1,600 hectares) of the ancestral estate remained for the Māori population of approximately 3,500. Initiatives to stop further land sales eventually developed into the Repudiation Movement of the 1870s, which sought to reject all land agreements.

Little land remained in the hands of the seven hapū of Te Whanganui a Orotū by the time of the 1931 Napier earthquake, which raised a significant amount of land in the Ahuriri Lagoon. The government claimed six former lagoon islands under the Public Works Act, without compensation. Within 40 years the hapū had lost all their rights and lands.

Pāpāwai village and the Kotahitanga

Pāpāwai village, near Greytown in the Kahungunu district of Wairarapa, was an important tribal site in the late 19th century. It was here in the 1860s that the tohunga and historian Te Mātorohanga passed on his knowledge of the ancient history and traditions of Ngāti Kahungunu. These stories, and the teachings of another Wairarapa tohunga, Nēpia Pōhūhū, were written down by Hoani Te Whatahoro Jury. They were translated by the ethnologist S. Percy Smith in the influential book The lore of the whare wānanga. Later, the Wairarapa rangatira Tamahau Mahupuku added to the body of writings. He was one of the main informants for Percy Smith.

The Māori parliament, known as Te Kotahitanga (the union), met at Pāpāwai in 1897. The Kotahitanga movement was strong in the Waiarapa district, and meetings were also held at Waipatu marae in Hastings in 1892 and 1893.

How to cite this page:

Mere Whaanga, 'Ngāti Kahungunu - European contact', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 April 2024)

Story by Mere Whaanga, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 3 Mar 2017