Ko Whetumatarau te maunga
Whetumatarau is the mountain
Ko Awatere te awa
Awatere is the river
Ko Te Whānau-a-Tūwhakairiora te iwi
Whānau-a-Tūwhakairiora is the tribe
Tīhe mauri ora!
Alas the breath of life!
BEHIND the township of Kawakawamai-tawhiti (Te Araroa) towers the ancestral mountain Whetumatarau. Whichever direction you view it from, it is nothing short of breath-taking. From the sea, this steep white precipice stands all formidable, seemingly unassailable. The view from the top is incredible and if you have had that experience, you are indeed privileged.
Whetumatarau symbolises a deep and rich historical past — at times turbulent, at times sad.
But one incident on Whetumatarau, amongst all others, remains forever etched into the memories of the people of the area. Around 1820, the people of Kawakawa were besieged by an invading force from the north. The invaders carried with them strange stick-like objects that amused the locals, who jeered and taunted them. That was until, of course, the sticks crackled and flashed into life and in an instant, bodies sprawled lifelessly on the ground. The musket had arrived and its introduction was brutal.
Two musket raids took place at Kawakawa, the first in 1818 by Hongi Hika of Ngā Puhi, who attacked Ōkauwharetoa pā, on the eastern bank of the Awatere river mouth, and the second in 1820 by Pōmare, also of Ngā Puhi, who besieged Whetumatarau. With guns blazing, the invading forces made short work of any resistance. In the case of Pōmare, the people had learnt from Hongi Hika’s earlier raid and had already taken refuge atop Whetumatarau. Amongst them were many of the principal chiefs of Wharekāhika (Hicks Bay) and Kawakawa, including Ua-te-rangi, Rangitahina, Rangiteki, Huripuku, Patauahi, Te Mātorohanga, Houtūrangi and Kamura-te-rangi. The group also included Te Rangipāia and her husband Ngārangi-tokomauri.
Whetumatarau was impenetrable and no one had ever breached its palisades. Those inside were out of gunfire range and Pōmare could do little but taunt them in the hope of drawing them out. To this end, he stood on a small hillock below and called out to the chief, Ngārangi-tokomauri, “Moe mai rā koe i a Te Rangipāia i tēnei pō, a te pō ā āpopo hei au hoki tā tāua wahine — Sleep with your wife tonight my friend for tomorrow she will be mine!” The little hillock upon which Pōmare stood was called Te Taumata o Pōmare (Pōmare’s mount) and is located near the current marae of Hinerupe. But Pōmare didn’t fulfil his promise to Ngārangi-tokomauri, at least not straight away.
Pōmare and his warriors laid siege to Whetumatarau for perhaps six months or more, in an attempt to starve its occupants into submission. Inside the pā that was exactly the case, with the besieged group eating everything from whatever vegetation they could find, to people. Horror stories have been passed down as to what happened on Whetumatarau, including the adults trading their children to be eaten. Some of these incidences have been commemorated in the names of their descendants.
But, one morning, the people in Whetumatarau awoke to see Pōmare and his ope taua (war party) dragging their waka from the shore and paddling off towards the north. When they had passed beyond Te Whai-a-Pawa, or Matakaoa Point, there was an air of relief and excitement in the pā that Pomare had finally gone. They waited until nightfall and then burst out of the pā, scurrying in every direction in search of food. But the excitement was short- lived. In the middle of the night, Pōmare returned and attacked the people and the pā. Those who managed to escape retreated inland, while those who survived the slaughter were taken as slaves back to the north, among them Te Rangipāia. A number of other pā, as far away as Tokomaru Bay, were also attacked.
Te Rangipāia became a wife to Pōmare and lived with him for a number of years. In about 1823, after converting to the Christian faith, Pōmare sought to make peace with the people of Te Tairāwhiti. He also returned Te Rangipāia to her people. But Te Rangipāia did not stay, choosing instead to return to the north with her husband. Pōmare’s gesture was referred to as, “Te pai a Pōmare — The peace of Pōmare”. Pōmare died in 1826 during a raid in the Waikato.
Te Rangipāia later remarried and returned to Wharekahika, where she lived out her days. In the intervening years since “The Peace of Pōmare”, many marriages have been arranged between the people of Kawakawa and the people of Pōmare’s tribe, to heal the wounds of those events that took place at Whetumatarau.
Today Whetumatarau stands silent and peaceful, belying the tragedy that took place there all those years ago.