THE incident described as Te Pūeru Mākū — The Wet Garments took place on Pākaurangi, the ancestral mountain of Ngāti Ira, located about 30 kilometres inland from Tolaga Bay. The incident followed the insult of Tāwhipare, the principal wife of Kahukuranui, eldest son of Hauiti, the eponymous ancestor of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti tribe. Kahukuranui, who at this time (circa 1630AD) was living at Mārau, between Anaura Bay and Kaiaua Bay, had inherited the mana of his father and was busy consolidating his control over his father’s estate. Meanwhile, the Ngāti Ira chief Pakāriki and his followers were encamped at Pākaurangi and Tūahu, which is adjacent to Pākaurangi.
Ngāti Ira were renowned for their kūmara (sweet potato) cultivations and one day Kahukuranui sent his wife, Tāwhipare, to Pākaurangi to ask for kūmara seed. Tāwhipare was quietly happy to have secured an ample supply of kūmara tubers to return home with, but was insulted by offers of kūmara of a different kind by some of the Ngāti Ira men. When she returned home she informed her husband of the insult. Kahukuranui, with his son Tautini, immediately made preparations to rectify the indiscretion by Ngāti Ira.
A direct attack of Pākaurangi was out of the question as it was strongly fortified on a high hill with steep sides. A siege of the pā and waiting until their water ran out could take weeks if not months, unless water consumption could be accelerated. How could this be done? Kahukuranui directed his people to gather all varieties of seafood to gift to Ngāti Ira in return for their earlier donation of kūmara seed. This being done, he made the trip inland and presented the seafood to Ngāti Ira, but not before concealing his warriors at the nearby stream called Momo-te-wai.
Since the saltiness of seafood prompts thirst, it wasn’t too long before Ngāti Ira emerged to fetch water from the stream. However, when these people failed to return, their chief, Pakāriki, knew they were well and truly besieged. In desperation, others sneaked out under the cover of darkness, soaking their cloaks in the water and returning to
the pā where others could suck on the garments to quench their thirst. It was from this action that the name Te Pūeru Mākū was given to this incident. Although only delaying the inevitable, it did afford enough time for Pakāriki and his followers to evacuate the pā.
When Kahukuranui and his warriors entered Pākaurangi the following morning they found the place deserted. Pakāriki and Ngāti Ira had, during the night, fled to Te Ana-a-Raparapa on the Waingaromia stream, but were expelled from there and also from Waihao on the Huiarua block by Kahukuranui. Further battles took place at the Manga-ma-tukutuku stream and at the junction of the Manga-māunu and Mātā rivers, where Ngāti Ira had taken refuge in the Whakataka pā. The pā and all its inhabitants, however, were destroyed — among the casualties were Pakāriki and his son Tāne-katohia. The bodies of Ngāti Ira were stacked in a heap and set on fire, but the heat merely scorched the skin of the bodies and thus this battle became known as Taokiri (scorched skin).
The battles of Te Pūeru Mākū at Pākaurangi and Taokiri at Whakataka pā marked the beginning of the end for Ngāti Ira. Those that survived became refugees in their own land, reliant on the protection of sympathetic kin, whilst others migrated to the west and south. In the years that followed, many other skirmishes took place between factions of Ngāti Ira and neighbouring iwi and hapū until one of their leaders, Whakaumu, also followed in the wake of his earlier relatives and migrated south as well. After a brief stay at Ngā-whaka-tātara (near Taradale), Whakaumu and his followers journeyed on until they reached Te Rangi-whakaoma (Castle Point) in the Wairarapa.
There Whakaumu met and married Hine-ipu-rangi, the daughter of the Rangitāne chief Whakamana. Ngāti Ira also merged with the Ngāi Tara people of the Wairarapa and Wellington area and today the two tribes are regarded as one and the same. Ngāti Ira has mastered the art of survival and adapted to their surroundings, no matter where they have settled. From Te Tairāwhiti, to the Bay of Plenty, to Hawke’s Bay, the Wairarapa and into Wellington, their resilience has withstood the test of time, a quality, no doubt, that will ensure their survival in the centuries to come. Mauri tū, mauri ora, mauri manawanui!