E tipi taku mana ki a Te Wheuki e ki a Hikataurewa
My prestige strives forth to Te Wheuki and Hikataurewa
He kaitiaki koe nō taku whata kao i Toka-akuku rawa
For you the sentries of my platform of dried food at Toka-a-kuku
TOKA-A-KUKU is in Te Kaha and forms part of the rocky knoll in the area behind the church and local hotel. It was the scene of the last major inter-tribal conflict involving Te Whānau-a-Apanui and other iwi. The year was 1836 and even given the changing face of Aotearoa, with the growing presence of Europeans and the teaching of Christianity, it is rather surprising that utu (revenge) would still be a major reason for tribes to do battle with each other. But such was the case at Toka-a-kuku.
Several tribes took the opportunity to settle old scores with Te Whānau-a-Apanui. Te Wera Hauraki of Ngāpuhi, who was resident at Māhia, nursed the desire to avenge the death of his nephew, Te Marino, who had been killed by Te Whānau-a-Apanui in 1823 during the Ngāpuhi musket raids into the region. Ngāti Porou also were still smarting from successive defeats by Te Whānau-a-Ehutu and Te Whānau-a-Apanui, firstly at Ō-maru-iti in 1829-30 with the help of Ngāti Awa, and then at Wharekura in 1831-32. At the later battle the great Ngāti Porou chiefs Te Pori-o-te rangi and Pākura were killed.
A massive war party comprising some 1700 men was assembled from tribes and hapū from the Wairarapa through to Wharekahika. It included Te Kani-a-Takirau of Ūawa, Kakatarau, the son of Pākura, and Piripi Taumata-a-Kura, a captive of the Ngāpuhi raids of the 1820s who was responsible for bringing Christianity to the East Coast upon his release in 1834.
By the time the war party set out on a fleet of waka towards Te Kaha, Whānau-a-Apanui and Te Whānau-a-Ehutu had already entrenched themselves in the seemingly impenetrable fortress of Toka-a-kuku. They were able to protect their access to the sea and therefore ensure regular provisions of food. It also enabled supporters to land under the cover of darkness and provide reinforcement to the people within the pā.
Taumata-a-Kura, who had been asked to assist in the battle, agreed only if Christian principles were observed. These included that no enemy wounded should be slain, no enemy bodies should be eaten, no enemy waka should be wantonly broken up and no enemy food should be willfully destroyed. All these conditions were agreed to.
Taumata-a-Kura claimed the right to initiate the attack and, carrying a musket in one hand and a Bible in the other, he went forth into the heaviest fighting. Although bullets flew all around him, he was not hit, considerably enhancing his prestige and the power of the new god he worshipped. There were no clear victors at Toka-a-Kuku and no exact numbers of casualties were ever provided of the battle other than both sides suffered heavily. The siege lasted about 12 months.
It is said that Te Kani-a-Takirau withdrew his attackers and returned to Ūawa before the battle ended because he felt adequate utu (satisfaction) had been gained. Toka-a-kuku itself did not fall but the bodies of slain defenders were tied by the feet in pairs by the attacking force and hung on huge whata (hanging rails) in front of the pā, so as to taunt those inside. Viewing and walking over the location today belies the fury of what took place there all those many years ago.
The battle of Toka-a-kuku is also referred to as, “Te Wera’s Invasion” and “Whata Tangata”.