Topic: Traditional Story: Ngā Tētēkura o Hautere

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In the rugged forests of Hautere in a settlement called Kotare, there once lived two hapu of Ngamarama, the old tangata whenua of Tauranga Moana. The names of these two hapu were Patutieke and Ngati Tai and their chiefs were Te Wakaurua, Torotoro and Te Akakura.

They stayed in the forest, living on berries, fern and other forest foods, and snaring birds and catching tuna and koura in the streams. They were not usually a fighting people and would retreat into the dense bush when threatened by outsiders. The forest was full of tall trees, shrubs, creepers and other undergrowth. It was especially known for its ferns, the tall tree ferns, ponga and mamaku, and the smaller varieties that carpeted the forest floor. Ngā tētēkura are the fern fronds that provided shelter. Nga tetekura are also the chiefs, and this story is about what happened to these chiefs and their people of Ngamarama.

Nearer the coast in the fern country and by the waters of Tauranga Moana lived other hapu who had come much later to settle in the district. These were Ngati Kahu of the Wairoa and their relatives Tuporohe and Tawharangi. They had a fortified place, a pa, which they called Mataiwhetu which was inland a little in the fern country. These people lived mainly on aruhe, fern root and kai moana, all the various kinds of sea food that can be found around Tauranga Moana – fish, crayfish, shellfish, mussels, king, paua, pipi, tuatua and all the rest.

The coastal people decided to make an expedition over the ranges through the territory of Ngamarama to visit their friends and relatives at Okauia. The Tauranga ope carried with them a gift of kai moana, dried fish and shellfish, which the inland people of Okauia really appreciated. This was the Tauranga contribution to the big reunion feast, a hākari, that was going to be held at Okauia. Usually the Tauranga people crossed the ranges unchallenged. This time the ope was ambushed by Torotoro and Akakura and their men of Ngamarama. Because they were on a peaceful expedition to Okauia, the Tauranga people were unarmed and unprepared to fight. Ngamarama quickly captured them and took from them all their gifts of kai moana. Torotoro stood before them and pointed toward the sea, the way they had come and said, "Go back to te akau o te moana, back to the seashore. Be thankful we have spared your lives. E kore koe e puta i ngā tētēkura o Hautere." This was rather a silly boast by Torotoro but he and his people were feeling very pleased with themselves at being able to take all this kai moana so easily from the coastal people.

The Tauranga ope returned home empty-handed and they missed the hākari at Okauia. They were feeling humiliated at being ambushed without warning and unable to fight back. They sought utu, retaliation, in order to get back some of their mana, their pride and self-esteem. It did not help matters that these forest people of Hautere were also cheeky enough to be helping themselves to the fern root, aruhe, in land belonging to the coastal people. Ngati Kahu and their relatives decided to get together a war party and punish these highway robbers of the forests of Hautere. They called on the other hapu on the shores of Tauranga Moana and a well-armed war party moved inland into the bush.

Ngamarama were not really fighting people. It was one thing to ambush an unarmed ope. It was quite another to resist a well-armed and revengeful taua from Tauranga Moana. Te Akakura and his people were driven out of their stronghold of Kotare. They were chased through the bush toward Whakamarama. They were pushed out of the forest into the open fern country toward the coast. There was no place to hide there. They were driven toward the shore between Te Kauri and Ongare. Here they found some canoes drawn up on the beach. Their way back to the forests was cut off by the taua chasing them. Te Akakura told his people to climb into the canoes and sail past Katikati out of the western harbour into the open sea.

Fortunately for the Ngamarama, who were not really sea-going people, the weather was fine, the ocean was calm, and they were able to paddle the canoes to Tuhua. Here they landed on a beach lined with pohutukawa. But Tuhua was already occupied by people called Whitikiore, ancestors of Whanau a Tauwhao, who still own the island. However, Whitikiore felt sorry for these refugees from the forests of Hautere and gave them a place to build their houses and some land to cultivate. There were plenty of birds and other forest foods on Tuhua. And there was plenty of kai moana right on their doorstep. Ngamarama should have lived happily there for many generations but ngā tētēkura o Hautere, the conceited chiefs of Hautere, had not learned their lesson. Quarrels arose between Ngamarama and Whitikiore and it seemed that they would become refugees again.

Ngamarama had overstayed their welcome on Tuhua, but where in the great ocean, Te Moananui a Kiwa, could they go to next? Te Akakura said to his people, "Let us sail away to the land of our ancestors, Hawaiki. Let us prepare our canoes and stock up with food and water, and leave these islands of trouble. We cannot stay here." And so these Ngamarama secretly prepared for their voyage. One dark night they climbed into their canoes and sailed north and east into the sunrise.

Whitikiore awoke next morning. There was no sign of Patutieke and Ngati Tai of Ngamarama. There was no clue as to where they might have disappeared. For many days they puzzled about this strange and secret departure. One night Whitikiore were all gathered in the wharenui. The tohunga was chanting a karakia. Suddenly a thin ghostly voice was heard in the rafters. It was the kupu irirangi of Korora, the guardian spirit of Te Akakura of Patutieke. The thin, clear spirit voice told of the journey and arrival of Te Akakura in the spirit world.

Maybe Te Akakura did journey to the spirit world, but around Whangamata there is a story of a people led by a chief called Te Akakura who arrived from the sea. For many days they were at sea. A fog descended on them. They paddled on but lost all sense of direction. The sun was obscured by day. At night they could see neither moon nor stars. Then a storm arose. Tawhiri matea sent winds which blew the fog away but tossed up waves that carried them into unknown seas. When the wind and ocean calmed down and the sun reappeared, only one canoe remained, the one commanded by Te Akakura. They saw land far in the distance. Was this Hawaiki? They paddled towards it. As they drew closer, their hearts sank. They recognised Moehau on the Coromandel Peninsula. That was claimed by Tamatekapua of Te Arawa. They would find no sanctuary there.

Te Akakura and his people of Patutieke paddled on along the coast looking for a landing place. They arrived off Whangamata and decided to land there, starving, weary and dejected. To their surprise, no one stopped them. They decided to stay and built a pa called Tunaiti. Some of their descendants are still there, although those Ngamarama refugees have long since intermarried with other tribes.

There is a saying about the fern fronds: Mate atu he tētēkura, ara mai he tētēkura. When the fern frond dies, another rises in its place. Just as ngā tētēkura o Hautere, the chiefs of Ngamarama, have long since died, others have risen to take their place around the shores of Tauranga Moana. And so the cycle of birth, living and death continues through succeeding generations.

Other stories are found off the article - An Introduction to this collection (please click) 

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