Topic: Traditional Story: The Battle of the Kokowai

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The Battle of the Kokowai was a major battle fought between the Ngaiterangi and Ngati Ranginui iwi (tribes) which saw the Ngati Ranginui iwi displaced from Mauao. The battle is thought to have occurred between 1625 and 1750.

Archived version here.

Ngaiterangi settled themselves in the rich lands of Maketu. Tapuika withdrew south to Rangiuru and Te Puke and because of the marriages made between them and Ngaiterangi lived fairly peacefully. There were some further battles with Waitaha and Ngati Ranginui in the Kaawa swamp area of the lower Kaituna. These tribes were joined by Ngati Haua of the Matamata area and in one of these battles their chief, Haua, was killed. In due course peace arrangements were made, but only after many men were killed. Marriages were also made between the tribes. For a while it seemed everyone could live fairly happily in the land.

But this peace did not last long.

Te Pakanga o Kokowai (The Battle of Kokowai) c1700 by Duane Moyle

Te Pakanga o Kokowai (The Battle of Kokowai) c1700 by Duane Moyle

One day a canoe load of men of Ngati Ranginui set out from Tauranga Moana on a fishing trip. While they were still out in the open sea they were caught by a storm. Somewhere off Maketu the canoe was swamped. All were drowned except Taurawheke who struggled ashore at Okurei, the northern point of the Maketu lands. He dragged himself up on the beach and lay there exhausted. Here he was found by a woman who was out collecting shellfish among the rocks. She pulled him up to a sheltered place at the foot of the cliff and went off to get him some food and dry clothes. Unfortunately for Taurawheke, she met her husband on the way. He was very suspicious and said he would go back. Instead of bringing food and clothes, he killed Taurawheke, and secretly cooked and ate him.
Meanwhile, the people at Tauranga Moana assumed that all in the fishing trip had been lost in the storm. That might have been the end of it if this Ngaiterangi man had not beaten his wife. It seems he was in the habit of doing this now and again. This time the wife screamed back at him that she would tell everybody how he had killed Taurawheke if he went on beating her. The neighbours heard all this going on and that is how the word got out. Eventually, the news got back to Tauranga Moana, to Ngati Ranginui, that Taurawheke had been killed by Ngaiterangi.
A war party of Waitaha and Ngati Ranginui decided to go to Maketu and do something to take revenge on Ngaiterangi. They had got as far as Te Tumu when they came upon two men of Ngaiterangi collecting toetoe to thatch the roof of a house. These men were Tuwhiwhia, one of the sons of Rangihouhiri, and Tauaiti, son of Tuwhiwhia. They killed Tuwhiwhia, cut off his head and put his headless body in a canoe and set it adrift down the Kaituna. Tauaiti was taken back to Tauranga, tortured, and then killed. Before he died Tauaiti prophesied, "My pain is shallow compared to the ocean of pain to come."
Ngaiterangi were furious when they saw the canoe with the body of their chief Tuwhiwhia in the estuary of the Kaituna at Maketu. They were even more furious when they heard how Tauaiti had been tortured and killed. It fell upon Kotorerua, brother of Tauaiti and son of Tuwhiwhia, to organise a suitable form of revenge for these murders. It so happened that a well-known chief of Raukawa called Putangimaru, who usually lived at Hinuera in the Waikato, was visiting Maketu about this time. Kotorerua told his sister Tuwera to look after him especially well. Putangimaru was so well looked after he decided to take Tuwera home with him as his wife. Kotorerua was invited to follow later and discuss further this matter of utu for his father and brother. Putangimaru was known as a wise man who had special powers and Kotorerua was confident he would get some good advice.
Some time later Kotorerua travelled inland. He passed through the forests of Otawa to avoid being seen by anyone in Tauranga Moana. At a place called Pawhakahorohoro he met up with a man called Ika who had been sent by Putangimaru to show him the way through the forests of Hautere. At Whenuakura, a place high in the ranges, they could look out over Te Kaokaoroa o Patetere to Hinuera. Ika pointed out the important landmarks on this track and the pa where Putangimaru stayed. Then Kotorerua killed the slave Ika. He cut off his head and carried it with him to Hinuera. Here Putangimaru received him with all ceremony and when the speeches were over he asked about Ika. Kotorerua replied that he had travelled with Ika, that he had killed him at Whenuakura as he needed parts of his body for his divining rituals. He told Putangimaru how he had brought Ika's head so that they could use it together to divine, and find out whether all the omens were favourable. Together they performed the rituals, chanted their karakia, and worked out a plan for utu. This was going to be the taking of the great pa of Ngati Ranginui and Waitaha on Maunganui.
Kotorerua returned home to Maketu and straightaway began planning the attack on Maunganui. This pa was a big one covering most of the mount. Waitaha held the east side facing toward Maketu. Ngati Ranginui held the west side which faced Tauranga Moana. The pa was well fortified with terraces, banks and palisades. Except for the sand spit facing toward Maketu, Maunganui was surrounded by water. It would not be easy to take this pa. The only weak spot was where the fortifications crossed the top of the mount on the northern side. Here, it was thought, the rocky cliffs were so steep no one would be likely to attack by that route as the attackers would have to climb so high up the steep slopes. It would take a fair amount of luck and cunning to take this pa.
One dark stormy night Kotorerua and about 140 men arrived outside the palisades of the section of the pa occupied by the Ngati Ranginui chief Kinonui. This was on a sort of plateau above the place now called Stony Point. They carried with them 100 baskets of kokowai (red ochre) obtained from the banks of the Kaikokopu Stream which flows into the Waihi estuary near Maketu. They explained their late arrival by the need to stop frequently to protect the precious kokowai from the rain that had fallen on the way. It was not customary for guests to arrive at a marae at night and Kinonui was very suspicious. However, they seemed friendly enough and it was wet and cold so they were invited in as guests. The baskets of kokowai were stacked away to wait for formal presentation and ceremonial in daylight. This was just as well for the Ngaiterangi visitors. The baskets contained earth with only a thin layer of kokowai on top.
The guests were taken into the meeting house. The whaikorero started. Greetings were exchanged between the Ngaiterangi manuhiri and the tangata whenua, Ngati Ranginui. The speeches went on well into the night. Kinonui was still very suspicious of the motives of these visitors. Kotorerua was playing for time. A pretended courtesy was maintained between the chiefs of the two sides but the atmosphere was tense. Now and again, one or another of Kotorerua's men would come and go. Gradually most of them left the meeting house making various excuses. At last only Kotorerua was left. One of his men returned, whispered briefly to Kotorerua and went out, leaving the door of the meeting house open. Suddenly, Kotorerua rose up, slipped out and slammed the heavy sliding door into place behind him and tied the latch to prevent anyone getting out. One of his men had a flaming torch ready. Kotorerua took it and placed it against the raupo wall. The flames caught the dry raupo and flickered up with the thatch of the roof. Within minutes the meeting house was blazing and Kinonui and his people were destroyed inside.
Meanwhile, the bulk of Ngaiterangi under the command of Taapuiti had made their way in canoes to the narrow landing place in the rocks to the north of Maunganui called Te Awaiti. One group went off to cut the lashings and bash holes in all the canoes that were lying on the beaches around Maunganui. The rest climbed up the steep northern face of the mount to the weak point in the fortifications right at the top. In the noise of the storm, with the wind and rain and the waves crashing on the rocks, the Ngaiterangi attackers were not noticed. All attention was focused on the meeting house and the whaikorero between Kotorerua and Kinonui. As the meeting house went up in flames, warriors poured down on the pa from the summit. Other Ngaiterangi warriors attacked from all sides. Ngati Ranginui and Waitaha fled in confusion. Many who escaped death by Ngaiterangi drowned in the harbour when they tried to flee in the damaged canoes. And so in a few hours the great pa of Maunganui was taken and Ngaiterangi established their presence in the lands of Tauranga Moana. 

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


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Traditional Story: The Battle of the Kokowai

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Traditional Story: The Battle of the Kokowai by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License