Linda Te Aho at Lake Karāpiro (Photography: Erica Sinclair)
Linda Te Aho at Lake Karāpiro (Photography: Erica Sinclair)

ĀteaSeptember 11, 2023

A more balanced record: restoring mana whenua perspectives to our history

Linda Te Aho at Lake Karāpiro (Photography: Erica Sinclair)
Linda Te Aho at Lake Karāpiro (Photography: Erica Sinclair)

Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga senior researcher and University of Waikato associate professor of law Linda Te Aho (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Waikato-Tainui) is passionate about the importance of Indigenous scholars writing their own histories. Here, she writes about the importance of this mahi.

The battle of Taumatawīwī that took place in the area that is now known as Lake Karāpiro is one of the last inter-iwi battles for mana whenua. European exploratory expeditions to New Zealand from the early nineteenth century traded muskets with tribal groups, initially in the Far North. With this new weapon, tribal settlement patterns in the North Island were to change irrevocably.  

When war parties arrived in Hauraki from the Far North with muskets, Ngāti Maru moved inland to Maungatautari. After a time, the refugees began to plunder friendly neighbouring villages. Skirmishes became too frequent and Ngāti Koroki and Ngati Hauā, under the leadership of great warrior chief Te Waharoa and supported by the Ngāi Te Rangi people of Tauranga, forced Ngāti Maru back to their own homelands. Just before the Karāpiro rapids, near the mouth of the Hauoira Stream a huge rock stood proud above everything else in the vicinity. This rock marks the place where, in 1830 at the Battle of Taumatawīwī, Te Waharoa instructed that the bodies of fallen warriors be burned so they would not fall into enemy hands.  

The waharoa at Pōhara Marae (Photography: Erica Sinclair)

Described as the “Waterloo of the Waikato”, details of the battle itself are well-documented. Perhaps less well-known is that it is from the resulting stench that the now picturesque Lake Karāpiro, and surrounding area, derives their name: karā (the type of rock where the bodies were burned) and piro (smell). The battle site and the remnants of the rock remain significant sites for Ngāti Koroki Kahukura and Ngāti Hauā. The smoke-filled winds from the pyre carried a considerable distance northwards from the site, past where the township of Cambridge is now situated, giving the name Hautapu (Sacred Winds) to the area. 

Reflecting on the recent Matariki public holiday, we are witnessing the rise in the widespread popularity of te reo Māori and increasing recognition of tikanga Māori in Aotearoa. The winds of change are all around us. 

There is a growth in the number of Indigenous scholars bringing ancestral knowledge to document our histories – like that of Dr Rangi Mātāmua, whose research helped to pave the way for this new Māori public holiday. But the real importance of these projects is often undersold.

Reiata, Te Aho’s niece at Te Manu Kōrero (Image: Supplied)

Recently, my 16-year-old niece delivered a winning speech in the prestigious Manu Kōrero competitions.  Drawing on our rich history, she shared her journey towards becoming “unapologetically Māori”. Reiata stood tall, speaking proudly of our heritage, descending from wayfinding leaders such as Hoturoa who navigated the Pacific Ocean using traditional knowledge to arrive in Aotearoa thousands of years ago. She shared her admiration for Ngāti Koroki Kahukura chief, Tīoriori, who sacrificed his freedom when imprisoned without trial at Rangiriri for fighting to protect our mana and our whenua in the 1860s land wars, during the maelstrom of colonisation.  

Growing up, my immediate whānau was fortunate to have been part of a series of wānanga established by our kaumātua to ensure that our language and marae protocols would survive.  We grew up in and around te reo Māori, and today we are enjoying the fruits of that upbringing – but many of our tribal members were not so fortunate and are eager to learn. Our rangatahi are being raised in kaupapa Māori schools and are seeking to deepen their knowledge. Our wānanga of the 1980s canvassed historical events, but the learnings from those wānanga are not easily accessible in written form. To aid the new generation of wānanga teaching and learning, our whānau has published two collections of our oral tradition, with a focus on karakia, karanga, whaikōrero, and waiata. Through this project I want to add to that body of work by giving a voice to our iwi and hapū to share our stories and knowledge, to explain the politics of why we assumed the name Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, and to highlight the triumphs and heroic deeds of our ancestors as a force to strengthen our communities and enlighten and inspire our youth.  

The view of Maungatautari from Pōhara Marae (Photography: Erica Sinclair)

Sharing our perspectives of history can shed light on concepts such as mana and the importance of whenua and kaitiakitanga and can also highlight the humanity of our ancestors, often hidden behind stereotypes, myths, and prejudices.

We are proud and grateful that our ancestors fought for our right to maintain our mana whenua, some sacrificing their lives. But history has a way of amplifying warfare at the expense of longer periods of peaceful settlement. Once peace was restored following the battle of Taumatawīwī, Te Waharoa entrusted Ngāti Koroki as guardians of the Maungatautari and Karāpiro areas – where we continue to live today – and where we have a long history of being prolific gardeners and traders. Yet our ancestors have been characterised as ‘bloodthirsty’ and ‘savages’, whilst leaders of colonial troops are described as ‘determined’ and ‘courageous’.  To us, Te Waharoa is a hero. Our whanaungatanga relationships with Ngāti Hauā and Ngāi Te Rangi, who fought in solidarity with us, are cherished and memorialised at Karāpiro with a carved waharoa. 

Whilst some places such as Hautapu, Maungatautari, and Karāpiro have retained their original names, the conflict over a desire to restore or introduce Māori place names that reflect the history of areas has been ongoing for decades. More recently, signs of welcome to the township of Cambridge have been changed to include the Māori name, Te Oko Horoi. This name translates as a ‘washbowl of sorrow’ because it was the location of the Native Land Court in the 1870 and 1880s, a major source of land loss.   

With mature oak trees, a town square, and colonial buildings, the town’s quaint English appearance belies its discordant history. Following Te Riri Pākehā, the Māori Land Wars, King Tāwhiao had been exiled from his homelands near Ngāruawāhia. Iwi who participated in the wars were labelled ‘rebels’ and the settler government confiscated 1.2 million acres of fertile lands across the Waikato to punish them, and to reward loyalists (including some Māori, who fought alongside the Crown). The large-scale confiscation that we call raupatu spanned from Mangatāwhiri (Mercer) southwards and incorporates the land upon which the town of Cambridge now sits. 

Te Aho under the waharoa at Pōhara Marae (Photography: Erica Sinclair)

In the wake of raupatu, Māori were required to come to town to take part in hearings which would determine whether they would keep their land or lose it. Many camped near the lake now known as Te Kōutu while waiting for hearings. They ran up debts to buy supplies for weeks on end. Even if they were fortunate enough to be named as owners on the title, some would then have to sell that land to pay those debts, or the costs of surveyors. Te kōutuutu (from which the lake gets its name) means to scoop up and splash your face with water. Washing with water from the lake in this way was a method for cleansing and regenerating spiritual health. It was, therefore,Te Oko Horoi, the washbowl of sorrow, for Tāwhiao and local mana whenua. Not only does this ingoa tell us an important history about the land and our people, it tells us of the pristine nature of the water during that time and its ability to heal – an incentive to restore what is now a degraded life force. 

Being displaced from our lands through raupatu and the operations of the Native Land Court compromised our ability to grow our own food. The sculpture of a timo, or hand tool for gardening, now located along the Cambridge bypass near Tamahere is named Māra Kai (food garden).  A nearby bridge, Te Kōpū Mānia, takes its name from the lament of King Tāwhiao, “Te Kōpū Mānia o Kirikiriroa me ōna Māra Kai, (The Smooth Womb of Kirikiriroa and her Food Gardens).” Names that we are proposing for parks and reserves reveal more of the brilliance of our ancestors. One example is Te Korakora, the Māori word for charcoal.  The first step in preparing the land for growing kūmara was to clear the whenua. Mānuka and bracken fern were burnt to make charcoal to enrich the soil. Restoring ingoa Māori helps to keep knowledge like this alive.

The presence of our ancestors is still visible in our names, and in the borrow pits, the soils, and pā sites on our landscapes. For this visibility to not only continue, but strengthen, it is important for mana whenua to tell our own stories. Our stories reflect natural, cultural, and historic heritage. They inspire us all to take notice of the past, take care of the present and prepare for a more vibrant, shared future.

(Photography: Erica Sinclair)

Te Aho’s current project – E rua ngā marae, kotahi te Iwi – Stories of Ngāti Koroki Kahukura aims to fill a gap in literature about iwi and hapū identity in the South Waikato region. Te Aho’s project is funded by Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence and the Judith Binney Trust.

Keep going!