Hamilton mayor Andrew King has withdrawn his proposal to rename the council Kirikiriroa City Council after widespread opposition. Proud local Horiana Henderson looks at the history of the name and explains why it’s a missed opportunity.
Hamilton city’s mayor, Andrew King, swayed attention from the contentious 10-year plan this week when he asked to explore a name change from Hamilton City Council to Kirikiriroa City Council.
It was tabled in a monthly report after King discussed the possibility with local iwi and Kīngi Tūheitia, however it was announced today that he withdrew the submission after every man and his dog rolled their eyes at the suggestion.
I think it was a missed opportunity to share, acknowledge and celebrate Hamilton’s past. A chance to heal.
I couldn’t have told you, before last year, who lived here before it was Hamilton – who our mana whenua are. But in 2017, thanks to a campaign for greater awareness of the New Zealand wars, I became interested in discovering more about the place I’ve called home for more than 30 years.
I met Ngāti Wairere spokespeople, Hekeiterangi Broadhurst and her nephew Wiremu Puke – mana whenua of much of what we now call Hamilton. The hapū are a subtribe of Waikato-Tainui and they referred to their customary lands as Kirikiriroa.
Andrew King has said that Kirikiriroa means “a fertile strip of land.” I’ve also heard the definitions “long stretch of gravel,” referring to a long road, and “cultivated,” referring to the vast cultivations of the area pre-European settlement. This last version Hamilton City Council actually have committed to signage.
Hamilton’s pre-European occupants from 1690-1864 lived at Kirikiriroa Pā. Anyone pausing on Hamilton’s Claudelands Bridge can look across the river towards the CBD between London and Bryce Streets and see where it stood. Hekeiterangi Broadhurst told me, “It was the whole town. The whole town.”
In its day the pā was full of hundreds of people; families, children, kuia, kaumatua, warriors, master carvers, leaders, healers, teachers, savvy business-minds and renowned cultivators of the land. A trip to the London Street reserve will reveal information panels depicting just how vast the cultivations were all along the Waikato river. The panels tell of Ngāti Wairere’s gardens spreading on both sides of the river from Ngāruawāhia to Horotiu (present-day Cambridge). Signage from Victoria Street to identify the most significant pā site in Hamilton city, sadly, is restricted to a ‘Heritage Trail’ sign (that’s not very specific), a very large ‘wharepaku’ sign or just ‘London Street’ pointing towards the river.
Hamilton City Council’s 2003 Māori Landmarks Plan gets it right though. It was prepared in partnership with Ngā Mana Toopu o Kirikiriroa at the time. The plan tells of the many Ngāti Wairere whānau who lived and worked their lands, but Kirikiriroa Pā was the place they returned to at times of attack (which were commonplace). It was a formidable stronghold. By the 1850s Broadhurst says that the tribal warfare was “finished…they’d given up.”
Christian missionaries were some of the few Pākēha visitors to the pā. A raupo dwelling stood within the pā’s borders and Māori were proving quick studies of the bible and of te ao Pākēha (the Pākēha World).
New Zealand Heritage resource A journey through the Waikato War highlights the prosperity of Waikato Māori in the 1860s saying that the lands were “rich in resources supporting thriving settlements and flourishing economies.”
The people were exporting to Australia, California and suppling the Pākēha settler population of Auckland, who depended on the Waikato-Māori trade.
The Landmarks Plan tells of “as many as fifty canoes at a time [being] beached on the banks of Kirikiriroa as produce was off-loaded,” and of “villages accumulating their trading profits to build flour mills on the river edge.” There were at least 20 flour mills.
The river was raging with industry and canoes were chock-full with “potatoes, kumara, corn, onions, pumpkins, wheat, peaches, apples, figs, pigs, goats, chickens, and ducks from the Waikato.” Translation: Waikato Māori, including Ngāti Wairere, were loaded.
Cue Jaws theme music. Cue the ‘great war for New Zealand’.
Tamihana said, “No te taenga ki te kohuru i Rangiaohia, katahi au ka mohio he tino pakanga nui tenei, no Niu Tireni.”
When it came to the (time of the) murder at Rangiaohia, then I knew, for the first time, that this was a great war for New Zealand.
The reason for that war is a commandment the Māori students would likely have learned from their missionary tutors: Thou shalt not covet. Alas, according to the Landmark Plan, in 1859 “Pakeha farmer settlers and land hungry speculators from Auckland looked towards the rich land of the Waikato with envious eyes,” and Māori could read the signs of conflict on the horizon.
According to Te Ara Encyclopedia, “Some chiefs realised that Māori would have to unite to keep their land, customs and mana.” That unity was to come through the installment of a sovereign and a process known as the Kīngitanga movement.
One chief in support of the Kīngitanga was Hoera Taonui (1805-1863) of Ngāti Wairere. He attended multi-tribe hui to discuss the selection process. Waikato chief Pōtatau Te Wherowhero was crowned first Māori King in 1858. He passed two years later and his 35-year-old son, Tāwhiao, was crowned in 1860.
Under Tāwhiao, Māori were able to retain control of their assets, until the construction of a long-strip-of-military-gravel: the Great South Road.
Governor George Grey had the road built from Auckland into Waikato to allow over 16,000 colonial troops and supplies access to the abundant region. The Māori King’s force by contrast numbered less than 5000 part-time warriors (there were still crops to be sown and tended to at home).
Broadhurst told me, “When the soldiers came in, they wanted that land… they didn’t care how they got it. They were gonna take it! There was no reason to pick on our people, they were just sitting on their land. But they wanted that land badly.”
Interestingly, the New Zealand Herald saw fit to rethink their selection of Governor George Grey as New Zealanders of the Year for 1863, saying that he “would have seemed the right choice at the time, but not any more.” He was subsequently replaced by Waikato Māori chief Wiremu Tamihana.
Broadhurst said, “They [the colonial government] concocted up having to take it by force and that was how they did it. They took it by force…They built that road purposely so they can walk all their infantry and their weapons of war.”
She recounted that in November 1863 it was decided that Rangiriri would be the place for the King and his host to stand against the colonial forces. She said that Tāwhiao’s message to his people was, “the soldiers are coming.”
Broadhurst said that the Kirikiriroa Pā’s chief responded to his monarch’s call. “Hoera Taonui led Ngāti Wairere to Rangiriri…there was about three wakas. King Tawhiao already knew, he warned his people that they needed to go.”
“So they all went to Rangiriri. Ngāti Wairere went.”
“They had just got there. The war had already started and there was already a lot of people killed. All the gunboats were already there. There were gunboats everywhere.”
“Ngāti Wairere, they went into the creek right where the Rangiriri Hotel is…They took that creek. They knew that the soldiers were already there…When they came out into the lake…there were three gunboats already sitting there waiting. They fired. They fired at Ngāti Wairere.”
“They fell in that lake [Lake Waikare].”
Hoera Taonui was last seen on the Rangiriri battlements and is presumed to have died there. He was the last Ngāti Wairere chief to stand at Kirikiriroa Pā. A Pou Whakarae (carved palisade post) stands now on the site in commemoration of him.
In 1864, a message came from a warrior of the Rangiriri battle Pirihi Tomonui. It was to alert the women, children and elderly, the remaining occupants still at Kirikiriroa Pā, to leave for Hukanui (Gordonton).
Broadhurst said the warning was, “Gunboats [are] coming. Ka mate koutou (you will die).”
Over a million acres of land was taken in retribution for the Kīngitanga’s resistance and Māori, including Ngāti Wairere, were exiled from their lands.
Broadhurst remembers living through the aftermath of her people’s expulsion. They were pushed “right out” to Hukanui, Tauhei and Waiti and were held there by strategically positioned constabulary.
“Our own land, you couldn’t go back on it. My parents, my grandparents, we all had to live outside the confiscation land. It wasn’t good,” she said.
Broadhurst spoke of her once thriving people’s transition to selling kauri gum for an income. “There weren’t any jobs,” she said.
King Tāwhiao returned from Te Nehenehenui (King Country) to see his Hukanui kin about a month after Rangiriri. From then Ngāti Wairere began construction of his whare: Tuturu-a-Papa.
“They all slept in there. They had to build everything by hand. They had their own lifestyle. They were very, very much like a family,” Broadhurst recounts.
She and her brother Hakopa Puke are the “last of the few” descendants of Te Puke Waharoa. He was a tohunga of the hapū and had lived at Kirikiriroa Pā with his wife Kameta.
The Ngāti Wairere kuia was invited to speak at Kirikiriroa’s only Rā Maumahara event last year on October 28. The day commemorates the New Zealand Wars, of which the Waikato Wars was pivotal.
Her message was clear: “We did not desert our land. Gunboats. Gunboats came in and found nobody there…We are the ahi kaa of the land. We were there before they came and the war was theirs. It wasn’t our war.”
Whatever the mayor’s motives, there’s space to make a little room in our language for one word that was spoken by the proud people who lived, worked and thrived on the banks of the mighty Waikato river. It costs us nothing to remember them. And to remember that one word –Kirikiriroa – connects us to a side of our Hamiltonian heritage we might have had less appreciation for. The people of Kirikiriroa called our home, home. They just called it a different name.