A tale of two chiefs2

The Motueka river is a significant feature of Motueka and our Whakarewa lands. Many of the occupied land areas that were wrongly sold to the New Zealand Company in the 1840’s were alongside the river. But the river was also a point of dispute between two Ngāti Rārua chiefs. 

In one version of the early settlement of Motueka, Ngāti Rārua chief Te Poa Karoro and Horoatua of Te Ātiawa, were the first people to occupy the lands about Motueka, and in fact they named the area known as Te Maatu, situated on the south side of the Motueka River. Horoatua claimed the land for him and about 70 others of the Puketapu hapū of Te Ātiawa who were with him, one of which was Merenako, a high-ranking Te Ātiawa ancestor.

Sometime after arriving in the Motueka district, Merenako journeyed up the mouth of the Waiatua stream, situated near Old Pā Hill (Puketawāi). She followed the hillside up the valley to the neighbourhood of what is called Dehra Dhoon. From here she crossed the river and travelled along the foot of the opposite hills, to a place close to the Riuwaka butter factory. Here she saw the Riuwaka swamp which, at that time, covered a significantly large area. Disappointed by what she saw and considering it of no value to her, and difficult swampy land to walk upon, she called it Turi Auraki (tired knees). Merenako and her second husband, Te Poa Kararo (Chief of Ngāti Turangapeke, a hapū of Ngāti Rārua) as well as Merenako, had large land holdings, including in Motueka. This was seen as the catalyst for Te Ātiawa and Ngāti Rārua of Motueka to settle in Motueka as one. Both iwi retained their own identities, with Merenako and her Te Ātiawa land and mana to the south and west of Te Maatu, and Te Poa Karoro retaining his land and mana to the north and east of Te Maatu.

When Pukekōhatu (chief of Ngāti Pareteata, a hapū of Ngāti Rārua) arrived at Motueka he lit a fire on the Motueka side of the river and proclaimed the land as his and his hapū.

Te Poa Kararo however, who arrived in the district with Horoatua, had already claimed the land for him and his hapū, through whenua kite hou (discovery) and taunaha (naming the land) at Te Maatu.

To ensure his desire was fulfilled, Pukekōhatu placed a kanga (curse) over the district by personifying himself as the Motueka River, saying that, “The source thereof is my head and the mouth is my feet.”  In other words, Pukekohatu made himself to be the river. The thought, which is quintessentially Māori, was an absolutely effective way of holding onto a tract of whenua, as it brought into operation the iron law of old. The kanga (curse) lay a short distance south of the Motueka River and beyond the area known as Te Maatu. 

Te Poa Karoro took up a very defiant attitude towards Pukekōhatu and the laying of his kanga. He went as far to say, “Kia maoa taku umu tangata māna kē Maatu,” meaning, “If anyone occupies Te Maatu, I will cook them in my oven.” 

It is said that the argument had originated through Pukekōhatu going to cultivate the land at Te Maatu, which is also said to have been given to him by Merenako. This incensed Te Poa Karoro, as he had apparently made available the land for Te Manutoheroa and the Ngāti Kōmako Te Ātiawa to cultivate. Others say Te Poa Karoro was controlling Pākehā settlement on the land, authorising where Pākehā could and could not live on the Riuwaka side of the river.  This was disquieting for Pukekōhatu, who was concerned that if Pakeha settlement continued, there would not be enough land left at Te Maatu for Māori to live upon.

In later years, Pukekōhatu removed his kanga in order to facilitate the opening of the land for development.

This blog was put together from kōrero with kaumātua and kuia.