Te Pehi Kupe: An eventful journey and savage death

 

Few other figures in the history of Maori warfare have influenced the course of events about them as significantly as the Ngati Toa rangatira Te Pehi Kupe did in his brief yet eventful life.

His savage and untimely death would also prove to cause much suffering and anguish for those who were deemed responsible, and lead to far-reaching ramifications that would reverberate for many years to come.

Te Pehi Kupe was descended from the senior line of Toa-rangatira: founder and name giver to this small branch of people who traced their origins back to the Tainui Waka.

The emergence of this new delineation of Iwi is said to have come about after the merciful decision of Toa-rangatira’s father Tupahau who, after winning an unexpected battle had chosen to spare the life of his erstwhile Tainui brethren and would be aggressor Tamure, who had sought to conquer him and his lands.

In praise and thankfulness for his life being spared Tamure was said to have cried out: “Tena koe Tupahau, te toa rangatira!” meaning “Hail Tupahau, the chivalrous warrior.”

In memory of this event, Tupahau named his first born son Toa-rangatira who went on to give this eponymous name to his direct descendants.

Years later in around 1795, Toitoi, the direct male descendent of Toa-rangatira would father Te Pehi Kupe.

As a young man Te Pehi Kupe was well practised in the arts of war, taking part in raiding parties south to the Horowhenua and Kapiti Coast regions where his people would ultimately settle after their final showdown and eventual defeat at the hands of their longstanding and bitter enemies, Tainui and Ngati Maniapoto.

The exploits of Te Pehi Kupe, alongside his nephew Te-Rauparaha in the great southern migration, were numerous and many.

He was to lead the capture of Kapiti Island in 1823 from the Muaupoko and Ngati-Apa, which would ultimately provide some breathing space for the harried collection of his kinsmen who sought a final refuge after completing the long and arduous exile southwards.

The necessity for such a foothold had become increasingly evident for Te Rauparaha after the attempt on his life the year before at the hands of the Muaupoko who had tried to lull the great chief into a state of false-security by offering him the gift of a canoe.

After accepting this gift Te Rauparaha was invited to stay in the Muaupoko village on the banks of Lake Papaitonga but during the night the whare he was sleeping in was set alight. He managed to escape through a hole in the wall but five of his children including his son Rangihoungariri were all killed.

This failure on the part of the Muaupoko in killing Te Rauparaha was to have devastating effects upon their survival as a people, as Te Rauparaha alongside Te Pehi Kupe were to reap a terrible vengeance in the months and years ahead.

In order to try and stave off this protracted genocide, Muaupoko retreated to a series of artificial islands on Lake Horowhenua where, out of Musket range, they felt safe and secure from harm. Large Manuka stakes were embedded in the muddy floor of the lake around these floating sanctuaries in order to deter attackers from gaining access.

In response, Te Rauparaha and Te Pehi Kupe gathered together a number of warriors and proceeded to drag several large waka up the Hokio Stream from the nearby coast and attack Muaupoko’s places of refuge. During this attack Te Pehi Kupe was wounded as he attempted to capture Te Ratu who speared him through the thigh.

Te Ratu was run down and captured, however, his story would be continued in future actions further south in the years to come.

 

 

During this time Te Rauparaha’s new island fortress of Kapiti began to also reap economic rewards through the burgeoning flax trade as a growing number of European ships began to become more and more numerous.

As the summer of the previous year faded, on the 26th February 1824, one of these European trading vessels, the Uranea under one Captain Reynolds, was to pass through these waters and unwittingly play a major role in furthering the explosion of total warfare throughout the lands of the Maori.

Te Pehi Kupe made his way out to the vessel and after climbing on board he refused to leave.

Captain Reynolds tried in vain to coax this unwanted passenger off his vessel but to no avail.  Te Pehi was to eventually make his way to the British Isles where he would eventually gain a meeting and gifts from the King himself.

In Te Pehi Kupe’s absence, Ngati Toa’s dominance both economically and militarily had continued to grow and it had become increasingly apparent to other Iwi that the window of opportunity for the deposing of this invading northern menace was growing smaller by the day.

So in the final months of 1823, a massive allied force of both southern and northern tribes converged upon the Kapiti Coastline, in preparation for what was hoped to be the final reckoning and eventual expulsion of the ruthless chief in the following year to come.

The proposed invasion of Kapiti Island by these hostile forces did not go well, however.

From the outset, much disagreement broke out between the multitudes of Iwi involved, as to the most favoured method of attack with many arguing for or against a night attack.

In the end, no real compromise was reached and the overall attack was to peter out into a rather prolonged and ineffective series of small-scale raids.

A notable event took place however when a young woman in her mid-twenties named Kahe Te-Rau-o-te-rangi, made a seven-mile swim from the northern point of Kapiti to a place near Paekakariki on the mainland, in order to bring word of the impending attack to Iwi friendly to Ngati Toa.

The fact she made this swim, all the while with her baby daughter on her back, has become one of the many remarkable episodes of our history.

As word of the repulse of this allied invasion of Kapiti spread throughout the lands, there was much fear and consternation amongst those Iwi who had actively backed this failed endeavour.

After the killing of several Rangitane chiefs in the Manawatu, a pre-eminent rangatira of this same tribe named Te Ruaoneone who lived in the Wairau was to utter a fateful remark.

He warned that if Te Rauparaha was to set foot in the South Island, his head would be beaten into the dirt with a putu aruhe or wooden club used for pounding fern root.

With the head being considered most sacred by the Maori, this insult could not go unanswered, and beginning in 1827 the ruthless Ngati Toa chief was to announce his presence on the hapless tribes of the South Island with a ferocity of intent which was to leave few survivors in his wake.

This first wave of genocidal fury was to break upon the unarmed and vulnerable peoples living in the Marlborough sounds whose numerous Pa were to prove no refuge against the heavily armed Taua coming against them.

As the killing continued throughout the myriad of waterways, the sea was said to have run red with blood as the Taua, now sated and adorned with the heads of their victims on their waka, began to turn its attention further south to the Wairau plain.

The name given to this first invasion was Tukituki Patu Aruhe, translated as the killing of the fern root pounder, with the unfortunate rangatira at the center of this re-balance of honour being one of the last killed in a manner of some ritual.

Upon his return to Kapiti, Te Rauparaha was to once more meet his old companion and friend Te Pehi Kupe who had since returned from his European sojourn and a plan was soon hatched which would increase Ngati Toa’s military abilities considerably.

The gifts given to Te Pehi upon his meeting with the King would be taken to Sydney, where they were to be traded for an arsenal of unprecedented size and scale, giving further weight to Te Rauparaha’s planned second savage southern incursion.

The justification for this continued onslaught would be found in an infraction of a sexual nature which was perpetrated against Te Rauparaha’s nephew Te Rangihaeata.

A Ngati Ira captive named Te Kekerengu is said to have had an affair with one of Te Rangihaeata’s wives or sisters during one of his absences from Kapiti and fearing the inevitable retribution such an insult would bring had duly escaped to the South Island, eventually finding refuge with the Kai Tahu rangatira Rerewaka, a distant relative who lived south of Kaikoura at Omihi Pa.

Undeterred by the growing reputation of fear which Te Rauparaha had been cultivating amongst his enemies, Rerewaka was to speak volumes of his contempt for the bloodthirsty rangatira by the curse he spoke: if Te Rauparaha ventured south he would find his belly ripped open by a niho manga, or barracuda’s tooth.

Replete with ocean-going waka and an impressive arsenal of firearms, Te Rauparaha and Te Pehi Kupe were to venture once more southwards, and in the early hours of an unfortunate morning in 1829 came ashore near Omihi Pa.

The resulting slaughter which followed saw the deaths of over 1000 Kai Tahu, culminating in Rerewaka’s own belly being cut open with a barracuda’s tooth in order to give redress for his earlier slight.

As word spread further south, the inhabitants of Kaiapoi Pa (a massive fortification lying just north of modern-day Christchurch) hastily began work in re-palisading and further strengthening this formidable Kai Tahu enclosure.

Upon Te Rauparaha’s arrival, it was quickly surmised that his few numbers would be no match against a Pa of such size and scale as Kaiapoi was. He, therefore, decided to make best use of his time with reconnoitring missions about the area, in order to test the defences for future actions.

When word spread amongst the Ngati Toa war party that the great Kai Tahu rangatira Te Maiharanui was present in the Pa, it was decided that Te Pehi Kupe would pay a visit to him, as he was on good terms after previous association.

It is unknown what actually transpired inside of Kaiapoi during this tense parley, but the result was the killing of Te Pehi Kupe alongside the small party of warriors who had accompanied him.

Te Rauparaha, incensed by this betrayal of customary hospitality, proceeded to bring forth the many captives from his raid on Omihi he had at hand, and in full view of the Pa’s occupants went on to methodically kill, cook and eat them.

This horrific display of brutality, however, did not even come close to addressing the utu required for redressing the loss of such a figure as Te Pehi Kupe.

Much more would be needed, and in the years ahead Te Rauparaha’s vengeful rage would be squarely focused on Kai Tahu with the great Pa of Kaiapoi taking centre stage on what would become one of the largest and most protracted sieges ever witnessed in these islands.

 


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