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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 3, April 1965

By ROBERT MURDOCK

(Note - Both the Paeroa and the Waihi Historical Societies have had the privilege of visiting Mr. C. Murdock's wonderful Museum of Maori Artifacts at Hikutaia. In this article his son tells of the source of much of this collection. Ed.)

On the bank of the Piako River, between Kopuarahi and Ngatea was situated one of the most powerful ancient swamp Pas on the Hauraki Plains. It was called Oterewa by the Ngati Hako Tribe.

The site was discovered in 1920 when many rare artifacts were found on the north bank of the river. However, it was not until 1956 that it was really explored when my father began excavating on the south bank in the Pa proper. He had been advised by the owner, Mr. Ted Blake, that objects of historical interest had frequently been found there. It may be wondered why the Maoris built on the swamp like this when 30 miles away there was high land, but they had good reasons.

1. It was a strategic position which dominated the river in such a way that it was able to intercept any war party coming up to attack it, or to attack the little settlements further up.

2. It was built on comparatively solid land surrounded by swamp and so was accessible only by canoe, making it free from land attack.

3. The high fertility of the soil was a valuable asset for growing crops,

From the evidence available it would seem that the tribe literally built up their island home from a collection of shells, flax, wood and stones, all of which were transported. Slowly the Pa increased in size until finally it covered 3 acres or more. It could have had up to 800 inhabitants and palisades were placed out in the swamp in such a way that up to twenty feet of either swamp or water lay between the inhabited part of the pa and the outer fortifications.

In the area where the shell deposits were few and thin, a great many artifacts were found including a large number of bone fish hooks and many wooden clubs though the latter were in bad condition and very difficult to preserve.

Over the years much of the pa site has been destroyed by the removal of material for gateway fillings and other purposes, and more recently the remaining mounds have been levelled by a bulldozer in order to improve the farm paddocks that have been reclaimed from the swamp since it was drained.

(Note: Robert Murdock is one of our valued younger members. His knowledge has been an inspiration to us and his practical help with his tape recorder is greatly appreciated. Ed.)