Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 11, May 1969

By E.L. Adams, M.A.

Tuhua, or Mayor Island, is known to all of us, and to sportsmen in many parts of the world. Situated about 23 miles north of Mount Maunganui, and about 17 miles east of the Coromandel coast, this hilly, bush clad island is of 3,154 acres, and rises 1271 ft at its highest peak. It is now a sanctuary, owned by the Crown and a number of Maoris, and controlled by a Maori Board of Trustees on behalf of both interests. Volcanic in origin, and having very few landing places round its very rocky and cliff bound coast, it, in itself, has not appealed to the pakeha; but the waters surrounding it, teeming with big game fish, have made it into a big game fishing base which has no equal anywhere.

Discovery of Tuhua

To the old-time Maori, Tuhua had a different interest added to its "fish" value. The intense heat of early volcanic activity produced large quantities of obsidian - volcanic glass - which was of very great value to the stone-age Maori of early Aotearoa. The flakes so easily obtained from this glass-like substance furnished a sharp cutting edge that was so useful in all aspects of their primitive way of life. An inexhaustible supply was thus of great value to the tribe that owned the source of supply. The Maori name for obsidian is "tuhua" - so, to the Maori, this island became known as "Tuhua". The first mention of Tuhua goes back to the pre-Maori days of gods and demi-gods. Tradition has it that, somewhere about the 10th century, one, NGAHUE, a great navigator, came down South, (some say as far as Antarctica), and, on his return, touched in at New Zealand. Here, on the West Coast, at ARAHURA, he acquired a slab of greenstone (POUNAMU), which he took back to Hawaiki. The value of this jade quickly became apparent to the stone-age people, and one, POTINI, became the personification of greenstone. Later, he quarrelled with one, HINE A-TU-HOANGA, who was the personification of Sandstone - the rough abrasive used for shaping, smoothing and sharpening their stone implements. Perhaps it is no wonder they quarrelled! He sailed to find his earthly home, and came South. He called at Tuhua, but got a cool reception from MATEA (the personification of obsidian), so passed on, via WAIAPU (hard flint, rock), till he eventually came to ARAHURA - his permanent resting place. So Tuhua comes into Maori legendary history. (Tuhua is sometimes referred to as "MATEA" - but the name, as such, is practically forgotten now.)

Maori Occupation of Tuhua

Spread over the late l4th century and early 15th century came the Maori migration to this land of AO-TEA-ROA. One of the great canoes was TAKITIMU, which, coming down from the meeting with others at AHU-AHU, called in here at Tauranga, then known as TE AWANUI. Some of the crew settled here, and the canoes proceeded on to the East Coast, (where others settled), and then to the South Island, (TE WAI POUMAMU). Here, the newcomers lived peacably with the original inhabitants, the NGATIMARAMA. Later the Takitimu people were joined by a number of relations from the East Coast, and thus formed the NGATIRANGINUI tribe. Soon they quarrelled with the NGATIMARAMA, and defeated them at PUKEWHANAKE, the pa overlooking the mouth of the Wairoa River, They thus became the principal tribe of this district - with a controlling interest in Tuhua. A couple of centuries later, in the early 16th century, the NGATIRANGINUI in their turn, were defeated at MAUNGANUI by the NGAITERANGI (descended from MATA-ATUA canoe), under KOTORERUA and TAMAPAHORE, who then became the paramount tribe of the district stretching from KATI-KATI to MAKETU. Tuhua came under their jurisdiction, and was occupied by a sub-tribe, or HAPU, known as WHANAU-A-TAWHAO.

Such was the position, when, in early November, 1769, Captain James Cook, in the "Endeavour", sailed in misty weather, past the entrance of Tauranga Harbour, without seeing it. A north east gale arose, with the usual bad weather, so, at approach of night, Cook sailed to the shelter of the island to the north east, and spent the night in the shelter of Tuhua. Next day he saw, and named, the ALDERMEN. Naturally, therefore, Tuhua was named THE MAYOR. Since then, popular usage, has changed "The Mayor" into "Mayor Island".

Tuhua now comes more clearly into the steam [stream ? – E] of Maori history. Both its obsidian and its fish supply were very valuable to its Maori owners - the NGAITERANGI. But, being what it was, and by its situation, it had serious weaknesses. The terrain is very rough, with sharp, rocky ridges, narrow gullies, and very little flat arable land. Cultivation of native crops was difficult, and the results uncertain - a serious matter to a self-supporting community. Edible birds were not abundant, as the bush, largely pohutukawa near the coast, was not the bush of the rich mainland. So the sparse population lived a Spartan life in a paradise for the modern pakeha picnickers and campers. Also, the island was isolated from the mainland - it took time, and was difficult to get help in times of need. So Tuhua became subject to many raids by other tribes. NGAPUHI and RARAWA from the north, NGATIMARU from the west, TE ARAWA from the south, and NGATIAWA from the east, all at various times, either in search of UTU, or "just for the very devil of it", raided this NGAI-TE-RANGI outpost. The island had about a dozen small pas, chief of which were: PANUI (above OPO, or South-east Bay); TAUMOU (on a rocky height between AROARO-TAMAHINE (or Green Lake) and Crater Bay; and ANANUI (on the north coast.) The best landing places were at OPO and OMAPU, handy to PANUI. Usually the raiding party approached by night and attacked at dawn. The few defenders there were thus surprised, many slaughtered, while as many as could fled inland to TAUMOU and the rough hills toward the crater. TAUMOU was an invincible pa in Maori times. It was situated on a high rocky hill, with unscaleable cliffs to the crater and to the coast, and approached via a single-file track up a deep narrow gully. Above this gully, the defenders had piles of rocks that could be released on to any attackers.

The Spartan life of the WHANAU-A-TAWHAO can be illustrated by the story of WHITI-KIORE. He, no doubt, tired of constant raids, and desiring, a quiet life, decided to shift to the northern plateau of the island, and live in seclusion at ANANUI. So he led his HAPU, or sub-tribe to these inhospitable, but relatively safe, northern wastes. Life there was even harder, so the HAPU decided to move on to the luscious palm-clad shores of the tropical Hawaiki. They provisioned a canoe, and, against the advice of WHITI-KIORE set out on the long voyage, but were never heard of again.

Raids on Tuhua

The story of two raids will illustrate the pattern followed by the many raids against Tuhua. In about 1832 one HARAMITI led a party of mixed NGAPUHI and RARAWA in a raid to obtain UTU for an offence against some children of his tribe at KORORAREKA - he alleged that some NGAPUHI girls had been drowned by NGAI-TE-RANGI relatives. HARAMITI was an old, nearly blind, but powerful chief, a tohunga of great mana. He and party arrived at Tuhua at dawn, surprised and defeated the islanders on the beach - all according to plan. Then followed the feast of victory, according to Maori custom. Unknown to him, the NGAI-TE-RANGI on the mainland had knowledge of his raid, and assembled a strong force to oppose him. Meanwhile HARAMITI insisted that his party proceed on to Motiti, and, as he said, with reinforcements that were on the way from the north, obtain even more UTU and MANA at Motiti. They duly arrived at Motiti, but found it abandoned. That day a strong force of NGAI-TE-RANGI moved out to Tuhua, only to find that HARAMITI had moved on to Motiti. So they paddled all night from Tuhua, and arrived off Motiti at daylight. The NGAPUHI saw the fleet of canoes approaching, and mistaking them for the promised reinforcements, went down to the beach to welcome them. In the resultant battle the NGAPUHI were killed to a man - only one escaped by swimming to MAKETU.

Later, in 1836, one TAUTARI, a chief of great mana, whose tribe lived in the Arawa territory between Maketu -and Rotoiti, decided to raid Tuhua. His arrival at the island was badly timed, as the inhabitants saw him coming, and immediately fled to TAUMOU. TAUTARI decided to attack at night. As stealthily as possible he led his party up the single file path in the ravine towards the pa on the heights above. But the defenders were ready. At the right moment they released the heaps of rocks, which descended with the desired effect on the unfortunate TAUTARI and his party. Needless to say, as many as possible fled, and. the mana of TAUTARI suffered a severe blow.

Tuhua in the 19th and 20th centuries

The Maoris were, by this time, coming under the influence of the missionaries and the pakeha generally. In July 1836, three missionaries, Rev. Chapman, Fairburn and Wilson, heard that TAUTARI was planning his raid on Tuhua, so they decided to go out to the island and, in trying to make peace, warn the islanders, Unfortunately they arrived a day or so after the raid - but they were welcomed just the same. They were guided up to TAUMOU, and, in the gully the old guide pointed to a rock and said, "That is TAUTARI". The good missionaries then remarked that, if TAUTARI had been so defeated, surely there would be blood on the rocks and grass in the valley floor. "Oh, no," said the guide, "The women came down from the pa next morning and licked the blood off all the rocks and grass. Why would there be blood there now?" The three missionaries were marooned by bad weather on the island for nearly a fortnight.

Over the last 100 years, the pattern of Maori life has changed. The missionaries teaching peace, the traders and settlers introducing exchange and economic agriculture gave the Maori a totally new way of life. To their eternal credit, they have met this challenge of civilisation, and today stand in equality with the pakeha. TUHUA gradually lost its importance to them, so the population gradually left the inland for the comforts and convenience of the mainland. At the end of the 19th century TUHUA was totally abandoned, and its erstwhile inhabitants settled on MATAKANA, KATI-KATI, and on the Coromandel coast. Today their descendants are mostly farmers in those localities. Thus today, it is no longer "Tuhua", but "Mayor Island", the island a scenic gem, with its rocky-cliffs, crowned by glorious pohutukawa, is rightly controlled as a sanctuary by the Maori Board of Trustees, which plans to keep it as such, and preserve its natural charm for all time. It is uninhabited, except for a few months in the summer, when the Tauranga Big Game Fishing Club maintains its excellent lodge under the pohutukawas of South-east Bay, and does its best to popularise the excellent fishing there, and at the same time protect the island from pakeha desecration.

(Note: The Arahura River - the main source of greenstone for the Maori - discharges on the west coast of the South Island, a few miles north of Hokitika, Te Wai Pounamu means "The Water of Greenstone". Ahuahu is Great Mercury Island.) Ed. Tauranga Journal.