Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 1, June 1964

By W. T. Hammond

This is now September 1963 and I am getting well on in my 95th year, so it seems a long time since I made my first visit to Ohinemuri.

About 1876 or 1877, Mr. James Lavery, James Farrell and my father, Mr Thomas Hammond, were engaged in building a house to Te Hira, a well known chief of the Ngatitamatera tribe of Ohinemuri.

For some years Mr. James Mackay had been endeavouring to induce the Maoris of this district to allow mining for gold on their lands, but as the majority were Kingites who had sworn to neither sell or nor lease their lands to Europeans, he made no progress. Among the hardest to deal with were Te Moananui, Mere Kuuru and Te Hira.

At length Mackay managed to overcome the opposition. Some vowed that Te Moananui and Te Hira had each received £1,000 from the government as a bribe. Te Moananui was able to build a fine house near Te Totara Point in the Thames district and Te Hira had a house built at what was known as Te Moananui's settlement.

It was in the Summer holidays when my father took me to spend a brief holiday at Te Moananui's settlement. There was no traffic road from Thames to Paeroa then and we travelled up the Waihou River from Shortland in a small paddle-steamer. The river then was a clear stream, lined on the Western side with a dense forest of Kahikatea, the banks fringed with toetoe and flax. At Paeroa, the steamer came to a halt and here Lavery procured a Maori canoe into which our luggage was bundled. Up the Ohinemuri river the canoe was paddled until we reached Te Moananui's Settlement.

The place seemed to be deserted. Near the bank of the river were two upright posts and near the top under cover was suspended a churchbell. Lavery made use of the bell to announce our arrival. Mere Kuuru, the Kemara family and others were soon on the spot to welcome us. The people of this settlement were Haukaus and that evening held their usual service. At their meal time, I remember seeing a party seated around a large tin-dish containing boiled wheat.

On one occasion a Maori came to my father to borrow a "Cutty cut". After some time, the dad discovered that the Maori wanted a chisel. This he received and later brought back the tool which now had signs of blood on the blade.

"Did you cut yourself?" asked my father.

"No." said he, "that the hoihoi."

The Maori had a water-melon patch which was being scratched over by a hen. With the chisel he had chipped off the tips of the bird's toes to prevent further scratching. Hence the blood on the blade.

When the house for Te Hira was partly built, the tent was abandoned and a bedding of shavings made on the floor. An old man had died and the hut which he had occupied, being tapu, was with its contents burned. Next morning before breakfast, my father secured some of the hot embers to start a fire for breakfast. The Maoris were horrified when they saw his breach of laws of tapu and insisted that he must extinguish the fire.

I recollect that Mr. James Mackay in a letter to Mr. Partidge recounted an incident that had occurred in this locality some ten years earlier. He said, "In my youth I frequently witnessed the administration of food and drink to tapu'd persons. The last occasion on which I saw it performed was in 1866 at Ohinemuri, when Taraia Ngakuti Te Tumuhiua received a drink of water from a slave.

Taraia placed his two hands together with the thumbs outwards and the palms upwards. He then put the wrists under his chin and elevated the fingers and the water was poured from a gourd into his mouth. In removing the vessel the attendant happened to touch the Chief's extended fingers with it. Taraia cursed the man, seized the calabash and broke it into fragments and burnt them on the Wahi Tapu. (sacred place.)"

My father became friendly with some of the Maoris and I remember that the Kemara family, when visiting Thames, made a visit to our home in Pollen Street. My own interest in the Maoris, beginning in those far distant days as boyish wonder and awe, has continued throughout my life, deepening into appreciation and understanding.