A feature of the Pai Marire ritual was the karakia around the niu, a large post or flagpole. Participants were led by a priest and circled the niu with rights arms upraised. The niu was the vehicle by which the Holy Spirit would descend to the worshippers below...Usually the people carried flags of distinctive designs associated with Pai Marire.
Yesterday, using a paper Stokes published in 1980, Skyler and I managed to locate the niu of the ancient kainga (village) of Kuranui, in the southeast foothills of the Kaimai Ranges. In pre-European times Kuranui was the site of a house of learning, and the slopes that rise to its east show the remains of the earthworks of several pa (forts). After the eruption of war in the Waikato and the western Bay of Plenty in 1863 and 1864, Kuranui became a place of refuge for Maori rebels against the authority of the colonial government and its British troops. Protected by the rugged, roadless ranges, the inhabitants established cultivations and built a weir in a nearby stream to power a small flour mill.
The niu, which is called Motai, after the Ngati Raukawa subtribe which has traditionally occupied the area around Kuranui, was erected in 1865, in a ceremony attended by Wiremu Tamihana (William Thompson), the Maori statesman who had laid the foundations of the King Movement in the 1850s and fought for the movement during the Waikato War. By 1865 the people of the Waikato had been defeated and pushed into exile in the King Country area of the central North Island, but armed resistance to colonisation was not at an end. In 1867 a small-scale 'bush war' was fought in the Kaimai Ranges between followers of Pai Marire and 'loyal' Maori from the Rotorua region led by the Pakeha General Gilbert Mair. A number of rebel villages were torched during this conflict, but Kuranui escaped damage, and in 1870 it hosted the most famous Maori rebel of them all, Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki. Te Kooti and his band of guerrilla fighters were on the run from Gilbert Mair, and keen to get new supplies of ammunition from supporters in the towns on either side of the Kaimais. During his short stay in Kuranui Te Kooti is supposed to have flown his fifty-foot- long flag Te Wetu (the whip) from Motai. The banner, which got its name from the noise it made in a stiff breeze, would be captured a month later when Mair caught up with Te Kooti's force near Rotorua. (Te Kooti was luckier than Te Wepu - he was never captured by Mair, and died on an island in Ohiwa Harbour in 1893, ten years after receiving a pardon from the government in Wellington.)
The last inhabitant of Kuranui died in 1968; the land the village stood on is still in Maori hands, but is leased to a local sheep farmer. Protected from stock by an electric fence, the niu pole is surrounded by a ruined house, a few old huts, and a mixture of exotic and native trees:
Motai is fourteen metres high, and features at its base a carved rupe (native wood pigeon). The hauhaus of the Waikato and Kaimai regions believed the rupe to be the personal atua (God) of Te Ua (in Taranaki, the birthplace of Pai Marire, it is the ruru (owl) which is associated with Te Ua).
A special place, which we visited in a spirit of respect. Thanks to Skyler for taking these photos with her cellphone.