There was huge anger about police actions in Tuhoe Country, and Bay of Plenty rags like the Whakatane Beacon - hardly bastions of radicalism, I can tell you - were openly scornful of claims in some of the big city media that a 'Te Qaeda' cell was operating in the Ureweras. Check out indymedia for the latest on the whole tragicomic affair, which is now prompting protests as far afield as Germany and Greece.
Over the last week Pakeha up and down the country have been getting a crash course in Tuhoe history, but the teachers haven't always been entirely reliable. A lot of newspapers have mentioned that the repreated invasions of the Ureweras between 1865-1872 were prompted by the shelter the Tuhoe gave to anti-colonial fighters Kereopa Te Rau and Te Kooti, who carried out notorious attacks in Opotiki and Gisborne respectively before fleeing to the Ureweras. Few, though, have explained the circumstances behind the actions of either man. Kereopa is notorious for gouging out the eyes of Opotiki Minister and government spy Carl Volkner, but few people know that his sister and mother had just been murdered by British troops in the Waikato. Te Kooti is well-known for killing seventy people in cold blood a few hundred kilometres round the coast, but few of those who condemn him retrospectively realise that his victims included people who had killed his kin, stolen his land, and sent him to exile on Chatham Island.
Volkner gets a fairly easy ride on the memorial stone at the back of the church he built and died in; about fifty kilometres east of Opotiki, Te Kooti is inadequately remembered by a sign on the edge of Ohiwa Harbour. At the end of a long gravel road one finds Wainui marae, Te Kooti's last home and his likely burial place. Across the road from Volkner's old church is the swanky new Opotiki museum building. I had a long chat with one of the volunteers - they're all volunteers - who have the job of moving thousands of artefacts ranging from greenstone mere to rusty scythes to wartime ration books out of storage into the three storey, purpose-built premises. She wanted to pick my brains, because I've been working in the museum up to Auckland, but I thought I had more to learn from her. Onepoto Bay is the name for the eastern end of Wharekahika, which Europeans renamed Hicks Bay, after a bloke on Captain Cook's boat The Endeavour. The local people belong to Te Whanau a Tapaeururangi, one of about thirty subgroups of the 60,000-strong Ngati Porou iwi.
The hills around Hicks Bay, and around the East Cape area in general, were formed millions of years ago, on the bottom of the sea, before being pushed upwards by colliding tectonic plates. If that sounds a bit dull, you could try the traditional Maori explanation, which has the trickster God Maui fishing the Cape and the rest of the North Island out of the sea. Whatever the reason, the East Cape is a place of strangely shaped rocks and cliff-faces studded with the fossils of extinct sea creatures.
The region boasts a microclimate, as well as a unique geology - it's frost-free all year round, and tropical fruits like bananas and paw paw grow to a sizes unparalleled in many parts of Northland, let alone the rest of New Zealand.
Hicks Bay and the nearby settlement of Te Araroa are divided by the Te Koau peninsula, which is made almost enirely of limestone and riddled with caves. Te Koau means 'the shag', and a legend says that one of the most spectacular rock formations on the peninsula (I only got half of it in my photo) gets its shape from the bird which Maui sent from his canoe to explore the island he had just fished up. The poor thing got its wing caught, then turned to stone. Another legend says that a fearsome dog lives deep in Te Kuri, one of the many caves on Te Koau that was used for burials. Te Kuri is a vertical cave, and a howling sound can sometimes be heard coming from its depths. I certainly heard something, when I found the entrance to the cave. Even if it is just the wind you hear, you'd be a fool to go any closer than that entrance. If you don't break your neck, you're sure to break a tapu. Local historians say that John Cassidy (Katete, in Maori), an American trader who was one of the first non-Maori to settle in Onepoto Bay, suffered a lingering death from a strange disease because he violated tapu in the area.
At the western end of Hicks Bay, the Matakaoa peninsula and the peak called Patanga form the ancient boundary between Ngati Porou and their sometime rivals Te Whanau A Apanui. Matakaoa is covered in pa sites - the best-known of them sits above the Hicks Bay wharf, and is called Makeronia, which is Maori for Macedonia (no, I don't know why either...)
Makeronia is a 'modern' pa, which means it was built with guns and artillery bombardments in mind. It was the northern tribe Nga Puhi, led by the notorious raider Hongi Hika, who first brought the gun to the East Cape region. When Hongi's canoes put ashore and his warriors opened fire, Ngati Porou's young men ran into the bush, broke sticks off the trees, and ran back to aim them at the northerners. When Hongi and his comrades didn't keel over, the men with sticks realised that their mana wasn't powerful enough, and ran way to hide.
Ngati Porou soon got the hang of the new technology, and turned their economy upside down to produce the cash crops and trinkets that European traders would swap for real firesticks. Like many other iwi in the nineteenth century, they created a mode of production that utilised elements of a market economy yet retained non-capitalist features like the use of collective labour and the communal ownership of most land.
Not even Hongi Hika and his taua could take the pa at the top of Whetumatarau, which is the hill which rises behind Te Araroa. It looks more than a little like Table Mountain in Cape Town, and its almost vertical, fossil-studded slopes became especially tricky to climb when the local people rolled boulders down them.
A lot of people think of the East Coast as an isolated, virgin place, but early last century it was riding a dairying boom, and tipped to become one of the powerhouses of the Kiwi economy. Poor roads and good prices led to the creation of impressive slaughterhouses, co-op shops, and wharves in bay after bay. Many of the farmers were Ngati Porou. But the steep, erosion-prone hills of the East Coast wouldn't support dairying for longing, and neither could the banks which held the mortgages on farms. Before it went into decline, the East Coast dairying sector did manage to inspire the land consolidation and development schemes implemented on a national scale by the great Maori leader Apirana Ngata (he's the bloke on the fifty dollar note).
Today decaying wharves, co-op stores and slaughterhouses can be found up and down the coast. The slaughterhouses, which have usually lost one or more walls and been colonised by moss and epiphytes, look like nothing so much as ruined abbeys.
Ngata, whose was born at Te Aaroa, was an ethnographer and cultural activist as much as a politician. He helped to revive the traditional art of carving, and presided over the building of new wharenui (meeting houses) on dozens of marae.
The church at Tikitiki, about thirty kilometres to the east of Hicks Bay, was built under Ngata's supervision to commemorate the (pointless) sacrifices of young Ngati Porou soldiers in Europe and Turkey during the First World War; it combines carving in the distinctively rounded, flat Ngati Porou style with European imagery and designs. I wish those young Ngati Porou men had sat the war out, like the Waikato and Tuhoe did.
I'm not sure whether it's ironic or fitting that Hongi Hika's depredations led, in a few years, to the conversion of the East Cape to Christianity. Some of the slaves he took north learned about the new creed from missionaries in the Bay of Islands; when they were freed and returned home in the early 1830s they brought the Bible with them.
In the 1860s a new type of missionary arrived to promote the Pai Marire doctrine, which blended Christianity, traditional beliefs and fierce anti-colonial rhetoric. The 'hauhaus', as the adherants of the new religion were called, ended up fighting a brief Ngati Porou civil war against pro-British Anglicans based at Makeronia, amongst other places. With the help of the government and Pakeha volunteers from Opotiki and Gisborne, the loyalists emerged triumphant.
The Pakeha government announced its intention to confiscate large areas of Ngati Porou land as 'punishment' for the disloyalty of the hauhaus, but the loyalists threatened to turn the guns they had been given to fight the hauhaus against Pakeha troops and settlers, and the land remained largely in their hands. The defeated hauhaus had to renounce their faith, but nobody seemed to mind when many of them became followers of Te Kooti's new Ringatu movement, and - a decade or so later - of the Mormon Church, which still has a strong presence on the East Coast today.
Another nineteenth century conflict eventually mellowed, too. After the end of World War One, Apirana Ngata arranged for work brigades composed of Nga Puhi vets to come to Hicks Bay to cut down bush and break in new farms. At first Hongi's descendants got into regular scraps with their unwilling hosts, but eventually the wily Ngata had his way, and the two groups buried the hatchet and began to intermarry. Mt Hikurangi is the highest point in the eastern part of the North Island, the first part of either of the two main islands of New Zealand to see the dawn, and an important regional symbol for both Maori and Pakeha East Coasters. Ngati Porou legend says that Hikurangi was the first part of North Island that Maui pulled out of the sea, and that the God abandoned his boat somewhere on the mountain. (Perhaps those Christian fundies who keep hunting for bits of the Ark on Mt Ararat would have better luck looking for Maui's waka?) A Ngati Porou subtribe called Ngati Uepohatu lives at the bottom of Hikurangi, and claims direct descent from Maui.
Alas, I still haven't made it to the East Cape lighthouse, and several other iconic spots on the Coast, and we don't have any photos of Tolaga Inn, one of the grandest old run-down pubs in New Zealand, because we were too busy drinking and losing to the locals at pool. Next time...