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Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs


The East Coast region is bounded by the Urewera, Huiarau and Raukumara Ranges in the west,, and runs from Cape Runaway in the north, south towards Māhia Peninsula. The country is built mainly on relatively young sedimentary rocks with a light coating of ash from the Taupō volcanic region. The ash is important in soil formation on the less steep country, and without it, the soils would be less suited to Māori horticulture. The rocks are mainly mudstone with some geological layers being very slippery when wet, leading to a severe erosion problem, 1 and outstanding settlement opportunities on alluvial plains formed by the product of the erosion. The important rivers, from south to north, are the Waipāoa (and its tributaries), Uawa and Waiapu, all of which have wide valley floors. Along with the coastal strip these were the most important areas of settlement. In the river valleys, Māori settled well into the main ranges up to 40 km from the coast, but settlement away from the rivers was sparse. 2 Settlement was also sparse where the coastal strip is narrow or dominated by cliffs.

Important themes that can be followed in more detail using aerial photographs of the East Coast are traditional sites, the records of Māori sites from the 1769 visit of the Endeavour, storage pits and horticulture, settlement and pā in river valleys, and the nineteenth-century fortifications associated with Pai Mārire, and later Te Kooti Arikirangi.

Hikurangi is among the most important traditional sites. Whāngārā is a landing place of the canoes Toko-maru and Mātaatua in one version of their voyages. 3 The small island off Whāngārā beach, Te Ana ō Paikea, is another landscape feature of great traditional significance. Paikea, after whom the island is named, is an ancestor common to both Ngāti Porou and the broader page break
Whāngārā village and the island, Te Ana ō Paikea, north of Gisborne

Whāngārā village and the island, Te Ana ō Paikea, north of Gisborne

The island, bottom right, looks like the whale which rescued Paikea from a sabotaged and sinking canoe. The island has also been a naturally well-defended pā. Terraces, probably for houses, are highlighted by shadow near the peak of the island. There is also a pā, Wai Mihia, by the Waiōmoko River on the mainland. Its ditches and banks, enclosing the river bank, can be detected on the extreme right of the broad bend of the river (partially obscured by hills) and left of the road. The view is to the west.

Ngāi Tahu and Rangitāne tribal groupings. 4 In a Rangitāne traditional narrative, the naming of the landscape is expressed:

Haramai, e tama! E piki ki runga 6 Hiku-rangi, o Ao-rangi;
He ingoa ia no Hiku-rangi mai i Tawhiti, na o kau i tapa. . . .
Ko te ara tena i whakaterea mai ai o tipuna
E te kauika tangaroa, te urunga tapu o Pai-kea. . . .
Haramai, e tama! E huri to aroaro ki te uranga mai o te ra,
Ki Turanga-nui a Rua, ki Whāngārā;
Ehara i konei, he ingoa whakahua no Hawa-iki-nui a Rua-matua,
Ka waiho nei hei papa mo te kakano o kōrau a Ira-nui,
Hei papa mo te kūmara.....

Come, O son, ascend the peaks of Hikurangi and Aorangi;
"Tis a name from Hikurangi from afar so called by your forbears. . . .
That was the course upon which your ancestors voyaged hither
Upon the deep sea school-of-whales, steered by the sacred ritual of Paikea,
Which becalmed the sea-ways across the billowing-ocean.
Come, O son! Turn towards the rising-sun,
Towards the renowned Turanga of Rua, and to Whāngārā;
'Tis not of this land, the name is from Hawai-iki-of-renown of Rua-matua
'Twas made into a plot for the kōrau seed of Ira-nui,
'Twas the plot for the kūmara... . 5

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Wai Mihia, a pā on the banks of Waiōmoko River, Whāngārā

Wai Mihia, a pā on the banks of Waiōmoko River, Whāngārā

This pā showed on the lower reaches of the river in the previous view. The pā has been created by right-angled sections of ditch and bank enclosing the main river on the right and the tributary stream in the foreground. Additional areas have been enclosed by further sections of ditch and bank, now partly destroyed, furthest from camera. The overall area is estimated to be 60 by 25 m. The pā is in thistles, obscuring some features. The view is to the east.

The hills, islands and cliffs at the entrances to Uawa (Tolaga Bay) and Tūranganui (Poverty Bay) are likewise full of traditional references. There is a hill with the same name, Tītīrangi, at the entrance to both bays. Tītīrangi and Whāngārā are both references to places in Hawaiiki, as the tradition indicates. The Waipāoa River is a reference to Pāoa, one of the important ancestors of the Gisborne area and a leader of the Horouta canoe. 6

In 1769 the East Coast was the site of the first landings from the Endeavour. The comments in the journals of Cook, Banks and Monkhouse (the ship's surgeon) are of the greatest significance for an archaeological understanding of Māori settlement pattern, artefacts, gardening and fortification at that time. Some of these comments related to features that may be seen in aerial photographs, particularly gardening and pā. 7 The East Coast has numerous ridge or hill pā, although these tend not to be very heavily sculpted into the slopes, especially when compared with the neighbouring Bay of Plenty. James Cook and Joseph Banks, not knowing their function at the time, recorded the hills and ridges as being 'fenced', rather than fortified or having ditches. 8

The photograph here shows the pā on the small peninsula forming the northern side of Cooks Cove. Banks was puzzled by the palisades that he found on the peninsula. In his journal he described them:

... went to the top of the hill above the watering place to see a fence of poles which we had observed from the ship. ... on a hill almost inaccessible by Wood & Steepness, we however climbed it & found several deserted houses near the rails, which only consisted of Poles of 14 or 16 feet high set in 2 rows, each pole 10 feet from the next, the 2 rows were about 6 feet distant.. . . this rail work with a Ditch which was parallel to it, went about 100 Yards down the hill in a kind of Curve, but for what purpose it had been intended I could not at all guess.. . . 9

The ridge on which this structure stood can be identified in aerial photographs. It was, despite Banks' puz- page break
Top left. Cooks Cove and the pā on the northern peninsula

Top left. Cooks Cove and the pā on the northern peninsula

The view is to the north-east; Cooks Cove is on the right and Tolaga Bay on the left. The peninsula consists of a large uplifted mass on which three ridges run south (down to the right) from the main ridge along the head of the cliff to the north. The peninsula is naturally steep-sided all around, with small cliffed steps to the south; the only natural weak point is the small valley (here obscured by the closest ridge) which runs down to the head of the cove. Terraces and pits ('deserted houses') occur on these ridges. Joseph Banks' 'fence of poles' probably ran along the curve of the nearest ridge above the very steep face lying towards the camera viewpoint. The Historic Places Trust obelisk marking Cook's visit can just be detected near the pond on the ridge lower right.

Bottom left. The outer part of the Cooks Cove peninsula

The terraces on the ridges are plain. Halfway down the lefthand ridge, silhouetted against the stony beach just left of centre, is a defensive ditch and scarp. Banks' fence ran down a ridge similar to the ridge on the right (the actual ridge is out of view to the right). The view is to the southeast and the cove is about 100 m across.

page 143 zlement, the outer defensive perimeter of a broad area of settlement on the several narrow ridges of the peninsula. The peninsula is naturally steep-sided with much of the potential defensive perimeter formed by cliffs up to 25 m high. Terraces which may be the sites of Banks' houses show clearly, particularly on the innermost part of the defended area. This outer part of the peninsula also appears to have had a palisade rendered as a brush fence (probably inadequately) in the Endeavour drawings. 10

The Endeavour observers noted only very small settlements, of a size that might now be associated with a whānau. Unfortunately, Cook and Banks and their fellow observers did not travel far inland, up the rivers. Opportunities to do so, at both Poverty Bay and Tolaga Bay, were for some reason not taken. 11 Had they done so, they would have seen much bigger sites and settlement population numbers. 12 At this period, on the Tūranganui (Gisborne) plains there were pā on the river banks and the broad ridges where the main rivers first emerge from the narrow valleys of the hill country. At these points, major floods had deposited large fans of silt. On the principal fan at Waerenga ā Hika and the smaller fans, 10 km inland from Gisborne, there are radiocarbon dates for settlement as early as 1250, although the pā of course are later in age. The wider settlement on the alluvial fans can be traced from the extent of the umu or earth ovens that show as wide black patches in aerial photographs of ploughed areas taken in the 1940s and 1950s. 13 The Waerenga ā Hika flats and the surrounding hill country were the sites of very extensive gardening in pre-European and later times. The low broad ridges in this vicinity were the location of large pā with many kūmara storage pits. 14

Further up the Waipāoa River towards the localities of Pūhā and Mangatū, smaller numbers of large pā and many small pā occur. They usually enclose the terrace edge with an open-sided rectangular length of ditch and bank. In one case, near Pūhā, a pā occupies a flat-topped 'island' formed in this terrace. This pā, probably called Whenuanui, 15 has never been ploughed and shows the pattern of raised-rim storage pits, complete with drains, very clearly; it was illustrated in chapter 4 on horticulture. Another example is on the coast at Pouawa, just north of Gisborne, where a triple ditch and bank cuts off a point or headland in the high terrace.

In the lower courses of the main rivers, the pattern of pā seen on the high terrace is rarely seen today, since many such defences have been ploughed out. However, there is a group of four pā, in two pairs, in the meandering lower reaches of the Maraetaha River. These date from the period 1600-50. 16 People in them would have taken advantage of the compound defensive effect of the river and of the further defences immediately across it.

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Pā on coastal high terrace near Pouawa, north of Gisborne

Pā on coastal high terrace near Pouawa, north of Gisborne

A rare example on the East Coast of a triple ditch and bank defence, probably dictated by the flat access at this point. The defended area (to left of the ditch and bank) is about 70 m long by 40 m across. The flat strip marked by the shadowed scarp in the foreground is a natural slump, and the ditches and banks run across it. The relatively narrow defensive ditches suggest that the site may be nineteenth century in origin, in which case a triple line, concentrating the defender's musket-fire, would have been possible. The interior of the pā shows at least six raised-rim pits. The faint criss-cross pattern on the paddocks to right of the pā results from recent giant-discing. Fortunately, the discing has not entered the perimeter of the pā, although a road has breached the ditch and bank towards the far end. The view is to the north.

page 145

On some occasions, there may have been rivalry between hapū. In such cases, the closely placed fortifications would have defended hapū from hapū. 17 On the abandoned course of the Te Arai River, near Manutuke on the south-western margin of the Waipāoa Plains, an intricate meander also had a fine example of such a pā. This pā, Tapui, dates to the same period as the Maraetaha pā and survives in good condition. 18 Lying on the downstream end of the swampy ribbon of the abandoned river course (abandoned in the twelfth century, long before occupation), it seems now to break the rule that major sites will have good access from sea or river transport. Its distance from the sea or river is misleading. The rerouting of the Waipāoa River course, farm drainage and subsequent erosion in the modern period from the adjacent small river valley to the south-west, have filled in the river and estuary beds. In fact, Tapui was once within easy reach of the estuary of the Waipāoa River, and its location is readily explained by that factor.