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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

A Sensational Trial

A Sensational Trial

The most sensational case in Poverty Bay in which witchcraft was alleged to have figured resulted in the trial, in June, 1887, of three young natives, Aporo Paerata, Te Hau Porourangi and Te Uri Maerenga, and also of Erena Parewhai, for a double murder. They were charged with having, at Puhatikotiko, on 29 January, 1887, shot Jeremiah Nuku (aged sixty years) and his wife Hiria (an aunt of Wi Pere), who, the tribe believed, had fatally bewitched one Pareka (aged seventy years). Erena was acquitted, but the others were found guilty and sentenced to death. Te Hau was adjudged to have been an accessory before the fact.

Petitions poured in to the Government from natives in all parts of New Zealand, urging that the prisoners should be released on the following grounds: (1) That they had acted only in accordance with the laws of their forefathers; (2) that, if the responsibility rested anywhere, it rested on the tribe as a whole; and (3) that no proof had been adduced as to who was the actual murderer. The sentences were commuted into life sentences. In a dispatch to the Home authorities, the Governor (Sir W. F. D. Jervois) stated that there was no reason to doubt that the prisoners were guilty, but if the death sentence had been carried out it would have been regarded by the natives “as an act of excessive severity and of injustice.” The prisoners behaved in an exemplary manner in gaol and were released after serving only five years of their sentence.

During a meeting at Marahea in August, 1885, a tohunga claimed that he could recognise the odour of a liniment that was page 199 in general use for all kinds of pains. Everybody present denied that he or she had lately used the potent fluid. He then hinted that a malign spirit which had used it must have made it its business to put in an appearance. During the stampede that followed, the door was broken down and several natives were injured.

For some years Heta te Kani (successor to Hirini te Kani) was afraid to travel from Gisborne beyond Whangara. Te Kooti, it seems, had predicted that Heta would die if he proceeded farther up the coast. However, another tohunga, who claimed to have greater powers than Te Kooti, advised him to the contrary. Early in 1903, Heta, with a large mounted party, went to Tolaga Bay and returned unharmed. In the following September, when he succumbed to tuberculosis, many natives held that the prophecies of both tohungas had been fulfilled. Heta had been treated by a tohunga named Matenga Kaipau, who threw bucketsful of cold water over him. Inquiries by the police failed to secure sufficient evidence against him. Up till then only one tohunga had been convicted in Poverty Bay. In April, 1901, Harata Paretiti, an elderly woman, of Muriwai, who had “treated” Tami Rawhi for typhoid by dipping him in the sea and prescribing quite unsuitable food, was sent to prison for twelve months.