The most traumatic event in Ngāti Awa history took place on the 17th of January 1866, the date the Crown confiscated all of Ngāti Awa’s land. The confiscation came on the back of Ngāti Awa’s defeat at Te Kupenga on the 20th of October 1865, another significant date for Ngāti Awa – as Major W.G Mair wrote in triumph at the time, ‘the Ngatiawa are fairly crushed and will never give any more trouble’.
The confiscation of ‘some 245,000 acres’ of Ngāti Awa land in January was enacted by the Crown on account of Ngati Awa ‘war and rebellion’. But it was a confiscation without just cause for Ngati Awa. The Treaty of Waitangi had been signed by Ngāti Awa 15 years earlier. The Ngāti Awa rūnanga had been supportive of the government, had participated in Government programmes and the iwi had remained neutral in a period where land wars were taking place across the country.
The event that prompted the military invasion which ended at Te Kupenga, was the murder Public Servant, James Fulloon (also of Ngāti Awa) in Whakatane (in July 1965) when he broke an aukati and refused to leave Whakatane when asked. Fulloon had been appointed by the government to arrest those responsible for the murder of Missionary, Carl Volkner (in Opotiki in March 1865). Following Fulloons murder, the Crown issued orders for the invasion against Ngati Awa. The invasion led to the battle at Te Kupenga where Te Hura, the chief of Ngai Te Rangihouhiri, once a powerful hapu of Ngati Awa , was defeated by Te Arawa and the Crown.
As is written in Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi by Hirini Mead and Miria Simpson
Three weeks later, on 21 July, Te Hura’s kinsman, James Te Mautaranui Fulloon (also called James Francis Fulloon), arrived at Whakatane on the Kate, while travelling from Tauranga to Opotiki to apprehend those responsible for the killing of the missionary C. S. Völkner on 2 March. Fulloon had been warned at Tauranga not to take his ship within the aukati, but had disregarded the warnings. The ship was captured by Ngati Awa, and it was explained to Fulloon that it had broken the aukati and that he should leave at once. He ignored this advice and for his transgression was killed. This tragic event would not have taken place if he had heeded the warnings. On 2 September Grey issued his proclamation of peace in which he threatened to seize a part of Ngati Awa land if they did not hand over those suspected of killing both Völkner and Fulloon. Martial law was proclaimed in the Opotiki and Whakatane districts on 4 September 1865 and military action began.
This became Te Hura’s hour of trial. The government sent a force of 1,000 men against Ngati Awa. Te Hura commanded Ngati Awa defenders of the aukati, and at the height of the military operations he would probably have had no more than 250 men. His force was pushed out of each pa around the Matata region. Finally they fled to Te Teko and made their last stand at a pa called Te Kupenga. Here Te Hura was hopelessly outnumbered by a combined force of colonial troops and Te Arawa. Te Arawa were anxious to avenge the defeats they had suffered at the hands of Te Rangihouhiri I who had occupied Tauranga earlier. They also remembered minor border skirmishes with Ngati Awa.
The colonial forces under Major W. G. Mair had a different purpose, to crush the mana of Ngati Awa for all time and to establish Pakeha sovereignty over the land. It was a winner-take-all struggle and Te Hura lost. In consequence his Ngati Awa people chose to ignore him. Losing the battle was humiliating enough, but Te Hura had also to endure the taunts and insults of Te Arawa when he finally surrendered at Te Kupenga. Even worse was to come.
The confiscation of Ngāti Awa’s lands resulted in the alienation of Ngāti Awa from its land, its resources and from the political autonomy it had while in command of those resources and is an event the iwi is still recovering from today.
Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi written by Ta Hirini Mead and Miria Simpson provides the story of Te Hura and a detailed understanding of the Ngāti Awa perspective of the events that led to the battle at Te Kupenga, the confiscation of our lands and the decimation of our industry.
The Ngāti Awa Raupatu Report provides detailed research by Ngāti Awa on the injustice of the confiscation of Ngāti Awa land by the Crown.
The Siege at Te Kupenga is an excerpt from Cowan: The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume II: The Hauhau Wars, (1864–72) and is a view from one of the victors of the battle.