A seed for the future, Miriama Evans

Ngaa Mahi Whakaari a Titokowaru
Ruka Broughton
Victoria University Press, $24.95


E kore au e ngaro: te kakano i ruia mai i Rangiaatea

(“I shall not be destroyed, for I am the seed sown from Rangiaatea.”)

The ancient and powerful whakatauki (proverb) above has been passed down the generations as a mnemonic for the descendants of the Aotea canoe about their origins and identity. The whakatauki implies resilience and continuity and in a more oblique way it confers obligations and responsibilities on its referent group. Both Ruka Broughton and Titokowaru traced their lineage back through the Aotea canoe to Rangiaatea, the ancient Pacific Ocean homeland, and both in their own way illuminate the essence of the proverb.

Ruka Broughton’s Ngaa Mahi Whakaari a Titokowaru explores the deeds of Titokowaru against a Maori contextual background. The author’s preparation for this book came from a lifetime immersion in the study and acquisition of the oral traditions of his Taranaki people. His experience and depth of knowledge was highly respected by the iwi of Taranaki to the extent that he was acknowledged by them as a tohunga, an expert in customs, concepts and traditions of his people.

The work, which is entirely in Maori, was initially embarked upon as a doctoral thesis through the Maori studies department of Victoria University of Wellington. Although the author substantially completed the thesis in 1986 while terminally ill, he died without submitting it for examination. Professor Hirini Moko Mead who had supervised Ruka Broughton’s work on the thesis, undertook with the agreement of the Broughton family to publish the study.

It is possible that Broughton’s choice of Titokowaru as a topic for his thesis was influenced by his discussions and debates with James Belich who in the early 1980s was already in the throes of writing an historical account of Titokowaru’s role as a leader among Maori of Taranaki. At that time Broughton was also systematically working through material about or by Titokowaru and other Maori leaders in Taranaki. James Belich’s book on Titokowaru’s war titled I Shall Not Die, was published in 1989.

Broughton’s book was completed under the editorial guidance of Professor Mead. Publication in 1993 was made possible through funding assistance from Te Hunga Taunaki Kaituhi Maori, a committee of Te Waka Toi which promotes writing in Maori.

Te Tira Whakaemi Koorero, the Maori Research Centre at Victoria University, provided maps and identified photographs for inclusion in the book. On the whole, the maps are a disappointment. Most are unimaginatively presented and do not amplify the social and political connections between Titokowaru and others in relation to significant locations or events. Some maps are cluttered with irrelevant detail. In contrast, the photographs and illustrations are well chosen and add interest to the text.

In the introductory chapter of Ngaa Mahi Whakaari a Titokowaru Ruka Broughton states that he felt compelled to show that Maori methodology in recording history was different from that of pakeha. He outlines the qualities of the Maori style as being similar to whaikoorero, or formal speeches which have a distinctive structure and syntax. This style is supported with illustrative whakatauki, waiata that provide historical data, whakapapa to demonstrate connections and liaisons, and karakia which modified behaviour and provided a code of order in Maori society. Indeed the book is a rich source of oral tradition which appears in print for the first time.

While the style of Ngaa Mahi Whakaari a Titokowaru is similar to whaikoorero, it is not exclusively reliant on Maori source material. A variety of English language documents are also referred to by the author. The approach to the study could be described as ethno‑historical: this admits source material from oral tradition and provides tools for evaluating the probable accuracy of the information and for establishing a chronology for segments within oral literature. The complexity in evaluating the usefulness of oral tradition in constructing an historical account depends largely on genre. Traditional karakia, for example, are generally transmitted unchanged through generations and centuries, whereas whakatauki, waiata and whakapapa may be subject to omission of some elements or even consciously changed for a variety of reasons. While profound dislocation or dysfunction can occasionally be discerned in Maori oral literature, on the whole material preserved through this medium can often be verified within and across hapu (subtribes) and sometimes across iwi.

Ngaa Mahi Whakaari a Titokowaru therefore presents differently from I Shall Not Die ‑ in language, source material accessed, and cultural perspective. Huirangi Waikerepuru of Ngaati Ruanui erects the first pou (upright) of the paataka, the treasure house of knowledge. His foreword acclaims Broughton’s standing amongst his people of Taranaki and salutes the literary treasures which enhance the historical material. In commenting on Titokowaru’s deeds, his persistence in land retention and his belief in the sovereign authority of the iwi, Waikerepuru draws attention to unresolved issues in the relationship between Taranaki iwi and the Government today. He challenges Maori of Taranaki to assess critically their future in the light of the legacies of Titokowaru and the prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. He concludes with his own rousing ngeri (rhythmic chant) about Titokowaru.

The foundation of Ruka Broughton’s thesis is built with three broad themes: mana tangata ‑ Titokowaru’s personal influence and prestige, mana atua ‑ supernatural power and forces, and mana whenua ‑ control and authority over the land. The framework developed from these themes cover Titokowaru’s life and deeds, his prominence amongst the iwi, his brilliance in strategic warfare, his belief and adherence to Maori supernatural order and his work as a prophet of peace and passive resistance.

The imprisonment of the Parihaka men, the significant meeting at Manawapou in 1854, descriptions of specific events and sites of historical interest, the beginnings of the Hauhau movement and its religion, Pai Marire, the early connections between the Taranaki iwi and the King movement, and relationships with the kuupapa (Maori supporters of the Government) also form part of the framework. While the major focus is on Maori figures, some deeds of prominent colonials and military leaders are noted and discussed.

The extensive use of a wide range of Maori oral literature giving colour and depth to the study is complimented by commentary and oral testimony provided to Ruka Broughton in his youth by contemporaries of Titokowaru. His own kuia, Taihape Te Hurahanga Rimitiriu, knew Titokowaru well. Born in 1850, Taihape was one of Ngaa Rauru who arrived at Taurangaaika in 1868 on the day of the Handley woolshed affair. Taihape was also at Paakaraka when the prophet Te Ua Haumene visited some time earlier. Taihape was 108 years old when she died in 1958. Broughton records that he retained some but not all of his kuia’s thoughts related to the era of Titokowaru. Te Wharemamaku was another kuia of a similar age to Taihape. She was known for her retention of the waiata and poi of Titokowaru. Although Ruka Broughton did not know Te Wharemamaku as well as his own kuia, some of her knowledge was passed to him. Te Wharemamaku died in 1957; her surviving offspring at that time were in their eighties.

The author, because of his own scholarship in the traditions and oral literature of his iwi, was also able to exchange views with, and given access to oral histories kept by, other tohunga.

The paataka constructed by Ruka Broughton in Ngaa Mahi Whakaari a Titokowaru is the ideal repository for his whaikoorero. As might be expected, key Maori leaders are rounded characters with an abundance of oral history and tradition to attest to their actions and qualities. Time is measured and recorded using traditional Maori methods. Whakapapa recording descent from an eponymous ancestor may be compared and linkages made within and across descent lines to establish who are contemporaries and to evaluate relative time positions in descent lines. Shorter time frames tend to be measured by seasons or by reference to relationships between significant activities or events. A reliance on oral tradition typically means that accurate links between dates and events are scarce. Where dates occur in this study, these usually can be traced to published historical accounts. Broughton advances his thesis in an oracular manner, requiring the reader to understand the Maori context to the work and to appreciate customary cultural concepts in drawing conclusions about the evidence provided.

By contrast James Belich’s I Shall Not Die is meticulously detailed in its descriptive narrative and its attention in linking events to specific time frames. Certain key events are unravelled in time‑conscious segments. Belich focuses on Titokowaru’s war between 1868 and 1869 in contrast to Broughton who covers approximately half a century of Taranaki tribal history. The source material used by Belich leads to insights into the daily lives of the colonial settlers and the militia but also provides a useful perspective, on Maori figures.

Broughton is particularly interested in establishing what occurred at Taurangaaika which led to an apparently inexplicable evacuation of the stronghold by Titokowaru’s party. Belich deals with this question, too, and a comparison of the approaches provides an interesting glimpse into how cultural bias may lead to totally different interpretations of what may have occurred at that time.

Both authors use as a reference point Kimble Bent’s assertion to Cowan that Titokowaru had been found in a liaison with another man’s wife. This is said to have cost Titokowaru his status and prestige as a leader. The record does not explicitly state that the affair was discovered the same evening as the withdrawal from the pa, although Bent’s description implies that the discovery of the affair had occurred then.

Belich examines Whitmore’s initial conjecture that Titokowaru was fearful of attack and agrees with Whitmore’s subsequent disclosure that the pa could not have been penetrated by troops. Belich also considers and puts aside the possibilities that Titokowaru’s group had run out of food or ammunition. Kimble Bent’s statements provide a likely reason and Belich explores the possibility further with speculation about why a sexual liaison should raise such a fierce response from the leader’s supporters. Belich notes that a person named Puaraurenga was said to have been linked to Titokowaru and leaves us wondering if support for Titokowaru diminished because he may have been involved in an incestuous relationship.

Broughton brings a different set of issues forward for consideration. He briefly reiterates the qualities and characteristics of Titokowaru that set him apart as a tohunga in the eyes of Taranaki Maori and as a man esteemed for his mana atua and mana tangata. Broughton then discusses possible reasons for the swift pre‑dawn evacuation of the pa on the eve of the battle. An exchange of views, which took place on the evening before the pa was found deserted, left Titokowaru unnerved by an uncanny feeling that McDonnell had penetrated his mind and understood what conditions would be considered propitious or adverse for the conduct of battle. Broughton also records troubles amongst the iwi caused by a warrior’s sister who persistently disclosed information to pakeha. The woman was shot by her brother.

Moerewarewa Reeweti, a centenarian in the 1970s, told Broughton that Puaraurenga was the woman at the centre of interest in Titokowaru’s sexual liaison. A fair‑skinned, slow‑witted, child who was reputed to have seen the couple ran into the pa calling their names. When the adults went to the child they also came upon the couple. There is no evidence either to link or dissociate this discovery to the day of withdrawal from the pa. Whakapapa show three women named Puaraurenga in a descent line to Titokowaru. The youngest, Puaraurenga III was a grand aunt to Titokowaru. No other whakapapa records show another by the same name.

Broughton considers it most unlikely that Titokowaru would have had a sexual liaison with his grand aunt but does not dispute the fact that Titokowaru was adulterous. Instead, Broughton examines practices and behaviours of those with mana from Titokowaru’s contemporaries back through the centuries to founding ancestors. Adultery was not a cause for loss of mana. A sexual liaison on the eve of battle however would be intolerable. Broughton discounts the possibility of this occurring for a variety of reasons: Titokowaru showed all the signs of having entered into the ritual of preparation for battle; some of Titokowaru’s own men also talked to Cowan suggesting that Bent’s story was pakeha mischief and that Titokowaru’s mana was such that he could not be felled by slanderous talk.

Furthermore Broughton does not accept that Titokowaru withdrew into Ngaati Maru territory seeking the services of a tohunga because his standing amongst his people had diminished through adultery. Broughton maintains that Titokowaru’s prestige and authority remained intact until death.

According to Broughton a possible reason for Titokowaru’s flight from the pa originated from his consternation about McDonnell’s taunts and apparent piercing understanding of Titokowaru’s psyche. The tohunga’s own reading of the omens in his preparation for battle took account of McDonnell’s jibes. Titokowaru’s superstitions were founded on traditional beliefs about battle preparation and on more contemporary interpretations taken from the Hauhau religion of Pai Marire.

All was well in the pa leading up to the exchange between the two adversaries. But Broughton contends that Titokowaru was prompted to flee the pa when the northeast sea breeze, the symbol of the deity, Uenuku, sprang up. Titokowaru was convinced that Uenuku, which was associated with Pai Marire and which he had taken as his personal deity, had been cursed by McDonnell.

Both Broughton and Belich provide plausible explanations for the flight from Taurangaaika. The Maori version may seem incomprehensible in modern times, but Broughton’s interpretation of a possible Maori response is without fault. Perhaps the reasons will never be known why a highly competent war leader would seek to leave an impregnable stronghold hours before a planned battle.

Ngaa Mahi Whakaari a Titokowaru will not easily translate into English: the work would become an empty shell bereft of Maori literary texture and richness. It requires too many implicit understandings of Maori culture in the nineteenth century and considerable knowledge of oblique references from Maori oral tradition. Those fortunate enough to enjoy this treasure house should complement their reading with Belich’s excellent and compelling narrative history, I Shall Not Die.

Ruka Broughton concludes his study with a summary of Titokowaru’s deeds and qualities. He notes that the current generation of Maori in Taranaki are still aggrieved by the plundering and confiscations of last century. He leaves his people with a seed for the future. It will never be lost, for this seed was sown from Rangiaatea.

Miriama Evans is of Ngaati Mutunga and Kai Tahu.

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Posted in History, Māori, Non-fiction, Review
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