Topic: Otorohanga District History

Topic type:

A short history of the Otorohanga District in the last thousand years (unfinished)

Archaic Polynesians

This is a short history of the area covered by the Otorohanga District Council.

Surrounding Otorohanga District at Raglan, Waitomo and faraway Taupo are archaeological sites dating back to 1000 years. It is likely there are similar sites in the Otorohanga District that have not been discovered. These original inhabitants, the Tangata Whenua came from the Polynesian Islands North and east of Aotearoa in what is now French Polynesia and the Cook Islands. They arrived without food plants and animals apart from stowaway rats and it is likely they were castaways who were blown off course or drifted with currents, There may have been many arrivals this way, many may have been male fisherman only so there was no issue but some must have been female travellers. They found plentiful food in the new land and developed a hunter-gatherer way of living without permanent settlements and agriculture. Their primary source of protein was from kaimoana and birds especially the moa and they were previously called moa-hunters. They travelled widely according to the seasons and traded with other similar groups, their early stone (paleolithic) tools were made from rocks from all over New Zealand. They established a network of tracks that were used by later waves of settlers including the Euopeans. Many of these routes are still used including many of our roads we use today. Around Kawhia harbour with its abundant food more settled communitees developed still without agriculture.

Classic Polynesians

Back in their original Polynesian homeland highly skilled navigation and sailing technology developed. This allowed some of these ocean travellers to visit Aotearoa and return. This in turn led to the planned migrations of the classic Maori, they knew were they were going. The arrival of Tainui around 1350 was one such planned colonisation, we know the exact month they arrived (November when the pohutukawa was in bloom) but not the exact year.They bought with them food plants such as taro and kumera and the animals dogs and more rats. Pigs and hens may have been carried also but may not have survived the trips or were eaten on the way. After travelling around the top half of the North Island they chose Kawhia to settle, again attracted by the abundant food. They soon established settlements and grew crops in the sheltered sunny sites with good soil. They assimilated or displaced the earlier Maori some of whom adopted the new way of life and took agriculture inland. Some of the descendents of these earlier people the Nagiti Hia settled around what is now the Otorohanga township. The hills along Gradara/ Mountain View were occupied by around 1500 AD, their pa sites were called Kakamutu at the State Highway 3 end, Matai whetu, Koura pirau, and Te Arero where the Scout Hall is today. Population pressure around Kawhia encouraged Tainui people to expand inland also and again displaced or assimilated these earlier people. Population pressure also started conflict between the various Tainui Hapu and Iwi. At the beginning this was over important resources particularly good food sites but eventually it continued as an ongoing cycle of retaliation and revenge. Born at Parangi around 1770 and into these troubles was Aotearoa's most famous fighting Chief Te Rauparaha. The rivalrys and fighting was intense and Te Rauparaha and his people were forced to leave. He moved south and eventually took control of nearly a quarter of New Zealand on both sides of Cook Straight. Meanwhile the intertribal fighting continued along with a movement of the Kawhia tribes moving inland. Most of the hill sites in The Otorohanga District were occupied at some time, many were taken in battle and re-occupied, some were destroyed, some were abandoned when nearby food and timber were depleted. The District supported a huge population possibly larger than todays.

Enter the Pakeha.

In 1769 about the time Te Raupara was born Captain Cook sailed past Kawhia and noted Mount Karioi in his journal but he did not land in this District. In formation on his visits and contact with other Iwi  would have soon reached  Iwi in the Otorohanga District as there was much trade and connections with other hapu. European technology particularly iron tools probably arrived in Kawhia before the first Europeans themselves. Kawhia was the first place the Europeans came to in this District.  A trading post was established in Kawhia in 1828, European technology, plants and animals were eagerly adopted by local Maori, whaling and sealing boats called in for provisions. Kawhia had a resident doctor by 1833 and a year later the missionaries arrived. They introduced further agriculture along with new religions and literacy. All European expansion was along the coasts and Kawhia with its large sheltered harbour became an important port. Few Europeans ventured inland, the forest was dense and the locals after years of war were hostile and already despite the Treaty of Waitangi the New Zealand wars had started

The Europeans that did come through the District in the late 1840s early 1950 were scientists and explorers including the Austrians Dieffenbach Hoschstetter and dastardly thief Reishek. In 1849 gold was discovered in California and Kawhia iwi began exporting large quantities of food especially pork and grain using European sailing ships. Some Maori visied the Californian goldfields, there is a place name in Kawhia called Karaponia after California.In 1859 the interesting geology of Kawhia with its jurassic fossils was mapped.

This was a prosperous period for Maori but European expansion from the north and from the east led to war in 1863, many young men left the area to fight in these wars. At Kawhia  the harbour beacons were destroyed  and the government set up an armed constabulary garrison in the town which saw little action. The Maori in the central North Island united under a Maori king to resist the European desire for land.


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