The Battle of Hingakaka

 

Near the turning of the eighteenth century and in the predawn hours of European engagement with the Maori people, a mighty battle was fought: possibly the largest known conflagration of arms these islands have ever witnessed.

The Battle of Hingakaka, fought in around 1792, involved close to 14,000 warriors: gathered from multiple Hapu and Iwi throughout the central and lower North Island.

The complex narrative of allegiances and enmities which had built up prior to this event had largely settled down and had begun to diffuse until an argument erupted one day during the allocation of a fish harvest.

Pikauterangi was a big man on the coast around Raglan way and he took understandable exception to his inland neighbours?taking advantage of and disrespecting his hospitality and standing amongst his own people.

Both Hapu involved came from the same Waka (Arawa) and?the interior and more numerous Tainui?protected their coastal cousins from foreign aggression and so naturally each year they expected their fill of the pantry. This constant tribute had begun to bite into the coastal people’s food stores and questions about the need for such payments were bubbling to the surface.

Pikauterangi was a patient man however and held his tongue and once his arrogant cousins had left he headed south. He spoke with Tainui?s arch enemy: Te Atiawa and also other Iwi further south and east: Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Porou to name only a few. Everywhere he went he made a great many promises and also a great many new friends.

Come time for fighting season, two massive Taua, each numbering around five and a half thousand warriors, began to make their way up through the volcanic belly of the northern island and eventually descended into the valley of the Waikato,?joining up into the largest fighting host ever assembled.

But Tainui had friends also and among these were Wahanui of the Ngati Maniapoto from what we now know as the King Country, who stumbled across one of the Tauas near Otorohonga and ran to sound the alarm. What he did not know however was that he had only viewed one half of the true force that was moving northwards intent on total plunder and enslavement of the Waikato.

Tainui were only able to field a relatively paltry sum of perhaps three thousand at most but these were seasoned warriors and they were led by good generals.

Te Rau-anga-anga was the big leader. He could trace his direct male lineage back fifteen generations to Tama-te-kapua: the leader of the Arawa canoe. No one would dare question his mana.

Not knowing the true size of the invading force coming against him he still surmised that even six thousand warriors would not veer much from a straight path.

He, therefore, chose to face this aggressive invading horde in the wetlands and lake area of Ohaupo, just south of what we now know as Te Awamutu, on?a low ridgeline of a narrow strip of land between two lakes: Ngaroto to the west and Rotopiko to the east.

In order to deceive the enemy, Te Rau-anga-anga ordered his men to disperse feathers in the reeds around his left flank, so as to mislead the invading force about his true strength and position.

He made sure to leave a noticeable gap between these ?decoy? feathers amongst the reeds on his left and his true strength which lined up further west, along the high ground bordering Lake Ngaroto which afforded a natural barrier against his right flank.

His enemy, facing north, could only see a wide array of feathers blowing in the wind and clashing with the undergrowth of reeds and ferns, creating a hypnotic dazzle effect of green and red fringed crouching menace.

On the eve of battle, Pikauterangi made a speech in front of his troops. In it, he spoke of his story and what was to happen come the following day to the proud Waikato and the vain Maniapoto.

Listening to this was Te Rau-anga-anga and noticing a false note in his enemy?s song he made a chance remark to those around him:

?If he is unduly elated this evening, then our battle plan tomorrow will surely confound him?.

In the early hours of the coming day, various exchanges took place between Te Huahua on the western high ground and Tiriwa, making his presence heard far to the east of Rau-anga-anga?s actual central position, amongst the reeds and decoy feathers:

?You apply the wedge and I will open a crevice?? was Te Huahua’s directive to his supporting counterpart.

The response was heard from Tiriwa:

?Apply your own Wedge! I will open up a crevice of my own.?

This interplay was to continue with the occasional eruption of laughter causing some degree of indecision in the mind of Pikauterangi but no matter, he knew where to strike.

His strength was such that?a massive?punch into?the middle of his enemies ranks?would surely suffice.

However, the command for the attack was not given from the menacing invading southern horde but from the much smaller defending few and was heard in the time honoured tradition of ?Te Kawau-marau? or ?The Strike of the Cormorant? which Te Rau-anga-anga asked Wahanui to let loose.

Wahanui of the Maniapoto stepped forward and called out to his?first born son Te Huahua who heard this and duly took flight.

Te Rau-anga anga?s right flank, commanded by Te Huahua of the Maniapoto, attacked down the hill in a wedge formation and?battered itself into Pikauterangi’s left flank: driving into this horde of humanity to such a sharp degree that absolute chaos and confusion began to take hold.

The ruse had been sold however and Pikauterangi?s massive force was intently focused on the supposed ?gap? in the belief they were breaking through the middle of the?ranks arrayed before them.

As this commitment of forces surged forward, the wheeling motion of Te Rau anga-anga?s main body began to swing further westward and reinforce the initial strike into Pikauterangi?s left flank.

This?envelopment soon began to wrap itself around the rear of Pikauterangi?s army, further pushing this teeming mass of twelve thousand onwards and towards the ?gap? which ultimately led into a small area of solid land, bordered only by marshland and lake.

This area of dry land soon narrowed to such a point that the warriors in the vanguard, sensing the coming trap before them, began to attempt to fight back against their comrades’ overwhelming momentum behind them.

It was at this point that Pikauterangi is said to have fallen.

The resulting?carnage amid this swampy trap, turned the water red with blood and gave its name to the battle as it?would be?remembered: Hingakaka, the place of the fallen feathers.

The?slaughter continued into the early evening as those of the invading southern horde who had not been drowned in the lake were?systematically bludgeoned to death?amongst the reeds on the far side.

No quarter was given.

Not much remains now of these events. The?land has been drained for farming and the blood has long since been soaked up in the soil of the Waikato.

Only the odd story is still told, passed down from one generation to the next, as?most?travel through the land at high speed. Maybe stopping?only for a quick break?or petrol perhaps, all the while?thinking of more pressing concerns and?unaware of where they are.

 

NB: This article would not have been possible to write without sourcing information from parts 1 and 2 of “Te Wherowhero” by Pei te Hurinui.

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