Whainono -“Pursuit of the arseholes”

By Richard Bradley

It is often said History is merely the account of how people want their actions in the past to be viewed by future generations. There can often be two or three accounts of the same battle, some claiming victory and the others claiming victory in defeat by renaming the site or widening the scope of the encounter. A good example of this is the story associated with Rangitane Bay in Te Whanganui.

The Rangitane expedition from Wellington and the Wairarapapa to Totaranui happened under the under the leadership of Te Huataki, Tukauae and Te Whakamana. Having strong connections already to Ngai Tara their residency in the region was cemented by a number of intermarriages with the resident Ngai Tara and Ngati Mamoe. The marriage between Te Huataki and Wharepoka, Tukauae and Hinepango were two examples of rongopai marriages.

However back in Wellington another group known as Ngai Tahu had made themselves unpopular with the increasing numbers of Ngati Kahungunu and decided to migrate south to live with their Rangitane inlaws in Kura Te Au.  There stay on Moioi Island opposite Kaihinu point was not easy for Puraho and his sons Mako and Maru who soon became embroiled in squabbles with their Ngai Tara, Ngati Mamoe and Rangitane neighbours.

The incidents are often referred to by the descendants of both sides of the arguments as the “fish hook wars”. These disputes reached a crisis point when the Ngai Tahu unearthed the grave of Te Aomarire (father in law of Te Huataki), carved his leg bone into fish hooks and taunted their neighbours about the “old man being a good fish magnet”. The Ngai Tara were so incensed they ambushed the Ngai Tahu on their island stronghold of Moioi and their Chief Puraho was killed while he was taking his morning ablution. The Ngai Tahu party realised their situation was untenable and fled, some by Waka to their relations at Wairau and the remainder up into the hills.

They were pursued closely by a mixed group of Ngai Tara and Rangitane who taunted the fleeing party about the manner in which their Rangatira had died – skewered with a lance while sitting on the latrine. Unbeknown to the pursuers, another group of Ngai Tahu had landed at Waikutakuta overcome the garrison of Rangitane there and joined their cousins. The fortunes of war suddenly changed and it was now the Rangitane and Ngai Tara who were encircled, outnumbered and being pushed towards a rocky headland.

Faced with the choice of certain death and the ovens, those of Rangitane who were not killed chose to jump from the cliff into the rocky sea. While most of these perished, some lived to tell the story to their descendants who named the place Te rerenga o Rangitane ( the flight of the Rangitane) or in its shortened form Rangitane Bay. The battle became known as whainono (pursuit of the rectums) referring both to the way in which the Puraho and the fleeing Rangitane met there end.

The victory in Te Whanganui was short lived and despite the close whakapapa, this battle was the start of a series of similar encounters that saw Ngai Tahu gradually forced out of the Wairau to establish themselves south of Waipapa in their stronghold at Takahanga.