Gateway to Puke-i-aahua Pa, Ngaruawahia

If you`ve driven through Ngaaruawaahia recently you may have noticed the imposing Maaori palisade on Havelock Hill - the site of the historic Puke-i-aahua Pa.

A beautiful story is associated with the site.   In the late 1600`s a wedding was arranged between the son and the daughter of two Maaori Chiefs - Toa-kootara, a son of the Chief of Ngaati Tama-inu-poo and Heke-i-te-rangi, eldest daughter of the Chief of Ngaati Maniopoto.   The two tribes met and after the formalities and speeches were over, dances were performed for entertainment.   The first group was led by the Toa-kootara.   However, it was his brother, Ngaere, the leader of  next group who caught Heke-i-te-rangi`s attention with his impressive dancing.  She became infatuated with him and  later that night she sent a note to him asking him to meet her.   He did so, they fell in love and ran away together to the fortress at Puke-i-aahua.   Heke-i-te-rangi`s father was very upset with her.  The villages at Puke-i-aahua were unsure how to treat the couple because their union was against the wishes of the elders but they accepted the couple because of Ngaere`s status.      Time passed and a child was born, a son.  Heke-i-aahua invited her father and Ngaati Maniopoto to visit.     Ngaere`s father held the newborn up "and said `here is Heke-i-aahua`s baby, a son, I name him Te Mana-o-te-rangi (the day of honour)because you, Ngaati Maniopoto, have honoured this day of Waikato.  I know that peace has been laid between you and me."*
To celebrate, 'Ngaere shouted "Waahia ngaa rua" which means "open the food pits".  This is where the town`s name Ngaaruawaahia comes from.'*

Detail of carving on gateway

Puke-i-aahua was a fortified pa (or village).  Palisaides formed part of the fortifications and have been re-created using  traditional designs and  methods.  The structure is made from pine (an introduced wood), native kanuka and totara poles, with traditional vine bindings.

The palisaide consists mainly of poles, de-barked and sharpened at the top.  Some have been partially burned adding a wonderful contrast of charcoal texture and colour.    Some have shaped tops, like blank faces.   Some of the posts have carved heads, while others are topped by fully carved figures.  In keeping with tradition,  the carvings and poles are named after key ancestors and local landmarks. With reference to the ancestors that were portrayed (carved) on a chief`s house, Margaret Orbell says they were `inseparable from the house itself, lending their powers to its timbers.   Part of its very structure, they supported the building and its inhabitants literally and figuratively, guarding them from sorcery and making manifest in their splendour their descendants` power and glory.`***  I imagine this would also apply to the carvings that form part of the Puke-i-aahua Pa palisade.

The female figure on the outward (left) side Pou Tumu (support post) represents Ko Heke-i-te rangi while the male figure on the hill side (right) Pou Tumu is Ko Ngaere.   It`s worthwhile spending some time looking at the carvings to take in the details.   for instance  Ko Ngaere is depicted with a  tooth missing.    I was really interested in the style used for the figure between them (Ko Mana-o-te-rangi ?) because to my untrainted eye the style looks quite different. The eyes are a different shape, the head is wider - perhaps it`s a form used to indicate a child?   This figure is flanked by two carved spirals.

Detail from Ngaa Huinga pou
Just before you reach the gateway you pass a pou with two faces.   It`s Ngaa Huinga - the point in Ngaaruawaahia where the Waipa and Waikato Rivers meet.  The one pictured above is the lower of the two faces therefore perhaps it symbolizes the Waipa, which is the smaller of the two rivers.

A short distance from the gateway on the uphill side is this magnificent, heavily carved figure.   I found it really interesting to pick out a few features, such as the mouths, teeth and eyes and compare how they are portrayed on each carving.   For instance in the figure above the upper teeth aren`t individually distinguished as they are in some of the other carvings, the tongue is protruding (doing the haka?) and the lower teeth on either side appear almost tusk-like.   The eyes are whole paua shells.

Looking back towards the entrance from the far end.
Pou (carves posts) Ko Kiingi Taawhiao (left), the 2nd Maaori  king who recited the famous words carved into the adjacent Pou , `Ko  Ngaaruawaahia tooku Tuurangawaewae`.

Notice the eyes and how different they are from the previous carving which used the whole paua.   Those the pou,Ko Kiingi Taawhiao  (and Ngaa Huinga) have been finely shaped into notched circles with the centre cut out.   The facial tatoo of Ko Kiingi Taawhiao is also very finely and beautifully portrayed.

Ko Kiingi Taauhiao detail

The poles and carvings are the work of Te Waamu Waananga Whakairo and are predominantly in the carving style of the Tai-nui people.*  A number of the carvings are by local carver, Warren McGrath.**  It`s great to see the carvers aknowledged (sometimes they don`t get a mention - even if the work is truly magnificent).

View from top of hill looking over construction  towards the Waikato River.

Although Havelock Hill isn`t high, you get a good view over the surrounding countryside from the top.   At the base of the hill is the main trunk railway line, then the Ngaruawahia cemetary, State Highway 1 and the Waikato River, just a few hundred metres away.   The river was important not just as a source of drinking water but for transport and food.   I was interested to find the path just before the gateway to the palisaide was soggy with water - a spring perhaps - every good fortification needs a source of drinking water within its walls in case access to other sources is cut off.

Looking back across the top of the hill towards the Waipa River

At the top of Havelock Hill there`s a reasonalby large, flat (but exposed) area.  The Waipa River is just under 1km away (important for transport, trade, water, a food source...).

On-site Waikato District Council information sign showing a photograph of the site overlaid with an image depicting the Pa as it was.
The palisade is at the top of the picture of the site and the photo looking back over the hill from the top is looking down (as if from the top edge of the photo) along the length of the pa.

Puke-i-aahua Pa palisaide viewed from below

The majority of the carvings face outwards.  This would have been done deliberately to show outsiders whose turangawaewae this actually is.    They comand respect and may well have been intended to strike fear into the hearts of anyone aproaching the site with ill-will.      At present there is no path below the palisade from which to view it, so in order to see the carvings you need to negotiate your way down the slope. 

Carving seen from slope below

Notice the whole paua is used for the eyes, the teeth are individually defined, the lips are raised and form a figure of eight shape.

Carved post viewed from slope below

The black paint on this post suggests a cloak.

Carving seen from slope below.

Again, whole paua for the eyes.  I`ve never noticed before that the paua are reversed for each eye - on one eye the part of the shell with the holes is at the top and on the other it`s at the bottom.  This time the teeth are separated by a bold black line and another black line is used to accentuate the lips.

Side view of lower palisade with carving.

The use of vines on the palisade is traditional and adds a great deal of atmosphere.   As far as I could tell they`re more decorative (and perhaps symbolic) than actually holding the structure together.

Viewed from below

Puke-i-aahua Pa palisades can be seen from State Highway 1 on the Hamilton side of Ngaaruaawahia, behind the cemetary (look for the large speed limit signs on both sides of the road).   Pedestrian access is via Havelock Road which comes off SH1 a few metres North of the cemetary.

For additional information go to the Waikato District Council page listed below (page 2)
*the quotes come from the Waiktao District Council informative sign on-site (a copy of which is on page 5)


***The Natural World of the Maori by Margaret Orbell, David Bateman, 1996, p37

Other works by Warren McGrath include the magnificent tomokanga or carved wooden welcoming gateway at Auckland International Airport and he also designed the waka hua (treasure box) for the NZ limited edition Heitiki  $10 gold coin, 2010.
Some pieces of his work can usually be seen at the gallery web site below:-

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