Long before the Waikato (a confederation of Tainui iwi) became a problem in the 1820’s and 1830’s, ongoing conflict between Te Atiawa and their southern neighbours the Taranaki had been a historical norm since the 15th century. Te Atiawa’s relations with Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama to the north however, were much more cordial and the three friendly iwi combined in war with Taranaki. On occasion the Tainui and Ngapuhi further to the north and north-east also joined in the battles against the Taranaki. Ngāmotu lay at the southern boundary of Te Atiawa territory.
Map of “Taranaki Coast” beginning of 19th century
In the first decade of the 19th century, the Taranaki iwi sought revenge for Te Atiawa’s attack and capture of Koru Pa (located on a bend of the Oakura River south of present day New Plymouth).
The Rewarewa Pā (occupied by the Ngāti-Tawirikura hapu) was situated on the north bank of the Waiwhakaiho River between a bend immediately inside the river mouth and the sea. New Plymouth’s coastal walkway now crosses the Waiwhakaiho over Te Rewa Rewa Bridge.
Te Puni managed to evade the Taranaki iwi’s capture of the Rewarewa Pa. Te Puni and a fellow rangatira, Rawa-ki-tua made good their escape by plunging headlong from the cliff into the Waiwhakaiho and, emerging on the south side, ran over the sand hills and onwards to the safety of Te Ātiawa’s Pukeariki Pā (The Capture of the Rewarewa Pa by a Taua of the Taranaki Tribe – 1805-10, S. Percy Smith).
Te Atiawa first saw muskets in action when Ngapuhi led a taua (war party) against Taranaki in 1816. It was the first of several Ngapuhi and Ngāti Toa (Kawhia) taua to the area. Due to the close relationship between Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Toa, there was no resistance to the taua from entering the region, and Te Ātiawa actually joined in the action against the Taranaki.
However, events changed for the worse for Te Atiawa. Following skirmishes between Te Ātiawa and the Waikato, and the loss of several leading Waikato chiefs, the Waikato sought utu from Te Atiawa. Notably, the Waikato had been successful in obtaining muskets from Ngapuhi (who, by 1828, had a Pākehā trading station set up under John Kent, who settled at Kawhia).
That’s why it became necessary for Te Atiawa to have their own Pākehā trading station, so that they too could obtain a supply of muskets and other European goods.
However, having a trading station offered Māori other benefits from trade, including highly desirable goods that were new to them, such as iron pots for cooking, blankets, clothing and tobacco. Tribes in the far north of New Zealand had established the practice of offering chief’s daughters as a wife to entice traders to remain and set up trading stations to store and ship flax and other goods to trade (Wells).
There was a problem, however, in that trading ships had avoided the Taranaki region due to the lack of a natural harbour and rough seas. It was evident that Te Atiawa had to take matters into their own hands … see the posting on Establishing a trading station at Ngamotu for more details.