Battle of Hingakaka

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The Battle of Hingakaka (sometimes Hiringakaka) was fought between two Maori armies, an allied southern North Island army and a Tainui alliance army, near Ohaupo in the Waikato in the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and was reputedly "the largest battle ever fought on New Zealand soil".[1]

Early New Zealand historian Percy Smith placed the battle at about 1780 basing the date purely on tribal genealogies, but evidence from Maori oral histories from warriors who fought in the battle and were still alive well into European times suggests that 1780 is far too early. The Ngati Whatua chief Te Murupaenga who led his warriors into action in the battle, was judged by Samuel Marsden to be about 50 when he saw him in 1820. A date of 1780 would make him about 10 - far too young. Other Ngati Whatua sources correlated the date as two years before the attack on the Boyd, making the date 1807.[2]

The battle was fought between groups comprising many smaller allied hapu and iwi. The attackers, a force of 7,000 to 10,000 warriors,[3] led by a Ngāti Toa chief Pikauterangi, from the Marokopa district of the lower North Island, invaded the Waipa District, to restore honour. He was aggrieved over the poor distribution of the kahawai fish harvest, according to Pei Te Hurinui Jones. This led to the killing of all members of the Ngati Apakura, who were one of the hapu hosting the fish feast. Other accounts say that Pikauterangi took the biggest fish for himself and he was seized and ducked to the point where he nearly drowned. In vengeance he killed Ngato Apakura, cooked their bodies and distributed them for eating amongst Ngati Kauwhata and Ngati Raukawa[4]

This take, or cause, happened about 3 years before the battle. During this time Pikauterangi travelled around the lower North Island collecting a large force. He raised about 4,000 men from the Wellington region and a further 3,000 from the East Coast tribes of Ngati Porou and Ngati Kahungunu. This was combined with a separate force of Te Ati Awa, Ngati Ruanui and tribes from the Whanganui who had already been in battle with Ngati Maniapoto. The forces combined at Otorohanga [5] in preparation for the attack on the Ngāti Maniapoto and the Waikato tribes who had allied with Ngati Whatua and Hauraki hapu.

The invaders were first spotted by Wahanui, a Maniapoto chief, just south of Otorohanga. He sent runners to warn the tangata whenua in the central Waikato. Choosing to ambush the attacking force, the Waikato defenders chose Te Mangeo ridge line just south of Lake Ngaroto (and west of where the old Ngaroto railway station was later)[6] to launch their attack. The day before the battle the two armies drew up before each other. The Tainui army, realising their numbers were far fewer at about 1,600 (some sources say 3,000), arranged bunches of feathers on top of fern to simulate the head feathers of warriors held in reserve, while other chiefs made war-like speeches in the fern to imaginary warriors.[7]

Te Rauangaanga, Te Wherowhero's father, placed his army on the high ground at the end of a narrow ridge in three groups. The invading force assembled at the foot of the spur (possibly near where the railway line is now). Huahua's force made a frontal attack by charging down the hill. The defenders reeled back, allowing the attackers to envelop them. The second group of the defending forces then rushed down the hill to hit the confused army of Pikauterangi in the flank. The turning point came when Pikauterangi was felled by a blow from Te Rauangaanga. In a panic the invaders tried to retreat along a narrow gap between the ridge and the lake but were ambushed by Tiriwa's men who had been waiting in the bush along the ridge. The Ngāti Toa were forced into the swamplands along the lake margin; some tried to swim the lake but were killed by patrols waiting on the far side.

Many thousands died in the attack. Pei Jones of Tainui says that 16,000 warriors are said to have taken part. Combatants included Waikato-Maniapoto, Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa. Ngati Raukawa alone are said to have lost 1,600 warriors in battle, including two chiefs.[8] Others came from Taranaki, from Kaipara in Northland, and as far east as Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay. So many chiefs died in the battle that it is known as Hingakaka (the fall of parrots), an echo of the traditional mass parrot hunt.

The sacred carving Te Uenuku was lost in the carnage.

Sources differ on the date of the battle, ranging from 1790,[9] to "about 1803"[10] and "about 1807"[11] - with the latter now seeming the most likely.


The victorious Tainui warriors considered following up their decisive victory with a campaign against the tribes that had made war on them. However the tohunga of the Ngati Whatua had a bad dream in which he saw Ngapuhi launching an attack on the Kaipara in their absence. Ngati Whatua returned to their home land and defeated an attempted invasion by Ngapuhi. Other Tainui wanted to continue the war especially against Ngati Raukawa who were seriously weakened and retreated to Maungatautari. Waikato had had enough of fighting for the meantime but in 1810 set out down the west coast on a raid. At Rangikaiwaka on the coast they met a force of Ngati Tama and a Ngati Haua chief, Taiporutu, was killed. As a result of this another war Tainui party set out to gain utu to punish Ngati Tama. The avenging warriors were ambushed and defeated by Ngati Tama and their chief Raparapa.[12] This led to further conflict and was the immediate background to the Ngati Toa forming alliances with Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutanga in the great Ngati Toa upheaval of 1821-22. This attack in turn lead to further attacks and counter attacks building to a climax in 1831 when a large Waikato contingent alleged to be about 4,000 warriors carried out a brutal and sustained campaign over several years lead by the great Waikato warrior Te Wherowhero. When women and children attempted to flee the Puke Rangioria pa they were mercilessly slaughtered and eaten. When the men emerged in a weakened state many of them jumped the cliff to avoid the Waikato warrior. The victims were tracked down and killed anyway. Te Wherowhero killed 150 prisoners with his favourite greenstone mere, only stopping when his arm swelled up from overuse.


  1. ^ The Oxford companion to New Zealand military history. page 653
  2. ^ "Tainui L. Kelly, 2002, page 287
  3. ^
  4. ^ Kelly.p 288
  5. ^ Kelly pg. 290
  6. ^ Tainui .L.Kelly.Cadsonbury Publications.2002.P 287.
  7. ^ Tainui. Kelly.P 291.
  8. ^ Tainui .Kelly. P 293.
  9. ^ "Te Wherowhero", 1966 An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
  10. ^ Waipa Heritage Trail
  11. ^ "From Tāmaki-makau-rau to Auckland", R. C. J. Stone, page 75
  12. ^ Tainui.L. Kelly. P 295-286.


  • Ballara, Angela (2003). Taua: 'musket wars', 'land wars' or tikanga? : warfare in Māori society in the early nineteenth century
  • Burns, Patricia (1980). Te Rauparaha: a new perspective
  • Jones, Pei Te Hurinui; Biggs, Bruce (1995). Nga iwi o Tainui: the traditional history of the Tainui people
  • Jones, Pei Te Hurinui (2010). King Potatau. 2nd edition, Huia Press, 2010
  • McGibbon, Ian C.; Goldstone, Paul (2000). The Oxford companion to New Zealand military history
  • Phillips, Finlay L. (1995). Landmarks of Tainui