Dec 14 1980

Mapoutahi Pa

Mapoutahi Pa occupies a small predipitous headland with a commanding view of the entraces to Blueskin Bay and Purakanui Inlet. Remains of the home terraces and defensive earthworks can still be seen.  

The date that the pa was built and the details of its earliest inhabitants have been lost from Maori myth. However its role in the 18th century Kai Tahu quarrels and feudings is well known. Te Wera, the Chief of the Kai Tahu, had a pa at Huriawa. After an unsuccessful siege of Huriawa by his feuding uncle Taoka, from Pukekura (or Taiaroa Head), an ally of Te Wera’s, Te Pakihaukea, shifted to Purakanui and relocated Mapoutahi Pa. Taoka then turned his attention to this new settlement.

Tradition says that when Taoka arrived in mid-winter to besiege Mapoutahi Pa he found the pa well defended and impenetrable. However, on one particularly wild night Te Pakihaukea’s guards put dummies in their places so that they could retreat to the warmth of a fire. Taoka discovered the ploy and the pa was stormed and most of the inhabitants massacred.

Afterwards it appears that the pa fell into disuse. Today many of the terraces, made to accommodate houses and storage structures, can still be seen although the edges have become less distinct through time. In addition to the imposing natural defences of high cliffs, Mapoutahi Pa was also protected from attack by ditches and banks surmounted by rows of stout palisades. Parts of the ditches are now filled in and the palisading has long since disappeared.

The name for the peninsula on which the pa was built of “Mata-awhe-awhe”, meaning “Dead gathered in a heap”. This may result from the incident recounted above.

Several archaeological excavations have been carried out on the headland.

The excavations brought to light evidence of double-row palisade defences in the form of postholes. Scattered oven-stones and charcoal as well as shell and bone midden material were found around the post-holes.

Analysis of the midden remains showed that in common with most other pre-European coastal sites, the inhabitants of Mapoutahi Pa fished mainy for barracouta ad red cod.

Birds found nesting in colonies nearby, such as shags, albatross and penguins were caught frequently.

Local shellfish were gathered from rocks, beaches and estuaries to either side of the pa. Mussels and cockles were the most common shells found in middens. Seals, as well as the Polynesian dog and rat were also used for food.

The artifacts found were mostly of types concerned with fishing and domestic activities such as sewing, food preparation and so on. Fish hooks, a number of bone needles and fragments and flake tools were included in these finds. A large number of flake tools were made of obsidian or volcanic glass, which had to be obtained from the North Island.

The results of the excavation are generally consistent with an occupation of the site in the 18th century. Traditions indicate that the site may have been occupied earlier than this, however.

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