For Indigenous Peoples, cultural memory is often embedded within oral and artistic expressions. Two songs from Ngāti Tūwharetoa, reproduced in the well Ngā Mōteatea volumes, exemplifies this history in lamenting the loss of their chief Te Heuheu and many of his people in a landslide originating on nearby Kakaramea (Ngata, 2004, pp. 254-261):
‘Rā te haeata takina mai i te ripa
Te tara ki Tauwhara!
K otaku hoa pea tēnei ka hoki mai, ē
Auē kau atu ana au i te ao
Ka riro ia koe rā, te taonga, ē.
See the dawn glowing over the land,
Striking upon the peak of Tauwhare
My comrade, perhaps, returns to me,
As I lament with anguish alone in this world.
You have departed with all your valued treasures, alas.
This was at Te Rapa, where Kakaramea rose 4,269 feet high, between Tokaanu and Waihi. Earlier slips had blocked the Waimatui stream, causing a dam that had filled up until a storm on the night of May 4th 1846 caused a massive landslide to come down from Hipaua Ridge. Grayland (1978) records 61 deaths, most people being killed in their sleep, with only three people surviving (one of whom was reading his prayer book at the time).
Grayland goes on to record that the area was reoccupied as the village of Waihi, with crops growing in the productive soils that had come down in the slip. In notes to the song, another Tūwharetoa leader is mentioned as being overwhelmed by a landslide on March 20th, 1910 (Ngata, 2004 p. 255-257). This time the avalanche came down in daylight, a fisherman observing ‘the whole hillside crack and swallow up the bush and trees’.
Titaka kau ana nga manu o te ata, ka riro ko koe ra, i!
Hare ra, e Pa, I te hahatanga o Pioiri
E kore au e mihi, mei riro ana koe
I te puta tu ata, i whakarakea i te awatea
The birds of the morning fly distressfully about now you are gone!
Depart, o sir, with the first breath of winter
Not for me to pay tribute if you had fallen
In a dawn attack, for you would have been seen in the light of day.
Grayland notes only one death, the son of one of the 1846 survivors. OF interest is the role of mātauranga in maintaining knowledge of disasters, enabling better planning and development of Maori (and other) land in what is a geologically active landscape. King, Goff, & Skipper (2007) explore the role of mātauranga Māori through the concept of Māori Ecological Knowledge and its potential contribution to the management and mitigation of hazards. The research reviews the written records of oral histories and relevant stories, songs, place names and narratives, identifying earlier historical work such as that by Beattie (1919) on flooding and Cowan (1939) on the Tarawera eruption of 1886.
What can be said is that insights from tribal histories may be needed to better understand the hazards of a region or territory.
Grayland, E. C. (1978). New Zealand Disasters. Wellington: A.H. and A.W. Reed.
King, D. N. T., Goff, J., & Skipper, A. (2007). Māori environmental knowledge and natural hazards in Aotearoa‐New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 37(2), 59-73.
Ngata, A. (2004). Nga Moteatea: he marama rere no nga waka maha (Vol. 4). Auckland: Auckland University Press.