A little known rebellion that led to the destruction of a Maori settlement 150 years ago was commemorated today in the foothills of the Kaimai Range.
It marked the day that colonial forces first attacked Te Irihanga, a papakainga or village inland from Whakamarama.
The ceremony was steeped in history and included representatives of the Waikato tribes Ngati Koroki and Ngati Haua which brought the Pai Marire religion to the Kaimai kainga of Ngati Kahu four months after the Battle of Gate Pa in 1864.
The Waikato iwi members chanted a karakia or prayer followed by Tauranga historian Des Kahotea explaining to the gathering of about 100 people the significance of the "invasion" of Te Irihanga by British forces.
The first engagement on January 18, 1867, followed the decision by New Zealand's premier Frederick Whitaker to survey land on the other side of the Wairoa River because not enough good agricultural land had been found in the 20,200 hectare confiscations of Maori land on what was now the Tauranga side of the river. The confiscations followed the battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga in 1864.
The surveying was opposed by Maori living on the lands, with Tamihana Te Waharoa of Ngati Haua, a key Kingitanga figure from the Waikato, attempting to negotiate with government officials on behalf of the Pirirakau and Ngati Rangi hapu.
Mr Kahotea said Tamihana was ignored and Ngati Ranginui Hauhau objected to the surveyors' presence on their tribal land and began a campaign of interfering with their work, seeing the surveying as a breach of the original agreement around the confiscations.
The colonial government responded by sending in military forces to contain resistance to the survey, resulting in information that the perpetrators were concentrated at Irihanga, Whakamarama and Waiwhatawhata, three Maori settlements that were close to each other.
The first engagement at Te Irihanga by a force of 40 British soldiers began when a sergeant major was shot dead and an exchange of fire took place for about 45 minutes before the British withdrew. The next day, an overwhelming force of 240 soldiers attacked and burnt the village, with the loss of one British life from a volley by defenders who then fell back to Whakamarama.
The third engagement at Te Irihanga took place on February 14, this time with support from friendly Te Arawa forces. The Hauhau were quickly overwhelmed and chased through the forest and their cultivated land at Whakamarama by Te Arawa warriors.
It marked the sharp end of the campaign by the colonial government to subdue resistance. Ngati Rangi hapu never again lived in Te Irihanga although the land was later returned to Maori ownership.
Today's commemoration ended with a powhiri at Wairoa Marae and breakfast.