Ohaupo, New Zealand (c. 1803 AD)
The Battle of Hingakaka is claimed to have been the largest battle ever fought in New Zealand. It may also have been one of the last great battles in world history that did not see significant usage of gunpowder firearms or other modern weapons. Essentially an intertribal conflict among the Maori, the details of Hingakaka are surprisingly well known, possibly due to the fact that regular contact with Europeans was just beginning around the time. Strangely, the exact date of the battle (or even year) is not known with certainty. The best estimate seems to have been around 1803. The Battle of Hingakaka seems to have accelerated the disunity of the Maori tribes and paved the way for the ensuing Musket Wars.
The beautiful and isolated island nation of New Zealand had a surprisingly bloody pre-Colonial history. In the years leading up to the arrival of the Europeans, the local Maori tribes had a propensity for tribal warfare as common and as ferocious as any other place. Even when western explorers and merchants began showing up in earnest during the 1790s, this did little to slow the frequency of the fighting, and ultimately may have exacerbated it.
One of the largest tribal conflicts ever recorded was the Battle of Hingakaka. Probably taking place around the year 1803, this war was ostensibly fought over fishing rights and harvest. This may have been indirectly due to the arrival of foreign fishing vessels depleting local stocks. Whatever the reason, the Ngati Toa tribe from the southern tip of the North Island decided to launch a punitive war against the Ngati Maniapoto tribe in what is now the Waikato region at the north end of the island.
According to available accounts, the Ngati Toa chief Pikauterangi marshaled an army of perhaps more than ten thousand warriors for the campaign and marched north. However, the invaders were spotted before they had a chance to begin the slaughter. The Ngati Maniapoto and their allies hastily gathered a force of about sixteen hundred warriors to oppose the Ngati Toa. Having time to choose the ground of the battle, the defenders organized themselves on a high ridge just south of Lake Ngarato.
The battle was a disaster for the invaders. At first the Ngati Toa seemed to gain the upper hand, surrounding some of the defending force. However, reinforcements for the northerners charged down the hill, breaking the encirlement and killing the Toa chief in the process. The confused southerners were forced to retreat, and the retreat became a rout. Many of the invaders were killed or captured as they attempted to flee into the nearby lake and swamps. The engagement came to be known as Hingakaka (the Fall of the Parrots) because so many tribal chieftains were killed during the fighting.
The Hingakaka battlefield is arguably the best pre-Colonial site of military interest in the South Pacific. The site of the battle is more or less undeveloped, but also not well marked in terms of the engagement sites. However, the most relevant and interesting destination is the nearby Te Awamutu Museum which features exhibits on the battle. The star attraction by far is the Uenuku, a sacred carving belonging to the Ngati Toa which was captured and kept as booty by the northern tribes.
The Hingaka Battlefield is located close to the southern shore of Lake Ngarato just west of the town of Te Awamutu, approximately 200 miles north of Wellington. The battlefield is an open site. The Te Awamutu Museum is open daily from 10:00am to 4:00pm (shorter hours on weekends). As of this writing the cost of admission was not available. Web: www.tamuseum.org.nz (official website).
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