A brazen sledgehammer attack on the iconic Hatu Patu rock in Atiamuri was discovered during the Christmas period. (Photo taken before the rock was attacked)
A vandal wielding a sledgehammer has smashed an iconic and sacred site in the small South Waikato village of Atiamuri.
The desecration of Te Kōwhatu o Hatupatu (Hatu Patu’s Rock) a wāhi tapu site that sits near State Highway 1 in Atiamuri, 20 minutes south of Tokoroa, was discovered during the Christmas period.
Fragments of the rock were smashed off during the attack and divots can be seen on the face of the rock. No one has taken responsibility for the attack.
Raukawa kaumātua and whānau from Ongaroto undertook a karakia at the site and brought the fragments of rock back to Te whare o Raukawa for safekeeping.
Raukawa Settlement Trust chair Vanessa Eparaima said the desecration of the rock is saddening.
“Our Iwi whanaungatanga were informed of the damage and tikanga we undertook,” she said.
“We hope to have discussions with our whānau and Iwi relations later this month to agree on next actions. Our hope is that the perpetrator seeks resolution.”
South Waikato District Councillor and criminal lawyer Arama Ngapo Lipscombe described the act as heinous and questioned whether it was a hate crime.
“I am absolutely disgusted that anyone would choose to deface a wāhi tapu site. It is a significant site that is part of our local and national history,” she said.
“It leads one to think that maybe this is a hate crime? A significant site to Māoridom has been deliberately attacked, there is no other way to put it.”
Ngāpo-Lipscombe said the perpetrator could face a charge of intentional damage, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment.
No official complaint has been laid with police to date.
In 2017, mana whenua, in collaboration with South Waikato District Council, the New Zealand Transport Agency, Mercury Energy, and Heritage New Zealand refurbished the site with native plants and storyboards with the history of the rock for the thousands of travellers who visit it annually.
The legend of Te Kōwhatu o Hatupatu
A Raukawa woman named Kurungaituku, a shapeshifter who could transform into a bird and considered a guardian of the forest and its inhabitants, found Hatu Patu of Te Arawa beaten and on the verge of death.
Taking pity on him she nursed him back to health and only enforced one rule that none of the birds could be eaten.
As Hatupatu’s strength returned, so too did his appetite, not satisfied with plants and insects Hatupatu cooked Kurungaituku’s birds and fled once he was full.
Upon discovering the carcasses, Kurungaituku called out to the great forest, “Who has done this” and the reply came, “You have been betrayed by Hatupatu”. Her heart sank. The young man who she had healed and befriended was now her betrayer.
Fuelled by anger, Kurungaituku searched the land for Hatupatu, finding him on the run near Pohaturoa mountain. Hatupatu saw a large boulder and shouted the incantation “Mātītī, mātātā”.
And with that, the rock opened and engulfed him protecting him from the clutches of Kurangaituku.
In frustration, Kurungaituku clawed at the rock with all her might but was unable to open it. The claw marks of Kurungaituku can still be seen today on the sides of the rock.