Ngapuhi war chief.
A new biography of Hongi Hika appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Hongi Hika was born about 1780 near Kaikohe, the son of Te Hotete, chief of Te Tahuna (Kaikohe), and Tuhikura. Through his father, Hongi was descended from Rahiri and from Puhi-moana-ariki, the eponymous ancestor of the Ngapuhi. He was thus a member of the senior chiefly line of his tribe and related to all the principal Ngapuhi chiefs of his day.
In 1806 Hongi first attracted attention as a warrior during a series of indecisive engagements between the Ngapuhi, under their fighting chief Pokaia, and their traditional enemies, the Te Roroa hapu of Ngati Whatua. Such was his prowess on this occasion that, in the following year, he was one of the tribal leaders, at the battle of Moremonui, where the Ngapuhi were successfully ambushed by Murupaenga, of Ngati Whatua. Pokaia was killed in this engagement and the Ngapuhi only escaped because Murupaenga forbade pursuit. In 1808 Hongi was present at the battle between the Ngati Korokoro branch of Ngapuhi and the Te Roroa at Wai-mamaku. Although this skirmish was indecisive, Hongi was greatly impressed by the effectiveness of the Ngapuhi muskets against traditional Maori weapons. In 1812-13 Hongi led a large taua into the lower Hokianga district. His object was to punish the Ngati Pou for eating some of the Ngapuhi who had fallen at Moremo-nui. He besieged Whiria pa unsuccessfully, being forced to withdraw when he heard that Tuoho had reduced his own Pakinga pa near Kaikohe. Hongi retaliated by taking, with much slaughter, Te Tehi's pa on the lower Waihou. He then crossed Hokianga Harbour and destroyed Tuoho's pa, Maeri-rangi.
In August 1814 Hongi visited Sydney, accompanied by his nephew Ruatara, Kendall, and Hall. There he met Marsden, whom he impressed by his courteous demeanour and by his apparently insatiable curiosity about European culture and customs. He returned to New Zealand in December 1814 and assisted Marsden to establish his first mission station. After Ruatara's death a few months later, Hongi and Korokoro waited on the missionaries and promised to protect the infant mission. Thereafter he was the constant protector of all the missions within his territories. He was ever anxious to encourage the presence of Europeans among his people for the material benefits they could bring, and he punished, with exemplary severity, any Maoris who committed offences against them.
Although Hongi displayed a great interest in European agriculture, military affairs were his principal preoccupation and he lost no opportunity to acquire muskets and ammunition. In January 1817 he led a fleet of canoes to make peace with the tribes living at North Cape. On the way, however, he quarrelled with the Whangaroa tribes and returned home hastily, because he feared his new foes might attack the mission during his absence.
In January and February 1818 two Ngapuhi expeditions set out from the Bay of Islands to avenge past wrongs done by the East Cape tribes. The first of these was commanded by Te Morenga and the second by Hongi. On the way the latter joined forces with the Ngati Paoa chief, Te Haupo, and their combined fleets ravaged many places in the Bay of Plenty district. They reached Hicks Bay, where Te Haupo was killed in a skirmish with the Ngati Porou. In January 1819 Hongi's expedition returned to the Bay of Islands bearing with it nearly 2,000 prisoners and many dried heads. In August Hongi was preparing to chastise the Whangaroa Maoris, but agreed to defer this pleasure until after Marsden left New Zealand. He did, however, become involved in a minor affray at Oruru when he went there to collect his father-in-law's bones. About this time Hongi signed a deed granting the missionaries land for a new station at Kerikeri.
On 2 March 1820 Hongi and Waikato left in the whaler New Zealander to visit England, where they spent several months in the care of Kendall and Leigh. The two chiefs stayed at Cambridge for a short time and helped Professor Lee, who was then compiling a Maori dictionary for the Church Missionary Society. Hongi was well received everywhere he went. He again showed his interest in the arts and crafts of the country and in British military organisation. George IV received him in audience and presented him with a suit of chain mail and several guns. While in England Hongi went to great pains to secure guns and exchanged many of the presents which were showered upon him for these. He returned to Sydney in the Speke and, while there, secured more arms and powder. He also learned of his son-in-law's death during a war against the Thames tribes. Two of the chiefs responsible, Te Hinaki and Te Horeta, were in Sydney at the time and Hongi spoke openly of his intention to lead a force against them as soon as he returned to New Zealand. The Thames chiefs, at Marsden's suggestion, abandoned their projected visit to England and returned to New Zealand with Hongi. The party reached the Bay of Islands on 11 July 1821 and, shortly afterwards, Hongi began to prepare for his campaign. On 5 September 2,000 Ngapuhi, armed with 1,000 muskets, laid siege to Mauinaina pa at Tamaki. It was taken with great slaughter – Te Hinaki and 2,000 of his men, as well as many women and children, being killed. The victorious force remained on the battlefield eating the vanquished until they were driven off by the smell of decaying bodies. After this Hongi laid siege to the Ngati Maru pa at Te Totara (Thames), but failed to reduce it after a two days' siege. He withdrew after making peace with the defenders, but returned under cover of darkness and took the pa without difficulty. As two of his near relatives were killed in this engagement, Hongi treasured the pretext for the new campaign he was meditating upon – against the Waikatos.
In January-February 1822 Hongi led 2,000 men against Matakitaki pa, which was situated near Pirongia. The taua's progress up the Waikato River was delayed by many obstacles left by the tribes retreating before them. They reached Matakitaki in May and reduced it without difficulty. Many Waikatos were trampled to death when they fled from the Ngapuhi guns. The Waikato chiefs, Te Wherowhero and Te Kanawa, managed to rally some of their tribesmen and succeeded in beating the Ngapuhis back into the pa. Other Waikatos retreated to Orongokoekoe, where they were again defeated by the Ngapuhi superior weapons. Shortly after this, at Otorohanga, Te Wherowhero surprised a small band of Ngapuhi who had captured most of the principal women of Ngati Mahuta. Hongi soon led his party back to the Bay of Islands, while the Waikatos took refuge in the fastnesses of the upper Mokau.
Early in 1823 Hongi invaded the Rotorua district on the pretext of avenging a tribal murder. With Te Wera and Pomare, he led a huge taua inland from Maketu and besieged the Arawas on Mokoia Island. Later in the same year he made peace with the Waikatos, whom he permitted to reoccupy their tribal lands. In 1824 Hongi planned a campaign against his traditional enemies – the Ngati Whatua. A great battle was fought in 1825 at Te-Ika-a-ranga-nui, when the Ngapuhi lost 70 men and their foes over 1,000. After this he led a smaller party to Rotorua and thence to the Waikato in search of Ngati Whatua survivors. He overtook these at Nohoawatea pa, near Otawhao, where a further engagement was fought. As a result of Hongi's preoccupation with the Ngati Whatua, their close relatives, the Ngati Raukawa, emigrated southwards to join Te Rauparaha. In January 1827, during a skirmish at Mangamuka beach near Hokianga, Hongi received a bullet wound in his lungs. After this he returned to Whangaroa, where he died on 6 March 1828.
Hongi had two wives. One was Tangiwhare, the mother of Riparo (born c. 1804) and a daughter. The other was Turi-ke-tuha, the blind wife who accompanied and advised him on all his campaigns. She was the mother of Hare Hongi (c. 1803–25), who was killed at Te-Ika-a-ranga-nui, and of Harata, who later married Hone Heke.
Hongi Hika was not a great military tactician, but depended for his success principally upon the superiority of muskets over traditional Maori weapons. The Ngapuhi were defeated on many occasions when smaller forces could be deployed strategically against them. Among his foes, Murupaenga and Te Wherowhero were both better generals. Hongi's campaigns were fought according to the traditional rules of Maori warfare and were, in this respect, no more barbarously conducted than those of Te Rauparaha in his own time, or of Titokowaru or Te Kooti a generation later. His use of muskets in close proximity to his enemy, however, was the reason for his enemy's casualties being so much higher. In this connection it is perhaps worth noting that the European settlements in the Auckland isthmus later, in large measure, insulated the Ngapuhis from the vengeance of their southern enemies when they, too, obtained firearms.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, Smith, S. P. (1910)
- Nine Months Residence in New Zealand in 1827, Earle, A. (1909)
- From Tasman to Marsden, McNab, R. (1914).