Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Ngai Tahu chief.

A new biography of Karetai appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Karetai was born in Otago in 1781 and was the son of Te Ihutakara and Kakatuaheka. He was a cousin of Taiaroa and at the time of European settlement was paramount chief at Otakou. He was closely associated with the early whalers in the district and owned an interest in a sealing boat. Karetai visited Sydney many times and, while there, met Samuel Marsden who encouraged him to spend a year at Parramatta and personally supervised the chief's instruction in Christianity. While in Sydney Karetai contracted measles. He carried this infection to Otakou, where many of his people died in the resulting epidemic.

In pre-European days Karetai took part in several campaigns against Te Rauparaha. He led a portion of the Ngai Tahu reinforcements at both sieges of Kaiapohia and, after the fall of the pa in 1836, he accompanied Taiaroa when the latter pursued the Ngati Toa taua into Marlborough. Karetai was wounded in the knee at Oraumoana (near Port Underwood) and ever afterwards walked with a limp. He also lost the sight of one eye as a result of this engagement. In 1839 Karetai and Taiaroa sold to Johnny Jones a large block of land at Waikouaiti. On 15 February 1840, a month after Gipps's proclamation concerning New Zealand land sales, Jones and Wentworth at Sydney induced Tuhawaiki, Taiaroa, and Karetai to sell them the South Island. In June of the same year Major Bunbury visited Karetai at Otakou and secured his signature to the Treaty of Waitangi. Edward Shortland visited him there in 1843; and, a year later, Tuckett purchased the Otago Block from Karetai and the other Ngai Tahu chiefs. After the Wairau Affray Karetai followed Taiaroa's example and made his peace with Te Rauparaha.

In his later years Karetai came under the influence of the early Methodist missionaries, Watkin and Creed, who induced him to abandon cannibalism. Karetai died on 30 May 1860 and is buried in the Otakou cemetery, where a monument marks his grave. The cemetery is about 2½ miles from Taiaroa Head, on the harbour side of Otago Peninsula.

Stack visited Karetai at Otakou pa and was deeply impressed by the meeting. He mentions that he found the old chief a most interesting conversationalist and records that his face was so completely tattooed that it appeared to be bluish black. Karetai was also known as “Jacky White”, which was the nearest the whalers could get to his Maori name.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • More Maoriland Adventures of J. W. Stack, Reed, A. H. (ed.) (1936)
  • History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
  • New Zealand Examiner, 14 Sep 1860.


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.