NAERA [NERA], Wiremu or Te Awaitaia
Ngati Mahanga chief and a leading chief of the Waikato confederation.
A new biography of Te Awa-i-taia, Wiremu Nera appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Te Awaitaia was born about 1796 at Waipa and was the son of Te Kata, a Ngati Mahanga chief of illustrious lineage, and of Parehina. While still a young man he led the taua (war party) which drove the Ngati Koata from their lands about Whai-ngaroa (Raglan) Harbour. Later he supported Te Waharoa in the wars which led to the establishment of the Waikato confederation. In 1820, as a close relative of Te Wherowhero, Te Awaitaia joined the Waikato – Ngati Maniapoto alliance against Te Rauparaha and was one of the chiefs who led the seaborne invasion of the Ngati Toa positions at Kawhia. At the Battle of Te Kakara in the same campaign he killed Rapa-rapa, a Ngati Tama chief who was renowned for his great strength, and this exploit gave him immense mana among the Maori chiefs. In 1822 Te Awaitaia led a taua of 370 men who harried the Ngati Toa on their retreat southwards. Nine years later he returned to Taranaki and played a leading part in the Battle of Pukerangiora.
Early in 1834 Te Awaitaia was baptised and took the names Wiremu Naera (William Naylor). He became a staunch friend of the Pakeha and built the first church in Raglan. From this time onwards he used his great prestige to further the missionaries' cause. His intercession with the Waikato chiefs secured the release of their Taranaki slaves and he later led a party to spread the gospel among the Taranaki tribes. At Te Ruaki he interposed to stop the war between the Waikato and Ngati Ruanui. In 1841 he tried to end hostilities between Mananui and Matakatea. When Governor Hobson visited him, Te Awaitaia swore allegiance to Queen Victoria, and he kept this oath with succeeding Governors. In 1857, at the “King” meeting at Paetai, Te Awaitaia spoke against creating a Maori King and his influence would have prevailed had it not been known that his opposition arose from a land dispute with Te Wherowhero. Shortly after this meeting he, with Iwikau, visited Governor Browne and expressed himself in favour of a separate Maori nationality – without a “King”.
At the time of the Taranaki petition Te Awaitaia offered to sell the Government land at Raglan. This action was resented by the kingites but, as the Government was satisfied with his title to the block in question, McLean was instructed to accept the offer. In 1862 Sir George Grey persuaded Te Awaitaia to build a strategic road to link Raglan with the Waipa River. This caused great unrest among the “King” tribes and war was prevented only by the Tamihana's personal intervention. During the Waikato Wars Te Awaitaia supplied guides and auxiliaries for General Cameron's forces. He protected the European settlement at Raglan against the kingites and offered to send men to defend Auckland against Rewi. Te Awaitaia was given the rank of Major in the Militia and was awarded a Sword of Honour. He died at Raglan on 27 April 1866.
As one of the last of the great chiefs of pre-Waitangi times, Te Awaitaia possessed an influence among the Maoris that equalled Te Wherowhero's. Gorst regarded him highly, while Fenton described him as “the most powerful man now living”. Both Tamihana and Te Wherowhero respected him. It is surprising, therefore, to find that some present-day Maoris regard him as having been an enemy of Maori nationalism.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, F.3 (1860)
- Tainui, Kelly, L. G. (1949)
- The Maori King, Gorst, J. E. (1959)
- Origins of the Maori Wars, Sinclair, K. (1957).