ROPATA, Wahawaha, Major
Maori leader and warrior.
A new biography of Wahawaha, Rapata appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Wahawaha Ropata, whose ancestors were not particularly notable, was born about 1807 near Waipiro Bay on the East Coast. At an early age, when his tribe was defeated by Rongowhakaata of Poverty Bay, he was taken prisoner and made the slave of one Rapata Whakapuhia, from whom he derived his more commonly used name. Although ransomed after a few years, Ropata never forgot the shame of that experience, and this perhaps accounts for the ruthlessness of his later dealings with his former captors.
Ropata did not achieve prominence until, at middle age, he opposed the Pai Marire (Hauhau) missionaries who were making converts of some of his own people. Amongst those who drove this faction from the coast, he proved himself an outstanding warrior. Later that year, 1865, he and his followers were called to assist the English settlers in Poverty Bay where the Hauhaus had been more successful. Here he demonstrated his tactical ability by turning a threatened disaster into victory at Te Kopani.
In 1868 Te Kooti's intention of raiding the English settlers in Poverty Bay became known to Ropata, but his warning to Colonel Lambert went unheeded. It was only after the tragic massacre in November of that year that he was again asked to help. He distinguished himself at Makaretu pa; then at Ngatapa he won the New Zealand Cross by leading his few followers right up to the palisades and clinging there for hours in a vain wait for reinforcements. On 4 January 1869, when Ngatapa was finally taken, 120 prisoners were left to Ropata who had them shot down mercilessly.
Te Kooti took refuge in the hills and forests of the Urewera, making sporadic raids on neighbouring districts. Throughout 1870 and much of 1871 Ropata carried on an extremely arduous and frustrating chase, ending finally in Te Kooti's flight. Ropata now showed that he could be conciliatory, the outcome being a rapid improvement in the relations between the Tuhoe of Urewera and the Government. On his return to his own tribe Ropata set about encouraging education and land development, succeeding generations making Ngati Porou the leaders in these fields. He was given a place in the Legislative Council where, although somewhat diffident, he brought some important matters to the attention of the Government. He is remembered mainly, however, for his great personal courage and his ability to inspire his followers. His wife Harata accompanied him wherever he went and, after his death at Gisborne on 1 July 1897 and his military burial at Waiomatatini, lived near his grave until her own death 18 years later.
by John March Booth, M.A., DIP.ANTHR.(LOND.), Secretary, New Zealand Maori Council, and the Polynesian Society, Wellington.
- N.Z.P.D., 23 Sep 1897
- Major Ropata Wahawaha, Porter, T. W. R. (1897)
- Defenders of New Zealand, Gudgeon, T. W. (1887).