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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.


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TE KAWAU, Apihai

(c. 1790–1869).

Ngati Whatua chief.

A new biography of Te Kawau, Apihai appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Te Kawa was the chief of the Ngati Taou hapu of the Ngati Whatua tribe and lived at Kaipara. As a young man he probably took part in the various tribal wars against the Ngapuhi. Marsden met him on 27 July 1820 when he boarded the Dromedary to sell spars cut from his forests on the Waitemata. Later, he accompanied Marsden when he made his survey of the Manukau Harbour. In June 1821, according to some authorities, Te Kawau took part in the defence of Mauinaina pa against Hongi Hika, but, if this were so, he must have been one of the few survivors of the siege. It is more likely, however, that he was then preparing for the famous Amiowhenua expedition in which he was the principal leader.

The Amiowhenua expedition was one of the longest ever undertaken by a Maori taua. Its pretext was probably no stronger than a desire to emulate the successful expedition made by Patuone and Te Rauparaha in the previous year. The party left One-one-nui (South Kaipara) toward the end of August 1821 and made its way across the Kaingaroa Plains to the headwaters of the Mohaka River. They crossed the main range into Hawke's Bay near the Titiokura Pass and continued down the Tutaekuri River before turning south-east into the Raukawa hills (to the south-west of Hastings). At Lake Te Roto-a-Tara (near Te Aute College) they captured an island pa belonging to the Ngai-te-Whatu-i-apiti tribe. The party then crossed the Ruataniwha Plains, but failed to reduce Horehore pa, near Takapau. They passed through the Seventy Mile Bush and took several small villages at Te Apiti in Manawatu Gorge before continuing through the Pahiatua district to Maungarake (near Masterton). Here they captured Hakikino pa. The party went on to Port Nicholson, where they took Tapu-te-Ranga, the Ngati Ira pa on the island in Island Bay. News of their presence preceded them, however, and they found that the Porirua and Waikanae Maoris had abandoned their settlements. At Otaki they attacked a Muaupoko pa, but were tricked into lifting their siege. The taua next invaded the Wanganui district, where one section was destroyed in an ambush at Mangatoa. The remaining sections, under Te Kawau, moved on through the Patea and Taranaki districts. They were attacked by a strong Ngati Awa force at Waitara and were obliged to entrench themselves in Pukerangiora pa. From Pukerangiora Te Kawau sent word to Te Whero-whero, who came from the Waikato to lift the siege. About this time news of Hongi's expedition into the Waikato reached Taranaki and the combined force hastened to Matakitaki pa, where Te Kawau assisted the defenders. The Amiowhenua expedition returned to Kaipara about June 1822, after having covered more than 1,000 miles.

Because he feared that the Ngapuhi meditated taking revenge upon those Ngati Whatua hapus which had taken part in the defence of Matakitaki, Te Kawau moved his people to Pukewha, on the Waipa River. They remained there until after Hongi's death, when they returned to their lands in the Auckland district. After this they came under the missionaries' influence.

In 1840 Te Kawau, who was now the paramount chief of the Ngati Whatua, invited Governor Hobson to visit the Waitemata district. He used all his influence to persuade the Governor to move his capital to Auckland and put land at his disposal for that purpose. In the later years Te Kawau lived at Orakei, where he became a close friend of Sir William Martin. He was baptised and took the name Apihai (Abishai). Te Kawau died at Ongarahu, Kaipara, in November 1869.

Towards the close of his life Te Kawau is said to have abhorred warfare and deplored his people's sufferings at the hands of the Ngapuhi.

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

  • Marsden Letters and Journals, Elder, J. R. (1932)
  • Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, Smith, S. P. (1910)
  • New Zealand Herald, 24 Nov 1869.


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