Maori chief and warrior.
A new biography of Te Mamaku, Hemi Topine appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
A principal chief of Ngati Haua te Rangi tribe of the Wanganui River, Te Mamaku had tribal links with Ngati Maniapoto of the King Country and Ngati Awa of Taranaki. With these tribal ties, and occupying a strategic position at Tuhua which controlled the passage of the Wanganui River region, he was a chief of influence. A proverbial saying described this power: “If you withdraw the plug of Tuhua you will be overwhelmed by the flooding hordes of the north”.
Te Mamaku was famous as a fighting chief and Cowan described him as fierce and intrepid. In addition to his prowess in tribal battles he and many of his tribe were noted for the part they took against Europeans in the Wellington district during the period 1845–46 when Wellington itself was threatened. As one of Te Rangihaeata's most able leaders, Te Mamaku led the attack on Boulcott's Farm in the Hutt Valley. After being repulsed he and his party retreated, so relieving the immediate threat to the settlement.
Like some of the old-time Maori, Te Mamaku showed an unpredictable side of his nature. After his return to Wanganui he offered to protect the Pakeha settlers of the small community as he looked upon them as his own. He requested them not to send for soldiers and stated firmly: “If you bring soldiers I will fight them”. When troops were later sent to Wanganui, Te Mamaku and his tribe joined other tribes, attacking and blockading the town on 19 May 1847. After plundering, burning, killing cattle, and skirmishing for two months, Te Mamaku retired up river on 24 July. The actions of Te Mamaku and other chiefs in rebelling were condoned by the Governor in the following year. This decision enabled the Wanganui region to develop in peace for several years. In his later life he was regarded by his people as a chieftain of highest rank, a man of dignity and influence, a warrior of fame and fierce spirit. As a venerable rangatira, he was accorded the honorific title of “The Great Fish in the Net”. To the European administrators of the mid-nineteenth century, Te Mamaku represented a direct challenge to the success of the struggling settlements at Wellington and Wanganui; to the Maori of his kin he was a local patriot, justified in his actions and admired for his spirit. He died in June 1887 at the village of Tawhata, in the upper Wanganui River, reputedly aged nearly 100 years.
by John Bruce Palmer, B.A., Curator, Fiji Museum, Suva.