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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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(c. 1768–1849).

War chief of the Ngati Toa.

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

This famous chief of the Ngati Toa was born in 1768 or 1769, probably at Maungatautari, the home of his mother's people. He was the son of Werawera, a chief of the Ngati Toa, and, through him, was descended from Toa Rangitira, the eponymous ancestor of the Ngati Toa branch of Tainui. As his mother, Parekohatu, of Ngati Raukawa, was not Werawera's first or principal wife, her children were not of the highest rank in the Ngati Toa. Shortly after his son's birth Werawera was killed by a Waikato chief who boasted that, if his victim's infant son should also fall into his hands, the child would make an excellent relish for his rauparaha (an edible plant of the convolvulous family which grew in profusion on the sand dunes at Kawhia). Werawera's people thus named the child “Te Rauparaha”.

Te Rauparaha's prowess in battle and his remarkable qualities of leadership were shown at an early age. Although very little is known of his early life, tribal history records several skirmishes with Waikato and Maniapoto war parties, and he is said to have incited Hongi Hika to make his famed attack on the Arawas at Rotorua. In September 1819 a Ngapuhi taua (war party) who had recently acquired muskets which they were anxious to test on tribes living further south, passed through Kawhia, and its leaders, Waka Nene and Patuone, induced Te Rauparaha and his nephew Te Rangihaeata to join them. This party attacked and dispersed the Ngati Ruanui and other tribes, but spared Ngati Awa. At Kapiti Island Te Rauparaha concluded a temporary peace with the Ngati Apa, as, even then, he hoped to return later to occupy their territory.

When he returned to Kawhia Te Rauparaha found that his first wife, Marore, had been killed at the instigation of Te Wherowhero. This involved Ngati Toa in unsuccessful war with the Waikatos. After this Te Rauparaha retired to his stronghold at Te Arawi, where he decided to enlist support from his kinsfolk, the Ngati Raukawa, by travelling to Maungatautari. While he was there the Ngati Raukawa chief, Hape Te Tuarangi, died and Te Rauparaha was elected to succeed him. To consolidate his position Te Rauparaha then married Akau, Hape's favourite wife, and she later became the mother of his son Tamihana Te Rauparaha.

Back in Kawhia Te Rauparaha prepared for his tribe's migration to Kapiti. As he realised that this would take several years, he negotiated with the Ngati Tama and Ngati Awa for stopping places in their territories. Because these tribes possessed close blood ties with the Waikatos, Te Rauparaha realised that neither Te Wherowhero nor Te Waharoa would be disposed to permit Ngati Toa to depart unmolested. Early in the summer of 1820 the Waikatos, Maniapotos, and their allies attacked Ngati Toa positions around Kawhia. An invading army of 5,000 men struck simultaneously by land and sea, and Ngati Toa survivors were forced back upon Te Arawi, where Te Rauparaha had to capitulate after a siege lasting several weeks. There Te Rangituatea, a Maniapoto chief who was related to Te Rauparaha, arranged canoes for his escape. On the understanding that he and his tribe would be allowed to withdraw, Te Rauparaha ceded all the Ngati Toa lands around Kawhia to Te Wherowhero and Te Hiakia. Early in 1821 the remnant of Ngati Toa – numbering 1,500 men, women, and children – commenced their arduous trek to the south. Later in the year Waikatos attacked them at Motunui (near Waitara), but were repulsed. From Waitara the tribe trekked overland to Patea (autumn 1822) and journeyed in canoes to the mouth of the Manawatu River (Foxton). They then moved on to Ohau, where they built a pa and began cultivation.

Before Te Rauparaha reached Ohau, the Muaupoko of that district sent messengers who requested peace. Te Rauparaha accepted, but soon infuriated the Muaupoko chiefs by killing a woman of their tribe. They therefore conspired to kill him by guile, but their plans went awry and Te Rauparaha escaped. Because of this outrage he swore to exterminate the whole tribe and, shortly afterwards, he defeated them at Horowhenua. The survivors took refuge on islands in Lake Horowhenua, from where they were removed as the Ngati Toa required meat. About this time reinforcements arrived from Ngati Raukawa and also from Ngati Awa. Te Whatanui also attempted to reach them, but his party were defeated by Ngati Kahungunu and had to turn back. Kapiti was captured by a taua under Pehi Kupe, a close relative of Te Rauparaha, and the whole tribe was withdrawn to the safety of that island. In 1825 a force of 2,000 men, drawn from many tribes, attacked Kapiti from a fleet of canoes which “blackened the sea”. There was a fierce battle on the beach at Waiorua (near the northern end of the island) and the attackers were routed.

Because there were frequent quarrels between his allies, Te Rauparaha, at the suggestion of his sister Waitohi, moved the Ngati Awa to Waikanae and the Ngati Raukawa to the land between Kukutautaki and the Whangaehu River. The Ngati Toa remained at Kapiti, but later occupied Mana Island and Porirua also. Te Rauparaha was recognised as the senior chief in the district and the arrangement received the assent of all.

Having subdued the tribes living on the west coast of Wellington Province, Te Rauparaha coveted the greenstone of the South Island. A satisfactory pretext for war was found when Rerewaka, a Ngai Tahu chief of Kaikoura, suggested that if Te Rauparaha dared to set foot on his lands he would rip his belly open with a niho manga (shark's tooth knife). Towards the end of 1828 Te Rauparaha led a fleet of canoes to D'Urville Island and, after capturing the pas in Northern Marlborough, he surprised and took Kaikoura pa. At the conclusion of this campaign Te Rauparaha acceded to a Ngati Raukawa request to avenge Ruamaioro, who had been killed at Putiki some time earlier. He went via Wanganui, and reduced Putiki-wharanui pa after a two months' siege. Flushed by these victories the Ngati Toa leader decided to punish Kekerenga – a Ngati Ira chief who had had an adulterous “affair” with one of Te Rangihaeata's wives, and who had later sought sanctuary with Ngai Tahu. Using this as a pretext Te Rauparaha determined to take the strong Ngai Tahu pa at Kaiapohia (near Kaiapoi). The enemy, however, had been forewarned. Te Rauparaha therefore feigned friendship and sent Pehi Kupe and other chiefs into the stronghold. Their plot, however, was discovered. Finding his force insufficient to capture the pa Te Rauparaha returned to Kapiti, where he persuaded Captain Stewart, of the brig Elizabeth, to convey a large war party to Akaroa. There they seized and killed the Ngai Tahu chief Tamaiharanui. A well-armed force then besieged Kaiapohia, which fell to a Ngati Toa stratagem, and the ferocity of Te Rauparaha's revenge has since passed into legend. The southern Ngai Tahu chiefs Tuhawaiki and Taiaroa arrived at Kaiapohia too late to save the pa. They followed the retreating Ngati Toa, however, and fought an engagement with them at Cloudy Bay (Marlborough). Here the Ngati Toa suffered a severe defeat and their survivors, including Te Rauparaha himself, escaped by swimming to their canoes.

On his return to Kapiti, Te Rauparaha found that his Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Awa allies were again quarrelling. Te Heuheu (Mananui) and Te Rauparaha both intervened and, in 1834, the dispute culminated in the battle of Haowhenua. This was the last tribal fight in which Te Rauparaha took part.

By 1839 missionary influence reached the Wellington–West Coast area. Hadfield settled in the district and made his presence felt among the Maoris. The Ngati Raukawa – Ngati Awa dispute flared anew and the former were routed after a skirmish on the beach at Waikanae. It was generally believed that Te Rauparaha had instigated this incident, and it was also admitted that he and Te Rangihaeata had quarrelled over the division of the payment received for the sale of land to the New Zealand Company. About this time Colonel Wakefield claimed to have purchased most of the Maori land holdings in the Cook Strait area. In 1841, when European settlers began to move into the Porirua district, both Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata emphatically denied having sold it. In April of that year, when Kettle was sent to survey the area, he found that Te Rangihaeata had given his tribe explicit instructions to obstruct the surveyors.

On 14 May 1840 Te Rauparaha and other Wellington chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi They did not, however, interpret their acceptance of British Sovereignty as offering a carte blanche for European settlement. While Rangihaeata openly obstructed the surveyors Te Rauparaha established a large pa on the mainland at Plimmerton. He had in the meantime taken up temporary residence at Otaki and from there announced his intention of preventing the spread of European settlement up the Hutt Valley.

But the clash came elsewhere. In April 1843 Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata opposed a European survey party at Wairau (Marlborough) and Captain Wakefield was killed. After the Wairau Affray Te Rauparaha tried to incite the Ngati Awa of Waikanae to attack Wellington. Failing in this he retired to Otaki, where he professed a belief in Christianity and an abhorrence of war. On 12 February 1844 Governor FitzRoy met Te Rauparaha at Waikanae and ruled that the Europeans had acted wrongly at Wairau. He also secured an agreement by which the two Ngati Toa chiefs waived their claims to the Hutt Valley in return for £200 being paid to each.

Shortly after his arrival in New Zealand, Governor Grey put on a show of force which induced the intruders to leave the valley. Te Rauparaha still claimed that he owed allegiance to the Crown, but his nephew resorted to open warfare. As Grey was under the impression that Te Rauparaha's loyalty was uncertain, British troops seized him at Porirua on 23 July 1846 and spirited him away to Auckland. Here, in September 1847, 200 Hauraki chiefs gathered in his honour and listened while Te Rauparaha – with great dignity – recited his famous deeds. He was never brought to trial (indeed there have always been serious doubts about the legality of the Governor's action in arresting him in the first place) and Grey released him in 1848. Te Rauparaha returned to Otaki, where he died on 27 November 1849.

Although not born to the highest chiefly rank, Te Rauparaha early won a reputation for cunning and audacious war leadership. He ranks with Te Whero–whero and Tuhawaiki in this because these were the two chiefs who came nearest to defeating him in battle. He was renowned for the cleverness of his stratagems and for his unfailing habit of turning his enemies' tricks against themselves. In an age of fierce tribal wars Te Rauparaha was unmatched for his ferocity, and vanquished foes almost invariably ended their careers in the Ngati Toa cooking pots. Among his enemies Te Rauparaha enjoyed an unenviable reputation for treachery; however, it must be remembered that, as the Ngati Toa were at that time fighting for survival, the traditional rules of warfare were necessarily disregarded. Maori tradition credits Te Rauparaha's elder sister, Waitohi, with being the mastermind behind many of his strategic moves. It was she, for instance, who set out the main tribal boundaries between Manawatu and Porirua. Whatever truth there may be in this – Te Rauparaha usually consulted her when planning his more spectacular coups – his cleverest tricks, improvised in the heat of battle, were peculiarly his own. Te Rauparaha's fame rests principally upon the extent of his conquests and, as a result, he has often been dubbed the “Maori Napoleon”. It must also be remembered, however, that he was equally successful in the intertribal diplomacy of his day, and that in this respect his methods were worthy of a “Bismarck”.

Te Rauparaha was a very short, wizened man, less than 5 ft tall. He was buried near the church he had asked Hadfield to build at Otaki, but, according to Maori traditions, his remains were later exhumed and reinterred on Kapiti.

by Robert Ritchie Alexander, M.A., DIP.ED.(N.Z.), B.T.(CALCUTTA), PH.D.(MINNESOTA), Teachers' Training College, Christchurch and Wattie Carkeek, Journalist, Wellington.

  • Sir George Grey, Rutherford, J. (1961)
  • Maori Wars in the Nineteenth Century, Smith, S. P. (1910)
  • Te Rauparaha and the Sacking of Kaiapohia, Travers, W. T. L., and Stack, J. W. (1893).


Robert Ritchie Alexander, M.A., DIP.ED.(N.Z.), B.T.(CALCUTTA), PH.D.(MINNESOTA), Teachers' Training College, Christchurch and Wattie Carkeek, Journalist, Wellington.