Story: Hikairo, Wiremu

Page 1: Biography

Hikairo, Wiremu


Ngati Rangiwewehi leader, peacemaker

This biography, written by Jenifer Curnow, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Hikairo is thought to have been born in the late eighteenth century, probably between 1780 and 1790, probably at Puhirua or Te Awahou, on the northern shores of Rotorua. He became leader of Ngati Rangiwewehi, one of the largest Te Arawa sub-tribes, and was prominent from about 1806.

Hikairo was descended from famous ancestors, Rangitihi and Uenuku-kopako. Through his father, Whekiki, he was descended from Rangiwewehi, through Kereru, Wehiwehi, Te Whatu and Te Ngaro, and thus belonged to Ngati Kereru hapu of Ngati Rangiwewehi. Hikairo also had connections with Ngati Pikiao, Tapuika and Tuhoe. His mother was from Ngati Pukeko. He was sometimes known as Te Tuatahi-a-Whekiki, and later as Wiremu (and sometimes Te Wiremu) Hikairo. Little is known of Hikairo's early life. After the arrival of the Church of England missionaries at Te Koutu in 1835, he taught himself to read, and gained considerable knowledge of the Scriptures.

According to Ngati Rangiwewehi scholar Te Rangikaheke, Hikairo had three wives. Rangi-kau-amo, who was also descended from Rangitihi, was the mother of Te Mete Hikairo, who became known as Wiremu Mita Hikairo when he served as an assessor in the Native Land Court in the 1860s and 1870s. Maea-te-rangi was the mother of another son, Heketoro. Te Apuhau was another wife of Hikairo. Hikairo also had a daughter, Pinenga, whose mother's name is not recorded. Hemana Pokiha states in Nga moteatea that Hikairo's wife was Ngarangi-kamaea, and that she was the mother of Heketoro, Makari and Mita Hikairo.

About 1806, during fighting between Ngati Rangiwewehi and Ngati Whakaue, Hikairo killed Te Kohuru of Ngati Whakaue at Weriweri, on the western shore of Rotorua. In response to this killing, another battle took place in which Ngati Rangiwewehi were defeated. Soon afterwards, peace was made. In 1823, after Hongi Hika of Nga Puhi had attacked and taken Mokoia, Hikairo and others escaped from the island. Hikairo was related to Te Ao-kapurangi, wife of Te Wera Hauraki of Nga Puhi, and returned to Mokoia to speak on behalf of his people. In reply, Hongi Hika declared that there would be no more killing, and Nga Puhi returned home.

In 1832, after Nga Puhi under Te Haramiti had attacked Tuhua (Mayor Island) and Motiti Island, Hikairo attempted to form an alliance of Te Arawa with Ngai Te Rangi of Tauranga against Nga Puhi. Other Te Arawa tribes refused, but Ngati Rangiwewehi joined Ngai Te Rangi and initially defeated Nga Puhi.

Hikairo demonstrated his capacity for strategy, and consideration of the long-term interests of his tribe, in the wars resulting from the killing at Parahaki of Te Hunga, a relative of Te Waharoa of Ngati Haua, probably by Haerehuka of Ngati Whakaue in December 1835. Hikairo and Korokai of Ngati Whakaue prevented Te Arawa hapu from fighting each other. Hikairo sought and won the alliance of Tuhourangi, and planned an attack on Ngati Haua allies Ngai Te Rangi at their pa at Te Tumu in May 1836. Hikairo attacked at one of the three gateways to the pa, rallying his people by jumping to the fore, grimacing, shouting and singing his war-song. Te Tumu fell to Te Arawa. Not long afterwards Hikairo made peace between Te Arawa and Waikato, and sealed it with the marriage of his daughter, Pinenga, to Te Arahi, the son of Te Waharoa. The possession of Maketu, the important flax-growing area in the Bay of Plenty, remained in contention, however. Although Hikairo took some part in the first stages of the more sporadic warfare which continued into the 1840s, he refused permission to other Te Arawa hapu to cross his land seeking revenge against Ngai Te Rangi and Waikato in 1839. He thus prevented an immediate attack. In 1841 he made a bold attempt to make peace with Ngai Te Rangi by talking to them in their pa, but was only partially successful. A conclusive peace was not reached until September 1845.

Hikairo's efforts to maintain peace continued. In July 1845 he called a great meeting at Puhirua. About 800 attended, including visitors from Waikato and Tauranga. Speeches of peace were made, and it was agreed that, to avoid further warfare, any individual who committed murder would be punished. Hikairo plied his guests with liberal hospitality. Catechism and hymns were also an integral part of the gathering. Hikairo called another meeting in 1847 to discuss the murders of Te Manihera and Kereopa, Ngati Ruanui Christians, who had been killed near Tokaanu in March. His aim was to prevent such occurrences in the future. In 1848 he pleaded for peace between Ngati Whakaue and Tuhourangi over a land dispute.

Hikairo had considerable knowledge of Christianity, and its influence is demonstrated in his efforts to make peace. He refused baptism, however, fearing that the conflict with tradition would lead to a loss of his mana in the eyes of contemporary chiefs. He died at Puhirua on 28 October 1851, and is buried in the cemetery on the summit of Orangi-kahui, near Te Awahou.

How to cite this page:

Jenifer Curnow. 'Hikairo, Wiremu', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 February 2020)