Page 1: Biography
Ngāti Porou leader, assessor, politician
This biography, written by Rarawa Kohere, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Mōkena Kōhere was born at Waiora-ā-Tāne, Rangitukia. His father was Pākura, his mother Moahiraia. He belonged to Te Whānau-a-Rerewā, which has sub-tribal links with Ngāi Tuiti-Matua and Te Whānau-a-Tūwhakairiora of the Ngāti Porou tribal confederation. He succeeded to the leadership of his people on the death of his elder brother, Kakatarau, who had no children. The name Kōhere means protector of land and people, and was to prove prophetic. The name Mōkena was taken from that of the CMS missionary John Morgan. His first wife was Ērana Umutaru. For nearly 50 years he was married to Marara Hinekukurangi of Te Whanau-a-Tāpuhi. They lived at Waiora-ā-Tāne, and at Kāmiti, where their eldest son, Hone Hiki, was born.
In 1834 Kakatarau and Kōhere fought together in the successful defence of Rangitukia pā against an attack by Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. In 1836 Kakatarau assembled an expedition at Waiapu, which included chiefs from Wharekāhika (Hicks Bay) to Wairarapa, to take reprisals against Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. After a lengthy siege of Toka-ā-Kuku pā at Te Kaha, which caused great suffering to the Bay of Plenty people, the expedition withdrew, having obtained sufficient utu.
The people of Waiapu were greatly influenced by the Christian teachings of Taumata-ā-Kura (who had been at Toka-ā-kuku), and later of the CMS missionaries, who came to the East Coast in 1840. Mōkena, who later became a lay synodsman in the Waiapu diocese, was responsible for constructing St John's Church at Rangitukia. This church, capable of holding 800 people, was consecrated by Bishop G. A. Selwyn in 1856.
Mōkena fostered those elements of European culture and technology which he regarded as beneficial for his tribe. Traditional expertise in cultivation and navigation was turned to advantage, and as early as 1840 his people had successful agricultural and commercial enterprises. Wheat and maize were grown on a large scale, and schooners were purchased to transport their produce to Auckland and even to Australia. Mōkena saw to the purchase of a 20 ton schooner, named Mereana after his daughter. He is recorded as master of the vessel in 1852. He also negotiated with traders on behalf of his people.
In January 1862, as part of Governor George Grey's scheme for local Māori self-government, Mōkena was appointed principal assessor for the Ngāti Porou runanga in the combined districts of Waiapu and Tokomaru Bay. His fellow chiefs, Iharaira Te Houkāmau and Wikiriwhi Mātāuru, were appointed assessors at Wharekahika, and at Te Kawakawa (Te Araroa). Much of the business of the assessors, who were assisted by a European resident magistrate, concerned internal matters of law and order. These were largely dealt with by local runanga, of which the assessors themselves, because of their tribal status, were members. Grey's system, in effect, reinforced an existing form of Māori self-government.
By the early 1860s some Ngāti Porou were supporting the growing Māori King movement. The position of the Ngāti Porou chiefs was one of neutrality. Archdeacon W. L. Williams noted that the people of Waiapu 'call themselves always "Kūpapa" as being partizans of neither side'. Mōkena, apart from his misgivings about the Māori kingship, actively dissuaded his people from becoming involved in the Waikato conflict, lest Ngāti Porou territory become subject to confiscation. Nevertheless, some Ngāti Porou did participate and in 1862, on their return home, the King's flag was raised at Waiomatatini. This act was interpreted by Mōkena and others as a challenge to the traditional authority of the chiefs.
Mōkena came to national prominence during the warfare on the East Coast in 1865. His stand against the Hauhau forces prevented the escalation of a conflict which could have engulfed not only Mōkena's own region but much of the North Island. Mōkena's actions were consistent with his obligation to uphold his own and his people's mana, his acceptance of the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi, which his brother Kakatarau had signed, and his commitment to his religion.
The murder of the missionary C. S. Völkner at Ōpōtiki in March 1865 by Hauhau directly affected people of the East Coast. Völkner's attendance at Waiapu diocesan synods had made him well known to most of the East Coast chiefs who had attended either as ministers or as lay synodsmen. These included Mōkena Kōhere, Hēnare Pōtae, Rāniera Kāwhia, Mohi Tūrei, Hotene Porourangi (Te Horo) and Rāpata Wahawaha; they wrote to Bishop William Williams deploring the killing.
After leaving Ōpōtiki the Hauhau reached Tūranga (Gisborne) in March 1865, where they threatened to treat Williams as they had Völkner. The bishop and his family left the district; members of Ngāi Te Kete, a hapū of Rongowhakaata, sent for Mōkena, a close friend and relative of their chief, Paratene Tūrangi.
Mōkena arrived to find that Ngāi Te Kete had prepared a huge spar as a flagstaff for the British ensign. They decided not to erect it immediately, as they were apprehensive of the Hauhau. Mōkena, however, alarmed at the increasing influence of the Hauhau and with the help of some Ngāi Te Kete, erected a moderate-sized pole and immediately hoisted the British flag. Some Poverty Bay people were indignant, but as those who had raised the flag did so on their own land, the excitement soon subsided. Mōkena explained his action in letters to Donald McLean, the provincial superintendent: 'I raised the flag over them for their protection.' He stated also that he 'made no attempt to influence anyone other than my own relatives.'
On 8 June 1865 Mōkena, accompanied by McLean and Archdeacon Williams, returned to Tūpāroa and awaited the arrival of Hēnare Pōtae, Rāniera Kāwhia and Mohi Tūrei. These chiefs came from a meeting at Popoti, an inland pā, where the announcement had been made that 'the Hauhau who murdered Völkner have entered the portals of Waiapu'. They informed those waiting that some of the tribe had already gone to apprehend Pātara Raukatauri, the Taranaki leader of the Hauhau. Under Hēnare Nihoniho and Rāpata Wahawaha, the 40 Te Aowera men were forced to retreat, after encountering a well-armed band of 150 Hauhau, mainly from outside tribes, but including some Ngāti Porou recruited from north of Waiapu. Mōkena took a party of his own hapū to support Te Aowera. He, too, had to withdraw, and he took up his stand at his pa, Te Hātepe, on the coast at Rangitukia. The Hauhau encamped at Pākairomiromi, two miles away.
Mōkena and his people withstood a Hauhau siege, with intermittent skirmishing, for almost a month. Although they received support from other chiefs, they were outnumbered by two to one, and had little in the way of arms or ammunition. The chiefs sent a letter to Wellington stating that 'the Hauhau of Taranaki and elsewhere are now here, carrying into effect their word to us, viz. that we be annihilated', and requesting arms and reinforcements. Lieutenant R. N. Biggs and 20 European volunteers reached Mōkena's pa on 3 July, and helped repel a Hauhau attack two days later. By 13 July McLean had managed to land Captain James Fraser and 50 colonial troops with supplies of arms and ammunition. Pātara sent a message to Mōkena, calling for peace, so that he would have only European troops to contend with. Mōkena, however, instead sent word to those of Ngāti Porou, mainly former Kingites, who had aligned themselves with the Hauhau. He would make peace with them on condition that they deliver up Pātara, and take the oath of allegiance.
On 2 August the combined forces, led by Mōkena and Fraser and following Mōkena's plan of attack, stormed Pākairomiromi and inflicted heavy losses. The Hauhau retreated to Pukemaire pā, where they were again attacked, and then withdrew to Hungahungatoroa, near Te Kawakawa, 13 miles away.
To prevent their escape, Biggs and Rāpata Wahawaha pursued them, using the inland track, while Mōkena and Fraser took the longer coastal route. Mōkena's party reached Hungahungatoroa soon after the other contingent. Mōkena was anxious to give Ngāti Porou there the opportunity to surrender and called on Biggs and Rāpata to make peace with them. The Hauhau belonging to Ngāti Porou then gave up their arms. Those from outside tribes, knowing that their lives were at risk, made their escape to Waerenga-a-hika, in Poverty Bay. Hauhau of Ngāti Porou were escorted to Te Hātepe, where they took the oath of allegiance. Mōkena pardoned them and allowed them to return to their homes under supervision.
Mōkena's rejection of Pai Mārire stemmed from his opposition to a creed at variance with the treaty covenant and with his own religious beliefs, from his objection to interference in his territory by outsiders, and from his concern for the welfare of his people. He realised that action against the government would lead to the confiscation of tribal land.
The events at Hungahungatoroa brought conflict to an end in the Waiapu district. The focus shifted to Poverty Bay where the Hauhau were well-entrenched at Waerenga-a-hika. McLean travelled to Tūpāroa to enlist the aid of Ngāti Porou. He returned to Tūranga on 9 November 1865 with 260 Ngāti Porou under Rāpata Wahawaha and Hōtene Porourangi. Mōkena, although not involved in the Poverty Bay fighting, led a reconnoitring expedition inland to Makauri, which restricted the movements of Hauhau scouts. A combined Māori and European force under Fraser overcame the Hauhau at Waerenga-a-hika, after a seven day siege.
After the Poverty Bay conflict Raharuhi Rukupō invited Mōkena to live with him on the land, while Paratene Tūrangi appointed Mōkena to look after the land interests of Ngāti Maru. Mōkena, to a large degree was successful in preventing the confiscation of Rongowhakaata land, and was rewarded with the gift of the greenstone mere Hinewirangi.
At the conclusion of the fighting in 1865 Grey and McLean promised that Ngāti Porou land would be preserved for the tribe's own use. In 1866 Mōkena and Rapata, in consultation with McLean, prohibited the sale or lease of all northern Waiapu land. However, some East Coast land was offered to the government in reparation. When Biggs, now Crown agent, rejected it as insufficient, the offer was withdrawn. Biggs then defined an area stretching from Hicks Bay to Reporua to be confiscated, but when he tried to survey the block Mōkena instructed him to leave. The government's next move was to offer Mōkena a large sum of money. The chief declined to accept, because he knew very well the money had 'teeth' – 'Take your money away, the fight was mine, not the pākehā's'. This action, an expression of rangatiratanga, safeguarded Ngāti Porou land from confiscation.
Despite this, government agents continued to press East Coast people for land. Mōkena took a petition to Wellington, recalling Grey and McLean's earlier promises, and asking that the pressure should cease. Ngāti Porou managed to preserve their land until a gathering at Wharekahika in 1874 resolved to bring the Native Land Court to Waiapu to investigate land claims.
Mōkena was opposed to this policy, which did bring the court to Waiapu in 1875, believing that communal ownership provided a safeguard against the sale of tribal land. Early in 1875 he held a meeting at Te Pākihi, East Cape, where it was resolved to reserve from sale the land from Awatere River to Maraehara Stream. This land was under Mōkena's immediate jurisdiction. Two weeks later a further meeting, at Horoera, confirmed this decision. The other chiefs of northern Waiapu also defined their areas to be included as whenua tūtūru (permanent land). Mōkena's initiative saved it from sale. He urged his people to hold the land for themselves and their children.
In 1868, when elections for the first four Māori members of the House of Representatives were held, Ngāti Porou nominated Mōkena as their candidate for Eastern Māori, but the nomination arrived at Napier too late. However, in 1872 Mōkena was appointed as one of the first Māori members of the Legislative Council. Here he took up a number of issues, including the Te Aute College Estate Inquiry, the establishment of local constabulary in tribal areas, and the closure of Te Waka Māori, the official Māori newspaper. In 1870 he received a sword of honour from Queen Victoria, and in 1871 was awarded the New Zealand War Medal.
During his travels to and from the General Assembly, Mōkena became friendly with the Wairarapa chief Hikawera Mahupuku. At his request, Mōkena brought some of the expert carvers of Ngāti Porou to build the magnificent carved house Tākitimu, at Kehemane, near Martinborough. Mōkena retired from the Legislative Council in 1887, to live at his home in Rangitukia with his daughter-in-law, Henarata, the widow of his eldest son Hone Hiki, until his death on 4 March 1894. He is believed to have been in his 80s.
A Ngāti Porou haka contains the line, 'But for Mōkena, what then?' It commemorates Mōkena's timely intervention to save captured Ngāti Porou Hauhau from execution at Te Pito, near East Cape. While it relates to a specific incident, the phrase may equally be applied to Mōkena's service to the people throughout his lifetime. Some years after his death it was said: 'Mōkena Kōhere was the chief who enabled tribal fires to be rekindled, both in Waiapu and in Poverty Bay…much of the heritage of his people might have been lost, but for Mōkena.'