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Story: Murupaenga

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Ngāti Whātua leader, war leader

This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Murupaenga, leader of Ngāti Rongo, a hapū of Ngāti Whātua, was born, according to one calculation, about 1770. His parents were Ahiwera and Tūaea. In the period of his most important activity his home was near Makarau, on the eastern shores of the Kaipara Harbour. He first came to prominence when, early in the nineteenth century, a series of wars began between Ngāpuhi and Te Roroa, a people of the Kaihū area, midway between Hokianga and Kaipara harbours, who were related to both Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whātua . About 1806 Murupaenga called together a war party of sections of Ngāti Whātua to avenge the losses of Te Roroa. The combined force travelled by canoe up the Wairoa River to Kaihū, then moved overland to attack Ngāpuhi settlements at Matarāua on the Punakitere River, a branch of the Hokianga Harbour. They later attacked Taiāmai in the hinterland of the Bay of Islands, the heartland of Ngāti Tautahi and Ngāi Tāwake, the hapū of the chief Pōkaia.

After further skirmishes Pōkaia, in 1807–8, planned a decisive campaign to defeat Te Roroa and their Ngāti Whātua allies. News of the impending attack reached Murupaenga, and he raised another huge war party to come to the support of Te Roroa. Tāoho of Te Roroa, who had retreated from Kaihū to Tokatoka pā, on the Wairoa River, set watchmen on the cliffs at Maunganui Bluff. His scouts warned of the approach of Ngāpuhi with a column of smoke. When Murupaenga heard that Ngāpuhi were soon to march from their camp near Maunganui Bluff to Moremonui, he immediately moved his people into ambush. When Ngāpuhi arrived at the little flax-studded valley, Murupaenga's forces charged out. Some Ngāpuhi, however, were armed with muskets, and the new weapons initially gave them an advantage. Murupaenga, however, observed that it took time to load them; he ordered his men to throw themselves down as their enemies were about to fire, and to charge on them while they were loading. The Ngāpuhi force was disastrously defeated; among the dead were Pōkaia, two of Hongi Hika's brothers, and other important leaders, while the party led by Whiwhia, the elder brother of Tītore, was almost annihilated. Others, including Hongi Hika, escaped only through flight and concealment. Murupaenga's victory was later known as Te Kai-a-te-karoro (the sea-gulls' feast) because the dead were so numerous that many of them were not consumed but left for the sea-gulls. Murupaenga was greatly feared and respected after this battle; for 20 years various Ngāpuhi leaders attempted to gain revenge without success.

Between the years 1810 and 1819 Murupaenga took part in at least three expeditions to Taranaki. The first was peaceful; Murupaenga was made welcome at Manukōrihi pā, on the north bank of the Waitara River, because his people and the Manukōrihi hapū were related. Murupaenga was said to be so delighted with the fertile country and the fine quality of the local kaitaka (a variety of woven cloak) that he composed a waiata in praise of Taranaki. The second expedition, about 1818, included an attack on the great pā at Tātaraimaka, on the coast south of New Plymouth. Te Pūoho-o-te-rangi of Ngāti Tama had induced Murupaenga, Tūwhare and other important chiefs to help him reduce it. Many Taranaki leaders were shot by Ngāpuhi marksmen, having been identified by Te Āti Awa allies of Te Puoho. Murupaenga also took part in the great 1819–20 war expedition in which Tūwhare, Patuone, Nene and Te Rauparaha were among the many leaders who took a force down the west coast to Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) and then into Wairarapa, conquering and taking captives as they went.

By mid 1820 Murupaenga had returned home, in time to resist attacks on the Wairoa River area organised by the Bay of Islands chief Tāreha in May; the attacks were planned to avenge the deaths at Moremonui. A battle was fought about June, but it seems to have been inconclusive.

In August 1820, when Samuel Marsden visited Murupaenga, Ngāpuhi forces were still raiding the northern Kaipara area. Marsden was very impressed with Murupaenga, having heard much about him from Bay of Islands chiefs. He met Murupaenga's adult son, Kahu, and Kahu's young wife; he was received with formality by Murupaenga, whose principal wife, Tangirere, was dressed in a dogskin cloak; his various children had adorned their heads with feathers. Marsden was lavishly feasted and presented with provisions for his journey to Hokianga. Murupaenga expressed interest in European settlement at Kaipara and promised to protect any shipping that might cross the harbour bar. Marsden left Murupaenga as he was about to follow up and destroy the enemies laying waste his territory.

In spite of the need of many of the Bay of Islands chiefs to avenge previous defeats by Murupaenga, the accepted code of intertribal relations permitted Murupaenga to visit the Bay of Islands without fear between campaigns. He was there on a visit to his kinsman Pōmare I when the 1823 Ngāpuhi expedition against Mokoia Island, Rotorua, was decided on. It is uncertain whether Murupaenga joined the expedition.

In February 1825 the Bay of Islands tribes at last set out to restore the mana lost at the battle of Moremonui. An advance force led by Te Whareumu of Kororāreka (Russell) was followed by the main force of perhaps 300 Ngāpuhi led by Hongi Hika, his son Hare Hongi, Rewa and other leaders; it left the Bay of Islands on 25 February 1825. They spent about a month at the little harbour of Taiharuru, north of Whāngārei, fishing and repairing their canoes. It was during this time that the various branches of Ngāti Whātua heard of the impending attack and gathered at the head of the Kaiwaka River, south of Whāngārei. Murupaenga, again showing his superior military leadership, proposed that part of the 1,000-strong combined force should ambush Ngāpuhi as they arrived by canoe at Mangawhai, while they were at a disadvantage. But, fatefully for Ngāti Whātua , he was over-ruled, other chiefs refusing to believe that Hongi could ever be caught at a disadvantage.

Contact was made between the two forces at Te Ika-a-ranga-nui, at the junction of the Kaiwaka River and the Waimako Stream, inland from Mangawhai. An attempt at negotiation failed; the parties kept their distance for three days, after which Murupaenga's force began firing, wounding Wharepoaka, a chief of Rangihoua. No further fighting occurred that day, and during the night Murupaenga's people managed to burn and hole many of the 50 canoes of Hongi's force. Hongi's party then spent several days repairing their canoes, but on the fourth day Ngāti Whātua closed in, apparently determined to do battle. Murupaenga came close to victory, but Hongi then led a charge and there was heavy fighting lasting several hours. Both sides sustained heavy losses but Ngāti Whātua were decisively defeated and forced to flee the battle site, leaving their muskets in the hands of their conquerors.

Murupaenga escaped, and is said to have pronounced a farewell to his dead as he fled. He took refuge with the remnant of his people on the Mahurangi peninsula. In 1826, while most of his people were away up the Pūhoi River, he and his party were taken by surprise at Mahurangi by a party of Te Hikutū from Hokianga. Murupaenga was killed; his body was found by his people floating in the sea. The explorer Dumont d'Urville claimed that the death blow had been struck by 'Tepouna' (Te Puna?) of Rangihoua. Murupaenga is buried at Mihirau, on the Pūhoi River.

Of medium height, very dark, and with a fiery, intelligent expression, Murupaenga could persuade reluctant warriors to join in his campaigns through his inspiring oratory. Tāoho referred to him as 'Murupaenga, he who will…deliver plans of war.' A Taranaki poet described him in 1818 as 'Murupaenga, the mover of war parties'. He was a brilliant strategist and military commander, and a leader of exceptional talents.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Murupaenga', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m61/murupaenga (accessed 22 June 2024)