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Story: Nihoniho, Matutaera

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Nihoniho, Matutaera


Ngāti Porou leader, soldier, storekeeper, assessor

This biography, written by Steven Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was updated in January, 2002. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Matutaera Nihoniho, in his narrative of the fighting on the East Coast, states that he was born on 30 October 1850 at Whareponga, near Waipiro Bay. He belonged to Te Aowera and Te Aitanga-a-Mate of Ngāti Porou. His father was Hēnare Nihoniho, a major chief who died fighting against the Hauhau in the 1860s. His mother, Heeni Nohowaka, took part in the war against the Hauhau to avenge her husband's death.

The name Matutaera is the Māori form of Methuselah, and in his case was shortened to Tuta. He attended William Williams's mission school at Waerenga-a-hika, near Tūranga (Gisborne) in 1860. His father had also entered this school, intending to study for the Anglican ministry. In 1865 Hēnare Nihoniho was present with his haū at the opening of the church at Popoti when the Reverend Mohi Tūrei brought word that the Pai Mārire leaders involved in the killing of the missionary C. S. Völkner at Ōpōtiki had entered Ngāti Porou territory. Hēnare led Te Aowera against them but was defeated and killed in the fighting near the Mangaone Stream in June 1865. As he lay dying he gave his rifle to Te Teira Pikiuha to take to Tuta so that he could avenge him.

Tuta Nihoniho took part in the fighting on the East Coast, with Ngāti Porou forces led by Rāpata Wahawaha. He joined other government supporters in building the pā at Tikitiki, in the Waiapu Valley. An attack was made on Pukemaire pā, belonging to Te Whānau-a-Hinerupe, a hapū which had espoused Pai Mārire. The Hauhau repulsed the attack and counter-attacked to take Tikitiki. The surviving government supporters fled to Te Hātepe, the pā of Mōkena Kōhere, the leading Ngāti Porou supporter of the government. They were joined there by a company of military settlers and some Hawke's Bay volunteers and received military supplies from the government. At this pā Te Aowera chose Rāpata Wahawaha as their leader, on the nomination of Nihoniho. Te Aowera fought the Hauhau at Makotukutuku and took part in the attack on Pakairomiromi. Many Hauhau were killed when it fell, among them Iharaira Porourangi, the principal Ngāti Porou chief to join Pai Mārire. Pukemaire was then attacked; on the third assault it was found to have been evacuated. The Hauhau were pursued to Te Kawakawa (Te Araroa) and, after that fell, to Hungahungatoroa. The earthworks there had not been completed and the Hauhau fled or surrendered. Fighting came to an end in Ngāti Porou territory.

The Hauhau at Waerenga-a-hika were besieged by Ngāti Porou troops brought down to Poverty Bay. A bone in one of Nihoniho's hands was broken in hand-to-hand fighting when Hauhau attacked the government trenches on 19 November 1865. The pā surrendered three days later. Te Aowera then went further south to Wairoa and defeated the Hauhau at Te Kōpane on 13 January 1866. After fighting ended in the Wairoa district Te Aowera returned to their homes. A few years of peace then followed on the East Coast.

When Te Kooti and his followers escaped from the Chatham Islands and landed at Whareongaonga in Poverty Bay on 10 July 1868, Nihoniho returned to military life. After being unsuccessfully pursued by government forces Te Kooti built a pā at Puketapu, near Waikaremoana. Ngāti Porou troops were brought down to Wairoa to attack Puketapu, but as no attack was made Te Kooti was able to raid Poverty Bay. Numbers of settlers and Māori supporters of government were killed in the Matawhero district, near Turanga. Nihoniho records in his memoirs that the Ngāti Porou troops were shocked and enraged at the news of the killings. They advanced on Makaretu pā where Te Kooti had gone with recruits and captives. It was besieged on 23 November, and again attacked on 3 December 1868. After losing about 60 of his followers, Te Kooti retreated to an ancient hill-top pa at Ngātapa.

The attack on Ngātapa pā was led by Rāpata Wahawaha and Lieutenant G. A. Preece with 47 Te Aowera, including Nihoniho. The first attack failed, but after the arrival of fresh Te Aowera troops and Armed Constabulary led by Colonel G. S. Whitmore, Te Kooti was forced to flee in January 1869. In the pursuit many of his followers were captured; every male prisoner was executed. The second group of Te Aowera to arrive included Nihoniho's mother, Heeni Nohowaka; she was prominent in urging them on to battle.

Te Kooti continued guerilla warfare from the mountainous Urewera district, which was invaded by Rāpata's Ngāti Porou contingent and other government troops. In 1871 they captured Kereopa Te Rau, the Pai Mārire prophet who had been involved in the killing of Völkner in 1865. Nihoniho was one of the soldiers who guarded Kereopa when he was taken to Napier.

After the war Tuta Nihoniho became a storekeeper at Whangaparāoa, in the Bay of Plenty, and had a share in a hotel at Mākarika, in the Waiapu district. He was married to Mereana Tairua of Te Aitanga-a-Mate and although they had no offspring of their own they had many foster children. In 1886 he was gazetted captain in the Ngāti Porou Rifles, a force formed in response to the threat of war between Russia and Great Britain. He was to have led the Māori contingent to Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897 but was prevented from attending by ill health. During the Boer War he wanted to lead 500 Māori troops to assist the British but his offer was declined. He did, however, send a greenstone mere to Lord Roberts, the British commander in South Africa, on the death of Roberts's son. In 1901 he led the Ngāti Porou haka at the reception for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and of York at Rotorua. He carried a 'sword of honour' inscribed 'Te Ao-wera Hapū Ngāti-Porou Raiwhara'. This sword may have been presented by the governor, Sir William Jervois, in response to Nihoniho's gift of a feather cloak to Queen Victoria in 1886.

As an interpreter and later as an assessor, Nihoniho took part in the work of the Native Land Court, and became a familiar figure in Gisborne. His knowledge of genealogy enabled much tribal land to be retained. He was, however, unable to prevent the Waipiro block, which was claimed by Te Aowera, from being given to Te Whānau-a-Iri-te-kura. He continued to be involved in litigation over the Waipiro land and in 1891 occupied the block with 60 armed followers. The incident ended peacefully with a surrender of weapons to police from Auckland.

Nihoniho and other Te Aowera people founded the settlement of Hiruharama in 1887; he gave 10 acres of land for a school there. Because he would not remain on the land at Waipiro Bay, which he believed had been unjustly taken from Te Aowera, he lived elsewhere for much of the rest of his life. It is not known when his first wife died; in later life he married a Ngāi Tahu woman, Ria (or Rea) Horomona, and lived at her home at Tuahiwi, in Canterbury. Later he is said to have lived at Greytown, Wairarapa.

The last activity for which he is noted was to take part in the conference of chiefs at Rotorua which helped draft the Māori Councils Act 1900. He was in poor health during his later years, and suffered from paralysis caused by a fall from a horse while he was living at Waipiro Bay. He paid his last visit to Gisborne in December 1913, and, on his return to Greytown, died in early January 1914. His tangi was held at Papawai and he was buried there. Tuta Nihoniho was survived by his wife, Ria, and their three children, Hāriata, Rongotehēngia and Timi Kara.

How to cite this page:

Steven Oliver. 'Nihoniho, Matutaera', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated January, 2002. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1n14/nihoniho-matutaera (accessed 29 May 2024)