Page 1: Biography
Ngati Porou leader, soldier, storekeeper, assessor
This biography, written by Steven Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990, and updated in January, 2002.
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 Ngati Porou. His father was Henare 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 Maori form of Methuselah, and in his case was shortened to Tuta. He attended William Williams's mission school at Waerenga-a-hika, near Turanga (Gisborne) in 1860. His father had also entered this school, intending to study for the Anglican ministry. In 1865 Henare Nihoniho was present with his hapu at the opening of the church at Popoti when the Reverend Mohi Turei brought word that the Pai Marire leaders involved in the killing of the missionary C. S. Völkner at Opotiki had entered Ngati Porou territory. Henare 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 Ngati Porou forces led by Rapata Wahawaha. He joined other government supporters in building the pa at Tikitiki, in the Waiapu Valley. An attack was made on Pukemaire pa, belonging to Te Whanau-a-Hinerupe, a hapu which had espoused Pai Marire. The Hauhau repulsed the attack and counter-attacked to take Tikitiki. The surviving government supporters fled to Te Hatepe, the pa of Mokena Kohere, the leading Ngati 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 pa Te Aowera chose Rapata 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 Ngati Porou chief to join Pai Marire. 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 Hungahunga-toroa. The earthworks there had not been completed and the Hauhau fled or surrendered. Fighting came to an end in Ngati Porou territory.
The Hauhau at Waerenga-a-hika were besieged by Ngati 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 pa surrendered three days later. Te Aowera then went further south to Wairoa and defeated the Hauhau at Te Kopane 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 pa at Puketapu, near Waikaremoana. Ngati 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 Maori supporters of government were killed in the Matawhero district, near Turanga. Nihoniho records in his memoirs that the Ngati Porou troops were shocked and enraged at the news of the killings. They advanced on Makaretu pa 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 Ngatapa.
The attack on Ngatapa pa was led by Rapata 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 Rapata's Ngati Porou contingent and other government troops. In 1871 they captured Kereopa Te Rau, the Pai Marire 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 Whangaparaoa, in the Bay of Plenty, and had a share in a hotel at Makarika, 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 Ngati Porou Rifles, a force formed in response to the threat of war between Russia and Great Britain. He was to have led the Maori 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 Maori 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 Ngati 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 Hapu Ngati-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 Whanau-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 Ngai 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 Maori 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, Hariata, Rongotehengia and Timi Kara.