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Story: Ōraukawa, Tāmati Hōne

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Ōraukawa, Tāmati Hōne

fl. 1848–1869

Ngāti Ruanui leader

This biography, written by Ian Church, 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.

Tāmati Hōne Ōraukawa was a member of Ngāti Manuhiakai hapū of Ngā Ruahine, a section of Ngāti Ruanui of South Taranaki. He was the principal leader of Ngā Ruahine from the 1840s to the 1860s, and lived at Katotauru. Little is known of his life before this time. As a boy he had been taken into slavery by Waikato leader Pōtatau Te Wherowhero. When released he became a Wesleyan convert. He probably took the names Tāmati Hōne when he was baptised. In April 1848 Ōraukawa wrote to the Wesleyan missionary William Woon, at Heretoa station at Īnaua, asking Woon to cease his dangerous journeys; his people did not want to be made 'orphans' again as they had been by the sudden death of the missionary John Skevington three years earlier. By 1852, however, he had fallen out with Woon, who apparently resented the spiritual authority Ōraukawa retained over his people. The respect which the Ngā Ruahine leader had held for Woon was not reciprocated: when Ōraukawa was suggested for the position of native assessor in 1852 Woon would not recommend him.

In January 1853 Ōraukawa was confirmed by Bishop G. A. Selwyn, and he took the sacrament from CMS missionary Richard Taylor at Katotauru in October 1854. Despite his conversion to the Anglican church, he nevertheless offered the Wesleyans 70–80 acres for a training institute for young Māori, possibly to secure a successor to Woon. By January 1854, however, he had withdrawn the offer, saying that his people would give no land to Europeans for any purpose. Four months later he attended the meeting at Manawapou, near Hāwera, at which Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Rauru and Taranaki agreed on boundaries within which no land would be sold.

Later that year a dispute arose among the Puketapu hapū of Te Āti Awa over the sale of land near New Plymouth. In the course of the dispute Ōtaraua leader Īhāia Te Kirikūmara had a Ngā Ruahine man named Rimene killed, on 24 November 1854, for committing adultery with Īhāia's wife. In response, Ōraukawa led 300 warriors by Te Whaka-ahurangi track, east of Mt Taranaki, to Waitara where they demanded the surrender of Īhāia at Manaku. Twelve of the Party were killed and fourteen wounded in the attack on the pā. Considering the matter settled by the shedding of blood, Ōraukawa and his Party returned home by the route they had come, to avoid arousing the fears of the European settlers at New Plymouth. No sooner had they departed, however, than Īhāia's men dug up the bodies of the Ngā Ruahine dead. In consequence, Ōraukawa took a force to Wārea, ostensibly to mourn for people who had died in a severe measles epidemic, but in fact to sound out an alliance with Taranaki. Missionary influence prevented escalation of the conflict, but to show that they did not lack courage a large number of men gathered at Weriweri where Ōraukawa argued for peace.

When Arama Karaka of Puketapu built Ninia Pā on the disputed land in April 1855 he wrote to Ōraukawa for support, but Ngāti Ruanui refused, telling him to abandon the Pā. They were then joined by Te Waitere Katatore and Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke of Te Āti Awa in besieging the Pā, and launched an unsuccessful attack.

Some time after this the Kaingārara movement, inspired by Tāmati Te Ito to remove tapu from places invested with traditional spiritual power, gained sway among Ōraukawa's people. The sickness and child mortality among the tribe were blamed on the profanation of sacred places and on bewitched stones. The people dug up tons of old marker stones, made them into piles and lit fires on them in which potatoes were baked. According to Richard Taylor, Ōraukawa was 'the principal actor' in these rites.

Ōraukawa was one of the Ngāti Ruanui leaders who warned the district land purchase commissioner, Robert Parris, in October 1857 of the consequences of purchasing the Whakangerengere block on their northern border. The purchase was subsequently abandoned. His name was among the many put forward for the Māori kingship when the idea was canvassed from 1856, but after consultation he deferred his claim in favour of Tōpia Tūroa of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi. By January 1859 many Ngāti Ruanui were joining the King's supporters, with Ōraukawa to the fore. In 1860 he led 60 men to Ngāruawāhia, where they arrived on 10 April, to put their land in the King's hands. On their return home they were accompanied by a force of Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto warriors who were going to join the fighting at Waitara.

During the war in Taranaki in 1863–64 Ōraukawa is known to have fought at Te Mōrere (Sentry Hill) in April 1864, and at Tātaraimaka, where fighting occurred in May and June. His sons Tiopira and Hāpeta both fell at Te Mōrere and he composed a lament for them. In February 1865 he was at Weraroa, a Hauhau Pā on the Waitōtara River, and was among the leaders who warned Lieutenant General Duncan Cameron to withdraw his troops south of Kai Iwi.

Litte is known of his activities after this time. On 18 October 1866 his village was attacked by Major Thomas McDonnell's Native Contingent, who killed four men and took a woman prisoner. In 1868–69 he was involved in Tītokowaru's campaign in South Taranaki. By 1869 he was living at Pungarehu, near Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, north of the Waingongoro River. It is likely that he died soon after. He was succeeded by his grandson, Te Kahu Pūkoro.

How to cite this page:

Ian Church. 'Ōraukawa, Tāmati Hōne', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1o4/oraukawa-tamati-hone (accessed 20 April 2024)