Story: Oraukawa, Tamati Hone

Page 1: Biography

Oraukawa, Tamati Hone

fl. 1848–1869

Ngati Ruanui leader

This biography, written by Ian Church, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Tamati Hone Oraukawa was a member of Ngati Manuhiakai hapu of Nga Ruahine, a section of Ngati Ruanui of South Taranaki. He was the principal leader of Nga 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 Potatau Te Wherowhero. When released he became a Wesleyan convert. He probably took the names Tamati Hone when he was baptised. In April 1848 Oraukawa wrote to the Wesleyan missionary William Woon, at Heretoa station at Inaua, 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 Oraukawa retained over his people. The respect which the Nga Ruahine leader had held for Woon was not reciprocated: when Oraukawa was suggested for the position of native assessor in 1852 Woon would not recommend him.

In January 1853 Oraukawa 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 Maori, 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 By January 1854, however, he had withdrawn the offer, saying that his people would give no land to Europeans for any purpose.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 Hawera, at which Ngati Ruanui, Nga Rauru and Taranaki agreed on boundaries within which no land would be sold.

Later that year a dispute arose among the Puketapu hapu of Te Ati Awa over the sale of land near New Plymouth. In the course of the dispute Otaraua leader Ihaia Te Kirikumara had a Nga Ruahine man named Rimene killed, on 24 November 1854, for committing adultery with Ihaia's wife. In response, Oraukawa led 300 warriors by Te Whaka-ahurangi track, east of Mt Taranaki, to Waitara where they demanded the surrender of Ihaia at Manaku. Twelve of the party were killed and fourteen wounded in the attack on the pa. Considering the matter settled by the shedding of blood, Oraukawa 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 Ihaia's men dug up the bodies of the Nga Ruahine dead. In consequence, Oraukawa took a force to Warea, 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 Oraukawa argued for peace.

When Arama Karaka of Puketapu built Ninia Pa on the disputed land in April 1855 he wrote to Oraukawa for support, but Ngati Ruanui refused, telling him to abandon the pa. They were then joined by Te Waitere Katatore and Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake of Te Ati Awa in besieging the pa, and launched an unsuccessful attack.

Some time after this the Kaingarara movement, inspired by Tamati Te Ito to remove tapu from places invested with traditional spiritual power, gained sway among Oraukawa'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, Oraukawa was 'the principal actor' in these rites.

Oraukawa was one of the Ngati 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 Maori kingship when the idea was canvassed from 1856, but after consultation he deferred his claim in favour of Topia Turoa of Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi. By January 1859 many Ngati Ruanui were joining the King's supporters, with Oraukawa to the fore. In 1860 he led 60 men to Ngaruawahia, 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 Ngati Maniapoto warriors who were going to join the fighting at Waitara.

During the war in Taranaki in 1863–64 Oraukawa is known to have fought at Te Morere (Sentry Hill) in April 1864, and at Tataraimaka, where fighting occurred in May and June. His sons Tiopira and Hapeta both fell at Te Morere and he composed a lament for them. In February 1865 he was at Weraroa, a Hauhau pa on the Waitotara 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 Titokowaru'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 Pukoro.

How to cite this page:

Ian Church. 'Oraukawa, Tamati Hone', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 9 August 2020)