Page 1: Biography
Perohuka, Te Waaka
Rongowhakaata tohunga and carver
This biography, written by Steven Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Te Waaka Perohuka was a tohunga and carver of the Rongowhakaata people of Turanga (Gisborne). His date of birth is unknown but must have been in the late eighteenth century, as he was one of the principal leaders of Rongowhakaata when Europeans first arrived on the East Coast. The missionary William Williams held church services at Perohuka's house and his wife, Jane, held her school there. Perohuka's house was the Ha-moko-rau meeting house at Ora-kai-apu pa. In 1849 he and Williams disagreed over the carvings for a church being built to replace Ha-moko-rau and work on it was abandoned. Perohuka was also known as Te Waaka or Walker, which indicates that he was baptised.
The most famous carving on which Perohuka worked was the canoe Te Toki-a-Tapiri, which is now in the Auckland Museum. The canoe was built by Ngati Mata-whaiti of Ngati Kahungunu. It is 85 feet long with a beam of 6 feet, and beautifully carved with a figure-head and a stern post. Te Waaka Tarakau of Ngati Mata-whaiti presented the canoe to Perohuka. He and six other principal tohunga, Timoti Rangi-toto-hihira, Wiremu Te Kikiwi, Patoromiu Pakapaka, Natanahira, Toumata and Mahumahu, made the carvings for it.
In 1843 Paratene Turangi came to believe that a person at Reporua had threatened to use witchcraft against a relative of his. He led a punitive expedition of three large war canoes, one of which was Te Toki-a-Tapiri. It was commanded by Perohuka and Raharuhi Rukupo. The other canoes were Te Ahi-a-Tupari, commanded by Te Rangi-tua-waru, and Te-ao-mate, on which the leaders were Paratene and Hori Karaka. The war expedition landed at Pu-rehua where a Maori preacher named Eruera Pakura intervened. There was no fighting. Paratene composed a song and, after feasting, the expedition returned home. The canoe Te Toki-a-Tapiri was later presented by Perohuka to Nga Puhi leaders Tamati Waka Nene and Patuone. In return they sent a stallion named Taika (Tiger) which Perohuka gave to Tarakau, the original owner of Te Toki-a-Tapiri.
In February 1851 Perohuka was visited by Donald McLean. They discussed the government's land purchase policy. Perohuka warned McLean that although some Maori wished to sell their land others would not do so. He told McLean that, without the knowledge of other interested parties, he had himself sold a tract of land to a European. He had received for it spades, pots and what he called the shells of paua, by which he meant coins.
Later in 1851 relations between Maori and the European settlers in Turanga deteriorated. Thefts increased and there were cases of European properties being stripped of all their goods. The Maori of Turanga tried to increase their charges for supplying visiting ships with water and food and tried to charge fees for ships entering the river. Perohuka was one of the leaders of this activity, as were Pai-aio, Ruatapu, Piri Turuka and Manutai. Raharuhi Rukupo told McLean that Perohuka had proposed driving all Europeans from the district. He was said to have plenty of ammunition and to be seeking a confrontation. Rukupo used his influence on behalf of the Europeans and peace was maintained at that time.
Perohuka is thought to have died before the wars of the 1860s. His date of death, however, is not known, and the name Perohuka occurs on a petition made to the governor in 1868.