Story: Perohuka, Te Waaka

Page 1: Biography

Perohuka, Te Waaka

fl. 1843–1851

Rongowhakaata tohunga and carver

This biography, written by Steven Oliver,  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.

Te Waaka Perohuka was a tohunga and carver of the Rongowhakaata people of Tūranga (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 Hāmokorau meeting house at Ōrakaiapu pā. In 1849 he and Williams disagreed over the carvings for a church being built to replace Hāmokorau 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-Tāpiri, which is now in the Auckland Museum. The canoe was built by Ngāti Matawhāiti of Ngāti 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 Ngāti Matawhāiti presented the canoe to Perohuka. He and six other principal tohunga, Tīmoti Rangitoto-hihira, Wiremu Te Kikiwi, Pātoromiu Pakapaka, Natanahira, Toumata and Mahumahu, made the carvings for it.

In 1843 Paratene Tūrangi 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-Tāpiri. It was commanded by Perohuka and Raharuhi Rukupō. The other canoes were Te Ahi-ā-Tūpari, commanded by Te Rangituawaru, and Te Aomate, on which the leaders were Paratene and Hōri Karaka. The war expedition landed at Pūrehua where a Māori preacher named Eruera Pākura intervened. There was no fighting. Paratene composed a song and, after feasting, the expedition returned home. The canoe Te Toki-a-Tāpiri was later presented by Perohuka to Ngāpuhi leaders Tāmati Wāka Nene and Patuone. In return they sent a stallion named Taika (Tiger) which Perohuka gave to Tarakau, the original owner of Te Toki-a-Tāpiri.

In February 1851 Perohuka was visited by Donald McLean. They discussed the government's land purchase policy. Perohuka warned McLean that although some Māori 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 pāua, by which he meant coins.

Later in 1851 relations between Māori and the European settlers in Tūranga deteriorated. Thefts increased and there were cases of European properties being stripped of all their goods. The Māori of Tūranga 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 Paiāio, Ruatapu, Piri Turuka and Manutai. Raharuhi Rukupō 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. Rukupō 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.

How to cite this page:

Steven Oliver. 'Perohuka, Te Waaka', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1p13/perohuka-te-waaka (accessed 1 November 2020)