Story: Pomare I

Page 1: Biography

Pomare I


Nga Puhi warrior, trader

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

Pomare, originally named Whetoi, the son of Puhi of Ngati Manu, was born in the latter part of the eighteenth century. He was connected by descent to Nga Puhi hapu Ngati Rangi, Ngati Rahiri and Ngati Hine, and to the independent tribe Ngati Wai. In October 1814 Samuel Marsden, the chaplain of New South Wales, told Bay of Islands people of the conversion to Christianity of Pomare of Tahiti; Whetoi at once adopted the name Pomare as his own. His elder sister, Haki, was the mother of Whiria, later known as both Whetoi and Pomare II.

Ngati Manu were originally a people of Tautoro, south of Kaikohe, but quarrels with Ngati Toki in Pomare's lifetime drove them away; one group followed Pomare's aunt Hautai in settling at Manurewa, near Taumarere. From there Pomare and other chiefs led groups to establish pa and villages at Kororareka (Russell), Matauwhi, Otuihu, Waikare and Te Karetu. Pomare was chief over Matauwhi, a cove a little south of Kororareka in what is now called Pomare Bay. His neighbours at Paroa and Rawhiti were Ngare Raumati, who had been at war with Nga Puhi for two generations.

The increasing frequency of visits of European vessels willing to trade iron tools, and, later, muskets and powder for food supplies, wood, water and recreation, and the advent of the missionaries, also anxious to trade, created opportunities which Pomare exploited single-mindedly. He traded for tools so that his people could produce surplus crops to exchange for weapons. Muskets acquired in this way afforded security against the northern Bay of Islands alliance led by Hongi Hika, Tareha, Rewa (Manu) and Ruatara.

The first missionaries with whom Pomare came in contact were seeking timber, which he supplied with great efficiency. These visitors portrayed his character variously as artful, covetous, ambitious, boastful, dominating and independent, yet they showed he was also capable of compassion. Of all the Bay leaders he was the most useful to them. He was an excellent judge of the quality of European goods. He was also the acknowledged expert in the Bay in the difficult art of preserving human heads. Pomare went to visit Port Jackson (Sydney) in the missionary vessel Active in July 1815. By 1819 the missionaries regarded him as one of the four most important men in the Bay of Islands, together with Hongi Hika, Te Whareumu and Rakau. He expressed an interest in Christianity, but it was probably for practical reasons that he kept on good terms with the missionaries and extended hospitality and protection to Thomas Kendall.

Pomare's arming of his people allowed him to rival Hongi and other chiefs as a war leader. In the last seven years of his life war parties recruited and led by Pomare brought devastation to many areas, resulting in depopulation and a tribal regrouping that was to have lasting effects on Maori society. Rumours of Pomare's approach caused as much disruption as actual attacks: only Hongi was more feared.

During the winter of 1820 Pomare led a war party to the East Coast. One of his attacks there involved the six month siege of Te Whetu-matarau pa at Te Kawakawa (Te Araroa), which was defended by a number of East Coast hapu. The highest-ranking person in the pa was Te Rangi-i-paia, wife of Nga-rangi-tokomauri, one of the leaders of the besieged pa. When food was so short that the defenders were reduced to cannibalism, Pomare pretended to give up the siege, only to return as the defenders streamed out to find food. The pa was taken, many people killed and others captured. Te Rangi-i-paia was taken back to the Bay of Islands as one of Pomare's wives.

Pomare joined Hongi Hika and other Bay leaders in the 1821 attacks on Mau-inaina pa, at present day Panmure, Auckland. The combined Nga Puhi contingents then moved to the attack on Te Totara pa, on the banks of Waiwhakauranga Stream, in the Thames area. Although he had used similar tactics at Te Whetu-matarau, Pomare is said to have withdrawn from this campaign because he disapproved of the plan to take the pa by treachery. In 1822 Pomare went to the Bay of Plenty, first attacking the people defending Nga-uhi-a-po pa on Tuhua (Mayor Island), and then pursuing Ngati Awa, Ngati Pukeko and other peoples up the Whakatane River valley and into Tuhoe country.

After a brief return home, Pomare joined the 1823 massed Nga Puhi attack against Mokoia Island, Rotorua. At Mokoia the underlying hostility between Pomare and Hongi Hika became evident; the contingents of Pomare and Te Wera Hauraki attacked the island before the arrival of Hongi's party, but were driven off and forced to fall back on Hongi for protection. Pomare quarrelled with Hongi possibly because he was humiliated by this defeat. Pomare wished to settle the matter by an appeal to arms on the spot; Hongi refused. After the capture of Mokoia, Pomare and Te Wera Hauraki separated from the main body, leading their war party to the East Coast. After various skirmishes, Pomare attempted to make peace with Te Rangi-i-paia's people, but Ngati Porou attacked him at Te Uma-o-te-aowetea. They were again defeated. Pomare's peacemaking efforts were finally successful. Te Rangi-i-paia was reunited with her people, but returned to the Bay of Islands with her husband.

In 1824 Pomare set out again, fighting in the Kaipara district in March, probably against enemies of Ngati Whatua. He then moved to Wairoa, north of Ahuriri (Napier), having been recruited by the Urewera chief Te Maitaranui to help him avenge deaths caused by Ngati Kahungunu. Pomare took the pa Titirangi, near Waikaremoana, and took part in a campaign of harassment of the people of the Wairoa district. Later in this year Pomare may have assisted Te Whatanui and Ngati Raukawa against the people of Heretaunga (Hawke's Bay). On Pomare's return to the Bay of Islands he was accompanied by a party of Ngati Kahungunu from Wairoa, who were encouraged by him to visit the north in the hope of obtaining guns. He established them on lands at Te Karetu, while he lived in his house, Te Kata-o-te-kawariki, at the other end of the village.

Pomare set out to war again in 1826, on the mission that was to result in his death. Accounts differ as to whether his campaign was directed against Ngati Maru or Waikato, but all agree that he was killed about June 1826 by a combination of these people. Most accounts also agree that his small party was surrounded and destroyed at Te Rore, on the Waipa River. His body, as well as those of his party, which included his son, Titaha, was eaten.

The death of Pomare had many repercussions in the Bay of Islands. Attempts to avenge his killing had little effect: it was as if his death had undermined Nga Puhi confidence in their invincibility. After his death he became known as Pomarenui (Pomare the Great), to distinguish him from his nephew, the heir to his mana, Pomare II.

Pomare had several wives and children. Waihanga of Te Kapotai hapu, whom Pomare had executed for adultery, was the mother of Tiki, also known as Hirepo, Heikai and Heitiki; the killing of Tiki in March 1828 by Te Mahurehure people nearly provoked war between Nga Puhi of Hokianga and the Bay of Islands. Another wife, Hoi, was the mother of Raukatauri. After Pomare's death Te Rangi-i-paia married Te Kariri and returned to live on the East Coast.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Pomare I', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 April 2020)