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Story: Poutama, Te Mānihera

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Poutama, Te Mānihera


Ngāti Ruanui mission teacher, missionary

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.

Poutama, of Tangāhoe hapū of Ngāti Ruanui, was born in South Taranaki, probably early in the nineteenth century. He was captured during a Waikato raid and taken to Mauinaina pā, near the mouth of the Tāmaki River. From there he was taken captive a second time, by Ngāpuhi. They were travelling north when, off Cape Brett, he was put on board a mission schooner carrying the Reverend Walter Lawry from Kororāreka (Russell) to Tonga; his release was secured by the gift of a few biscuits. On the voyage to Tonga, Poutama rescued Lawry's son, Henry, when a wave washed the child overboard. For 18 months in Tonga Poutama was educated by the Lawrys; he transferred to the CMS station at Norfolk Island when they returned to England. Eventually he made his way back to Waokena, near Hāwera, where he married Harata.

Poutama was at some time baptised and took the name Te Mānihera, from the CMS missionary Robert Maunsell, although William Woon claimed that Te Mānihera's conversion could be attributed to William Hough, the Wesleyan catechist at Pātea. Te Mānihera was an Anglican teacher and was more tolerant than his flock; he tried unsuccessfully to prevent their harassing Wesleyan converts who were forced finally to build a new village, Tauranga. From Pātea, Te Mānihera travelled to preach in the Mangaehu district, east of Stratford, and among the Ngāti Maru of the upper Waitara district.

On 24 December 1846, 2,000 people were present at the Christmas celebrations at Pūtiki Wharanui, Whanganui. The Reverend Richard Taylor held a prayer meeting with his teachers, including Te Mānihera and Kereopa of Waokena. Te Mānihera is said to have spoken of how they had received the Gospel and the Christian faith from English missionaries; if the missionaries could leave their homeland to go out to the world and preach the Gospel, then it was the duty of Māori missionaries to go among their own countrymen. He and Kereopa volunteered to go to Taupō, to their tribal enemies, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, who had raided Ngāti Ruanui at Waitotara several times in the previous five years. In 1840 two Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Tauteka and Te Whakarau, had been killed, and their deaths had not been avenged. Te Mānihera and Kereopa were warned of the danger they would face by going to Taupō.

Outfitted with black coats and trousers, they set off on 6 February 1847, to visit first Te Rangihaeata of Ngāti Toa at Poroutāwhao, near the coast south of the Manawatū River. From there they went to Rotorua where Te Mānihera preached in a church near Lake Tarawera and 'delighted the people with his Christian discourse'; he spoke, however, as if he had a presentiment of death. After staying for several days with the missionary Thomas Chapman, Te Mānihera, accompanied by Kereopa, travelled to Taupō. There they visited Iwikau Te Heuheu Tūkino III and were on their way to Tongariro, with a group of Christian Māori, when they were ambushed on 12 March 1847 between Waiariki and Tokaanu. Tauteka's widow had demanded utu, and the ambush had been prepared by Te Huiatahi, an aged chief. Kereopa was killed outright by a musket ball which shattered his skull; Te Mānihera, slashed across the head by a tomahawk, died within hours.

Only a few years earlier Ngāti Ruanui would have demanded satisfaction, but now they left the matter to Taylor. In April 1847 he visited Tokaanu where the principal chief, Te Herekiekie, who had been away at the time of the killings, said that the actions had been in accordance with custom, and that Ngāti Ruanui would now be welcome at his pā. Not until March 1849, however, did Piripi Wiremu Hanataua, son of Te Rei Hanataua and Te Mānihera's successor as teacher at Waokena, visit the grave of Te Mānihera and Kereopa.

The deaths of Te Mānihera and Kereopa had a sequel. Te Huiatahi offered to build a church at Rotoaira and invited a missionary to go there; the church was built at Poutū and Piripi Hanataua remained there. Taylor opened the church some time later, and a kinsman of Te Herekiekie was appointed its native teacher. Te Mānihera and Kereopa are also commemorated in St Paul's Anglican Church at Tokaanu.

How to cite this page:

Ian Church. 'Poutama, Te Mānihera', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1p27/poutama-te-manihera (accessed 30 November 2023)