Story: Tuaia, Pene Taka

Page 1: Biography

Tuaia, Pene Taka


Ngai Te Rangi warrior, military engineer, land protester

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

Pene Taka was a leader of Ngati Rangi hapu of Ngai Te Rangi at Tauranga, from the 1850s to his death in 1889. When Lieutenant H. G. Robley of the 68th (Durham Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot met him in 1864 he thought Pene Taka to be over 50 years old. He had taken part in 'all the fighting' of the previous 30 years – Nga Puhi invasions of Tauranga in the 1830s, and the 1835–45 war with Te Arawa.

Pene Taka was the engineer of the fortification known as the Gate Pa, at Pukehinahina, from which British troops were repulsed in 1864. He is said to have learnt his military engineering during the northern war of 1845–46. In this conflict, according to Robley, he fought against Hone Heke, but afterwards made friends with him. Pene Taka's engineering skills were almost certainly of value to his relative Rawiri Puhirake (also known as Rawiri Tuaia) during the Ohuki land dispute at Tauranga from 1856 to 1859, when fortified pa were built by the warring parties.

Pene Taka was one of the Tauranga chiefs who supported the Maori King movement against the government in the 1863 war. The Reverend A. N. Brown warned Pene Taka that the consequence of involvement might be loss of tribal land. When the government sent troops to Tauranga in January 1864 Ngai Te Rangi warriors hurried home to defend their territory. They fortified a number of pa that Pene Taka apparently had a hand in designing, including his own pa, Poteriwhi, which was situated high above the east bank of the lower Wairoa River. At Poteriwhi, Ngai Te Rangi met and agreed to a code of humane and chivalrous rules of warfare, and on 28 March 1864 a copy of this code, as well as a challenge to attack, was sent to Lieutenant Colonel H. H. Greer, commander of the military force. Greer did not respond and by early April Ngai Te Rangi, under their commander Rawiri Puhirake, began building a pa nearer the soldiers' camp, in a strong position on the Pukehinahina ridge. It was afterwards called the Gate Pa, because of its position at the gate leading into the Church Missionary Society mission property.

The pa was cleverly constructed under the supervision of Pene Taka, with numerous underground rifle pits set within a maze of trenches. On 29 April 1864 the defenders were able to survive a day-long bombardment by the British artillery with only light casualties. Protected in the underground defence works, Ngai Te Rangi were able to shoot down many of the assaulting infantry when they entered the pa, forcing them to retreat in panic and confusion. It was a triumph of military construction for the Maori and a disaster for the British.

However, the garrison abandoned the pa on the night of 29 April, some of them resting briefly at Poteriwhi, which was afterwards destroyed by the British and a temporary redoubt built in its place. The British made some unsuccessful attempts at negotiating, fighting resumed, and on 21 June Ngai Te Rangi suffered defeat at the battle of Te Ranga, where their leader, Rawiri Puhirake, was killed. A month later they surrendered in groups to Greer at Tauranga, with the main body of warriors coming in on 25 July. That day Robley sketched a portrait of Pene Taka, which shows him in a forage cap; he had a fine moko.

After the war Pene Taka lived with Ngati Rangi at Papawhare, on the east bank of the lower Wairoa River opposite a flour mill, built in the 1850s, which they were operating. Troops remained at Tauranga for a time and Robley, stationed there until early 1866, recorded that Pene Taka remained on friendly terms with the forces, cultivating the lands allowed him.

In the year or two after the battle of Te Ranga, Ngati Rangi and others from the mill site, together with Pirirakau of Te Puna (who had not surrendered in 1864), adopted the Pai Marire faith. At first they showed no disposition to challenge the government; they simply formed settlements on the edge of the bush in the Whakamarama district. The place where Ngati Rangi resided was called Te Irihanga. However, irritated by land confiscation and purchases involving lands claimed by these hapu, they began to interfere with government survey parties. An order for the arrest of Pene Taka and others responsible for obstructing work led to a series of military actions in January and February 1867. The disaffected hapu were driven off into the bush, their houses burnt and their crops partly destroyed. By mid March a section of Ngati Rangi, who had remained quiet by the lower Wairoa River, had also gone inland. The Hauhau forces, mainly Pirirakau warriors suspected of having assisted in an unsuccessful attack on Rotorua, were back in the Whakamarama district by the end of April. Their leaders, Pene Taka and Rawiri Tata (of Pirirakau), were defiant and refused to submit to the government. In taking up arms again, Pene Taka stated that he was also seeking revenge for the death of Rawiri Puhirake at Te Ranga.

However, despite 'occasional scares', until 1870 there was no further fighting in the Tauranga district. Nevetheless Pene Taka, Rawiri Tata and their people (generally all referred to as Pirirakau and believed by officials to be Hauhau) lost no opportunity to publicise their views on the land question. The Minden trig station was repeatedly pulled down, public works were stopped and settlers' titles were disputed by threatening demonstrations. Pene Taka and his people considered that they were under the King's mana and were obstructing settlement to demonstrate publicly their opposition to settler encroachment. This was made clear in the case of J. T. Gellibrand in 1877, although once the point had been made Pene Taka invited Gellibrand to live at Omokoroa. The tensions roused were unsettling to the district, however. When Pene Taka, Rawiri Tangitu and other Pirirakau chiefs met the native minister, John Sheehan, at Whareroa, Tauranga, on 21 June 1879 they agreed to let Parliament settle their grievances. But they continued to demonstrate their resentment by occasionally protesting.

In his last years Pene Taka received a pension of £20 a year. He was also involved in the agricultural trade of his people. He died at his village, Te Puna, on 3 July 1889. He was survived by his wife, Umukaraka, who died at Te Wairoa in June 1911.

How to cite this page:

Alister Matheson. 'Tuaia, Pene Taka', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 12 August 2020)