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Tāraia Ngākuti Te Tumuhuia


Ngāti Tamaterā leader

This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was updated in April, 2002. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Tāraia Ngākuti, sometimes also known as Te Tumuhuia, was born in the late eighteenth century. He was the son of Te Kaharunga and of Rewa, daughter of Te Rangitūmamao. His mana derived from his descent from Hineipu, sister of Te Mangapai, a great chief of Ngāti Tamaterā and Ngāti Maru, and one of the last great conquerors of the Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki hinterlands from an early tribe, Ngāti Huarere. Tāraia was descended from early marriage alliances between this ancient people and Ngāti Maru. He was a prominent leader from the 1820s.

Much of Tāraia's manhood was taken up in warfare. In 1818 Ngāpuhi war parties invaded Hauraki and the Coromandel Peninsula. Those not killed fled inland to hidden valleys. In 1821 Te Tōtara pā, near present day Thames, fell to Hongi Hika and most of Ngāti Maru abandoned the district, taking refuge in Waikato, probably at Haowhenua pā, near present day Cambridge. In 1823 or 1824 Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Tamaterā returned to Hauraki. At that time Te Maitaranui of Tūhoe came to ask Te Rangianini, who was senior to Tāraia, to assist in avenging the deaths of Te Toroa and the woman warrior Te Rangiwaitatao, related chiefs killed by Ngāti Kahungunu. Tāraia was one of the leaders of the Ngāti Maru section of the vast army which assembled at Ruatāhuna in 1824. While Pōmare I of Ngāpuhi attacked Titirangi pā near Waikaremoana, Tāraia's section took Moumoukai, Waikōtero and other pā, and then moved on to take part in the siege of Pukekaroro pā (also known as Ōkūrārenga and later as Kaiuku), at Nukutaurua on the Māhia peninsula.

Despite being allies of Ngāpuhi in these battles, Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Tamaterā had old scores to settle with this northern tribe. In May 1826, at Te Rore in Waikato, they succeeded in surrounding and killing a war party led by Pōmare. Te Rangianini and Tāraia are said to have fired the shots that ended Pōmare's life. Once again Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Tamaterā were fully in control of their own district and freed from the threat of invasion by Ngāpuhi.

From the early 1820s Tāraia and his people made great efforts to arm themselves with muskets and powder to resist Ngāpuhi raids. By 1830 they were so well armed with muskets that they were able to trade them to others for pigs, flax fibre or slaves. Tensions grew among the many independent sections of the Marutūāhu confederation – four tribes who shared descent from Marutūāhu, son of Hoturoa of the Tainui canoe. Rival chiefs established claims to kauri forests and sought to establish control over the European traders in the area. In one of these quarrels, perhaps in the late 1820s, Tāraia contested the right of the chief Mangakiekie of Ngāti Naunau, a hapū of Ngāti Maru, to place Pākehā timber workers on land called Moehau, near Cape Colville. He sent Pōtiki with 60 Ngāti Pare to contest possession of the area, and followed up himself with 200 Ngāti Tamaterā. Motukahakaha pā was hurriedly abandoned by Ngāti Naunau. Tāraia himself arranged timber contracts with William Webster and a man called McCormick (possibly William Eppes Cormack) on the Ōpitonui block, land to which he had claim only through his descent from Ngāti Huarere. However, according to the Native Land Court judge H. A. H. Monro, Tāraia was a man of such standing that he could have sold any property he chose and the rightful owners would not have been able to gainsay him.

With their newly acquired arms, Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Tamaterā in the 1820s followed the Ngāpuhi pattern and undertook many raids of the East Coast. Te Rangianini and Tāraia attacked Ngāi Tai at Tōrere, Ngāti Porou and Te Whakatōhea at Wharekahika. Papa-araara and Ōmouiti pā were taken and many slaves captured. At Ōpape, Ngāti Maru were attacked in a pre-emptive move by Te Whakatōhea, but the musket-armed forces of Te Rangianini and Tāraia were victorious. Many Ngāti Rua and Ngāi Tai prisoners were taken to Hauraki. Some accounts state that about 1828 or 1829 Tāraia accompanied Te Ahukaramū and Nēpia Taratoa on the Ngāti Raukawa migration to Kapiti Island known as Te Heke Whirinui. But Te Hākeke of Ngāti Apa gave evidence in the Native Land Court which throws doubt on this; Tāraia may have fallen out with Ngāti Raukawa, although he was usually an ally of this tribe. At the battle of Haowhenua, fought near Ōtaki in 1834, Tāraia and Ngāti Maru were supporters of Ngāti Raukawa against Te Āti Awa.

In 1840, when John Logan Campbell and his partner William Brown were temporarily settled at Waiomū, on the Coromandel west coast, they were visited by Tāraia. Tāraia's son, Te Rite, was treated for burns sustained when a keg of gunpowder blew up. Tāraia repaid Campbell and his partner by lending his people to haul out the Europeans' vessel from its construction site in the bush.

Tāraia did not sign the Treaty of Waitangi. When Major Thomas Bunbury presented the treaty to the Coromandel chiefs on 4 May 1840, Tāraia was very likely one of two chiefs who were present but refused to sign. One consequence of this refusal to acknowledge the transfer of sovereignty was that he claimed a right to resolve disputes by force as he always had. In 1842 he received letters from Ngāi Te Rangi chiefs of Tauranga which included an insulting message. This rekindled long-standing animosity between the two tribes. Tāraia put together a war party of 50 men, and travelled up the Waihou River and over the mountains to Tauranga, timing his arrival with nightfall. Ōngare pā near Katikati was taken by surprise, the chief Te Whanake and a number of followers killed, and captives taken. The bodies of the chief and one other man of rank were partly eaten and their heads carried back to Thames. The victims had belonged to a Christian settlement, and on his return to Thames Tāraia transferred his anger to Christians there. At a Christian settlement his people caricatured a service in the local chapel. At his own settlement at Pūrua (about 10 miles from present day Thames), the heads of the two chiefs were rolled into the midst of the Christians while they were at prayer.

A period of anxiety for the Hauraki people followed. Rumours of possible retaliation were substantiated by the departure from Ōtūmoetai of three canoe-loads of warriors seeking revenge. In June the chief protector of aborigines, George Clarke, accompanied by Bishop G. A. Selwyn, was sent to investigate. At first Clarke recommended the arrest of Tāraia by force, but prudently decided against this course. In July Willoughby Shortland, the colonial secretary, accompanied by Clarke and Ensign A. D. W. Best, was sent to negotiate a settlement. On both occasions Tāraia admitted the facts of the case but was unrepentant. He remarked that he had not signed the Treaty of Waitangi, and that as no European was involved it was not the business of the governor. If an attempt was made to capture and hang him he would first take utu for himself by killing Europeans. His people had been fighting the people of Tauranga for generations; they had killed many of his relatives, including his mother, and they had occupied land he claimed near Katikati. However, he accepted Shortland's terms for settlement, including the sale of the disputed territory to the Crown.

This incident, and a further quarrel between the peoples of Maketū and Tauranga arising out of it, provoked a lively debate among government officials on the legality of using force against Māori who had not signed the Treaty of Waitangi. This debate prompted a Colonial Office ruling that the Māori people had to be considered British subjects, although most Māori customs could be tolerated in intertribal relations and, in some cases, in relations with the Crown.

In 1850 Tāraia led a war party to avenge the theft of a tapu axe, taken from a burial ground by Ngāti Manawa. Tāraia gathered a force and marched south to attack Ngāti Manawa and their hastily gathered allies at Te Takatakanga, on the Whirinaki River. Thanks to mediation by the Reverend J. Preece and his Māori teacher colleagues, peace was made without bloodshed. During this affair Te Rangianini died, and after his death Tāraia was acknowledged as the paramount leader of Ngāti Maru and Ngāti Tamaterā.

The last two decades of Tāraia's life were disturbed by land disputes. When gold was discovered in the Coromandel district in 1852, he came under pressure to open up his lands at Moehau and Kauaeranga for mining. He journeyed to Auckland to hear Governor George Grey's proposals, but refused to allow his lands to be opened, preferring to wait and see how lease arrangements would work in practice. Nevertheless, he was sufficiently friendly with Grey to address a farewell waiata to him when Grey left New Zealand in 1853.

In the 1860s Tāraia was inclined to support the King movement but he was too old to go to war himself. In an effort to keep his allegiance the government paid him a pension of £50 a year. A contingent of Ngāti Maru supported Waikato in the wars, however, and before the siege of Ōrākau Tāraia sent Rewi Maniapoto a cask of gunpowder. His tohunga had recited powerful karakia over the gunpowder to make it doubly potent against the Pākehā. But by 1866, when the King, Tāwhiao, sent war garments to him at Ōhinemuri, in an effort to renew hostilities, Tāraia would not agree to become involved.

Tāraia died at Thames in March 1872. He was thought to be over 80. One or more daughters survived him. He had long been considered tapu, had never accepted Christianity, and had refused to adapt himself, his beliefs or lifestyle to the changes surrounding him. In 1866 the government agent James Mackay observed him punish a slave for infringing his personal tapu. He remained agile and active until shortly before his death. His portrait was painted by Gottfried Lindauer; it shows a strong face, fully tattooed.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Tāraia Ngākuti Te Tumuhuia', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated April, 2002. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t13/taraia-ngakuti-te-tumuhuia (accessed 16 April 2024)