Story: Taranui, Te Pōkiha

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Taranui, Te Pōkiha

?–1901

Ngāti Pikiao leader, soldier

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

Te Pōkiha Taranui belonged to Ngāti Pikiao of Te Arawa, and was descended from Te Tākinga and Hineui. His mother was Te Huruhuru and his father was Taranui. He was born probably in the Rotoiti district early in the nineteenth century. He took the name Te Pōkiha (Fox), probably on his baptism by CMS missionaries at Rotorua or Tarawera. In 1838 he was one of the chiefs who led Ngāti Pikiao to Lake Okataina in a dispute with Ngāti Tarāwhai, also of Te Arawa. There was desultory fighting, but Ngāti Pikiao soon returned to Rotoiti. Te Pōkiha achieved prominence in the wars of the 1860s, when he led Te Arawa troops in support of the government against the King movement, and subsequently against Hauhau, and Te Kooti and his supporters. His tactics and strategy throughout his military career were aimed at avoiding unnecessary risks and loss of life. He was conspicuous, however, for his personal bravery.

In January 1864 war parties from the East Coast gathered at Matatā to go to the aid of the King movement against Lieutenant General Duncan Cameron's invasion of Waikato. Te Arawa refused to allow the East Coast army to cross their territory. Tohi Te Ururangi of Ngāti Whakaue raised 400 warriors, and was joined by Te Pōkiha and Ngāti Pikiao. Te Arawa were supplied with gunpowder and lead by the government, and in March they defeated the East Coast forces at Taurua ridge, near Rotoiti. The King movement supporters retreated to the coast, at Ōtamarākau, and were followed there by Te Arawa. On 22 April, in fighting at the Waihī estuary, east of Maketū, Te Pōkiha distinguished himself by making a brave dash across 200 yards of ground under enemy fire, to assist Pākehā troops in an exposed position. On his advice they ignored a bugle call ordering retreat and remained under cover until nearly sunset, when they were able to make their escape. On 27 April the East Coast warriors were driven from their positions and retreated along the beach, shelled by warships. Te Pōkiha rejected a suggestion that they be allowed to retire, and insisted on an unrelenting pursuit. Their final defeat was at Te Kaokaoroa on 28 April.

In 1865 Te Pōkiha went with Te Arawa and other government troops in pursuit of the Hauhau who had been involved in the killing of the missionary C. S. Völkner at Ōpōtiki, and James Fulloon at Whakatāne. Te Arawa entered the swamps of the Rangitāiki River and besieged the pā at Te Teko on 17 October. Te Pōkiha had relatives in the pā, and in the smaller pā of Pāharakeke on the other side of the river. As the government's intention was to capture only those directly involved in the killings, Te Pōkiha crossed the river to Pāharakeke and called on the inhabitants to surrender. When they did so, Te Teko pā surrendered as well. As a result of assisting the government in the Whakatāne area, Te Arawa had missed the planting season. By the middle of 1866 they were desperately short of food. Te Pōkiha was one of nine Te Arawa chiefs who petitioned the government for additional payment for the Whakatāne campaign. They had received only £2 5s. for each man for three months.

Rotorua was invaded by Hauhau from Waikato in March 1867 while Te Arawa troops were away in the Tauranga area. After being halted at Te Koutu pā, the Hauhau fortified Puraku pā, near Tarukenga. When government forces attacked Puraku, Ngāti Pikiao cut off the retreat of the enemy and took part in the pursuit. After this battle Te Pōkiha led a contingent of Te Arawa to Tauranga, where Hauhau were again gathering. There was, however, little fighting until Te Kooti and other prisoners escaped from the Chatham Islands and landed on the East Coast at Whareongaonga on 10 July 1868. After a defeat at Ngātapa in January 1869, Te Kooti built up his guerrilla army in the Urewera, and raided the Bay of Plenty. With about 100 followers he attacked Rauporoa pā, near Whakatāne, in March. The defenders fled towards Whakatāne. On the arrival of Te Arawa troops in support of Major W. G. Mair's militia, Te Kooti retired to Tauaroa pā, in the Rangitāiki valley, near the entrance to the Horomanga gorge. Te Pōkiha refused the order to surround the pā with his troops, as night had fallen and none of his people knew the area. Te Kooti escaped into the Urewera, where Te Arawa were unwilling to follow.

When Te Kooti moved south from the Urewera and attacked Mōhaka in April 1869, the government decided to end his raids by occupying the mountains and attacking the Tūhoe people who supported him. Te Pōkiha was one of the leaders of Te Arawa who marched into the Urewera from Fort Galatea on 4 May with Colonel G. S. Whitmore's column. The column captured Ahikererū and Te Hārema, and, despite some reluctance, moved on towards Ruatahuna, firing into every place on the forested track that could conceal an ambush. On 8 May the column reached the Ruatāhuna valley and destroyed all food crops that could be found. Colonel J. H. H. St John's column also arrived at Ruatāhuna as planned.

Te Pōkiha, with Ngāti Pikiao troops and armed constabulary, was sent to look for Te Kooti in the area between Ruatāhuna and Lake Waikaremoana. They met his advance guard at Ōrona, where Te Pōkiha led Te Arawa in a charge that drove the guard back. Fighting continued along the track to Waikaremoana but Te Arawa were reluctant to continue owing to the lateness of the season and the shortage of ammunition. Whitmore agreed to turn back; had they continued, the column would almost certainly have been destroyed by Te Kooti in a carefully prepared ambush. Te Kooti went to Taupō and then advanced towards Rotorua in February 1870. Te Pōkiha, now a major, was among the defenders. In March 1870, however, Pākehā officers replaced Te Arawa leaders, who had previously commanded their own troops, and formed the Arawa Flying Column.

When Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, visited Tauranga in December 1870, Te Pōkiha was presented with a sword of honour in recognition of his services. Te Pōkiha and other Te Arawa leaders usurped Ngāi Te Rangi rights as hosts by welcoming the duke ahead of the local tribe. After the duke's departure they were bitterly criticised, and fighting broke out.

After the wars ended, Te Pōkiha lived at Maketū. He was the principal chief of Te Arawa to do so. His carved house, Kawatapu-ā-rangi, was built about 1866, and his large storehouse (now in the Auckland War Memorial Museum) in the late 1870s. Te Pōkiha directed his people in the construction of several enormous fishing nets, one of which was over a mile in length. He led Ngāti Pikiao in roadmaking, but for a while opposed the construction of telegraph lines. He was not in favour of the sale of land to Europeans. In 1871 he spoke to an assembly at Kawatapu-ā-rangi against the fees and surveys of the Native Land Court. He was furious when land he believed belonged to Ngāti Pikiao was awarded to Ngāti Whakaue, and threatened to occupy the land and commence cultivation. However, he remained within the law. In 1874 he went to Wellington to support Te Arawa petitions complaining that they were restricted to selling land to the government, and that government buyers were unscrupulously negotiating sales with persons who had no right to the land.

In 1878 warfare nearly erupted at Maketū between Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Whakaue over the operation of the land court. The principal antagonists were Te Pōkiha and Pētera Te Pukuatua. After mediation by Robert Graham in June, the Great Committee of Rotorua (Te Komiti Nui o Rotorua) was set up to settle land disputes and maintain law and order. In 1892 Te Pōkiha was arrested for refusal to pay the government's newly imposed dog tax, and imprisoned for three days. He was deeply hurt by this humiliation. In the following year he supported the proposal to set up Te Kotahitanga (the Māori parliament). However, because of a dispute with Ngāti Whakaue, he and Ngāti Pikiao absented themselves from the third session of Te Kotahitanga at Rotorua in 1895.

Te Pōkiha was an Anglican until the early 1880s, when he joined a movement of followers of the Old Testament, led by Himiona Te Orinui. This group was a development from the Tariao faith established by the second Māori King, Tāwhiao, and became known in Maketū as Pōkiha's Karakia (prayers), or Fox's Church. Te Pōkiha was a teetotaller and in 1887 went to Mōtītī Island as a missionary for his church.

In his later years Te Pōkiha married Ngārangikakī, the daughter of Rāwiri Manuariki. After some years of illness he died in her arms, on 11 July 1901, at his home in Maketū. Te Pōkiha was said to be in his 70s or 80s when he died. A great tangi was held, and he was buried with military honours. His remains were later placed in the cemetery of Te Atuareretahi, by Rotoiti.

How to cite this page:

Steven Oliver. 'Taranui, Te Pōkiha', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t14/taranui-te-pokiha (accessed 1 June 2020)