Page 1: Biography
Ngāti Porou evangelist
This biography, written by Apirana T. Mahuika and Steven Oliver, 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.
Taumata-ā-Kura belonged to Te Whanau-ā-Tinatoka, Te Whānau-ā-Haemata and Te Whānau-ā-Te-Uruahi of Ngāti Porou. He was born at Whakawhitira, near the Waiapu River, probably in the late eighteenth century. In 1823 he was among Ngāti Porou captives taken to the Bay of Islands after Ngāpuhi raided Waiapu.
Taumata-ā-Kura attended a mission school at Waimate North and learned to read and write, although he showed no particular interest in Christianity. He was released from captivity through the influence on Ngāpuhi of missionaries such as William Williams.
On his return to Waiapu, Taumata-ā-Kura began to preach Christianity and teach reading and writing. He had brought with him parts of the New Testament and some printed prayers and hymns. He taught using smooth wood as slates on which he wrote with charcoal. For finer writing, he and his pupils scratched on flax with sharp sticks. According to Ngāti Porou tradition, his first teaching of Christianity was at Te Ahikoareare pā, at Whakawhitira. He began meetings by saying, 'I have come from Keri Keri and from Paihia and I have seen Williams of the four eyes.' This was a reference to Henry Williams and his spectacles.
Taumata-a-Kura's influence over Ngāti Porou was shown soon after his return from the Bay of Islands. Ngāti Porou were involved in a feud with Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. About 1836 a war party of Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungunu, with an allied group of Ngāpuhi led by Te Wera Hauraki, went to attack Te Whanau-ā-Apanui at Toka-ā-Kuku pā in Bay of Plenty. Taumata-ā-Kura persuaded the warriors to adopt a code of conduct which reflected Christian ideas of compassion towards enemies. The enemy were not to be killed; there was to be no cannibalism and no wanton destruction of the canoes or crops of Te Whanau-ā-Apanui. When the war party reached Toka-a-Kuku, Taumata-ā-Kura took over the leadership of the Ngāti Porou forces. He said that as a signal to attack he would fire his gun into the air and into the ground and added that Te Whanau-ā-Apanui had broken the laws of Jehovah.
Although there was great slaughter in the battle outside the pā, it was not followed by cannibalism. Taumata-ā-Kura went through the heaviest fighting with a musket in one hand and a copy of the New Testament in the other. Bullets flew harmlessly around him, and the book came to be seen as having magical properties which showed the power of the Christian god. The pā, however, did not fall. It is said that Te Kani a Takirau withdrew the attackers when he considered sufficient revenge had been obtained.
Ngāti Porou accounts say that it was after this battle that Taumata-ā-Kura immersed himself in teaching the new faith at Te Hatepe and Rangitukia. That other teachers emerged from that area is acknowledged in the haka, ‘Tīhei Taruke’. Taumata-ā-Kura took the name Piripi (Philip), and may have been baptised before his return to the East Coast. Although CMS missionaries were critical of his teachings, it was nevertheless Taumata-ā-Kura who gave the Christian message to his people and prepared the way for the Pākehā missionaries who arrived after 1839.
It is not known how long he lived, but the signature Piripi Taumata appears on a Ngāti Porou petition of 1868 to Governor George Bowen, protesting against the confiscation of land as punishment for the involvement of some Ngāti Porou in fighting with Hauhau forces against the government. There is a monument dedicated to Piripi Taumata-ā-Kura at the Church of St Mary, Tikitiki.