Page 1: Biography
Ngai Te Rangi leader, warrior, tohunga
This biography, written by Steven Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Nuka Taipari belonged to Ngati He, a hapu of Ngai Te Rangi of Tauranga. He was the principal chief of Maungatapu pa in the 1830s and 1840s. He is known mostly from references in missionary journals and in The journal of Ensign Best, but none record the names of his parents. He had a number of wives, one of whom was of Te Arawa, but their names too are not known.
Nuka was in his adult years by 1823, for in that year he was one of the Ngai Te Rangi leaders who joined Hongi Hika's expedition against Te Arawa of Rotorua. He is next recorded in 1828, when CMS missionary Henry Williams arrived at Tauranga Harbour and Nuka went out by canoe to meet him. Williams described Nuka as being 'of engaging manners and admirable bearing'. Shortly after this meeting, Maungatapu was attacked by Ngati Maru from Hauraki, led by Te Rohu, but the attackers were beaten off and turned to destroy the Ngai Te Rangi pa of Te Papa. In 1830 Maungatapu was attacked by Nga Puhi, under Mango and Kakaho, but again withstood the assault. Another Nga Puhi invasion was decisively defeated in 1831 by Ngai Te Rangi on Motiti Island. In this battle Ngai Te Rangi received the assistance of Te Waharoa and Ngati Haua of Waikato. This alliance was to involve them in a major war in the late 1830s and the 1840s.
In 1835 a relative of Te Waharoa, Te Hunga, was killed, probably by Haerehuka of Te Arawa. Nuka and another chief, Tutae, sent a message to Te Waharoa offering assistance in avenging Te Hunga's death. Te Waharoa responded by telling Nuka to kill some people visiting him who were from the Tapuika people of Te Arawa. Nuka did not kill his visitors but he told Te Waharoa when and how they were leaving Tauranga. They were captured and killed. Te Waharoa brought a large army to Tauranga and, having been advised by Nuka that Te Arawa had returned to Rotorua, attacked and sacked the trading port of Maketu. Te Arawa retaliated on 5 May 1836 by capturing the Ngai Te Rangi pa of Te Tumu. Nuka was one of the few chiefs to escape. Raids and ambushes became a permanent part of life after 1836; hostilities continued until 1845.
In 1840 some 600 Te Arawa invaded Tauranga. After stripping the plantations and killing several people, they sent a peace proposal to Ngai Te Rangi. It was rejected; Nuka said that if he made peace with Te Arawa there was a danger of attack by Waikato. However, by 1843 Nuka was tired of the protracted war and was withdrawing from it; he discussed this with Ensign A. D. W. Best: 'It is now some years since I took any part in the quarrels of these parts & I find that whilst others become weak I am getting strong. The Children of my Pah are not murdered in their youth and the boys are now growing into men. I can now raise more fighting men than any Chief of Tauronga [sic] & I will use my strength to preserve the peace.' In the same year Best saw Nuka directing a fishing expedition of 250 men with 14 canoes.
Nuka Taipari was an eminent tohunga and maintained traditional practices. In 1842 he exhumed the bones of several of his wives for reinterment after cleansing. He was also friendly towards Roman Catholic missionaries and invited them to establish a mission at Tauranga, which they did in 1840. Although initially a vehement opponent of Christianity, he held discussions on religious and other issues with A. N. Brown, who arrived at the CMS mission at Tauranga in 1838. In late 1843, however, Nuka began harassing the Christian Maori of Tauranga, stripping their plantations and carrying off their canoes. Brown does not reveal the reason for this incident, but its causes went back to the time before Christianity came to Tauranga. For this reason Brown stopped trying to mediate in the matter. In a remarkable about-face Nuka sent for Brown on 1 January 1844, and said that he had made up his mind to throw away Maori custom and join the Christian Maori. He and his wife attended Brown's church service for the first time on Sunday, 7 January 1844, and again the following week with several old chiefs of their tribe. When Nuka's mother died in February she was buried according to Christian practice although, because she was not a Christian, Brown only addressed the gathering and did not read the burial service.
Nuka signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Tauranga in April 1840. Seven years later he travelled to Auckland where he successfully took legal action against a European who had not paid him for some pigs. He gained £50 from this action. Nuka gave the money to Brown for safekeeping until he could save enough money to buy a schooner for his tribe. In 1848 he bought the schooner Highlander, built by Robert Darroch of Auckland.
In 1848 he and Hori Kingi Tupaea, the senior Ngai Te Rangi chief, used their influence to prevent Haerehuka from buying arms in Tauranga for an attack on Epeha, near Lake Taupo. When Nuka became very ill soon after, it was claimed that Haerehuka was using witchcraft for revenge. As his illness continued, Nuka became dejected and sent for a tohunga. He later returned to the Christian faith, but began to suffer bouts of mental illness. In 1849 he took part in a peace mission to his tribe's former enemies, Ngati Maru at Thames, and in a state of mental derangement speared and badly injured a son of Wakakaraka. In this he was probably influenced by the Ngati Maru attack on Christian Maori at Tauranga in 1842, in which a child had been killed. In 1850 he asked to be baptised, but Brown refused, possibly because of the chief's mental state. Nuka Taipari died on 8 November 1863; his place of burial is not recorded.