Story: Te Kaeaea

Page 1: Biography

Te Kaeaea


Ngati Tama leader

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

Te Kaeaea was a chief of Ngati Tama of northern Taranaki. He was born in the later eighteenth century; his father was Whangataki II and his mother, Hinewairoro; Te Puoho-o-te-rangi was his brother. They were also closely connected with Ngati Toa.

Until the early 1820s Te Kaeaea was overshadowed by Raparapa and Tupoki; after their deaths in battle in 1821, Te Puoho-o-te-rangi usually assumed the leading role in the affairs of Ngati Tama. But even before 1821 Te Kaeaea was an independent war leader in the saga of wars between his own people and Ngati Maniapoto to the north. To avenge earlier defeats, in 1821 Te Kaeaea led an attack against Ngati Maniapoto which, however, resulted in further defeat. He was away on this expedition when Ngati Tama acted as hosts to Te Rauparaha's first migration of Kawhia people.

Shortly after this Te Kaeaea led an expedition north to inland Mokau to take revenge against Ngati Urunumia, a hapu of Ngati Maniapoto. He was returning from this campaign when Te Rauparaha and his Taranaki allies inflicted a defeat on Waikato, who had pursued Ngati Toa into Taranaki, at Motunui. After the battle Te Rauparaha, observing the usual code of conduct, warned his defeated enemies not to retreat north. 'If you go south you will be safe; if you go north the upper jaw will snap on the lower'. The 'upper jaw' was Te Kaeaea leading his force southwards.

Parties of Ngati Tama joined the migrations to the Kapiti coast during the 1820s. They were demoralised by their numerous defeats, and conscious of their vulnerability. Their lands suffered from being the buffer between the Tainui enemies of Te Rauparaha to the north and his Taranaki allies to the south. Te Kaeaea, like his brother Te Puoho, probably accompanied several of these parties, and returned north from time to time. One of these parties had settled in Wairarapa, at Te Tarata, on the west side of the outlet of Onoke, the southern Wairarapa lake, but inland from the sea, and at Wharepapa, nearby but closer to the forest. Relations with the tribes already settled there, Ngati Kahungunu and Rangitane, were strained but peaceful until about 1830. At that time Ngati Tama of both pa were killed by a Wairarapa force under Nuku-pewapewa, Pehi Tu-te-pakihi-rangi and other chiefs, who then fortified themselves at Pehikatea pa, near present day Greytown. When the disaster became known Te Kaeaea came to Wairarapa with a small force of Ngati Tama, and Ngati Toa and Ngati Mutunga allies. He attacked Pehikatea at dawn and by midday the pa was in his possession; Te Kaeaea's people pursued those who escaped and recovered many Ngati Tama captives.

Te Kaeaea had returned to Taranaki by 1831. In that year Waikato forces again invaded Taranaki, taking the important pa Pukerangiora. Many refugees took shelter with Te Wharepouri and Te Ati Awa at Ngamotu, near present day New Plymouth, successfully defending the pa Otaka against a Waikato attack. In the midst of the three-week siege Te Kaeaea arrived by canoe with 30 or 40 followers from his pa Patangata, built on a shingle island at the mouth of the Tongaporutu River. He broke through the besieging force and managed to join the defenders inside Otaka.

Fearing further attack, most remaining Ngati Tama and Te Ati Awa now migrated south, with other Taranaki people, on the migration known as Te Heke Hauhaua. Te Kaeaea was one of the leaders. He probably returned at this time to Wairarapa. After the great battle between Te Ati Awa and Ngati Raukawa at Haowhenua pa, Otaki, in 1834, Te Kaeaea brought his section of Ngati Tama to the Kapiti coast in an attempt to appropriate some living space from those who had taken part in the battle and who were not expected to be able to resist. He camped south of Paremata. However, Te Rangihaeata and Te Rauparaha led two canoes of Ngati Kimihia, a hapu of Ngati Toa, and Ngati Raukawa to confront Te Kaeaea. No battle was fought, but Te Kaeaea was sent packing by Te Rangihaeata. Te Kaeaea then made a second attempt to establish a new home for his people, this time on Mana Island. Once again Te Rangihaeata had him driven out. It was from this incident that the name Taringakuri became attached to Te Kaeaea. Te Rangihaeata sarcastically said that if Te Kaeaea could not understand his words he must have a dog's ears: 'Taringakuri, he turinga ki te kupu o Mokau' (Taringakuri, taking no heed of the words of Mokau (Te Rangihaeata)).

Ngati Tama were banished to Ohariu where many were still living in the 1840s. Te Kaeaea, or Taringakuri as he was often known from this time, probably resettled in Wairarapa. He was there in the late 1830s when Te Wharepouri was trying to convince the Taranaki peoples to return Wairarapa to Ngati Kahungunu and Rangitane in return for his niece and adopted daughter, Ripeka Te Kakapi. Te Kaeaea refused to leave. Te Wharepouri, anticipating further attacks by Nuku-pewapewa, said to Te Kaeaea, 'you can remain to light Nuku's fires; stay as firewood for him.' To this Te Kaeaea replied, 'I'm green wood, and won't burn'.

Perhaps less sure of his safety in Wairarapa than his words suggested, by 1839 Te Kaeaea had resettled his people at Kaiwharawhara in Poneke (Port Nicholson). After the arrival of the New Zealand Company ship Tory in September 1839 Te Kaeaea was among those chiefs who accepted payment for the greater Wellington area. He welcomed the arrival of settlers, and on 29 April 1840 signed the Treaty of Waitangi. But within two years relations with settlers had soured. Despite promises that his village and cultivations were reserved for him and his people, settlers claimed his clearings, and their cattle trampled his crops.

Because of these depredations Te Kaeaea regarded himself as freed from any previous agreements to sell. Encouraged by Te Rangihaeata, who wanted Ngati Tama also to provide for his client hapu, Ngati Rangatahi of Wanganui, Te Kaeaea took 30 or so of his men and began clearing bush for cultivations on land claimed by William Swainson in the Hutt Valley. Swainson protested in the press and appealed to the authorities; during 1842 William Spain, commissioner of land claims, Michael Murphy, the chief police magistrate, and others were involved in attempts to get Te Kaeaea to withdraw, but without success. Swainson became so enraged by Te Kaeaea's felling trees near his house that he physically attacked the chief, by now an old man.

After investigation Spain found in favour of the New Zealand Company but required that compensation be paid to Maori owners who had been short-changed. Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata were paid £400, but Ngati Tama and Ngati Rangatahi received no compensation either in land or money. Between 1842 and 1845 Te Kaeaea gradually entrenched his position in the Hutt; the pa Maraenuka was established in present day Lower Hutt, and houses were built on the section Swainson claimed.

In March 1844 William Spain visited Te Kaeaea again; he found him with his people engaged in cutting a line 30 or 40 yards wide and nearly a mile in length. Asked his purpose Te Kaeaea replied, 'I am cutting a line according to the directions of [Te] Rauparaha, to divide between the lands of the European and our own.' When Spain protested, Te Kaeaea reminded him that Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata had refused to agree to the boundaries set by Spain for the New Zealand Company. He intended to continue the line across the valley.

The determination of Te Kaeaea to retain mana over Upper Hutt could not be challenged officially until 1846, when George Grey arrived as the new governor. Equipped with sufficient troops to force the issue, within two days of his arrival he had induced Te Kaeaea to promise to withdraw his people from the Hutt Valley, but Te Kaeaea wanted compensation for the 300 acres of potatoes he had in the ground. The governor refused to discuss compensation until Te Kaeaea had actually left. He and his people did leave, but when he saw that settlers immediately began to take possession, he returned. On 24 February 1846 troops were marched in; the next day Richard Taylor, CMS missionary at Wanganui, came to negotiate. He managed to persuade Ngati Tama and Ngati Rangatahi to withdraw, but reported that 'low Europeans' had plundered the houses and plantations, broken into the chapel and stolen canoes. Te Kaeaea remarked: 'I thought the word of a Governor was sacred, but now I see that he too is worth nothing in the eyes of his own people'.

By May 1846 Grey had successfully detached Te Kaeaea and Ngati Tama from Ngati Rangatahi. Their immediate needs were met with 300 acres at Kaiwharawhara and with monetary compensation for their crops. Te Kaeaea was got out of the way by sending him on a visit to Auckland.

In the 1850s government officials feared that Te Kaeaea might join the return of Taranaki peoples to their ancestral lands. To prevent this, Donald McLean purchased £400 worth of land in the Hutt for Te Kaeaea and Ngati Tama; the old chief and his people had repaid this sum by 1860. In 1856 some of Te Kaeaea's Taranaki people squatted on the Pakuratahi reserves in order to live near their chief. A request to Grey to give them reserves was refused and they returned to Taranaki in 1868; Te Kaeaea accompanied them on a last visit to his home territory. In the same year Te Kaeaea was receiving an annual pension for 'Services rendered to the Government'. He was listed as 'Wikitoa Taringa Kuri'. But he survived until 1871, dying on 5 October. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Te Puni family cemetery, on the east side of Te Puni Street, Petone. The bishop of Wellington, Octavius Hadfield, conducted the service.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Te Kaeaea', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 October 2019)