Story: Te Kani, Hirini

Page 1: Biography

Te Kani, Hirini


Ngati Porou leader, soldier

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

Hirini Te Kani, also known as Hirini Tuahine, was of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, a section of Ngati Porou, and Rongowhakaata. He lived at Kaiti at Turanga (Gisborne). He was the son of Rawiri Te Eke and his principal wife, Riria Taheke. He was born probably in the 1820s. As a baby, Hirini and his mother accompanied a force led by Te Kani-a-Takirau which tried to raise the siege of Okurarenga pa, later known as Kai-uku, on the Mahia peninsula. It was routed by a section of the besiegers and Hirini and his mother were captured in the retreat. Rawiri Te Eke ransomed them with a greenstone mere named Pahikauri. There are conflicting accounts of the captors' identity; they may have been Tuhoe, or Ngati Tuwharetoa with Ngati Raukawa allies.

Hirini's father signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Turanga in May 1840 as Te Eke. In the following years Hirini became a leader in the Turanga area. In 1852 he, with a kinsman, Rutene Te Eke, and Pahora Pahoe, invited George Read to establish a trading store at Kaiti. Before his death in 1856 Te Kani-a-Takirau chose Hirini to be his successor as leader of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti. Hirini was related to Te Kani-a-Takirau through his great grandfather, Tama-i-Hikitea-te-rangi, a first cousin of Hinematioro, Te Kani-a-Takirau's grandmother. Hirini, previously called Hirini Tuahine, then changed his name to Hirini Te Kani.

Hirini Te Kani was an active member of the Anglican church. He was one of the three lay representatives for Turanga at the first two synods of the diocese of Waiapu; the other two representatives were Wiremu Pere and Anaru Matete. In 1863 he was a member of the standing committee. Despite being a leader of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Hirini Te Kani was not appointed an assessor in 1862, when Governor George Grey's runanga system was introduced. Consequently he took part in a meeting at Pouawa where he and Raharuhi Rukupo pledged never to have anything to do with the government.

Early in 1865 the Pai Marire prophet Te Ua Haumene sent emissaries to Hirini Te Kani in an attempt to gain his adherence. The European missionaries and settlers hoped that Hirini would order the Pai Marire party from the district as soon as it arrived. He was expected to meet them at Taureka and order them to return to Opotiki. Instead they were allowed to proceed to Patutahi and Manutuke, where they could seek converts among the Maori population of Turanga. In March 1865 a ceremony was held at which the Pai Marire emissaries presented to Hirini Te Kani the preserved head of Captain Thomas Lloyd and tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to accept two flags and a European prisoner. Although Hirini told the Pai Marire followers to leave the district, they did not do so and gained a considerable following.

Hirini Te Kani, a leader of the pro-government Maori in Turanga, tried to bring about reconciliation and maintain peace, but this became increasingly difficult after Hauhau forces took over Poverty Bay and looted the abandoned houses of settlers. Bishop William Williams and his family left on 3 April 1865. Ngai Te Kete, a division of Rongowhakaata, sent for the pro-government Ngati Porou leader Mokena Kohere. Together they raised a British ensign at Turanga, in defiance of the Hauhau. Hirini Te Kani was angered by this as he had some claim in the land on which the flag had been raised and he had not been consulted. When, on 4 June, Donald McLean, the provincial superintendent and agent for the general government, arrived at Turanga to arbitrate, Hirini Te Kani would not take the oath of allegiance until the flag had been taken down.

Hirini Te Kani tried to dissuade Pai Marire followers at Turanga from going north to join the fighting between pro-government and Hauhau Ngati Porou in Waiapu. He did not, however, actively oppose Pai Marire believers and visited their pa at Waerenga-a-hika, near Turanga. Warfare became intense between Ngati Porou factions and in September reached the Uawa River. On 23 September 100 Turanga men left to join the fighting at Tokomaru Bay, despite Hirini Te Kani's attempts to stop them. He feared that pro-government Ngati Porou, who were clearly winning, would seek retaliation for this failure to prevent Hauhau from Turanga entering the conflict, and went to Napier to ask McLean for arms and ammunition. The Europeans, however, believed that any arms he received would end up in the hands of the Hauhau forces, and sent instead 26 military settlers and an officer.

Hirini Te Kani also wanted pro-government Turanga people to be able to restore order in their district rather than have Ngati Porou troops brought in. Nevertheless, Ngati Porou troops began to arrive on 24 October when Henare Potae and 30 of his men came to Turanga. The Hauhau in Turanga were besieged by government troops at Waerenga-a-hika and surrendered on 22 November 1865. Over 100 had been killed and scores wounded. By November Hirini Te Kani had 80 armed men but like other pro-government Maori of Turanga he took little or no part in the suppression of Pai Marire in the district.

After the defeat of the Hauhau forces in Turanga, Hirini Te Kani sought to keep land in Maori ownership and to prevent confiscation. He and his men were among the government troops that went in pursuit of Te Kooti after he and his followers escaped from the Chatham Islands and landed in Poverty Bay. He was described by McLean as having done good service against Te Kooti, and was given the rank of captain.

After the wars Hirini Te Kani continued to be a leader of the Maori of Turanga. He opposed the use of alcohol although he had previously been a heavy drinker. His son died in 1874 and a large funeral ceremony was held for him. Hirini Te Kani died on 5 July 1896 at his home at Kaiti. He was thought to be in his late 60s or early 70s. A monument in his memory stands on Kaiti Hill.

How to cite this page:

Steven Oliver. 'Te Kani, Hirini', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 June 2020)