Page 1: Biography
Te Maihāroa, Hipa
Ngāi Tahu leader, tohunga, prophet
This biography, written by Ross Somerville, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Te Maihāroa, who was also known as Hipa, was born probably at Te Wai-a-Te Ruatī, in the Arowhenua area near Te Umukaha (Temuka), early in the nineteenth century. His father was Te Rehi-oriori, and his mother was Kokiro. He traced his descent through Kokiro back to Te Rākaihautu and the Waitaha people of the South Island. Through Te Rehi-oriori, Te Maihāroa belonged to Ngāti Huirapa, a hapū of Ngāi Tahu which was also linked to Ngāti Māmoe.
Little is known of Te Maihāroa's early life, but he is said to have been of a spiritual frame of mind, and was learned in the traditions of Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu. By 1857 he was literate, professed himself an Anglican (although he had probably not been baptised), and was farming at Te Wai-a-Te Ruatī. Te Maihāroa had three wives and at least four children. Rutaki was the mother of Tiriata; Hinewaiari (who had probably died before 1857) was the mother of Pii and Makii (whose name is also recorded as Kehi); and Kahuti was the mother of Taare Te Maihāroa. Te Maihāroa supported the appointment of Horomona Pōhio as an assessor, with some of the duties of a magistrate, in his district in 1859, and was one of the petitioners for the establishment of a medical officer there.
In the 1860s the Kaingārara religion was brought to Arowhenua by a teacher named Piripi. Te Maihāroa studied with Piripi and became a tohunga in the new religion, which contained elements of Christianity as well as traditional Māori religious beliefs. He gained a reputation as a prophet, carried out ceremonies to remove tapu from objects and localities, and was said to perform miracles.
The government interpretation of the boundaries of the Crown's purchase of Canterbury in 1848 and the paucity of the reserves subsequently laid out were becoming a matter of growing concern to Ngāi Tahu. The loss of the reserve at Hakataramea in 1868 further threatened their claims to the interior of the South Island. Te Maihāroa's attempts to protect the land by strengthening Māori mana earned him the name Patuwhenua, as his efforts had as little effect as beating the ground with a stick. In June 1877 he led over 100 of his people, with horses, dogs and stores, on a slow progress up the Waitaki valley to establish a new settlement called Te Ao Mārama (near Ōmārama). The land was cultivated, dwellings erected, and a large building constructed, where Te Maihāroa held daily church services and established a school of learning. The local runholders viewed the occupation with suspicion, and increasing alarm. Te Maihāroa wished to protect his community from European influence, and Pākehā visitors were not welcomed. The prophet himself was isolated as a tapu personage: Horomona Pōhio and others acted as his spokesmen to the outside world. In October 1878, after allegations by runholders that dogs were worrying sheep and that Te Maihāroa's followers were adopting a belligerent and threatening attitude, Pōhio and his son, Tūwhare, went to Wellington for an audience with the native minister, John Sheehan, to present their case for their right to the land.
Sheehan dismissed Ngāi Tahu claims and in November 1878 paid a visit to Te Ao Mārama. He ordered Te Maihāroa and his people to return to the established Māori reserves. When the order was ignored, the MHR for Southern Māori, Hōri Kerei Taiaroa, who privately believed Te Maihāroa to be right, was charged with the invidious task of renewing the ultimatum. He argued that setting up the Commission on Middle Island Native Land Purchases (the Smith–Nairn commission) in March 1879 would resolve Ngāi Tahu grievances more effectively than continued occupation of the land. He travelled to Te Ao Mārama in April 1879, but his representations were met with a refusal.
After further complaints from the runholders Sheehan issued an eviction order, and a party of 12 armed constables was dispatched from Ōamaru, under the leadership of Inspector Andrew Thompson. Together with local reinforcements they arrived at Te Ao Mārama on 11 August 1879 and gave the inhabitants 48 hours to quit. The Moeraki leader Rāwiri Te Maire was briefly arrested and a violent confrontation narrowly averted before Te Maihāroa and his people began to make their way back to the coast.
Te Maihāroa established a new settlement at Korotuaheka, south of the Waitaki River near its mouth. Another building for use as a church and a meeting house was constructed, and the school of learning re-established. After the disestablishment of the Smith–Nairn commission in 1881, Te Maihāroa and his community continued to petition the government for a reappraisal of the Canterbury purchase and an increase in Māori reserved land. Te Maihāroa died at Korotuaheka in 1885 or 1886, and is buried there. Kahuti had died at Te Ao Mārama, and Rutaki died at Korotuaheka in 1890.
Te Maihāroa's learning has been preserved in oral tradition and in the information related by his son Taare and other disciples to such collectors as Herries Beattie. His attempt to regain lost lands by preserving Māori mana and autonomy was unsuccessful in the face of government indifference to Māori claims. However, his example has given strength and sustenance to continuing Ngāi Tahu efforts for redress.