Page 1: Biography
Te Maiharoa, Hipa
Ngai Tahu leader, tohunga, prophet
This biography, written by Ross Somerville, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Te Maiharoa, who was also known as Hipa, was born probably at Te Wai-a-te-ruati, 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 Rakaihautu and the Waitaha people of the South Island. Through Te Rehi-oriori, Te Maiharoa belonged to Ngati Huirapa, a hapu of Ngai Tahu which was also linked to Ngati Mamoe.
Little is known of Te Maiharoa's early life, but he is said to have been of a spiritual frame of mind, and was learned in the traditions of Waitaha, Ngati Mamoe and Ngai 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-ruati. Te Maiharoa 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 Maiharoa. Te Maiharoa supported the appointment of Horomona Pohio 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 Kaingarara religion was brought to Arowhenua by a teacher named Piripi. Te Maiharoa studied with Piripi and became a tohunga in the new religion, which contained elements of Christianity as well as traditional Maori 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 Ngai Tahu. The loss of the reserve at Hakataramea in 1868 further threatened their claims to the interior of the South Island. Te Maiharoa's attempts to protect the land by strengthening Maori 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 Marama (near Omarama). The land was cultivated, dwellings erected, and a large building constructed, where Te Maiharoa held daily church services and established a school of learning. The local runholders viewed the occupation with suspicion, and increasing alarm. Te Maiharoa wished to protect his community from European influence, and Pakeha visitors were not welcomed. The prophet himself was isolated as a tapu personage: Horomona Pohio 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 Maiharoa's followers were adopting a belligerent and threatening attitude, Pohio and his son, Tuwhare, went to Wellington for an audience with the native minister, John Sheehan, to present their case for their right to the land.
Sheehan dismissed Ngai Tahu claims and in November 1878 paid a visit to Te Ao Marama. He ordered Te Maiharoa and his people to return to the established Maori reserves. When the order was ignored, the MHR for Southern Maori, Hori Kerei Taiaroa, who privately believed Te Maiharoa 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 Ngai Tahu grievances more effectively than continued occupation of the land. He travelled to Te Ao Marama 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 Oamaru, under the leadership of Inspector Andrew Thompson. Together with local reinforcements they arrived at Te Ao Marama on 11 August 1879 and gave the inhabitants 48 hours to quit. The Moeraki leader Rawiri Te Maire was briefly arrested and a violent confrontation narrowly averted before Te Maiharoa and his people began to make their way back to the coast.
Te Maiharoa 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 Maiharoa and his community continued to petition the government for a reappraisal of the Canterbury purchase and an increase in Maori reserved land. Te Maiharoa died at Korotuaheka in 1885 or 1886, and is buried there. Kahuti had died at Te Ao Marama, and Rutaki died at Korotuaheka in 1890.
Te Maiharoa'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 Maori mana and autonomy was unsuccessful in the face of government indifference to Maori claims. However, his example has given strength and sustenance to continuing Ngai Tahu efforts for redress.