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Story: Te Matakātea, Wiremu Kīngi Moki

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Te Matakātea, Wiremu Kīngi Moki


Taranaki warrior, leader

This biography, written by Ian Church, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Te Matakātea was a principal chief of Ngāti Haumiti hapū of the Taranaki tribe. Born probably in Taranaki in the early years of the nineteenth century, he was first known as Moki. In the 1820s and 1830s he was caught up in his tribe's resistance to a series of Waikato raids. After a Waikato victory at Maru, at the base of Mt Taranaki, in 1826, he became the leader of some 120 men and their families who stayed within the protection of Te Namu pā, near Ōpunake, when the remainder of the Taranaki tribe migrated to the Kapiti coast about 1827. Moki and his people were able to obtain muskets from European flax traders who had settled at Ngāmotu, near present day New Plymouth, in 1828. When in 1833 Waikato laid siege to Te Namu, Moki distinguished himself by his marksmanship and received the name Te Matakātea, the clear-eyed. Waikato retreated but, sensing that this was only a temporary reprieve, Te Matakātea led his people a few miles south to a complex of three pā at the mouth of the Kapuni Stream, in the territory of his Ngāti Ruanui relatives.

Te Matakātea also became involved in problems of a different kind. When the Harriet was wrecked near Cape Egmont in April 1834, trouble broke out between the seamen and the local people. Te Matakātea arrived from the Kapuni Stream eight days after the wreck and assisted in protecting the lives of Betty Guard and her two infants. However, when the Alligator and the Isabella came from New South Wales to rescue them, Te Namu was burnt and Waimate, one of the pā at the Kapuni Stream, fired on, in a harsh reprisal.

Waikato forces returned in 1836, led by Te Wherowhero and Te Wahanui. Te Matakātea gathered remnants of Ngāti Ruanui, including his cousin Hukunui Manaia, into Waimate pā and led a force of some 350 men. He made a sortie to ascertain the strength of the enemy, and killed a chief called Te Waka, whose head was displayed on a palisade. When Waikato attacked he shot their chief, Taipuhi, forcing them to retreat. The next day his shooting again drove the invaders back and fighting took place outside the pā. The major Ngāti Ruanui leader, Te Rei Hanataua, managed to escape. After suffering some 60 casualties, including 8 leading chiefs, Waikato returned home. According to one account Te Matakātea and Te Wherowhero made a final peace after this battle.

In August 1840 Te Matakātea was one of the leaders of the Taranaki tribes who went to the assistance of Ngā Rauru. Iwikau Te Heuheu Tukino III, leading a Ngāti Tūwharetoa force, challenged the Taranaki tribes to fight. Supported by Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi from Wanganui, Taranaki tried to dissuade Ngāti Tūwharetoa, but Iwikau and his forces occupied the abandoned pā of Pātoka, near Waitōtara, and Te Matakātea, forced to fight, occupied Te Ihupuku. Ngāti Tūwharetoa were overwhelmed; Te Matakātea killed Tauteka, a senior chief, and took with him Ngāti Tūwharetoa women whom he later released with an offer of peace. The defeat was avenged in 1847 by the killing of the Taranaki mission teachers Kereopa and Te Mānihera.

By 1841 Te Matakātea was back at Te Namu, where he was baptised by the Reverend John Mason on 24 October, taking the name Wiremu Kīngi. The following year, on 25 August, Mason baptised a Wiremu T. Matakātea, presumably Te Matakātea's son. The return of peace allowed Te Matakātea to move inland to the village of Umuroa, where, by 1846, his people were growing wheat, which was ground in portable hand-mills. In August 1852 Te Matakātea began negotiations for the building of a flour mill. By 1855 he had a store at Umuroa and at the beginning of 1857 was constructing a road through his district. The wealth from his wheat and potato crops enabled him to establish a college at Umuroa for 400 pupils.

Te Matakātea was drawn into the events leading to the Taranaki war of 1860. He was related to Te Waitere Katatore, one of the protagonists in the Puketapu feud, which arose in 1854 over the sale of land. When Katatore was murdered in January 1858, Te Matakātea joined Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke in laying siege to Te Karaka pā, on the Waitara River, which they burnt in July after allowing Īhāia Te Kirikūmara to escape. When fighting broke out over the Waitara block, Te Matakātea led his fighting men to Kaipopo pā, Waireka, where they were involved in the disastrous battle of 28 March 1860.

By mid 1862, however, Te Matakātea had renounced the Māori King and was out of favour with some Taranaki tribes. That year, when the Lord Worsley was wrecked in Te Namu bay on 1 September, he escorted the passengers and crew safely to New Plymouth. He was rewarded with the wreck and its contents, and a surfboat was later sent over from Sydney for him. He took no part in the second Taranaki war and Governor George Grey promised that none of his tribe's land would be taken. However, during Major General Trevor Chute's 1866 campaign Te Matakātea's house at Nuku-te-apiapi was burnt by the troops; he was compensated for his loss. In September 1866 J. C. Richmond, the native minister, promised the 'restitution' of some 44,000 acres between Moutoti and Taungātara to Ngāti Haumiti but title was not given until the 1880s.

In 1867 Te Matakātea met the government agent Robert Parris at Umuroa and negotiated the transfer of some 2,000 acres for the town of Ōpunake. Troops had been stationed there since 1865, and Te Matakātea had lent them his surfboat for fishing. The government later 'arbitrarily' took it over. In 1869 he co-operated with Parris in the construction of the coast road. But in the 1870s he became a supporter of Te Whiti-o-Rongomai III and in 1879 took part in ploughing incidents near Manaia. He was arrested and, having refused an offer of release by the native minister, William Rolleston, remained in gaol until October 1880. This episode did not affect the issue of Crown titles to his tribal land. In May 1883 Te Matakātea and 20 others received title to 7,223 acres for Ngāti Kahumate hapū, and he and 30 others got 6,186 acres for Ngāti Tamarongo; both blocks were in the Ōpunake district.

Wiremu Kīngi Te Matakātea, an old warrior turned man of peace, died on 14 February 1893.

How to cite this page:

Ian Church. 'Te Matakātea, Wiremu Kīngi Moki', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t50/te-matakatea-wiremu-kingi-moki (accessed 15 July 2024)