Story: Tama-i-hara-nui

Page 1: Biography



Ngai Tahu leader

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

Tama-i-hara-nui, also known as Te Maiharanui, was the leader of Ngai Tahu in the northern part of the South Island in the early nineteenth century. He was born well before the close of the eighteenth century in the area which is now Canterbury. His father was Te Whakatitiro, and his mother's name was Pipiriki. Tama-i-hara-nui's wife, Te Whe, was a descendant of Manaia; they had two sons, Te Wera and Tu-te-hounuku, and a daughter named Nga Roimata.

Tama-i-hara-nui belonged to Ngati Rakiamoa, an eminent hapu of Ngai Tahu, and, as the hereditary spiritual leader of his tribe, was regarded with the greatest respect. Ordinary people did not dare look on his face, and if his shadow fell on food the food had to be destroyed. A breach of etiquette could result in the death of those held responsible.

In the third decade of the nineteenth century an insult to Tama-i-hara-nui caused war among Ngai Tahu. At Waikakahi pa, near Wairewa (Lake Forsyth), a woman named Murihaka put on a dogskin cloak which belonged to Tama-i-hara-nui. In retribution for such sacrilege, Tama-i-hara-nui's followers killed Rerewaka, a slave who belonged to Murihaka's relations. They in turn killed a chief named Hape. Hape's wife was the sister of two chiefs of Taumutu, the pa at the southern end of Waihora (Lake Ellesmere). The Taumutu people attacked Waikakahi pa and killed several people. Tama-i-hara-nui then led a war party to Taumutu and sacked it. The Taumutu people asked Ngai Tahu of Otago for assistance, and Taiaroa and Te Whakataupuka led a war party to their aid. With the help of the warriors of Kaiapoi, they attacked Wairewa pa. However, the pa was empty when it was taken, as Taiaroa had warned its people that the attack against them would be led by two men with guns. It is said that this was the first time firearms had been used in the Canterbury area.

As they had killed no one at Wairewa, the Kaiapoi warriors feared ridicule. They came on a nephew of the chief Taununu, of Ripapa Island, in Lyttelton Harbour, and killed him. In retaliation, Taununu over-ran the populous pa of Whakaepa (near present day Coalgate, on the upper Selwyn River), and killed its inhabitants. Wairewa was again attacked by Otago Ngai Tahu, and this time, although again Taiaroa had warned them, the people were pursued and killed. The name Kaihuanga describes this war in which Ngai Tahu killed and ate their relatives. Among the victims were two of Tama-i-hara-nui's close kin. The Otago war party destroyed Ripapa pa before returning home, accompanied by the Taumutu people, who could not fight on alone against Tama-i-hara-nui.

Tama-i-hara-nui went to Otago and persuaded most of the Taumutu people to return, assuring them that the war was over. He returned first, raised a war party, and lay in wait for the refugees. According to Hakopa Te Ata-o-Tu, a member of the war party, Tama-i-hara-nui was less than enthusiastic to fight when he saw the returning refugees were armed with muskets, although his party also had guns. Other warriors prevailed on him to attack and the refugees were ambushed and killed. Tama-i-hara-nui is alleged to have killed some of his own relations in the fight.

Fighting among Ngai Tahu would probably have continued, but about 1828 Ngati Toa from the north, led by Te Rauparaha, attacked and destroyed the Ngai Tahu pa at Kaikoura. Ngati Toa then over-ran Omihi pa and proceeded to Kaiapoi. They claimed to have come to trade peacefully for greenstone. Tama-i-hara-nui made a ceremonial visit to Te Rauparaha's camp. According to Ngai Tahu traditions, Tama-i-hara-nui received warning that Ngati Toa were planning treachery, and heard that they had desecrated the grave of one of his relatives. A group of Ngati Toa chiefs, including Te Pehi Kupe, entered Kaiapoi pa to trade, and were killed after an argument over a block of greenstone. As Te Rauparaha did not have a large enough war party with him to attack Kaiapoi at this time, he retired to Kapiti Island.

While at Kaiapoi, Ngati Toa killed Te Puhirere and another leader from Panau, on the north-east side of Banks Peninsula, who were approaching the pa in ignorance of the presence of enemies. When the clothing of the dead men was taken back to Panau, Tama-i-hara-nui considered that they had been dishonoured and attacked the Panau area, taking the people captive.

At Kapiti Island Te Rauparaha planned revenge for the killing of Te Pehi Kupe. He came to an arrangement with Captain John Stewart of the brig Elizabeth to charter his boat in return for 50 tons of dressed flax, and left Kapiti on 29 October 1830 with about 100 warriors. The warriors remained concealed when the Elizabeth anchored off Takapuneke in Akaroa Harbour. Stewart sent repeated messages to Tama-i-hara-nui, who was at the flax grounds at Wairewa, that a ship had arrived to trade guns for flax. When Tama-i-hara-nui came aboard with his wife and daughter, Te Rauparaha and his warriors emerged from hiding and taunted him with the ease with which he had been captured. Te Rauparaha and his war party went ashore and sacked Takapuneke, killing many of the inhabitants.

There are a number of accounts of Tama-i-hara-nui's captivity and death. Some state that during the voyage back to Kapiti Tama-i-hara-nui killed his daughter, Nga Roimata, or threw her overboard, so she would escape slavery. Some accounts say that Te Whe dived overboard. Tama-i-hara-nui was confined in irons during the voyage.

The Elizabeth reached Kapiti on 11 November 1830. Tama-i-hara-nui was kept on board until the last week of December, when Captain Stewart despaired of getting any more flax from Ngati Toa. Tama-i-hara-nui was then handed over to them at Otaki. There are different accounts of the manner of his death, but most agree that he was tortured by the wives of Ngati Toa chiefs killed at Kaiapoi pa, and died with considerable courage.

How to cite this page:

Steven Oliver. 'Tama-i-hara-nui', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 10 August 2020)