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Story: Te Rangiotū, Hoani Meihana

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Te Rangiotū, Hoani Meihana


Rangitāne leader, peacemaker

This biography, written by Mason Durie, 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 Rangiotū, who took in baptism the name of Hoani Meihana (John Mason), was a descendant of the ancestors Te Rangi-te-pāia and Rangitāne through his father, Pohoi Te Rangiotū. Rīria Rangipōtango was his mother. He was born just before rapid social and economic changes began to affect the life of his people in the 1820s. He was a major leader of his hapū, Ngāti Rangi-te-pāia, and his tribe, Rangitāne.

Rangitāne had lived for generations in the Manawatū district and in the catchment area of the Manawatū River, east of the Tararua Range. In the 1820s their region was invaded by immigrants from the Waikato – Ngāti Toa and their allies Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Kauwhata. With these new arrivals came warfare, disputes over territory, further migrations, and all the problems of establishing new tribal relationships.

During the 1850s and 1860s, not long after these disturbances, the greater part of the land between the Tararua Range and the coast, north of the Manawatū River, was sold to the government. European settlers began to arrive and by 1872 there were the beginnings of the settlement in the Papaioea clearing, eventually to become the city of Palmerston North. Several other townships grew up, and most of the land was taken over by Pākehā farmers. Rangitāne survived these changes under the guidance of leaders of vision and skill, among whom Te Rangiotū was notable for his efforts to promote peace and co-operation with other tribes and with the settlers.

In spite of the uncertain times in which he lived, Te Rangiotū received an extensive education in the history and traditions of Rangitāne. His knowledge was put to use in promoting the welfare of the tribe, especially in land settlement and in cultural development. He was literate from an early age and became his people's leading historian and archivist. In 1852–53 he called together some 60 leaders at Puketōtara, near present day Rangiotū, to discuss tribal history and genealogy and to set down a written record. His meticulous notes remain the source of tribal history, and some of his genealogical charts appear in John White's The ancient history of the Māori (1887–90).

By 1840 he had become a convert to Christianity, and took his new name from that of the CMS missionary John Mason at Pūtiki, near Wanganui. Octavius Hadfield, stationed at Ōtaki, appointed him a lay reader in the early 1840s. For 50 years he served as a Christian teacher among Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kauwhata, and his own Rangitāne people. A large church, Te Ahu-a-Tūranga, was built at Puketōtara; although it was later destroyed by fire, the bell remains on the marae at Rangiotū village. In 1867–68 Hoani Meihana, as he became generally known, helped develop a new village at Ōroua Piriti (Ōroua Bridge, now Rangiotū), near the confluence of the Ōroua and Manawatū rivers. He built a new church on the lines of a meeting house and called it Te Rangimārie, to commemorate the accord reached between Rangitāne and Ngāti Raukawa. It is also known as Te Maungārongo o Ngāti Raukawa me nga iwi o te Manawatū me Rangitīkei. It is in regular use today.

Apparently influenced by his early association with Christianity, Hoani Meihana pursued peaceful solutions to differences, unlike his cousin Te Peeti Te Aweawe and his relatives Mete Kīngi Te Rangi Paetahi, of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi, and Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, of Muaūpoko, who mastered and practised the new military skills. During and after four decades of hostilities, from the 1820s to the 1860s, Hoani Meihana earned the title 'peacemaker'. He worked to establish better relations between Rangitāne, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Kauwhata, averting serious conflict in boundary disputes and seeking a reasonable compromise without loss of mana or authority.

The dispute over the Tūwhakatupua block in 1868, between Rangitāne and Ngāti Raukawa, was particularly challenging, since his own relatives were determined to take up arms, call on tribal allegiances and engage in open warfare. Hoani Meihana intervened with a Bible and with reasoned argument. He won the day and a new boundary line was drawn. To celebrate this and other peaceful settlements, three weapons were made from a single large greenstone slab. Manawaroa, which commemorated an earlier truce between Rangitāne and Ngāti Raukawa, was presented to Tāwhiao, the Māori King; Tāne-nui-a-Rangi is on loan to the Manawatū Museum; and Te Rohe-o-Tūwhakatupua is held by the descendants of Hoani Meihana.

As a leader of his people, Hoani Meihana integrated traditional and new styles of leadership. He organised trade in flax, pigs and potatoes, and with a Foxton settler, Thomas Cook, managed a co-operative trading store at Puketōtara for the sale of produce grown by Ngāti Rangi-te-pāia and the closely related Ngāti Hineaute. He encouraged his people to learn to read and write. He made contact with settlers and acted as a mediator and advocate in their relations with his own people. By 1877 he and other Rangitāne had leased land for a sawmill at Hokowhitu and may have invested money in the venture.

In 1878, with his cousin Te Peeti Te Aweawe, he convened a meeting of tribal leaders to discuss the development of Palmerston North. They agreed to give the new settlement a Māori character and asked Mātene Te Whiwhi of Ngāti Raukawa to suggest a name for the central square in the town. He proposed Te Marae-o-Hine and it was accepted by both Rangitāne and the settlers (though it is generally known as The Square). The name symbolised the hope that Māori and Pākehā would live in peace in the district.

Hoani Meihana took a middle course as a participant in land sales, and did not always have full tribal support. On the one hand he successfully resisted the sale of several large blocks. But he was also involved in negotiations with government for the sale of other blocks on both sides of the Tararua Range. He believed that roads and settlement would bring prosperity to his people.

In spite of supporting the Crown to some extent, he upheld Māori authority and remained confident of Māori capacity to manage their own affairs. He was a firm supporter of the King movement by the 1880s and recognised that Māori needed greater unity to contend with the ever increasing spread of European settlement.

Hoani Meihana was about 79 years of age when he died at Ōroua Bridge on 2 October 1898. He was buried at the Hikatoto cemetery in the village there, which he had founded. In 1910 Ōroua Bridge was renamed Rangiotū, to commemorate his life and achievements. He and his wife, Enereta Te One of Ngāti Kauwhata, had three daughters. Harikete (Ema) married Hare Rākena Te Aweawe; their descendants still live at Rangiotū. Wharawhara married Hoani Taipua; they had no children. Hurihia married Robert Te Rama Apakura Durie and lived on family land at Aorangi, near Feilding, where their descendants still farm.

How to cite this page:

Mason Durie. 'Te Rangiotū, Hoani Meihana', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t67/te-rangiotu-hoani-meihana (accessed 1 June 2023)