Page 1: Biography
Te Rangiotu, Hoani Meihana
Rangitane leader, peacemaker
This biography, written by Mason Durie, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Te Rangiotu, who took in baptism the name of Hoani Meihana (John Mason), was a descendant of the ancestors Te Rangi-te-paia and Rangitane through his father, Pohoi Te Rangiotu. Riria Rangipotango 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 hapu, Ngati Rangi-te-paia, and his tribe, Rangitane.
Rangitane had lived for generations in the Manawatu district and in the catchment area of the Manawatu River, east of the Tararua Range. In the 1820s their region was invaded by immigrants from the Waikato – Ngati Toa and their allies Ngati Raukawa and Ngati 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 Manawatu 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 Pakeha farmers. Rangitane survived these changes under the guidance of leaders of vision and skill, among whom Te Rangiotu 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 Rangiotu received an extensive education in the history and traditions of Rangitane. 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 Puketotara, near present day Rangiotu, 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 Maori (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 Putiki, near Wanganui. Octavius Hadfield, stationed at Otaki, appointed him a lay reader in the early 1840s. For 50 years he served as a Christian teacher among Ngati Apa, Ngati Kauwhata, and his own Rangitane people. A large church, Te Ahu-a-Turanga, was built at Puketotara; although it was later destroyed by fire, the bell remains on the marae at Rangiotu village. In 1867–68 Hoani Meihana, as he became generally known, helped develop a new village at Oroua Piriti (Oroua Bridge, now Rangiotu), near the confluence of the Oroua and Manawatu rivers. He built a new church on the lines of a meeting house and called it Te Rangimarie, to commemorate the accord reached between Rangitane and Ngati Raukawa. It is also known as Te Maungarongo o Ngati Raukawa me nga iwi o te Manawatu me Rangitikei. 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 Kingi Te Rangi Paetahi, of Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi, and Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, of Muaupoko, 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 Rangitane, Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Kauwhata, averting serious conflict in boundary disputes and seeking a reasonable compromise without loss of mana or authority.
The dispute over the Tuwhakatupua block in 1868, between Rangitane and Ngati 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 Rangitane and Ngati Raukawa, was presented to Tawhiao, the Maori King; Tane-nui-a-Rangi is on loan to the Manawatu Museum; and Te Rohe-o-Tuwhakatupua 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 Puketotara for the sale of produce grown by Ngati Rangi-te-paia and the closely related Ngati 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 Rangitane 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 Maori character and asked Matene Te Whiwhi of Ngati Raukawa to suggest a name for the central square in the town. He proposed Te Marae-o-Hine and it was accepted by both Rangitane and the settlers (though it is generally known as The Square). The name symbolised the hope that Maori and Pakeha 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 Maori authority and remained confident of Maori capacity to manage their own affairs. He was a firm supporter of the King movement by the 1880s and recognised that Maori 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 Oroua Bridge on 2 October 1898. He was buried at the Hikatoto cemetery in the village there, which he had founded. In 1910 Oroua Bridge was renamed Rangiotu, to commemorate his life and achievements. He and his wife, Enereta Te One of Ngati Kauwhata, had three daughters. Harikete (Ema) married Hare Rakena Te Aweawe; their descendants still live at Rangiotu. 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.