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Story: Te Rangiuia, Nōpera

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Te Rangiuia, Nōpera

fl. 1835–1850

Ngāti Porou leader, tohunga

This biography, written by Steven Oliver, 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 Rangiuia was a Ngāti Porou leader and tohunga at Ūawa (Tolaga Bay). His date of birth is not known, but he was an adult when the trader J. S. Polack visited Ūawa in June 1835.

Polack claimed that his ship was the first European vessel to enter the Ūawa River. He found two Māori tribes living there on opposite sides of the river. Te Rangiuia was the leader of the settlement on the southern bank of the river. The people to the north were from Tokomaru, and had settled at Ūawa at the invitation of their kinsman Te Kani a Takirau of Te Aitanga a Hauiti.

Although there was rivalry between the two groups, Te Rangiuia was living in the northern village when Polack arrived. He and others from the village went aboard Polack's ship to trade. While they were on board, one of Te Rangiuia's people fired a musket. At this, Te Rangiuia shouted to the Māori on board to return to the shore, and, armed with a rope, cleared the ship of those who remained. Some made their escape by canoe but many were thrown overboard. He then returned to the northern side of the river, where warriors armed with muskets had gathered. Haka were performed and volleys were fired, although the two groups were out of range of each other. Some damage was done to the sails of Polack's ship before peace was restored.

Te Rangiuia was a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi five years later. He put his moko on a copy of the treaty taken to Ūawa by the missionary William Williams in May 1840. In January 1843, the CMS missionary Charles Baker established a mission station at Ūawa. Te Rangiuia probably took the name Nopera (Noble) when he was baptised. Later that year, however, when one of his daughters became ill, he renounced Christianity and returned to using traditional prayers and incantations. His daughter had tuberculosis and had been given a mixture of quinine and calumba (a bitter tonic) by Baker. When she died, Te Rangiuia accused Baker of poisoning her. William Williams and James Stack remonstrated with Te Rangiuia, who challenged them to drink the remaining medicine. After Baker assured them that it was harmless, they did so, putting an end to Te Rangiuia's allegations.

Baker was an unpopular missionary, and Te Rangiuia seems to have taken a lead in defying him. In 1844 he insisted that Baker pay him twice for some timber, in defiance of Te Kani-ā-Takirau, the protector of Europeans at Ūawa. Nevertheless, Christian services were held in Te Rangiuia's house until late 1845, when the missionaries realised Te Rangiuia had not abandoned polygamy. In 1849 he took horses from Baker, and although urged by other Māori to return them he did not do so. In 1850 Baker referred to Te Rangiuia as his most bitter enemy when the latter invited a Catholic priest to Ūawa.

There is no record of Te Rangiuia's life beyond 1850. He had a second daughter, who also died about 1843, and he may have been survived by other children. The date and place of his death are not known.

How to cite this page:

Steven Oliver. 'Te Rangiuia, Nōpera', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t71/te-rangiuia-nopera (accessed 22 July 2024)