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Story: Te Rohu

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Te Rohu

fl. 1820–1850

Ngāti Tūwharetoa woman of mana

This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was updated in September, 2011. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Te Rohu was the daughter of Mananui Te Heuheu Tūkino II and his senior wife, Nohopapa. She was born in the early part of the nineteenth century. The principal hapū of her father was Ngāti Pēhi (now Ngāti Tūrumakina) of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, but he also had kinship ties with Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Raukawa. To unite the various independent descent groups of the Taupō region Mananui had married two grand-daughters of the great chief Te Rangituamātotoru of Ngāti Te Rangiita; Nohopapa was the elder. Thus Te Rohu and her brothers, Te Waaka, Te Peehi and Tamaiti, brought together the chiefly lines of a wide region and had great mana. Te Rohu, as the eldest, was much esteemed by her people.

Little is recorded of her childhood, but from early adulthood she was closely associated with her father in his war campaigns and in his peacetime activities, often pursuing what appears to have been an independent policy of her own. In the 1820s Te Rohu became involved with Mananui in a prolonged series of wars in Hawke's Bay and Wairoa. They were started by the actions of Te Wanikau, a Ngāti Te Ūpokoiri and Ngāti Hinemanu leader, who was related to Ngāti Tūwharetoa. In order to obtain sufficient birds, eels and fish for an important tangi, Te Wanikau placed rāhui around Lake Poukawa, south of present day Hastings; his action was challenged by Ngāti Te Whatuiāpiti of Heretaunga (Hawke's Bay). Their pā on an island in Te Roto-a-Tara was besieged by Te Wanikau, who had raised a war party in Taupō. During this campaign Te Rohu's uncle, Manuhiri, was killed at Maungawharau, near Waimārama. Mananui led a war party to avenge this death, attacking the pā at Te Roto-a-Tara in a siege lasting three months. Te Pareihe, a leader of Ngāti Te Whatuiāpiti, achieved the victory when battle was finally joined, but in the night abandoned his pā and withdrew.

With these two major offences forcing him to exact satisfaction, Mananui launched a further war expedition and this time he was accompanied by Te Rohu who was to play an important part in peace negotiations. She was probably involved in two sets of negotiations. While the settings vary, the separate accounts agree in many details.

One account tells of a further attack against the pā at Te Roto-a-Tara; after four days' assessment of the strategic difficulties involved, Mananui considered making peace. Te Rohu, as a high-ranking woman, was able to negotiate a peace acceptable to both parties without a loss of mana to either side. She is said to have called out to Te Pareihe, identifying herself; a canoe was sent to fetch her across the lake. Te Pareihe, draped in fine new cloaks woven in the korohunga, paepaeroa and kaitaka styles, welcomed her. He then dressed Te Rohu in these cloaks, and some sources say that he presented her also with a greenstone mere named Te Kiri-o-tauaroa. Te Rohu rose to address Ngāti Te Whatuiāpiti and their allies, reminding them of ancestors mutual to both peoples, and telling them that her father's forces would withdraw to Taupō the next day; the promise was honoured.

Similar negotiations are said to have taken place in an account of an attack on Ōkūrārenga (or Ukūrārenga) pā, later known as Kaiuku, at Nukutaurua, on the Māhia peninsula. Te Pareihe and the refugee peoples of Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa were besieged for several weeks by a war party which included elements of Waikato, Ngāti Te Ūpokoiri and Ngāti Tūwharetoa, again led by Mananui. In this instance, Te Rohu negotiated the lifting of the siege with the help of Pikihuia, wife of Pāpaka (a younger brother of Mananui and Iwikau), and Te Toiroa, a leader of Ngāti Rongomaiwahine.

Some time later in the 1820s Te Pareihe, Nuku-pewapewa and Te Wera Hauraki of Ngāpuhi together prepared an expedition against Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Raukawa; a force of 1,600 marched via Mōhaka towards Lake Taupō. They overthrew Ōmakukura pā on the north-west side of Lake Taupō, then moved on to attack Mananui at Waitahanui on the north-eastern shore. At first Mananui thought he would not resist such a well-disciplined force and planned to leave his pā in the night. But Te Rohu urged him to stay, saying that to abandon the security of the pā would make the people food for the invaders. When the war party was seen approaching, the gates of the pā were closed; Te Rohu and two elder kinsmen stood outside the pā to meet the attackers. The two men hid, one on each side in some manuka scrub. Te Rohu, arming herself with a weapon dropped by one of them, stood and defied the enemy.

At first she was attacked, but when the leaders of Te Pareihe's force realised they were fighting against a woman they contented themselves by firing off their muskets, brandishing the heads of those killed at Ōmakukura pā, and performing a haka. Once again Te Rohu succeeded in making peace with Te Pareihe. Mananui emerged from the pā and confirmed it; he also warned Te Pareihe not to carry out his intention to proceed against Ngāti Raukawa and Waikato, as they were well prepared to resist him. Te Pareihe, heeding the warning, returned to Nukutaurua, and Te Rohu's peace became binding on both Ngāti Raukawa and Waikato: each sent women of rank, including Te Paea, niece of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero of Waikato, to confirm it. According to one account, in the year after this peacemaking, Mananui took a party of Ngāti Tūwharetoa to Pāwhakairo in Hawke's Bay to cement the peace. Te Rohu may have been given in marriage to Te Pareihe or to Kurupō Te Moananui, senior Heretaunga chief, but she seems to have continued to accompany her father rather than remain in Heretaunga.

In 1843–44 she was influential in a land dispute. In December 1843 Rēnata Kawepō, of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Te Ūpokoiri, returning from captivity in the Bay of Islands, found that Mananui had allowed one of his hapū, Ngāti Pikiahu, to occupy lands at Pātea belonging to Rēnata Kawepō's people. Kawepō confronted Mananui, cursing him to his face; a Ngāti Raukawa man struck Kawepō and wounded him; a few of his people stood by him, but most fled to the bush. Te Rohu then intervened, telling Kawepō that they would cease trying to take his land. The words of such a person of mana were binding on her people, and Mananui promised that his followers would return to their own lands.

Te Rohu was not killed by the 1846 landslide at Te Rapa which engulfed her father, her brother Te Waaka, and 50 others. In later life she contracted leprosy and composed a waiata describing her condition. It was believed that the disease was communicated to her by the touch of a Ngāti Whatua tohunga, Te Whetū, angered because he was considered unsuitable as a spouse for her. The time and place of Te Rohu's death is not known, but perhaps she herself indicated her burial place. In her waiata she spoke of Te Ana-i-Ōremu, a burial cave between Waihī and Tokaanu, on the southern shore of Lake Taupō.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Te Rohu', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated September, 2011. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t77/te-rohu (accessed 3 October 2023)