Story: Te Rohu

Page 1: Biography

Te Rohu

fl. 1820–1850

Ngati Tuwharetoa 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 Tukino II and his senior wife, Nohopapa. She was born in the early part of the nineteenth century. The principal hapu of her father was Ngati Pehi (now Ngati Turumakina) of Ngati Tuwharetoa, but he also had kinship ties with Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Raukawa. To unite the various independent descent groups of the Taupo region Mananui had married two grand-daughters of the great chief Te Rangitua-matotoru of Ngati Te Rangi-ita; 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 Ngati Te Upokoiri and Ngati Hinemanu leader, who was related to Ngati Tuwharetoa. In order to obtain sufficient birds, eels and fish for an important tangi, Te Wanikau placed rahui around Lake Poukawa, south of present day Hastings; his action was challenged by Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti of Heretaunga (Hawke's Bay). Their pa on an island in Te Roto-a-Tara was besieged by Te Wanikau, who had raised a war party in Taupo. During this campaign Te Rohu's uncle, Manuhiri, was killed at Maunga-wharau, near Waimarama. Mananui led a war party to avenge this death, attacking the pa at Te Roto-a-Tara in a siege lasting three months. Te Pareihe, a leader of Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti, achieved the victory when battle was finally joined, but in the night abandoned his pa 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 pa 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 Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti and their allies, reminding them of ancestors mutual to both peoples, and telling them that her father's forces would withdraw to Taupo the next day; the promise was honoured.

Similar negotiations are said to have taken place in an account of an attack on Okurarenga (or Ukurarenga) pa, later known as Kai-uku, at Nukutaurua, on the Mahia 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, Ngati Te Upokoiri and Ngati Tuwharetoa, again led by Mananui. In this instance, Te Rohu negotiated the lifting of the siege with the help of Pikihuia, wife of Papaka (a younger brother of Mananui and Iwikau), and Te Toiroa, a leader of Ngati Rongomai-wahine.

Some time later in the 1820s Te Pareihe, Nuku-pewapewa and Te Wera Hauraki of Nga Puhi together prepared an expedition against Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Raukawa; a force of 1,600 marched via Mohaka towards Lake Taupo. They overthrew Omakukura pa on the north-west side of Lake Taupo, 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 pa in the night. But Te Rohu urged him to stay, saying that to abandon the security of the pa would make the people food for the invaders. When the war party was seen approaching, the gates of the pa were closed; Te Rohu and two elder kinsmen stood outside the pa 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 Omakukura pa, and performing a haka. Once again Te Rohu succeeded in making peace with Te Pareihe. Mananui emerged from the pa and confirmed it; he also warned Te Pareihe not to carry out his intention to proceed against Ngati 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 Ngati Raukawa and Waikato: each sent women of rank, including Te Paea, niece of Potatau Te Wherowhero of Waikato, to confirm it. According to one account, in the year after this peacemaking, Mananui took a party of Ngati Tuwharetoa to Pa-whakairo in Hawke's Bay to cement the peace. Te Rohu may have been given in marriage to Te Pareihe or to Kurupo 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 Renata Kawepo, of Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Te Upokoiri, returning from captivity in the Bay of Islands, found that Mananui had allowed one of his hapu, Ngati Pikiahu, to occupy lands at Patea belonging to Renata Kawepo's people. Kawepo confronted Mananui, cursing him to his face; a Ngati Raukawa man struck Kawepo and wounded him; a few of his people stood by him, but most fled to the bush. Te Rohu then intervened, telling Kawepo 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 Ngati Whatua tohunga, Te Whetu, 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-Oremu, a burial cave between Waihi and Tokaanu, on the southern shore of Lake Taupo.

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, (accessed 1 October 2020)