Story: Nahe, Hoani

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Nahe, Hoani


Ngati Maru historian, politician

This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

By his own account Hoani Nahe was born at the time the mission house at Parawai (near Thames) was being built. This was probably in 1833 or 1834. His birthplace may have been at Te Poho, near the Kirikiri Stream. His father was Patara Te Rangiteapake of Ngati Maru, also known as Patara Paki, and his mother was Riripeti (Lillibeth) or Rohu of Ngati Whanaunga. His principal tribe was Ngati Maru, and his hapu were Ngati Hauauru, Ngati Te Aute and Ngati Kotinga; but he could trace his descent through all five sons of Maru-tuahu, the ancestor of Ngati Maru, thus making him kin to all the principal Hauraki tribes. He also had links to Ngatoroirangi of Te Arawa canoe, and to Takitimu.

Among Hoani Nahe's earliest teachers were the missionary James Preece and the teacher Wiremu Turipona. He also attended an elementary school run by the Reverend W. C. Dudley, and at one time was the pupil of C. S. Völkner. In 1852 he attended St John's College in Auckland. Perhaps because of the strict discipline, Hoani ran away, but was brought back by Bishop G. A. Selwyn, who intended him for the church. He eventually received prizes for his educational achievements, but remained a layman.

In the late 1850s, while still a young man, Nahe began his life's work, collecting and recording the traditions and genealogies of his people. His first manuscript history was an account of the emigration of the Maori from Hawaiki, and gave his name as 'Hone'. In 1881 and 1883 the collector John White wrote to Nahe, asking him to send his own manuscript and that of a certain Te Rira, for which he offered £5. Large chunks, translated but not specifically acknowledged, were incorporated into volume four of White's The ancient history of the Maori (1888). The editing was poor: grammatical mistakes were inserted, the order of events was arbitrarily altered, and other accounts were interspersed with Nahe's material. Later in life Nahe complained to S. Percy Smith that White had distorted his account.

Nahe's history began with the building of the Tainui canoe in Hawaiki, its arrival in Aotearoa (New Zealand), and the events associated with Hotunui, his son Maru-tuahu, and the establishment of their descendants at Hauraki, in the Coromandel Peninsula and the Thames district. A large section concerned the wars between Nga Puhi and the Hauraki tribes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, culminating in the musket-armed attacks by Nga Puhi on Hauraki in 1821. Nahe was always very bitter about the fall of Te Totara pa, deeming it to be a treacherous attack made after Ngati Maru had negotiated a peace in return for the famous greenstone mere, Te Uira. Late in life he was still hoping for the mere's return. His history concluded with the period when Ngati Maru took refuge at Horotiu (Cambridge), provoking battles with Ngati Paoa and other tribes. In a separate section Nahe narrated the life of the eponymous ancestor, Paoa.

In various asides Nahe gave glimpses into his method. He warned that he would be unable to collect any karakia – they were tapu. He estimated that he had spent nearly five years collecting material that could have been written down in 2½ weeks, because it was seldom that he could get elders to spend long periods with him. He complained that his informants demanded tobacco or money to relate traditions, but he felt that he should continue his work, as soon there would be no one left able to recount the past. Later, he decided not to pay any of his informants because he feared they might invent stories for gain.

Apart from his role as a recorder of tradition, Hoani Nahe was active in many of the issues confronting his people. He was involved in battles in the Native Land Court to have his name registered in land blocks. His expertise in genealogy and tradition led others to get him to conduct their cases. In 1874 he was the leader of a committee to decide on policy and provide support for the Hawke's Bay Maori newspaper, Te Wananga.

On the death in 1875 of the preferred candidate for Western Maori, Mohi Mangakahia, Nahe reluctantly agreed to stand for Parliament. He was elected in January 1876, defeating Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui. He was a minister without portfolio and a member of the Executive Council in Sir George Grey's administration from 1877 to 1879. He also served on the Native Affairs Committee, responsible for hearing petitions on Maori matters.

In the House Nahe conscientiously attempted to represent both the Western Maori electorate and the Maori people. Like other Maori MHRs, he was hampered by his lack of English. On one occasion he complained that he was 'in the dark…not fully understanding the meaning of the proceedings on both sides'. Although he was by no means as radical as his contemporary, Karaitiana Takamoana, one member noted his 'very plain and unmistakable language' on the subject of land legislation proposed by the Grey administration. As the only Maori minister, it was Nahe's duty to escort Grey and the native minister, John Sheehan, during their 1878 attempts to reach an accommodation with Tawhiao in the King Country. He escorted Sheehan on a similar mission to Waitara.

In 1878 Nahe caused something of a furore in the Native Land Court rehearing of the Te Aroha block. He was accused by one newspaper of using his position as minister to further his own interests, but he actually opposed his own tribe's claim to the block, even though they once owned the land and had been awarded it in a former hearing.

Nahe was also a member of the runanga of Hauraki, and in this capacity he was called on to adjudicate in the matter of the shooting and wounding of Daldy MacWilliams, a surveyor, on 29 August 1879. Ngati Hako opposed the survey and sale of the Pukehanga block by Ngati Koi on the grounds that some of it was their land. Nahe presented the runanga's judgement, an honest one which pleased no one. He declared that Ngati Koi were wrong to sell land which belonged to Ngati Hako, that the government was wrong to advance money on land the title to which was not yet determined, and that Ngati Hako were wrong to resort to violence. A compromise solution was adopted.

Hoani Nahe retired from politics in 1879. He had lived at various times at Shortland (part of present day Thames) and Parawai, but from this time he lived on his farm at Omahu, near Puriri. He remained influential in his community. With his cousin Wirope Hoterini Taipari and Hori Matene he gave land for a native school at Mataiwhetu, Kirikiri, and took an active part in getting it established. In 1886 he and Hori Matene planned and supervised the building of a new church at Parawai. He was appointed an assessor in 1892, but resigned after two months. Possibly this was a result of his involvement in the Kotahitanga movement; at meetings he attended there were calls for the abolition of the assessors' role.

Nahe had never completely abandoned his first love, the collection and recording of tradition. In his last years he entered into a voluminous correspondence with Percy Smith, and was made a corresponding member of the Polynesian Society in 1893. He commented on many articles published by the society. In 1893 and 1894 Nahe wrote a second version of his history with additional material. His work, meticulously acknowledged, appeared in Smith's papers published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society after Nahe's death, and included 'The peopling of the north' and the 'Wars of the northern against the southern tribes of New Zealand in the nineteenth century'. This series was later published again as Maori wars of the nineteenth century. From the manuscript Smith, as editor of the society's journal, extracted, translated and published Nahe's papers on the etymology of 'Maori', 'Pakeha' and 'kaipuke'. Nahe argued that all were ancient in origin but that new meanings had been adopted since European contact. Much of the tradition recorded by Nahe remains unpublished.

Hoani Nahe was a prolific letter writer, corresponding with many Maori and Pakeha leaders. He was able to discourse on many subjects of Tainui and Hauraki history and custom, ranging from the esoteric structure of Maori beliefs to whakapapa, land, politics and theology. On occasions, however, he was over-speculative in some of his explanations, which were coloured by his early teaching at St John's College.

Early in May 1894 Nahe went to Paeroa to intervene in a land dispute between Ngati Koi and Ngati Tawhaki, which became serious when the chief of one party was injured. Nahe took part in the prolonged open-air negotiations and contracted a cold, which developed into an 'inflammation of the lungs', probably pneumonia. He died on 18 May 1894, while staying in Taipari's house at Parawai, where a large tangihanga took place. He is believed to have married and to have had at least three children; there are many descendants.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Nahe, Hoani', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 August 2020)