Story: Te Kere Ngatai-e-rua

Page 1: Biography

Te Kere Ngatai-e-rua

?–1901

Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi tohunga

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

Te Kere Ngatai-e-rua, also known as Te Kere Te Huaki, was the son of Putere and her husband, Te Huaki; the date of his birth is uncertain. He became a peacemaker and healer with strong ties to the King movement; his most influential work was conducted from the upper Wanganui and Rangitikei districts. His major tribal affiliation was with Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi, but he had kinship links with Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Haua-te-rangi of upper Wanganui, Ngati Tu, Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Apa. His Ngati Haua-te-rangi descendants sometimes refer to him as Te Kere Taura.

As a young man Te Kere served on a whaler off the New Zealand coast. In 1847 he took part in raids on Wanganui by Topine Te Mamaku's Ngati Haua-te-rangi. In 1857 he was drawn into a dispute with Te Mamaku which flared into a conflict costing a number of lives. Te Kere was eventually defeated and forced, either in retreat or as a prisoner, to retire to Putiki, the Maori settlement across the river from Wanganui. He remained at Putiki for the next seven years. The conflict caused a 22-mile stretch of the Wanganui River to be sealed by an aukati (prohibition) for several years. Eventually the rift between Te Kere and Te Mamaku was repaired through marriage.

Te Kere was one of the hundreds of onlookers at the battle of Moutoa in May 1864 when Maori from the lower Wanganui River, led by Mete Kingi Te Rangi Paetahi, beat off an attack by Hauhau on the small island near Ranana. From that time Te Kere was committed to peace, and took his message throughout much of the North Island. He worked with Titokowaru, to whom he gave a white charger, and with Te Kooti, whom he is said to have saved from death.

Te Kere, although apparently never baptised, adopted a Christian outlook and maintained strong ties with Catholicism. His great gift for language and proverbs and his spiritual and healing powers, including the gift of prophecy, began to generate followers. He did not crave public recognition, preferring to work behind the scenes. He was involved with a meeting addressed by Hori Ropiha and Topia Turoa following King Tawhiao's visit to Queen Victoria in 1884. In recognition of his wisdom and knowledge, he is said to have been made one of the king's 12 pou (supports).

Te Kere had strong ties with Te Tikanga, the house at Tokorangi on the lower Rangitikei River near Sanson, built especially for a visit by Tawhiao (which never took place). There is a tradition among Ngati Haua-te-rangi that his work here anticipated the rise of the Ratana movement. He was also influential at Awahuri, Manawatu, at several houses in the King Country, and at resting houses near Raetihi and in Wairarapa for his trips to and from Hawke's Bay.

It was over the building of Nga Tau e Waru at Te Kaitekateka (Te Ore Ore), near Masterton, that Te Kere and the Wairarapa prophet Paora Te Potangaroa fell out in 1878. Te Kere, who had been working on the house's carvings, resented the growing influence of Paora and was annoyed about the size of the house. He left, saying it would take eight years to complete; it was finished in 1881. Subsequently, Te Kere supervised the construction of a house at Tahoraiti for Ngati Mutuahi. It was completed in 1883.

Te Kere lived at Tokaanu from 1883 to 1885, making this the base for his Paetiuihou movement. It opposed the selling of Maori land, particularly in the King Country; sought the abandonment of the Native Land Court; aimed at the extension of the Maori King's power over the North Island; opposed the sale of liquor; and advocated 'native government for Native localities'. The movement had close links with Te Whiti at Parihaka, and was based on the principles of non-violence and Maori sovereignty. It also embodied an important healing mission. Its followers included many from Taranaki, Tuhua and upper Wanganui as well as from Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Raukawa. In 1910 Te Kere was still spoken of with awe at Parihaka.

Te Kere's opposition to the land court, expressed in boycotts of its hearings, proved extremely expensive for himself and his followers. The boycott contributed to the loss of much land, notably in the sudden sale of the huge Waimarino block in 1886. Te Kere took part in the Pungaharuru hearings in 1888, but his claim to this land was dismissed on the grounds that his residence there had been temporary. A large settlement was established at Kaitieke, on a tributary of the Retaruke River, for Te Kere's followers, not all of whom could be accommodated at his headquarters at nearby Tawata (Tawhata) on the Wanganui River. In 1892 Te Kere turned back a boatload of photographers travelling on the river for fear they were spying out land for purchase; demands for a punitive raid were turned down by the local police inspector.

Te Kere died at Tawata, probably in 1901. His death was marked by a tragic breach of tapu. Four of his relatives, hoping to save his life, journeyed to the Mangatiti tributary of the Wanganui. They returned with branches from the legendary sacred hunakeha tree, an ancestral spiritual source for Ngati Haua-te-rangi. They all died shortly afterwards.

Te Kere failed to realise many of his objectives in his lifetime, but his work remains a major source of inspiration to his descendants. He had two children, Karanga Te Kere and Ngatai-e-rua Te Kere; his wife's name is not known.

How to cite this page:

David Young. 'Te Kere Ngatai-e-rua', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2t21/te-kere-ngatai-e-rua (accessed 15 December 2019)