Page 1: Biography
Te Rerenga, Hone Wetere
Ngati Maniapoto leader
This biography, written by DNZB, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Hone Wetere Te Rerenga was born, probably in the 1830s, at Maniaroa or Rangitoto in the Awakino district. His father was Waitara, a direct descendant of Hoturoa and Maniapoto; his mother was Makareta Hakahaka, also known as Hokipera Rangihikaia. He had an elder brother, Te Rangituataka, also known as Reihana Takerei.
Waitara was keen to establish contact with Pakeha and to educate his sons about their world. As young men Te Rangituataka and Wetere met Pakeha travellers, and were taught to observe them closely in order to discern their attitude towards the Maori. Wetere was probably baptised by the Wesleyan missionary Cort Schnackenberg sometime after 1845, taking the name Hone Wetere (John Wesley), and was taught in Schnackenberg's school. He was always to remain more influenced by the Pakeha world than was Te Rangituataka.
Waitara bought the trading vessel Hydrus about 1845, since he did not wish to have to cross Te Ati Awa territory to reach Pakeha traders at New Plymouth. For the same reason he wanted to encourage the settlement of Pakeha in the Mokau district and was prepared to sell land for this purpose. He made land on the Awakino River available for sale in 1850.
When Sir George Grey visited Taranaki in 1850, Waitara adopted the name Te Kerei, or Takerei. He was appointed a native assessor in 1852, and was a candidate for the leadership of the King movement in 1858. Wetere came to a position of prominence in his tribe following Waitara's death in 1862. He had acquired a name for bravery as a young man when he personally delivered mail over hostile territory. Wetere was a signatory to the deeds of sale of the land blocks at Awakino in 1854 (under the name Wetere Te Haruru), Taumatamaire in 1855 and Rauroa in 1857. By 1858 he had begun to play a more visible role than Te Rangituataka, and it was Wetere who took the initiative in establishing the shareholding appropriate to each owner in the Te Kawau block. He became well known as an orator, and was a source of knowledge about the Pakeha world. He corresponded with newspapers, engaged in trading with the vessel Paraninihi and was part-owner of the Hannah Mokau.
On one notable occasion Wetere's desire for friendship with the Pakeha came into conflict with his wish to retain his people's mana. The people of Mokau had long seen the danger of the expansion northwards of the land-hungry settlers of Taranaki. The 1865 construction of a military redoubt at Pukearuhe was seen as a threat, and it impeded Ngati Maniapoto contact with Taranaki. The situation was worsened by the return to Taranaki from the Chatham Islands of the traditional enemies of the Mokau people, Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga, who had been driven from the lands between Mokau and Pukearuhe in the 1830s. The potential for trouble increased in the late 1860s when the military successes of Te Kooti and Titokowaru encouraged those in the King movement who wished to resume the war with the government.
Responding to these pressures, a war party led by Te Rangituataka and Wetere attacked the redoubt on 13 February 1869. Three of the garrison staff, and the wife and four children of one of them, were killed, as was the Wesleyan missionary John Whiteley. Wetere, who later denied direct responsibility for the incident, returned to Mokau to take refuge in the interior, perhaps at Mahoenui; he was consequently called Te Rerenga. He returned to Mokau in 1872.
Despite the attack on Pukearuhe, Wetere befriended many Pakeha. He was instrumental in saving the lives of the surveyors Charles Hursthouse and William Newsham when they were captured by Te Mahuki in 1883 and in saving G. T. Wilkinson when he was similarly threatened. In 1865 he had intervened to save the life of ensign Charles Hutchinson who was delivering a proclamation from Governor George Grey to insurgent Maori. He rescued Hursthouse and marine surveyor Thomas Perham in March 1884 when their boat capsized on the Mokau River bar, an action for which he received the medal of the Royal Humane Society of Australasia.
From the mid 1870s Wetere became embroiled in disputes over his Mokau lands. A group of Ngati Tama who had been living near Mokau as guests of Ngati Maniapoto claimed the right to sell the land. When they withdrew from the King movement, Tawhiao lost his jurisdiction over the dispute. Ngati Tama intended to take their claim to the Native Land Court, but Tawhiao was opposed to Ngati Maniapoto lands being adjudicated there. In an effort to have title to his lands defined, Wetere tried to secure a sitting of the Native Land Court at Mokau. He was supported by Rewi Maniapoto who was under similar pressure from Ngati Haua.
In 1882 the minister for native affairs, John Bryce, allowed the court to sit at Mokau, but the outcome was disastrous for Ngati Maniapoto as the expenses of the hearings were charged against the land. Nevertheless, increasing pressure from land agents and from Ngati Haua forced them to turn to the court again. First, however, they attempted to have the legislation changed to exclude lawyers from the process and to end the system of agents making advances on land before it had gone through the court.
Under pressure from the land purchaser Joshua Jones and the land agent William Grace, Wetere, in December 1882, persuaded Rewi and Wahanui Huatare to arrange a meeting with Bryce to discuss the opening of Ngati Maniapoto lands. As one of the suspected murderers of Whiteley, he also wished to secure his own position. He was granted an amnesty in early 1883, and in April accompanied Bryce and Hursthouse on their trip from Waitara to Alexandra (Pirongia).
Hone Wetere Te Rerenga died at Mokau on 9 March 1889 and was buried at Hingarangi Kauri; he was reinterred some 35 years later in the ancestral cemetery of Hikumutu at Maniaroa marae. There were at least seven children by his first wife, Mere, and three by his second, Te Ata Hoani.