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Story: Tohu Kākahi

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Tohu Kākahi


Te Āti Awa and Taranaki prophet

This biography, written by Ailsa Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Tohu Kākahi, whose historical importance has often been ignored, was responsible along with Te Whiti-o-Rongomai III for making the village of Parihaka in Taranaki a symbol of pacifist protest against government land acquisitions. He was a descendant of Ngā Pōtikitaua and Te Āti Awa chief Te Rangiāpitirua, of Pukeariki (in present day New Plymouth). Tohu's father was Te Toamai; his mother was Kiekie. He was related to Te Whiti on his father's side through his cousin Hōne Kākahi, Te Whiti's father. Thus Tohu Kākahi was a generation senior to his fellow prophet, Te Whiti, and was, like him, of combined Taranaki and Te Āti Awa descent.

Very little is known of Tohu's early life, although descendants say he was born at Puketapu on 22 January 1828. Places such as Waimate and Kaikaiā (in the Normanby area) have also been suggested as possible birthplaces. When he was young his family, at risk from Waikato musket raiders, either emigrated to Waikanae or moved around southern Taranaki. Ties with Ngāti Ruanui, who were followers of Tohu in his later life, may have been formed at this time. After 1842 the extended family settled at Wārea with the hapū name of Patukai, under the leadership of Pāora Kūkūtai and his nephew Āperahama Te Reke.

As a young man Tohu was also known as Hōne (John) and Hēmi (James, his baptismal name). He was possibly introduced to Christianity by the freed Ngāpuhi slave Minarapa Rangihatuake of Taranaki, who mediated at Waikanae in 1839 at the battle of Te Kūititanga and who preached at Rāhotu from 1842 until 1860. Tohu probably also took part in the Tikanga Hou (new doctrine) movement at Wārea in 1845. Both he and Te Whiti attended Johann Riemenschneider's mission school at Wārea. Disillusioned by what they saw as missionary duplicity when Riemenschneider acted in the interests of the settlers, Tohu and Te Whiti later taught that Māori were of the lost tribes of Israel (as Samuel Marsden had suggested at Hokianga in 1819), and as such were superior to Europeans who were taking over their land.

The joint destiny of Tohu and Te Whiti as protectors of their people was seemingly predicted by Pōtatau Te Wherowhero before he died in 1860. Tohu, it was claimed, confirmed Pōtatau's son Tāwhiao as second Māori King, and acted as spiritual adviser to him until political considerations dictated that this role be handed back to Tawhiao's Waikato supporters. Tawhiao later sent 12 representatives, the Tekau-mā-rua, to help the Parihaka prophets with their work.

Tohu was believed by Europeans to possess a warlike temperament. He detained Bishop G. A. Selwyn in November 1861 as the latter passed through Taranaki territory, and in 1861 and 1862 co-signed with Te Whiti several letters to other Māori and the government rebuking the government for its actions. During the mid 1860s Tohu and Te Whiti followed Te Ua Haumēne's Pai Mārire or Hauhau doctrine, and played a part in the Hauhau attack on Sentry Hill in northern Taranaki in 1864. Tohu was also named as Hauhau leader at Te Puru in June 1865 and Waikoukou in February 1866.

In December 1865 Te Ua consecrated Tohu, Te Whiti and Taikōmako (Te Whiti's half-brother) to carry on his religious work. The battle at Waikoukou marked the end of the war in Taranaki, and Tohu and Te Whiti joined Taikōmako at Parihaka. It is said that the biblical prince of peace, Melchisedec, came to Tohu in a vision, validating his position as leader within the Parihaka movement. Tohu's descendants tell how this movement was given divine sanction by the Holy Spirit, in the form of a great albatross (Toroanui – the name of Tohu's marae).

Inspired by Christian teachings, Tohu and Te Whiti evolved a millennial belief which they disseminated at regular meetings to a rapidly growing following. Europeans were welcome at Parihaka, although its leaders rejected Pākehā education for their children, having learnt to distrust Pākehā values. Increasingly they sent their people to obstruct the government as it prepared confiscated land for European settlement; they removed survey pegs as Ngāti Toa had done in 1841, ploughed the land they still considered their own, and fenced across roads that cut through their cultivations.

Tohu supervised the ploughing and fencing campaigns of 1879 and 1880, which he and Te Whiti hoped would test the legality of confiscation. His attitude was pacifist but firm as he counselled his workmen, welcomed back those who had been imprisoned without trial in the South Island, and attempted to mediate after Te Whiti's reportedly warlike speech of 17 September 1881.

It is thought that Tohu took charge of affairs at Parihaka from March to September 1881, and also at times of uncertainty or risk. At the time of John Bryce's raid which commenced on 5 November 1881, Tohu gathered the people on Toroanui marae to restrict troop movement, and withheld planned hospitality from soldiers who had forfeited their right to it by advancing on the unarmed village from the rear.

Europeans thought that Tohu played a subservient role to Te Whiti, who frequently spoke for them both (according to chiefly prerogative) in the first person singular. But a descendant of both leaders believes that Tohu's position was pre-eminent, and that the oratorically gifted Te Whiti stood as spokesman to him as Aaron did to Moses in the Bible. This viewpoint is substantiated by Tohu's habit of reiterating the main points of Te Whiti's speeches after the latter had spoken. Some of Tohu's prophecies and utterances were later credited to Te Whiti, either because Europeans felt that Tohu could not have spoken with such authority, or because of rivalry between two sets of followers.

Māori, too, were sometimes misled by the Pākehā view, which was widely disseminated in newspapers. Nevertheless, when confronted with unexpected criticism of their policies at Ōtākou on 10 June 1882, following their trial and during their detention in custody for allegedly disturbing the peace, it was Tohu rather than Te Whiti who responded. Tohu's forceful personality had already been noted in March 1867, when he prevailed against Te Whiti's wish to turn Te Whetū over to government authorities for the murder of John Brady. In the South Island he steadfastly refused to be influenced by Pākehā ways, in contrast to Te Whiti's more circumspect behaviour.

Differences between the leaders had been evident from 1879 and these intensified after they returned from exile in March 1883, and began rebuilding Parihaka with financial assistance from Rāniera Ellison of Ōtākou. While Te Whiti saw merit in the Pākehā refinements they had encountered in the South Island, Tohu preferred to retain their earlier policy of self-sufficiency.

In July 1886 Te Whiti ordered a resumption of active opposition to Pākehā settlement, which earned him a prison term in Wellington and Tohu's censure for putting their people at risk. Released in early 1887, Te Whiti set about modernising Parihaka with financial support from Taare (Charlie) Waitara, a wealthy part-Te Āti Awa landowner from the Hutt. A number of Te Whiti's more conservative followers transferred their allegiance to Tohu at this time. Thereafter, visiting Pākehā gravitated to the European side of the village in search of the 'chief' of Parihaka, rather than to the older whare where Tohu still lived.

Tohu's followers became known as Pore (polled, or dehorned), because they forsook the wearing of the raukura or white albatross feather emblem of Te Whiti's people. Attempts were made by visiting tribes to promote peace between the two chiefs in the mid 1890s, but without success. Notwithstanding their differences, however, both groups joined in constructing a metal road to the village in 1896. Meanwhile, Tohu continued to resist the introduction of alcohol into Parihaka, counselled his people to stay out of debt, and denounced taxes which he felt were being levied unfairly against them.

Physically Tohu was a big man, with a deep, grating voice and rather large features (which may have predisposed Europeans to prefer Te Whiti, who was in appearance more like themselves). Like Te Whiti, Tohu had lost a finger, and like Tītokowaru – with whom he was often confused – he was blind in one eye. He married Wairangi or Mohia, a sister of Te Whiti's wife, Hikurangi, and they had three sons (Te Toamai, Rangikōtuku or Nohoangapani, and Te Kakapi-o-te-rangi), and two daughters (Pukohu and Parekauri). He had a quiet sense of humour, but was quick to assert his mana, especially in later life.

Tohu suffered a hip injury several years before his death at Parihaka on 4 February 1907. He was buried without a coffin, according to his teachings. His grave at Parihaka remains unmarked, unlike Te Whiti's, which has an imposing monument on its site.

After Tohu's death his followers voted against rejoining Te Whiti. Discontinuing their links with Parihaka, they organised religious meetings at Ketemarae in southern Taranaki, and at places along the Whanganui River, where Tohu's teachings are observed to this day.

How to cite this page:

Ailsa Smith. 'Tohu Kākahi - Tohu Kakahi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2t44/tohu-kakahi (accessed 19 July 2024)