Story: Wahanui Huatare

Page 1: Biography

Wahanui Huatare


Ngati Maniapoto leader

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

Wahanui Huatare, also known as Reihana Te Huatare, Te Reihana Whakahoehoe and Te Wahanui, was born probably in the late 1820s. He was the son of Te Ngohi-te-arau, also known as Te Huatare, of Ngati Maniapoto. His mother, Tarati, belonged to Ngati Waiora of Mokau and came from the Piopio area. Wahanui was raised in the upper Waipa valley. He could trace his descent to Raka, Hotunui and Turongo. He was the elder brother of Te Wiwini, and had a half-brother, Kaahu Huatare. Te Wiwini Huatare was to become a tohunga matakite of importance. Wahanui's wife was Te Wairingiringi from the Kawhia area. Married according to Maori custom at an unknown date, they had no issue and so adopted children, including Tuwhangai Hounuku and Tuaarau.

Wahanui was raised as a Christian and, according to family tradition, was asked by his elders to train as a Wesleyan Methodist minister. He studied at the Wesleyan Native Institution at Three Kings in Auckland, proving an intelligent student of great natural ability. He then returned to Te Kopua to live among his people.

Wahanui was open to new ideas and practices, provided that they enhanced the mana of his people. In the 1850s he organised a mail service between Te Awamutu and Napier, and later set up a system of tribal administration and law enforcement which attracted the admiration of John Gorst, resident magistrate in Waikato.

In the late 1850s Wahanui was a participant in the debates attending the setting up of the King movement. As war approached, he became bitterly opposed to Pakeha institutions and government. Wahanui fought at Pukekohe and Orakau, and was wounded at Hairini in February 1864. It was Wahanui who, in the early 1880s, invented the King movement's device, Tarahou (cock-crow), signifying the dawn of day.

After the Waikato war the King movement had to adjust to the reality of military defeat and to the confiscation of land. Attempts by Waikato and Ngati Maniapoto to regain sovereignty over their territories failed, and Wahanui emerged as an important leader of Ngati Maniapoto. He was recognised as having much-needed diplomatic skills, and became a principal adviser to the Maori King, Tawhiao. On 11 July 1881 Wahanui spoke for Tawhiao's contingent when peace was negotiated with the government at Alexandra (Pirongia). In November 1882, in negotiations with the new minister for native affairs, John Bryce, he spoke for Tawhiao on the question of authority over land. Fearful that the government wished to split the King movement, he declined their proposal to return confiscated land west of the Waikato and Waipa rivers, to offer Tawhiao a house, a pension and several official positions, and to have Ngati Maniapoto offer a portion of their territory to Tawhiao.

Wahanui was strongly opposed to land selling by Waikato and Ngati Maniapoto. Nevertheless, he and Rewi Maniapoto came to recognise the inevitability of the King Country being opened to Pakeha. Their strategy was to control this process while safeguarding their people's farming enterprises and maintaining as much of their mana as possible. In 1883 they finally agreed to allow a survey for a railway route to enter the King Country. Later in the year Wahanui, having demonstrated that the surveyors could not pass through the King Country without his support, assisted in rescuing the surveyor Charles Hursthouse, who had been captured by the prophet Te Mahuki and his Tekau-ma-rua movement at Te Uira. Wahanui's policy was opposed by some hapu, and matters were made worse by the cynical and secretive policies of land companies, which used Ngati Haua to bring land before the Native Land Court.

Together with Rewi, Wahanui signed a petition which was presented to Parliament in June 1883; they invoked the Treaty of Waitangi and the guarantee to the Maori of exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands. They rebuked the government for legislation which contravened the treaty and argued that there was little point in roads, railways and courts if they deprived Maori of their lands. During April 1884, while Tawhiao was in England petitioning Queen Victoria for the return of the confiscated Waikato land, the premier, Robert Stout, approached Wahanui. According to Wahanui, Stout promised that no hotel was to be built in the Ngati Maniapoto area, no liquor was to be sold, and there would be no land courts operating in the area. In return Wahanui agreed to make land available for the railway. He received a gold medallion which allowed him and his wife free travel by rail; the right was to continue for future generations. Unfortunately, the government disregarded Stout's unwritten promises about the land, leading to a period of bad feeling on the part of Ngati Maniapoto towards Pakeha institutions and government.

In September 1884 Wahanui declared that he would co-operate with the government over the railway on certain conditions, and he was warmly cheered when he appeared before the bar of the House of Representatives on 1 November 1884 to outline them. The conditions included the right of the King movement to manage their own affairs, the banning of liquor from Waikato–Ngati Maniapoto territory, and the right of his people to have sole responsibility for administering their ancestral lands. Later he was offered a seat in the Legislative Council, but nothing came of it. He did, in 1886, consider standing for the Western Maori seat in the House of Representatives, but withdrew his name before polling day.

Wahanui Huatare died at Whataroa on 5 December 1897. Although he lived according to traditional Ngati Maniapoto custom, he had remained a Christian and had acquired a deep knowledge of Scripture. His use of Scripture in public speaking added to his mana as a distinguished orator, poet and debater. Many of his sayings became proverbial. Wahanui's authority was enhanced by his physical presence: he is said to have stood six feet seven inches in height, and his ceremonial taiaha was, appropriately, very large.

Wahanui was a leading figure in Ngati Maniapoto at a time when new policies and new methods of leadership were necessary. Although conscious of the need to preserve his own mana and that of his people, he led them cautiously towards constructive contact with the Pakeha world. Many whare on Ngati Maniapoto marae were named by Wahanui, and remain part of his heritage. His portrait was painted by Gottfried Lindauer in 1882 and by Joseph Gaut in 1885, and there is a bust in the Te Awamutu District Museum.

How to cite this page:

Manuka Henare. 'Wahanui Huatare', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 June 2020)