Story: Te Atua, Henare

Page 1: Biography

Te Atua, Henare


Ngati Kahungunu leader

This biography, written by Angela Ballara and Piri Sciascia, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Henare Te Atua was an important leader in the community of Ngati Kere and other hapu at Porangahau in southern Hawke's Bay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, where he succeeded to the authority of Henare Matua. His father was Hone Te Whakapai, whose name, meaning 'to set in order', reflected his influence in peace negotiations preceding the return of Ngati Kahungunu from Nukutaurua after the wars of the 1820s and 1830s. His mother was Ani Kanara. Both were of the senior line of descent from Kere, and also had important links to the senior lines of Ngati Pakiua. Through Pakiua's descent from Tumapuhiarangi, Henare had kin links to the people of Waimarama to the north and Wairarapa to the south. Both Pakiua and Kere were descended from Hinepare, and in his later years Henare Te Atua was recognised as a chief of Ngati Hinepare. Through his descent from Kere, Henare was also kin to Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti through a senior line. The conjunction of these lines of descent at Henare Te Atua's birth made this event important to Ngati Kere and its associated hapu.

He was born towards the middle of the nineteenth century. At an early age he was adopted by his Ngati Pihere relative Miriama Hineinukua and her husband, Hoani Waikato. They were his first teachers. His learning was extended by Henare Matua, the leader of the Porangahau community, who had been trained by Nepia Pohuhu of Ngati Hinepare and Moihi Te Matorohanga of Ngati Moe in Wairarapa. In this way Henare Te Atua's knowledge was derived from two of the last tohunga of the pre-Christian whare wananga.

At Waimarama Henare Te Atua married Mirianata Kuitohi, a daughter of Raina Te Rangikoianake and the grand-daughter of Ripeka Te Pakipaki and Ihaka Motoro. Four daughters were born to them: Hinerohi, Pirihira Hariru, Huiariki, and Hinerohi Kuao. Kuitohi predeceased Henare. Later, at Porangahau, he married Ngawhare of Ngai Te Wheeki. Their children were Te Hau Mihiata (a daughter) and Hone Te Whakapai Te Atua.

By 1886 Henare Te Atua was living at Porangahau, where he was known as 'The Ringatu', being the last (and perhaps the only) minister of the Ringatu section of the community. The people of Porangahau regarded Henare Matua, an Anglican, as their chief and spiritual leader. He had defined a boundary, called Pooti-riri-kore or Te Wairarapa, within which peace was respected by all, and which kept his people out of the conflicts of the 1860s and 1870s in which the Ringatu leader Te Kooti had been deeply involved. When Te Atua invited Te Kooti to Porangahau for the Christmas hui of 1886, Matua was opposed to the visit, but permitted his people to make tremendous preparations, including the provision of temporary housing, the purchase of vast amounts of flour, and the collection of huge numbers of crayfish and pigeons for the reception of their guest and two or three hundred of his followers. At Porangahau, Te Kooti uttered kupu whakaari (prophetic sayings) associated with biblical revelation, words recorded and treasured by Ngati Kere. On 24 December he said 'ewhe arawheta', interpreted as a prayer emerging from the words of Job (Job 13:1–21). On 1 January 1887 he revealed the words 'oro pariera', an admonition that the different Maori churches should unite and persevere in seeking salvation in the Creator. Te Kooti indicated the importance of preserving these sayings through the words of Solomon: 'bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart' (Proverbs 3:3).

In spite of these references to peace and tolerance, there was tension between the Ringatu supporters and the Anglican portion of the population. During the speeches of welcome both Henare Matua and Tamahau Mahupuku challenged Te Kooti. Te Kooti appeared to accept this calmly, and reiterated that his was a mission of peace and goodwill. But some of the people suspected him of putting a curse on the house Te Poho-o-Kahungunu, when he muttered something inaudible to the image in front of the house.

Te Kooti was again suspected of makutu when, two days later, while he was still at Porangahau, Hinerohi, Henare Te Atua's six-year-old daughter, drowned in the Porangahau River, and a few days after that, Henare Matua was knocked unconscious in a buggy accident.

In the climate of tragedy, fear and suspicion following the clash between the two leaders, Henare Te Atua's response was remarkable. When Matua had asked Te Kooti how he would repay the hospitality shown to him, Te Kooti is said to have turned to Te Atua and indicated that his church must meet that challenge. Te Atua decided that one of his flock must become an Anglican. His elder daughter, Hinerohi Kuao (having taken the name of her drowned sister), became the offering; she took the additional name Te Wahanga (set apart). Most of the Ringatu community followed her into the Anglican church.

Henare Te Atua's solution to Matua's challenge was perceived as averting the consequences of Te Kooti's acts of makutu, and gained him great mana among the people of Porangahau. On Henare Matua's death in 1894 he, rather than Tipene Matua, Henare's natural successor, became the leader of the community. The struggle over the leadership was not totally resolved; as a consequence Tipene Matua later led a section of the people into the Ratana church.

Henare Te Atua and his family were prominent on the Rongomaraeroa marae at Porangahau, and were closely connected to the carved houses there. Te Wahanga Hinerohi lived in the house Taraiwahine, for which Pirihira Hariru, Henare Te Atua's sister, had prepared the timber in the 1860s. Te Poho-o-Kahungunu, which stood on the marae at the time of Te Kooti's visit, was still there in 1899; it had succeeded the house Tapurutu.

In Te Poho-o-Kahungunu, Henare Te Atua hosted a hui from 31 May to 9 June 1899 to discuss amendments to Premier Richard Seddon's 1898 Native Lands Settlement and Administration Bill. Te Atua likened the bill to a second Treaty of Waitangi between Queen Victoria and Maori. He proposed a considerable number of amendments, and stated that if Seddon did not agree to them, Queen Victoria should be asked to instruct her ministers in New Zealand to heed Maori wishes.

By 1902 Te Atua was chairman of the Porangahau marae committee. In this capacity he was involved in sanitary inspections, and made arrangements for a new township to be established. He also worked on consolidating the land interests of local hapu, and reported on these proceedings to the Maori newspaper Te Puke ki Hikurangi. In May 1902 he attended a meeting at Hastings chaired by Ihaia Hutana, who asked the representatives of Hawke's Bay Maori to think carefully before bringing claims before the Native Land Court. Te Atua supported Hutana's warnings about the land losses that could result from unpaid lawyers' and surveyors' fees. Hutana recommended that villages and pa should be redefined as papakainga (making them into inalienable reserves) in order to protect them. Henare Te Atua said that this was his plan for Porangahau, and asked Hutana to assist him.

By representing the interests of his people in political, legal and administrative matters, Henare Te Atua provided leadership for Porangahau. He was also a leader and an innovator in more traditional spheres of activity. He represented his community at many hui and tangihanga in Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay, and led the development of a new house at Porangahau, Te Poho-o-Kahungunu II. This was opened on 15 November 1911 by the bishop of Waiapu, A. W. Averill, and Te Atua was the leading elder presiding over the function. In getting the Anglican bishop to open the house Henare Te Atua departed from strict Maori custom, and a new protocol was established, partly as a consequence of the events of December 1886.

In December 1911 Henare Te Atua attended the Christmas hui at the house Nga Tau e Waru, near Masterton, held to discuss the prophecies of Paora Te Potangaroa, and to promote Te Hahi o te Ruri Tuawhitu o Ihowa (also called the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah) as a new Maori church, combining many different sects. Catholics, Anglicans and Mormons all attended. At the Christmas feast, begun by the cutting of black and white ribbons symbolising mourning and joy respectively, Mohi Te Atahikoia cut the black ribbon, and Henare Te Atua cut the white.

If Henare Te Atua was considering the Church of the Seven Rules as a way of spiritually uniting his people, he had little time left to achieve this goal. He died at Porangahau on 21 May 1912. His body was not laid out, as had been the custom until that time, in a separate temporary house built to accommodate the coffin and the bereaved family, but on the porch of Te Poho-o-Kahungunu II, a practice that developed into modern custom. He lies buried with his kin, including both his wives (Ngawhare died in the early 1920s), his daughter, Te Wahanga, and grandson, Henare Te Atua Hokianga, in Te Kaiwhitikitiki cemetery at Porangahau.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara and Piri Sciascia. 'Te Atua, Henare', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 31 May 2020)