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Story: Te Atua, Hēnare

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Te Atua, Hēnare


Ngāti Kahungunu leader

This biography, written by Angela Ballara and Piri Sciascia, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Hēnare Te Atua was an important leader in the community of Ngāti Kere and other hapū at Pōrangahau in southern Hawke's Bay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, where he succeeded to the authority of Hēnare Matua. His father was Hone Te Whakapai, whose name, meaning 'to set in order', reflected his influence in peace negotiations preceding the return of Ngāti 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 Ngāti Pakiua. Through Pakiua's descent from Tūmapuhiārangi, Hēnare 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 Hēnare Te Atua was recognised as a chief of Ngāti Hinepare. Through his descent from Kere, Hēnare was also kin to Ngāti Te Whatu-i-āpiti through a senior line. The conjunction of these lines of descent at Hēnare Te Atua's birth made this event important to Ngāti Kere and its associated hapū.

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

At Waimarama Hēnare Te Atua married Mirianata Kuitohi, a daughter of Raina Te Rangikoianake and the grand-daughter of Rīpeka Te Pakipaki and Īhaka Mōtoro. Four daughters were born to them: Hinerohi, Pirihira Harirū, Huiariki, and Hinerohi Kūao. Kuitohi predeceased Hēnare. Later, at Pōrangahau, he married Ngāwhare of Ngāi Te Wheeki. Their children were Te Hau Mihiata (a daughter) and Hone Te Whakapai Te Atua.

By 1886 Hēnare Te Atua was living at Pōrangahau, where he was known as 'The Ringatū', being the last (and perhaps the only) minister of the Ringatū section of the community. The people of Pōrangahau regarded Hēnare Matua, an Anglican, as their chief and spiritual leader. He had defined a boundary, called Pōti-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 Ringatū leader Te Kooti had been deeply involved. When Te Atua invited Te Kooti to Pōrangahau 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 Pōrangahau, Te Kooti uttered kupu whakaari (prophetic sayings) associated with biblical revelation, words recorded and treasured by Ngāti 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 Māori 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 Ringatū supporters and the Anglican portion of the population. During the speeches of welcome both Hēnare 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 Pōrangahau, Hinerohi, Hēnare Te Atua's six-year-old daughter, drowned in the Pōrangahau River, and a few days after that, Hēnare Matua was knocked unconscious in a buggy accident.

In the climate of tragedy, fear and suspicion following the clash between the two leaders, Hēnare 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 Kūao (having taken the name of her drowned sister), became the offering; she took the additional name Te Wahanga (set apart). Most of the Ringatū community followed her into the Anglican church.

Hēnare 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 Pōrangahau. On Hēnare Matua's death in 1894 he, rather than Tīpene Matua, Hēnare's natural successor, became the leader of the community. The struggle over the leadership was not totally resolved; as a consequence Tīpene Matua later led a section of the people into the Rātana church.

Hēnare Te Atua and his family were prominent on the Rongomaraeroa marae at Pōrangahau, and were closely connected to the carved houses there. Te Wahanga Hinerohi lived in the house Tāraiwahine, for which Pirihira Harirū, Hēnare 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, Hēnare 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 Māori. 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 Māori wishes.

By 1902 Te Atua was chairman of the Pōrangahau 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 hapū, and reported on these proceedings to the Māori newspaper Te Puke ki Hikurangi. In May 1902 he attended a meeting at Hastings chaired by Ihaia Hūtana, who asked the representatives of Hawke's Bay Māori to think carefully before bringing claims before the Native Land Court. Te Atua supported Hūtana's warnings about the land losses that could result from unpaid lawyers' and surveyors' fees. Hūtana recommended that villages and pā should be redefined as papakāinga (making them into inalienable reserves) in order to protect them. Hēnare Te Atua said that this was his plan for Pōrangahau, and asked Hūtana to assist him.

By representing the interests of his people in political, legal and administrative matters, Hēnare Te Atua provided leadership for Pōrangahau. 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 Pōrangahau, 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 Hēnare Te Atua departed from strict Māori custom, and a new protocol was established, partly as a consequence of the events of December 1886.

In December 1911 Hēnare Te Atua attended the Christmas hui at the house Ngā Tau e Waru, near Masterton, held to discuss the prophecies of Pāora Te Pōtangaroa, and to promote Te Hāhi o te Rūri Tuawhitu o Ihowā (also called the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah) as a new Māori 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 Ātahīkoia cut the black ribbon, and Hēnare Te Atua cut the white.

If Hēnare 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 Pōrangahau 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 (Ngāwhare died in the early 1920s), his daughter, Te Wāhanga, and grandson, Hēnare Te Atua Hokianga, in Te Kaiwhitikitiki cemetery at Pōrangahau.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara and Piri Sciascia. 'Te Atua, Hēnare', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3t12/te-atua-henare (accessed 5 July 2022)