During the 1820s, the northern tribe Ngāpuhi went on the rampage throughout the North Island, armed with muskets newly acquired from Europeans. Their massacres of Ngāti Porou at Te Whetūmatarau and Kokai are noted events of this period.
Captives taken from these areas also brought Christianity to the tribal region, notably in 1834 through (Piripi) Taumata-ā-Kura. Rangitukia became the foundation point of Christianity in the region. Later, some 4,000 people gathered at the huge inland pā of Whakawhitirā, in the south of Waiapu Valley, to witness this new phenomenon.
The arrival of Christianity is often referred to as ‘te taonga nāna i tango te kiko tangata i ō mātau niho’ (the instrument that removed human flesh from our teeth). The practice of cannibalism ceased. Peace and the settling of old grievances were also achieved through arranged marriages, even into modern times.
The ensuing period was generally one of peace and calm, a time when new cultural opportunities were explored. This brought about an acceptance of changing circumstances and challenges, and resulted in several Ngāti Porou chiefs signing the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The 1850s was an era of great economic expansion for the tribe, which traded on locally owned ships as far as Auckland and Port Jackson (Sydney).
In 1865 civil war broke out. Ngāti Porou fought Ngāti Porou, and two factions emerged.
One group was the Hauhau converts, among whom were sections of the sub-tribes from north of the Waiapu River, Tokomaru Bay, Tolaga Bay and Gisborne regions. The Hauhau had killed the Reverend Carl Völkner in 1865 and were moving into the territory to spread their form of religious fervour, Pai Mārire. This promised immunity from bullets, aiming to drive Pākehā from Māori land, and seeking support for the Kīngitanga, the movement to create a Māori nation under a Māori king. However, Ngāti Porou had already refused the kingship when it was offered to Te Kani a Takirau.
The other faction of Ngāti Porou stood to repel what they saw as an invasion by Hauhau forces.
Internal conflicts followed at a number of places from northern Waiapu to Tokomaru Bay, Tolaga Bay, and Tūranganui–Waerenga-a-hika in the Gisborne region. They ended with the pursuit of Te Kooti through the Urewera in 1870.
Hikurangi does not move
When the high-born Te Kani a Takirau was offered the position of Māori king, he famously replied: ‘My kingship comes from my long line of ancestors. My mountain Hikurangi is not one that moves, but one that remains steadfast.’
This has become the Ngāti Porou statement of fierce independence (some say arrogance!) that characterises the tribe even today. Ngāti Porou fondly refers to itself as Te Wīwī Nāti. Coined by Apirana Ngata, the name compares the people to wīwī – close, compact-growing rushes.
In 1865 the Te Aowera sub-tribe at Mangaone, led by Hēnare Nihohiho and Rāpata Wahawaha, repelled the well-armed forces of Hauhau advancing into Ngāti Porou. Hēnare was killed, and Rāpata assumed the mantle of leadership in subsequent battles.
Initially Ngāti Porou were poorly equipped with muskets – a war party of 70 men who went from Te Aowera had only five guns. But the government soon supplied them with more guns: its motive in joining forces with Ngāti Porou was to stem the growing influence of the Hauhau in the region. Ngāti Porou’s motive was clearly to maintain its own sovereignty.