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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 8 (November 1, 1935)

Famous New Zealanders — No. 32 — The Heuheu Family. — The Hereditary Paramount Chiefs Of Taupo

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Famous New Zealanders
No. 32
The Heuheu Family.
The Hereditary Paramount Chiefs Of Taupo.

“Ko Tongariro te Maunga; ko Taupo te Moana; ko Te Heuheu te Tangata.” (“Tongariro is the Mountain; Taupo is the Lake; Te Heuheu is the Man.”) “Ko Rongomai te Atua; ko Te Heuheu te Tangata.” (“Rongomai is the God; Te Heuheu is the Man.”)

These are the proverbial sayings or pepeha of the people who live on the shores of Lake Taupo, or Taupo Moana, regarding the hereditary Chiefs of the Heuheu family, the heads of the Ngati-Turumakina section of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa tribe. Most tribes and some families of high aristocratic lineage have their special sayings, slogans, or honorific aphorisms; but that of the Heuheu line is the proudest of all in its lofty-sounding and poetic symbolism. The tradition and history of the heart of the North Island are for centuries the history of this long-pedigreed family. The most celebrated of the line was the majestic old chief Te Heuheu Tukino, of whom some of the pioneer travellers and missionaries wrote, and who was killed with many of his tribe by a landslip in 1846. It was his son, Te Heuheu Horonuku, who presented the New Zealand Government with the sacred peaks of the Tongariro volcanic country, a gift that was the nucleus of the Tongariro National Park. The present chief, Hoani te Heuheu, is the grandson of Horonuku.

Te Heuheu Tukino (Horonuku), who presented to the State in 1887 the mountain peaks now the Tongariro National Park. He died in 1888.

Te Heuheu Tukino (Horonuku),
who presented to the State in 1887 the mountain peaks now the Tongariro National Park. He died in 1888.

The genealogy of the Heuheu family line of South Taupo is a family tree that is worthy to stand alongside any chieftain's pedigree in the Scottish Highlands. No Lord of the Isles can point to a longer line of fighting chiefs than the members of some of our New Zealand first families, whose ancestral names go back into the Hawaikian era, generations before the first sailing-craft from Tahiti and other Eastern Pacific islands touched the New Zealand shore. The old families preserved their word-of-mouth lists of descent as tapu things; the very recital of the revered ancestral names had the virtue of a prayer. Now many of these lists are preserved in print; the ancient tapu has gone, but the wonder and the magic of old, old traditions remain. The hereditary paramount chiefs of Ngati-Turumakina came of a line not only of warrior leaders but of high priests. The most revered of all the ancestors of the Heuheu family was Ngatoro-i-Rangi, who was the priest of the Arawa canoe and who discovered the volcanic mountains, the history of which is so interlocked with that of the Heuheus.

The unusually dramatic quality of the Tongariro landscape is in keeping with the heroic traditions of the olden overlords of the country. It is a place of classic Maori-Polynesian mythology in which the nature-legends of the dim and faery past are blended with the long warrior history of the Heuheu family and their clans. The high chiefs and the high peaks alike were tapu; they were as gods and guardians of the land and the people. That wide view of water and mountain that comes to the eye as one looks from the north end of Lake Taupo gives you the domain of the ancient line whose beginnings in the whakapapa or family-trees go back to the gods and the personified powers of nature. Those flashing pinnacles of ice and snow; those fuming craters and nests of steaming mountain-springs and heights moulded by the never-resting powers of the under-world, they all have entered into the making of the soul of the Heuheus and their people. The chiefs identified themselves with the volcanic peaks. “I am that Mountain,” said the great Heuheu to those who asked his permission to climb Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. “You cannot tread on me.” Or again, “That Mountain is my ancestor; it is tapu to alien foot.” This sacredness was intensified in the Maori mind when the bones of the great Heuheu who had scorned to acknowledge Queen Victoria as his superior in mana were given mighty sepulchre, in a cave high on Tongariro's side.

The King of Taupo.

There is material for a bookful of legend, song and history intertwined with the story of the Heuheu line. I have a great deal not only from the late Te Heuheu Tukino, who was a member of the Legislative Council when he died in 1921, but from his elders, such warriors of old time as Tokena Kerehi and Waaka Tamaira, Whata-iwi and their contemporaries. But for the present it may be more interesting to quote, for one thing, what was written about the greatest of the Heuheu family by an enterprising pioneer traveller, that noted character and entertaining writer, Edward Jerningham Wakefield.

There is a splendid declaration of royal authority in a speech made by Te Heuheu to Wakefield, who gives it in his book, “Adventures in New Zealand.” He was on an expedition page break page 19 through the heart of the Island, and on the day before leaving Tokaanu he went to Te Heuheu's village, Te Rapa, to take leave of the old chieftain. It was the first of January, 1842.

After the usual greetings had passed, he (Te Heuheu) told me at once that he suspected our two parties had met, one from Wellington and one from the Waitemata, to consult over his land, with a view to buy it, or even seize it forcibly, at a later season.

“‘If this be your wish,’ said he, 'go back and tell my words to the people who sent you. I am king here, as my fathers were before me, and as King George and his fathers were over your country. I have not sold my chieftainship to the Governor, as all the chiefs round the sea-coast have done, nor have I sold my land.

I will sell neither. A messenger was here from the Governor to buy the land the other day, and I refused. If you are on the same errand I refuse you too. You white people are numerous and strong; you can easily crush us if you choose and take possession of that which we will not yield; but here is my right arm, and should thousands of you come you must make me a slave or kill me before I will give up my authority or my land. When you go you will say I am big - mouthed, like all the other Maoris who have talked to you, but I am now telling you that by which I mean to abide. Let your people keep the sea-coast, and leave the interior to us, and our mountain, whose name is sacred to the bones of my fathers. Do not bring many white people into the interior who may encroach on our possessions till we become their servants. But if you can make up your mind to come yourself now and then and visit this mean place, whose people are your slaves, you will find the same welcome. The place and the people are yours. Go to Wanganui.'

“The old man,” continued Wakefield, “said all this calmly and without working himself into a state of excitement; but while he disclaimed any intention of swaggering, and on holding up his right arm from beneath his mat, displayed his herculean proportions unimpaired by the sixty years that have whitened his hair, I could not but help admiring his calm and manly declaration; and believing it to be, as he said, true, I succeeded after much trouble in making him understand that we had all come to Taupo out of curiosity only, and with no view of acquiring land, and assured him that the Southern pakehas, at least, would never annoy him by any attempt to wrest from him his chieftainship or his land.”

The chief told Wakefield also about the missionaries and their faith. “Te Hapimana”—the
Te Heuheu the Great, and His Brother Iwikau. The famous old chief was killed in the landslide at Te Raps, South Taupo, in 1846, two years after this picture was drawn by G. F. Angas, the Australian artist. Iwikau te Heuheu succeeded him as head of the tribe.

Te Heuheu the Great, and His Brother Iwikau. The famous old chief was killed in the landslide at Te Raps, South Taupo, in 1846, two years after this picture was drawn by G. F. Angas, the Australian artist. Iwikau te Heuheu succeeded him as head of the tribe.

Rev. Thomas Chapman—from Rotorua, had repeatedly pressed him to accept books and become a “missionary,” but he had steadfastly refused, as he saw in the conversion of his people to the white man's religion an inevitable levelling of rank and the end of his regal sway. “When I last heard of him, in August, 1843, he was still threatening to use the missionary books as cartridge paper, and the tapu still dwelt on the sacred mountains.”

Would Not Sign the Treaty.

Not only did Te Heuheu decline to sign the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, when an agent brought the sheets to Rotorua but he prevented, by his mana and his arguments, any of the Arawa there from signing. His brother Iwikau te Heuheu had previously been persuaded to sign the document, but the elder brother insisted that he should return the red blankets which had been given to him, as to all the other chiefs who signed, by the Governor's representatives in the North.

G. F. Angas, the Australian artist, who visited the Taupo country in 1844, travelling by canoe and on foot from Auckland, spent some time at Waihi and Tokaanu and painted the picture of Te Heuheu and Iwikau which is one of the treasures in the celebrated portfolio of Maori life scenes and portraits. Angas was not always successful with his Maori faces but he preserved for us in this drawing the air of dignity and majesty which the early days' travellers to Taupo have described as the distinguishing characteristic of Te Heuheu the Great. An official visitor to the home of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa in 1845 was Donald Maclean (afterwards Sir Donald), who while a very young man became a trusted and able Government intermediary in native affairs. He was impressed by Te Heuheu's intellectual powers and his strongly patriotic and nationalist attitude. The old chief stoutly supported Hone Heke, at that time engaged in his little war in the North; and he expressed his fears that the pakeha would soon become dangerously numerous and powerful in the land. His vision was prophetic; but his tribe's position far in the heart of the Island gave them a security which many of the coast dwelling tribes presently lost.

The Buried Village.

The tragic end of kinglike Heuheu, with fifty of his tribespeople, in 1846, is spoken of to this day by the old people of the Taupo country as an act of the Maori gods. It was the gods of wild nature at any rate; the forces of Ruwaimoko against which man is powerless. The story of that historic landslide from Hipaua's steam-soaked and flooded slopes was told me by one of the only three people who escaped from Te Rapa village.

This survivor, whom I was fortunate enough to find at Waihi village in the year 1900—fifty-four years after the disaster which entombed his people—was a white-haired ancient warrior named Tokena te Kerehi. He was one of the younger sons of the great Te Heuheu. He said he was grown up and tattooed on the body as well as the face, at the time of the midnight landslip. His narrative, which I have placed on record, is too long to reproduce here; but one or two leading incidents may be mentioned.

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Te Heuheu Tukino, M.L.C. (Born 1865, died 1921). The son of the chief who gave the sacred mountains to the Government of New Zealand.

Te Heuheu Tukino, M.L.C.
(Born 1865, died 1921).
The son of the chief who gave the sacred mountains to the Government of New Zealand.

He said that the high priest Te Pahau had prophesied that Te Heuheu would not die by the hand of man, but by the stroke of the gods; and truly this was fulfilled. There was a thunderstorm early on the night of the disaster, and it was alarming to the people of Te Heuheu's household, and seemed to threaten the village as the lightning flashed downward and the guns of heaven crashed. Te Heuheu took his famous sacred greenstone máeráe Pahikaure in hand, a weapon of wondrous mana, and climbing to the roof of his house he essayed to quell the spirits of earth and sky. He loudly recited his prayers to avert the death-stroke from the sky, and after thus invoking the gods of his race and the spirits of his sacred ancestors he returned to his house. It was in the midnight hours when all but one or two were asleep that that destruction fell on the kainga. Te Rapa was close to the lake shore, fair in the mouth of the valley of the Wai-mataii and the steamy gulch and slopes of Hipaua. It was a challenge to fate. A fortunate wakeful one was young Tokena te Kerehi. When the hillside came down and buried the village he was outside his house; he was restless, for the night was ominous. He was all but buried as he ran—there was no time to warn the sleepers—and only escaped at last by climbing up a leaning tree, a moari or swinging tree of the young people, at the lake edge. Old Heuheu might have escaped but he tried to save his wives. When the horror-stricken people from the other villages gathered, and, after many days, were able to dig out the buried chief and his household, they found his favourite wife lying near him with the precious myáeráe Pahikaure, the sacred talismanic weapon of the family, clasped to her breast. The chief's house was the only one uncovered. The great hole dug there was still to be seen when I was there in 1900. The other houses overwhelmed were left under the deep covering of clay.

In the year 1910, the bones of the great Heuheu were searched for on Tongariro. The cave in which they were deposited in 1850 was found, and the skeleton was recovered and brought down to Waihi. A few days later another horo or landslide came down the water-logged steaming valley alongside the landslide of 1846; it was a larger slip which went out a long way into the lake. There was only one person killed by this slip, which took place in the daytime. A curious coincidence, one of several strange occurrences at that time discussed by the Maoris.

The late Te Heuheu Tukino, M.L.C., told me that the skull of his grandfather, which he viewed and wept over when it was borne down from the sacred mountain, was exceptionally large; and that the great man must have been 6 feet 5 inches or 6 feet 6 inches in height.

The Family Name.

The name Heuheu has puzzled many people interested in native nomenclature. Its right pronunciation, too, is difficult to some, but it presents no trouble when the Maori vowels are learned. “Hay-ooh-hay-ooh,” pronounced quickly so that the vowels easily coalesce, gives the correct sound. The story of the name-giving, as told to me by the late Te Heuheu Tukino, takes us back a hundred and fifty years—six generations. The story is over-long to tell here; enough just now to explain that it means “brushwood” or jungly growth; the story of an over-grown grave, the tomb of a near kinsman of the chief Tukino, the first Heuheu's father.

Iwikau te Heuheu.

The great Te Heuheu's younger brother Iwikau became head of the clan on the death of the sacred Ariki in 1846. He had been a warrior of renown, a famous wielder of the taiaha. He was a kindly old man, in the experience of early pakeha visitors to South Taupo. In 1849–50 he accompanied the Governor, Sir George Grey, from Auckland to Pukawa, which became the headquarters of the tribe after the destruction of Te Rapa by the great landslip. The first resident missionary at South Taupo, the Rev. Thomas Samuel Grace, who settled there in 1850, found in Iwikau a friend and protector. The chief was a leading man in the movement to set up a Maori King, and he was offered the kingship himself but declined and suggested Potatau te Wherowhero as a more suitable head. Upon that suggestion the chiefs assembled at Pukawa acted—the date was November, 1856—and old Potatau was proclaimed King at Ngaruawahia and Rangiaowhia.

(Continued on page 41.)