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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Sequel to a Slaying

Sequel to a Slaying

Prior to his visit to the Bay of Islands, Matenga had been closely connected with the treacherous slaying of a relative named Te Ratau, father of Ihaka Whaanga, who proved such a helpful friend to the pakehas during the Hauhau troubles and the Te Kooti revolt, and who died on 14 December, 1875. The murder of Te Ratau is stated to have been an act of revenge, partly on account of the death of Rongo-i-waho at the hands of Rakato (Te Ratau's grandfather), and partly on account of the fact that the body of Akurangi (an uncle of Hine-a-Koia, one of Matenga's wives) had been sent to Te Ratau to be eaten. Matenga was said to have issued an invitation to Whakatohea, of the Bay of Plenty, to provide a war party to attack Te Ratau and his people. On the other hand, the real instigator of the move might have been page 160 Hine-a-Koia. Upon the arrival of the taua, Te Ratau was on Portland Island. A message was sent to him to return to the mainland to greet the visitors, who, he was given to understand, were on a peaceful mission and wished to make a gift of a gun to him.

Relying upon Matenga's presence among the strangers as a guarantee of good faith, Te Ratau returned home. The customary welcome took place and preparations for the entertainment of the guests were put in hand. Unbeknown to Te Ratau, it was intended by the visitors that his own body should be baked in the oven that was being heated to provide a meal. Whilst he and one of the visitors were pressing noses by way of greeting, he was seized from behind by his hair. A blow or two with a whalebone mere sealed his fate. He had been spared the indignity of being forced to collect the fuel to heat the oven—a step which was usually insisted upon when it was desired to heap insult upon the intended victim.

After the slaying of Te Ratau, Matenga, with his sub-tribe, fled towards Poverty Bay. They were pursued by a large number of angry neighbouring tribesmen, and several encounters took place. Matenga's party suffered a heavy defeat at Panui, where Tamawheti (his father) and about half of his followers were slain. The Rongowhakaata, it is stated, aided the pursuers in this engagement. As Pomare was in the neighbourhood, it is not improbable that he, too, lent them a hand, and that it was at Panui that he made Matenga a captive.

When Matenga's religious fervour subsided, he reasserted his former rights as a rangatira. He was a signatory at Poverty Bay to the Treaty of Waitangi. Towards the close of his career he embraced Hauhauism and conducted a church at Mangakino. Otene Pomare (named after the Ngapuhi Pomare) claimed that his father and his grandfather became Christian evangelists in succession to Matenga.

The identity of the natives who paved the way for mission work in Poverty Bay has not been definitely traced. In the Native Land Court at Gisborne (minute book, No. 4) Arapeta Taniwha said that Ngatuku came from the north, showed him a Testament and taught him the Scriptures. Wi Pere, in another case (minute book, No. 26) told the court that Christianity was first introduced into the district by Whanukaitai and that Pomare (presumably Otene Pomare's father or grandfather) came afterwards.

It was not until January, 1838, that the East Coast was again visited on behalf of the Church Missionary Society. Meantime, native evangelists, especially Taumata-a-Kura, had continued page 161 their good work. At several additional centres, chapels had been erected, schools opened, and “Ratapu” (Sunday) had become a recognised day of rest from labour. Bishop W. Williams says that a Ngapuhi, who had visited the East Cape, made it his business upon his return to the Bay of Islands in 1837 to inform the missionaries that great success was attending Taumata's efforts. He also urged that pakeha missionaries should be sent to assist him. On that account, he (Mr. Williams) was required to examine the conditions in Poverty Bay in addition to revisiting the East Coast.

The Revs. J. Stack and Matthews and Mr. Colenso accompanied Mr. Williams. Leaving the mission schooner at Hicks Bay [East Coast] the party proceeded overland to Tokomaru Bay, thence by canoe to Tolaga Bay, and from that point it went on foot to Poverty Bay. In his report to the Church Missionary Society, Mr. Williams said:

“I found the natives very numerous when compared with those of this portion of the island [Bay of Islands], and at all the pas, both at East Cape and at Turanga, all seemed perfectly prepared to receive Christian instruction. Their repeated and strong solicitations for teachers are a loud and imperative call that the field should no longer be neglected…. The demand for books was great and general, and it was truly distressing to be obliged to turn applicants away when we had no longer the means of giving relief. I distributed, in the course of my journey, 500 slates and a few early lessons and catechisms. Books I had none….”