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The Story of a Maori Chief

Chapter 10 — Two Outstanding Chiefs

page 65

Chapter 10
Two Outstanding Chiefs

Mr. J. G. Baker, son of a missionary who laboured on the East Coast from the year 1853 on, gives pen-pictures of both Te Kani-a-Takirau and Mokena Kohere. In his Sketch of Maori Church Work on the East Coast (unpublished) he comments:

“Before closing I should like to make a few remarks about the two chiefs specially referred to, they being conspicuously in advance of the ordinary ones and by their extraordinary influence controlled the actions of their people throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Te Kani-a-Takirau was a man of princely appearance, tall, fair, and handsome, with curly auburn hair and possessing all the qualities of nature's gentleman. Being a man of extra high birth, he was looked upon as sacred by his people, who numbered from Cook's Strait in one direction to the extremity of the Bay of Plenty on the other side, whom he could sway in any direction by a word or wave of his hand. He did not associate generally with the ordinary people, but lived almost entirely apart by himself, simply tolerating two or three people of high rank to wait upon him, but when on a journey he always had a strong guard of honour following him at a distance. Te Kani, however, was a great friend and admirer of Europeans, and put off all restraint when associating with them; unfortunately he soon learned to love their indulgences, which ultimately brought him to an untimely end. Although such a good friend to missionaries, whom he always took under his special protection, he never accepted Christianity, nor would he attend public worship.

Mokena Kohere, on the other hand, was a man of a different stamp. He was not of such high rank,1 but, being possessed of an indomitable spirit, he ruled the people by force of character. He was brave, powerful and yet of an extremely kind and gentle disposition, except when roused, when he was like a firebrand. Like Te Kani, he also formed a strong attachment to Europeans, and if necessary would defend them against any odds.

1 See genealogy on page 69.

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“On one occasion in Auckland I was conversing with Mokena Kohere when a gentleman (Captain Williams, of the revenue schooner), recognising him, came up and warmly shook his hand. I asked him if he knew Mokena.

“‘Know him?’ he said. ‘If anyone has reason to know him I have. I was captain of a small vessel many years ago and was wrecked on the Waiapu beach. The Maoris came and seized everything they could lay hands upon and also threatened my life, but this man appeared on the scene and made the fellows collect all my goods and carry them up to his house, where he stored them and entertained me and my mates until another vessel came along and picked us up.’ Mokena laughed at the man's story and said it was true.”

J. W. Stack, in Early Maoriland Adventures, gives an account of a visit to Te Kani-a-Takirau at Uawa (Tolaga Bay). He says: “While at Uawa I heard about the famous Maori chief of the Tolaga Bay district, Te Kani-a-Takirau, who was said to be descended from a very beautiful goddess who came down from the skies. The Maoris regarded his person as sacred, and treated him with great reverence and respect. He was very friendly to the missionaries, and my father paid him a special visit on the morning of our departure from Uawa.

“We crossed the river in a canoe and ascended the south bank, which was high and steep, and entered the pa where Te Kani lived. We found him seated on a mat, on the floor of the verandah which projected from the north end of his house. He was enjoying the sunshine, which streamed down upon him. He was clad in native garments and remained seated during our short visit. There was nothing about the surroundings to impress one. They were just as commonplace as those about any other Maori dwellings. But the man himself was quite different from anyone else I had ever seen. He possessed such an indescribable air of distinction that I felt quite awe-struck in his presence.”

S. Percy Smith, in his Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, says of Te Kani-a-Takirau: “Te Kani-a-Takirau was without doubt the most powerful chief on the East Coast in the eighteenth century, being a grandson of the more celebrated Hinematioro, who was more like a queen than any other chieftainess of New Zealand. It was therefore no page 67 wonder that he was offered, in 1854, the Maori Kingite crown, an honour which he politely, but wisely, declined.”

The sources of our information about Te Kani-a-Takirau are up to now all pakeha, so it would be interesting to learn what the Maoris, especially of the East Coast, thought of him and his line. During the tangi over the death of Makarini, eldest son of Sir Apirana and Lady Arihia Ngata, in Porourangi house, Wai-o-Matatini, a chief from Wairoa, Hata Tipoki, asked the question: “Why was Te Kani-a-Takirau such a great man?”

Three Ngati-Porou people, one man and two women, replied that Te Kani was great because he was of the senior lines. Neri Maukau contended that Te Kani belonged to the same line as other Ngati-Porou chiefs, viz., Te Houkamau, Potae-aute, Matauru and Mokena Kohere, belonged. I pointed out that Te Kani-a-Takirau was no greater than other Ngati-Porou chiefs, and if there was anything extra about him he owed it to his Whangara and Tolaga Bay connections. Dick Leach, of Whangara, concurred with me. I also pointed out that the fact that Te Heuheu offered Te Kani the Maori crown was not because he was the greatest chief in Maoridom but because he was anti-British like his relative, Te Heuheu, a potential Hauhau. Both of them refused to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, and the crown could not be very well offered to a loyal chief.

Sir Apirana Ngata clinched the discussion by stating that Te Kani-a-Takirau did not always belong to the senior line, and that the Wharekahika (Hicks Bay) incident was a blot on the Te Kani-a-Takirau escutcheon. The “incident” Sir Apirana Ngata referred to is a well authenticated piece of history. On hearing that a war-party, led by the notable chiefs Konohi and Ponapatukia, was on its way, Rerekohu, chief of Wharekahika, boasted that by “laying his head inland and by stretching his legs to the sea” no enemy could pass over him. Konohi and Ponapatukia by-passed Wharekahika, and after fighting in the Bay of Plenty they called at Wharekahika to meet Rerekohu. There was no Rerekohu stretched from inland to the sea and not even a Rerekohu to be seen anywhere. What were there were two women on the Kaiarero beach, Ngunguru-i-te-rangi and Hinetaitua, both descendants of Rerekohu. The invaders understood, lifted the women and sailed on. Tanetokorangi, Konohi's grandson, page 68 took Ngunguru-i-te-rangi to wife, and the issue was the queenly Hinematioro. “The beautiful goddess who came down from the skies” was very human; in fact, a slave woman.

Again, it is Ngati-Porou history that for Hinematioro's insulting remarks a war-party invested Pourewa Island stronghold near Tolaga Bay. Hinematioro lived in the pa and inquired of the war-party who its leader was. On receiving the answer that it was Ponaho-nui-a-Tane, she put out to sea at night rather than fall into the hands of the Ngati-Porou chief, and was drowned. Her body, wearing precious greenstone pendants round her neck, was washed up on the beach. This incident does not show that Hinematioro had great respect for Ngati-Porou, nor Ngati-Porou for her, despite all that was said to the contrary.

I shall here quote from Percy Smith to show the great care Te Kani-a-Takirau's sub-tribe, Te Itanga-a-Hauiti, had for him: “Constant care for him was exercised by his people, and all of them grew food for his use. Whatever food was procured, whether from the sea or the forest, it was all taken to Te Kani. He never cultivated himself, like other chiefs, who grew food for themselves; his tribe always did this and presented the food to him.

“The following incident in the childhood of Te Kani illustrates the care exercised by his people for him. Whilst one of the pas on the Mahia Peninsula was being besieged, Te Kani was present as a child, and as there appeared to be danger of the pa being taken, the child was carried off by Kauhu, one of his own people and a relative. Potiki, a chief of Ngati-Maru, of the Thames, one of the leaders of the besiegers, saw Kauhu and his party escaping in a body, and he knew at once that some chief was being conveyed away. He gave chase with his own warriors, and soon overtook Kauhu carrying the child on his back. This was Te Kani-aTakirau.1 Potiki raised his tomahawk to kill the man and the child, when Kauhu called out to him: ‘Kaua ahau e patua ki te patiti takoto taha’—‘Do not kill me with a common tomahawk used for everyday use!’ He then produced from his belt a celebrated greenstone mere, named ‘Te Heketua,’ and handed it to Potiki, saying: ‘E ta! Ina te patu hei

1 Tiaki H. Mitera, in his book, Takitimu, contends that the child was Hirini Te Kani, of Poverty Bay, and not Te Kani-a-Takirau.

page 69 patu i ahau, kia whakarongo maeneene ake ai au!’—‘O Sir! Here is an appropriate weapon to kill one with, so that I may feel it softly’; or, in other words, be killed with an historical and chief-like weapon. Potiki, on seeing this valuable weapon handed to him, said to Kauhu: ‘Here, take the tomahawk in exchange, and make haste to escape with the child you are carrying, and so let him go in peace.’”

I have written all there is to be said about Te Kani-aTakirau, and I am at a loss to understand how this myth of great power was built up around Hinematioro and her grandson, Te Kani-a-Takirau. Their immediate sub-tribes must have been obsequious, for the more obsequious people are the more exalted their leaders would be in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world. In regard to Te Kani-a-Takirau's extra high birth amongst the Ngati-Porou, he was no higher than other chiefs and certainly he was junior to Mokena Kohere on their main line. Here is that line:—

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So Mr. Baker's statement that Mokena Kohere “was not of such high rank” as compared with Te Kani-a-Takirau is not correct. The comparison can only be made on a common ground.

According to Mr. Baker, the old missionary, James Stack, father of J. W. Stack, whom his father succeeded at Rangitukia in 1853, thought so much of the chief Mokena Kohere that he regarded him as a royal prince.

I had written the following in regard to Te Kani-a-Takirau: “The latter (Te Kani) lived the traditional life of a chief—that was, a chief did nothing menial, even to feed himself.” On reflection I thought that was not true if I consulted my own knowledge of Ngati-Porou chiefs. I had read about priests being so sacred that they were not permitted to feed themselves. Candidly, I have never heard that any of our Ngati-Porou chiefs, from Tuwhakairiora down to later times, ever lived the life that Te Kani-a-Takirau lived. Tuwhakairiora travelled alone from Opotiki to East Cape. He was a fighting man, and surely he would not be bothered with absurd ceremonies and ritual. Rarawa and Kaapa were amongst Ngati-Porou's greatest fighting chiefs and I am sure they could not be handicapped with an effeminate life like Te Kani-a-Takirau's. Tamahae stalked through the Ngati-Porou country, unconcerned, unharmed and unchallanged. I am sure he did not want anybody to feed him. We know Te Kani-aTakirau joined the Toka-a-kuku expedition and with his elaborate ritual he could not live the life of a fighting chief in the field, and we know also he returned home and left his fellow chiefs in the lurch.

Both J. G. Baker and J. W. Stack give detailed accounts of the home life of Te Kani-a-Takirau which is that of a pampered fop. The picture is not what I would draw of a truly virile, great rangatira. The old saying quoted on the title page is inapplicable to the case of Te Kani-a-Takirau, viz., “When in a desperate situation stand by a chief and you will not be deserted.” In this instance it was a chief who failed to stick and left others in the lurch.

Mokena Kohere, on the contrary, being younger, was an all-round man (as we are told in Chapter 6). Mokena Kohere was a fighter, Te Kani-a-Takirau was never. Could a nonfighter like Te Kani-a-Takirau was, be a great chief?

The only strong point about Te Kani-a-Takirau was his page 71 good looks. The experience of the world has shown that handsome men, as a rule, are never strong characters—their very looks are often their downfall. J. G. Baker has told us that Te Kani came to an untimely end.

Captain Cook wrote of Te Ratu, of Poverty Bay, as a very great chief, and yet Ngati-Porou knew and know nothing about him except that there was a chief of that name. When the famous navigator asked the natives who was the chief they would naturally extol their own chief. He was, like Te Kani-a-Takirau another popular myth.

Te Kani-a-Takirau left no issue, but his half-sister, Kurunapu, has descendants living. They are Kaipaka Kingi, of Tolaga Bay, and his sister, Te Hei Hinaki, of Whangara. More unassuming people one cannot wish to find.