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The Story of a Maori Chief

The Passing of Kohere—A Rangatira's Wish

The Passing of Kohere—A Rangatira's Wish

Under this heading in a London newspaper of 19th December, 1916, appeared the following article:—

Old Kohere was the chief of Ngati-Porou. He named Ropata Wahawaha to lead his taua for his prowess; and he himself sat in council in the New Zealand Parliament in his ripe years. Lieutenant Kohere lay on a stretcher in the dugout on the Somme. He was quite comfortable and happy. Two of the Pioneers were with him. In one hand he held a lighted cigarette; the other hand was smashed by a high-explosive shell. He was grievously wounded, too, in the groin. Kohere was a chief, and he was paying his small debts, his trifling mess accounts and so on, because he expected to die.
The Major (Rangihiroa) thrust his head and shoulders in at the door, darkening the dugout. “How is it, Kohere?” he asked in Maori.
“Ka nui te kino,” was the quiet reply. The tohunga might not know. But Kohere knew it was very bad, and he was squaring up with life like a chief.
Kohere's grandfather had named Ropata for the war captain, because a chief always wishes well for the tribe. Was there anything Kohere wanted?
“There is only one thing,” whispered the dying rangatira. “I want the platoon to go to Kaa.” It was the old tribal mana. Ngati-Porou had a full platoon of their own, and yet another platoon was chiefly of Ngati-Porou with a Ngati-Porou leader, Lieutenant Kaa. The rangatira wished to hand over his tribesmen to their chief.
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Kohere went down the line and died, and was buried, and far away at the Antipodes the greatest tangi of Ngati-Porou mourned his passing.
“What is to be done?” said the Colonel to the Major when they talked of subsequent appointments.” Well, the first thing to do is to be square with Kohere. Kaa must have the platoon.” And Kaa leads the Ngati-Porou to-day.

Captain Pekama Kaa was killed while in charge of men carrying the wounded to a place of safety.

James Cowan, in his book, The Maoris in the Great War, states: “Lieutenant Kohere died of his wound on 16th September, 1916, at the Casualty Clearing Station, and his Ngati-Porou and other comrades deeply mourned him. He was a grandson of Major Mokena Kohere,1 who, with Major Ropata Wahawaha, fought the Hauhaus on the East Coast from 1865 on. The two Ngati-Porou leaders received swords of honour from Queen Victoria.… Lieutenant Kohere's wound was in the groin, but the high-explosive fragment had been deflected up into the abdomen.… Thus on a faraway battlefield in France there was re-enacted a scene that had occurred on many a Maori chieftain's death-bed in the homeland of Aotearoa. Whether college-bred platoon commander or old-time tattooed chief of a tribe, the warrior's last dying thoughts and instructions were for the welfare of the people he commanded.”

Sir Apirana T. Ngata composed a tangi or lament in Maori for the Maori Pioneer Battalion, the second verse of which refers to the East Coast tribes and Lieutenant Henare Kohere. The song became very popular throughout all the tribes. This unmetrical translation into English of the second verse is mine:

E te Ope Tuarua, The Second Party
No Mahaki rawa, Came from Mahaki,
Na Hauiti koe, From Hauiti also,
Na Porourangi. And from Porourangi,
I haere ai Henare When Henare went
Me to “wiwi.” And his “wiwi.”2
I putu ki te pakanga, With misfortune they metpage 79
Ki Paranihi ra ia. On the plains of France.
Ko wai hei morehu, Was any left to bring
Hei kawe korero, News and message
Ki te iwi nui e. To all at home?
Taukiri e! Alas! alas!

The news of Henare's death was received with a shock by the whole of the Ngati-Porou Tribe. Obsequies were observed at Tikitiki by special request of the chief Neho Kopuka, instead of at Rangitukia, Henare's own marae. The chief contended that Henare was Mokena Kohere's grandson, and the least the tribe could do in return for Mokena Kohere's great services to the tribe was to hold the tangi at some central tribal marae.

1 I always thought that Mokena Kohere must have had some military rank because of the important part he played in squashing Hauhauism on the East Coast.

2 “Wiwi,” a Ngati-Porou colloquialism, meaning a party of young people.