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The Story of a Maori Chief


Mr. J. G. Baker, who knew Mokena Kohere intimately, aptly describes him: “Mokena Kohere, possessed of an indomitable spirit, 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.” To describe a firebrand, brave and powerful, and yet extremely kind and gentle is paradoxical.

My grandfather lived long enough for me to find him out as a fierce tyrant and also as gentle as a woman. But for occasional spasms of rage he was gentle, unselfish, merciful and magnanimous. He was passionately fond of children, as all Maoris are. I remember when the family was living at Pohakiu, near Horoera, when we the children were left in the care of my grandfather while my father and mother with others were out early on the plantations and during the cool of the morning how he tenderly minded us. He would not awaken us, but let us sleep on as long as we liked. On awakening we found a simple meal prepared by my grandfather awaiting us. After we had cleaned up everything the old man was left with nothing, but he contented himself with the scraps left in the bottom of the dish, which he scraped with his finger. That was his habit. He could never bear to see a child's meal spoilt. If a child happened to cry during meal time grandfather would rise to his feet, lift the dish of food between his two hands and throw it outside to the waiting dogs, remarking: “If the child's meal is spoilt nobody else is going to enjoy his.” People knew this eccentricity of grandfather and took great care that no child was put out during meal times.

During his visits to Wellington to attend to his Parliamentary duties he invariably took one of his youngest children to keep him company. He found the city's hard footpaths very trying to his feet, and often the old man would be seen with his boots strung over his shoulders while his little son followed a yard or two behind.

Throughout his long life he was always thoughtful. It was his habit, when there was a meal or a feast to share amongst a number of people, instead of helping himself with page 38 the best, as was his due, he called on everybody to help himself, while he looked on smiling. Because of his unselfishness he refrained from attending the Native Land Court whilst other people were straining every effort to establish claims, true or false. To-day, however, we, his descendants, are paying heavily for his indifference, for people well trained in the methods of the Native Land Court have ousted us from Marangairoa 1 D, the very land Mokena Kohere took so much trouble to conserve. It has fallen to my lot to carry on a fight both before Parliament and the Native Land Courts for over 35 years, to regain our heritage and our sacred places.

Mokena Kohere was far-seeing enough to realize that the sooner titles to the Ngati-Porou lands were ascertained the sooner would those lands be sold to the white man. He therefore, as Paratene Ngata related in the Native Appellate Court, proclaimed Ngati-Porou lands inalienable. When the Native Land Court building was erected at Wai-o-Matatini he threatened to burn it down. He was compelled by the force of circumstances to restrict only lands north of the Waiapu River, and ultimately only the Marangairoa 1 D. block. When a trig station was erected on Pukekiore Hill, on the block, the chief Anaru Kahaki and others pulled it down and were arrested for carrying out what they considered their chief's policy and wish. In 1913 the block, otherwise known as Kautuku, came before Judge R. N. Jones. The judgment of the court was against Mokena Kohere's people, in spite of the fact that their occupation of the land was admitted by our opponents and the existence of four tribal burial places was not denied.

Under Sir George Grey's scheme of local government for the natives, which he launched in 1861, Mokena Kohere was appointed a magistrate. He made a very strict one and often took the law into his own hands. Owing to the absence of a gaol offenders were shackled with iron chains. The Government scheme was not popular with the natives, for they saw that the native officers were all paid. They grew suspicious and began to show hostility openly. Mr. William B. Baker was the Government representative, and in the eyes of the natives the embodiment of the mana of which they were suspicious. The natives came in a large body and demanded that Mr. Baker must leave at once. Mokena Kohere thereupon asked him to go with him to his own home at page 39 Waioratane, near the sea. As the chief and the British officer left they were followed by a howling mob. It was evident that but for Mokena Kohere some harm would have befallen Mr. Baker. The chief and his charge were met by a band of twenty loyal natives, who formed a guard. After the party had crossed the Maraehara River Mokena turned round and drew a line on the ground, challenging the rioters to cross it at their own risk. They thought discretion was the better part of valour. Mr. Baker took up his residence at Waioratane and later Mokena gave the Government that piece of land known as Tarata for a residence site for the Government representative and for a school.

Mokena Kohere's influence for good and peace extended far and near amongst the tribes. He was related to the chief Paratene Turangi, Lady Carroll's paternal grandfather, who was brutally massacred by Te Kooti after his escape from the Chatham Islands in 1868. It was alleged that Paratene was struck with a sword and, Maori-like, Mokena Kohere named his youngest son William the Sword.

I cannot do better than insert here a contributed article published in the Poverty Bay Herald in 1937:

“References to past incidents which took place in Poverty Bay and the East Coast, and to personages hardly heard of to-day or known only to a few, occasionally appear in your columns. The fact shows that the history of the district is not yet fully written, or an impartial historian is awaited to place on record all authentic incidents and the doings of men and women who played their part in the early history of Poverty Bay and the East Coast.

“One such reference appeared in your issue of May 15, 1937, in the interesting recollections of Mrs. Mere Kingi Paraone Ratapu. The centenarian mentioned how the Ngati-Porou chief, Mokena Kohere, endeavoured to persuade the local tribes not to join the Hauhau movement. To impress his countrymen, the chief carried the Union Jack. Unfortunately Kohere was able to persuade only two, one of whom was the chief Tamihana Ruatapu. It was Tamihana, although a loyalist, who ceded the Kaimoe block to the Crown as some atonement for the sins of his people. His descendants are to be found to-day at Manutuke.”

I heard the late Lady Carroll (who was related to Mokena Kohere) say in the Native Land Court that but for the Ngati- page 40 Porou chief she and her people would have been massacred by Te Kooti's men. Even then her grandfather, Paratene Turangi, perished at the hands of the rebels.

We read in Bishop W. L. WilliamsEast Coast Historical Records, which was published in the Poverty Bay Herald, that to inspire the local tribes to remain steadfast, Mokena Kohere hoisted the Union Jack on the bank of the Waikanae. When he found he was unable to save the inland tribes he, according to Mere Kingi, took immediate steps to break up the Hauhau movement in Poverty Bay, which he had already accomplished on the coast.

Mokena Kohere was one of the few owners of the land on which the town of Gisborne now stands. They sold it to the Government for about £2,000, although they asked for a much larger sum.

More could be said about Mokena Kohere. Maori chiefs who were notable for their ruthlessness, bloodshed and brutality have become famous, but Kohere, the patriot, the diplomat and the peacemaker, is hardly known, although the Government of his day fully showed its appreciation of his signal services to the country by appointing him to the Legislative Council in 1872. He remained in the Legislative Council until 1887, when he resigned his seat. Monuments erected or subscribed by the Government are found all over the country, but no Government has thought it worth while to raise a stone over Mokena Kohere. The one that marks the spot where he now lies was erected by his own children and grandchildren. It may be said of Mokena Kohere: “To his grave he went, unwept, unhonoured and unsung.”

Bishop W. L. Williams gives a fuller account of the hoisting of the Union Jack at Gisborne by Mokena Kohere. He writes: “Soon after this—the refusal of the Rongowhakaata Tribe to listen to advice not to side with the Hauhaus—some little excitement was caused by the action of Mokena Kohere, the Ngati-Porou chief, who had come on a visit to Paratene Turangi and his people. He had always been a strong opponent of the Kingites at Waiapu, and on his arrival he began to use rather violent language with reference to the Hauhaus, urging that, if they should refuse to abandon Hauhauism when urged to do so, they should at once be treated as enemies and war should be declared against them. The Ngaitekete hapu at Taruheru had brought out of the page 41 forest a great spar which they talked of erecting at Turanganui as a flagstaff on which the British Ensign should be hoisted. Mokena proposed that a meeting of those who were well disposed towards the Government should be held at Taruheru to consider the expediency of erecting the flagstaff at once, and that the European residents should be invited to attend the meeting. The meeting was held on May 18, 1865, and the opinion of the majority of the speakers, including Paratene, was that it would be well not to hurry the matter, as it would certainly give offence to many, but that the question should be further discussed at Turanganui on the following day. In the morning, when most of the people had left for Turanganui, Mokena, with the help of some of the young men, manned a whaleboat and towed a moderate-sized spar down the river. This they erected at once on the river bank, near the mouth of the Waikanae creek. Upon this the British Ensign was immediately hoisted, and in the course of a day or two a rough stockade was erected round it, Ngaitekete taking charge of it.

“The hesitation which was shown at Taruheru was owing to the apprehension that trouble might be caused by the Hauhaus, but this apprehension was not realised. Much indignation was expressed during the succeeding three or four weeks, especially by people who, if not openly favourable, were at least not strongly opposed to the Hauhaus, but as those who had erected the flagstaff were on their own ground the excitement gradually subsided. One of the most strenuous opponents was Hirini Te Kani, who had a share in the title to the land on which the flagstaff was erected, and considered himself aggrieved because the Ngaitekete had ignored him and had done what he did not thoroughly approve. When Mr. Donald McLean came in the St. Kilda, on June 4, and a number of people took the oath of allegiance, Hirini refused to take it unless the obnoxious flagstaff should first be taken down.”

There was also a bitter quarrel between the Ngati-Maru hapu of Manutuke and the Ngaitawhiri hapu over a piece of land known as Aohuna. The dispute nearly ended in bloodshed. Each side was drawn up ready for the fray when Mokena Kohere appeared on the scene by walking between the two opposing lines. He called on the rival parties to lay down their arms or shoot him first if they must fight. This page 42 bold action of the Ngati-Porou chief happily led to cessation of trouble.

People often wonder why only 5,000 acres of the NgatiMaru land was taken as atonement for their crime in joining the Hauhau movement. When Government agents and representatives of the natives haggled over the terms of confiscation Mokena Kohere put in an appearance and straightway told the agents that what had been offered them was ample. The chief Raharuhi Rukupo in later years, with other gifts from his people to express their gratitude to Mokena Kohere for his services to them, gave Mokena the greenstone patu known as “Hinewirangi.”

At the time of the Royal visit in 1901 medals were given to many who took part in the celebrations. Here, I think, the following letter, from a Poverty Bay chief, should be inserted:

July 8, 1901.

To the Editor,

Te Pipiwharauroa,

I think it is proper you should publish the enclosed list of names of Ngati-Porou chiefs who were not given medals. Only two chiefs were given medals. How could Apirana Ngata have the courage to slight these chiefs? It would not have been so bad if descendants of Mokena Kohere were included, for he was the chief who enabled tribal fires to be rekindled, both in Poverty Bay and Waiapu. Other chiefs were heard of only in later years.

The following is the list of chiefs drawn up by Wi Pere to receive medals, but because of Apirana Ngata's interference only two were accepted:

Of Ngati-Porou: Pine Tuhaka, Te Whakatihi, Neho Kopuka, Wiremu Keiha, Te Houkamau, Tuhaka Kohere, Tuta Nihoniho, Tamanui-te-ra.

From Bay of Plenty: Pare Koihu, Waikura, Paora Ngamoki, Te Paea Kingi, Te Aporotanga, Te Whenuanui.

The two chiefs who were selected by Apirana Ngata were Te Houkamau and Waikura.

I remain,

Rawiri Karaha.

page 43

When the above letter was published in Te Pipiwharauroa little did I think it would cause a hullabaloo. As I was editor of the Maori paper I formed the butt of attack. Apirana Ngata's numerous friends took up the matter very seriously. As the writer of the letter made a special mention of my grandfather as being specially entitled to receive a medal, it was generally accepted I had inspired the letter. I really was quite innocent. The matter was even discussed at the annual meeting of the Te Aute College Students’ Association, at which there was present a large contingent of the Ngati-Porou Tribe. I was glad of the opportunity to clear myself. I explained that I took the trouble to submit the letter to Archdeacon H. W. Williams, publisher of Te Pipiwharauroa, who readily said: “Yes, publish it by all means, for it concerns a public matter.” Judging by the readiness with which the Archdeacon answered my query I gathered that Rawiri Karaha had consulted him about his letter.

Viewing the matter dispassionately, I see no reason in the world why the letter should not have been published. There was nothing libellous in it, and all its statements were perfectly correct. Rawiri Karaha, the author, was a very respectable man, whom no one could accuse of having an axe to grind. Both he and Wi Pere did not belong to the Ngati-Porou Tribe, but Wi Pere was then the member in Parliament for the district, and therefore it was his duty to recommend chiefs for the Royal favour. It was evident he collaborated with Rawiri Karaha in composing the letter. What was really puzzling was why Apirana Ngata was permitted to interfere with the list of names, for he then held no official position. The whole matter was triflng but for the fact Apirana Ngata was a brilliant university scholar and a budding politician. He ousted the veteran Wi Pere in 1905, and was a member of the House continuously until 1943, when he was defeated by Tiaki Omana. I would have defeated him earlier in 1938 if Omana had not split my vote.

One thing the letter shows is that Wi Pere and Rawiri Karaha picked out whom they considered rangatiras of both the Ngati-Porou and the Bay of Plenty tribes. Why only one chief from each district was selected was difficult to understand.