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The Story of a Maori Chief

Chapter 7 — A Fiery Peacemaker

page 37

Chapter 7
A Fiery Peacemaker

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.

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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.

The Peacemaker

After a large meeting at Ruatoki in 1917, when a monu- page 44 ment to the memory of the chief Numia Kereru was unveiled, I, with a large party of Ngati-Porou, was weatherbound at Whakatane. A Tuhoe chief named Tutanga-a-hau had followed us to Whakatane and was with us the three days we were there. No one of our party knew who the old man was. One evening he rose to his feet in his corner, and, fixing his eyes on me, asked: “Are you a grandson of Mokena Kohere?”

The question was answered in the affirmative by others for me.

Then he continued: “Yonder,” pointing towards the mouth of the river, “is Muriwai's Cave, where chiefs from the Tuhoe, Ngatiawa and other tribes were confined as prisoners of war, waiting to be deported to the Chatham Islands. All these tribes were in mourning because of the sad prospect of losing their chiefs. Then my father, whose name I bear, could not stand the strain any longer. So one day, packing up a few clothes he possessed, he mounted a little horse and started, all alone, on a long ride towards the east.

“For weeks and weeks not a word did we hear about him, until one morning the Government steamer Luna dropped anchor in the offing. The sight of the Government steamer was taken to mean that the dreaded hour had come when our chiefs would be taken away from us. Mourning was increased. Then a boat was lowered from the ship and pulled towards the mouth of the river. As it neared the beach Tutanga-a-hau was observed sitting at the stern of the boat, and with him another Maori, big and fully tattooed. As soon as the boat touched land the stranger stood up and addressed the assembled tribes, men, women and children. He said: ‘Greetings to you, people of Ngati-awa, and Tuhoe. I have come to bring home Tutanga-a-hau. Furthermore, people, I have also to bring peace. My word to you is, return each tribe to its own district to rekindle its own fire. Now peace is made, let Maori and pakeha in the future live as one people.’”

Mokena Kohere's message was received with the greatest joy. As Tutanga-a-hau resumed his seat Paratene Waiti and others spoke in high praise of the Ngati-Porou chief. They testified that Mokena Kohere had done exactly the same thing to Ngati-Porou, whose lands would otherwise have been confiscated.

page 45

Hatiwira Houkamau, the Hicks Bay chief, told me also that he had accompanied Mokena Kohere on his mission of conciliation to all tribes in the Bay of Plenty who had thrown in their lot with the Hauhaus. It should be pointed out as a matter of history that Bay of Plenty tribes from Torere (with Ngaitai excepted) to Cape Runaway, although they joined the rebellious movement, did not, like Ngati-Porou, lose any land through confiscation. For this impunity and the pardon extended to them they are indebted to Mokena Kohere and Wiremu Kingi.

I have given, as Mr. J. G. Baker describes, “the extremely kind and gentle” side of Mokena Koheres’ character. I now limn its fiery side.

A Fiery Chief

Mokena Kohere, as the handy chief he was, was in the habit of placing his crayfish pots off the Whakori Bluff, south of East Cape, overnight, and of lifting them in the morning. Before sunrise he put out in his little canoe, and had also loaded his gun in case a sea bird would come along which would supply bait for his pots.

It happened that a larger canoe with several people on board had come from East Cape and had lifted and emptied Mokena's crayfish pots. Perhaps the poachers had not expected that the chief himself would come to lift his pots. However, there he was paddling towards them. It was an awkward moment, for it was well known that Mokena resented tampering with his crayfish pots and eel baskets, although he might give away half his kingdom to anyone who asked him honestly.

When the canoes approached each other the guilty crew called out to Mokena that they had emptied his crayfish pots and had the crayfish in the canoe. The chief pretended not to have heard them. They cried out again: “Eh, Mokena, we have your crayfish.” Without warning the chief lifted his loaded gun and cried out, “Your own crayfish, not mine,” and fired.

The men had anticipated what would happen and in time lay in the bottom of the canoe, at the same time tilting it so that the charge of shot spattered on the side of the canoe. All at once the “firebrand” recovered himself sufficiently to laugh.

A woman died a few years ago who was given the name page 46 Rati, or Lance, because Mokena Kohere in a terrible fury had sworn that if he had the opportunity he would have driven a lance through another chief's belly because he had needlessly annoyed him.

A Costly Pig

Although Paratene Kamura, on the whole, was a truthful witness in the Native Land Court there was an incident related during the hearing of the Marangairoa 1 D. case that did not redound to his credit. One of Mokena Kohere's numerous activities was pig-rearing. He had a number of pigs running at Tutae-Whererei on Okahu or 1 D. 6. One day one of the large hogs was missing. It was ascertained that Paratene Kamura had killed the pig and carried the body to Haha, three miles away, where a number of men were working.

Mokena was furious that such an insult should have been committed in defiance of his mana, so without hesitation he, accompanied by an armed party, left for Haha. Fortunately warning had been given to the pork-eaters, who at once started scrub and bracken fires everywhere. The muru party, baffled with smoke, was obliged to abandon their mission and to return to their homes at Okahu. The matter was, however, inquired into later by a committee, which found Paratene Kamura and his accomplices guilty. They were fined heavily, being compelled to forfeit several horses to atone for their sin. The fine was out of all proportion to the offence of stealing one pig. The stolen pig was, however, not an ordinary pig, for it belonged to a great and powerful chief. Was not death the fate of anyone who killed a royal deer in England in ages past?

A Ferocious Ngati-Hoko

I may here, perhaps, relate an incident in which a relative of Mokena Kohere's was the leading actor. Te Paaka, an uncle of the Rev. Mohi Turei, always carried a hatchet in his belt, and even slept with it. And yet I never heard he ever assaulted anyone with that hatchet of his. Te Paaka happened to be a member of a party which was travelling in a canoe from Waiapu to Horoera, seven miles north of East Cape. There was a bit of a sea running in, and therefore great responsibility as to the safety of the party rested on the man who had command of the canoe. As the party paddled hard page 47 towards the shore they were overtaken by a sea which was not considerable. It carried the canoe with it, but whether it was the fault of the steersman or not the canoe slewed and capsized.

The crew were thrown into the sea and made for the shore as best they could. But old Te Paaka, as he came up to the surface, forgetting the circumstances in which he was, pulled out his hatchet and swam towards the steersman, who was making for the shore. The steersman, seeing the ferocious old man with hatchet in hand, swam faster and was out of danger's way. Mohi Turei told me his uncle was given the name “Te Wa,” that is, “The War Man.”

In 1886 a terrible event happened in the Waiapu Valley: the chief Hamana Mahuika was fatally shot by a native named Naera. Tribes in their hundreds came to Whakawhitira to lament over the massacred chief. Mokena Kohere, with a number of his Ngati-Hokopus, came armed, even with their guns loaded. When the party arrived on the bank of the Waiapu, overlooking the settlement at Whakawhitira, they gave a volley. The people across the river could hear the whistling bullets overhead, and, leaving the body, ran away. When the supply of bullets ran out the fiery chief and his followers crossed the river, and, as though nothing had happened, wept over the dead chief who lay in state. In accordance with ancient custom anybody could be killed in atonement for the shedding of blood, especially in the case of a murdered chief.

Axe Poised over Corpse

One more incident I shall record to illustrate the fiery nature of my grandfather. My cousin, Mihi Heni, had died at Orutua, and a large number of people came to hold the tangi. The body was laid out on a litter in a large tent, one side of which was raised so that mourners could see the body.

As usual at a tangi, the question of burial of the body was discussed on the marae, and often, as a matter of courtesy, different tribes asked that the foody might be buried in their particular burial grounds. Relatives of the deceased naturally wished to take the body to Rangitukia, and in accordance with Maori custom they were perfectly right, for my grandfather really belonged to Rangitukia. My grandfather, however, would not hear of my cousin's body being taken to page 48 Rangitukia for burial; he wanted it buried at Taumata-aKura, near Horoera. I believe now his reason was because Tuhorouta, his warrior ancestor, was buried there. My grandfather, the autocrat that he was, could never brook opposition, particularly by small men. He lost his temper and broke out into a violent rage. Seizing an axe he walked towards the body and, poising the axe in the air over his head, he cried out to the already scattered crowd: “I'll decide the matter. I'll cut the body into halves. Your half you can take to Rangitukia and bury it there; my half I'll bury here.”

Before he took action my mother flung herself on the body. The old man, not to be baulked in his purpose, threw my frail mother on the ground and the body sprawled out of the coffin. Remembering how gentle and tender my grandfather had always been, I could hardly believe he could be anything else. I did not fully realize the enormity of his intention. I walked quietly to him and looked at my cousin's body spread out on the ground. I believe it was my innocent and childish act that melted by grandfather and brought him to his senses and saved him from committing an act for which he would be sorry all the rest of his life.

During the awful drama everybody except my mother and me scampered into the bush and did not appear until dark. Of course, the question of burial was not further pursued. The old man had his own way and Mihi Heni was buried at Taumata-a-kura.

Tender-Hearted Chief

I could add incidents in the life of Mokena Kohere to illustrate the fieriness of his nature. On the other hand, it is on record that during the absences of a missionary from home it was the habit of the great chief to sleep at night on the verandah of the missionary's house so that the missionary's wife and her young children could feel secure. No woman could boast of a nobler and humbler guardian.

Mokena Kohere's action in pardoning on his own responsibility the rebels whom he helped to subdue stamped him for all time as a magnanimous peacemaker. (See Chapter 8.)

It is well known that Mokena Kohere did not approve the deportation of Te Kooti Rikirangi and others to the Chatham Islands without first being tried. When Te Kooti invaded Poverty Bay after his escape from the island in 1868, after page 49 killing Paratene Turangi, he compelled a large number of peaceful natives to accompany him in his wanderings.

After the fall of Ngatapa these people broke away from Te Kooti and tried to return to their homes. They could not be sure whether they would be permitted, so for some time they camped in the bush on the Poverty Bay hills without coming out into the open. Smoke of fires was observed, so the relatives of the unhappy natives went out to investigate. As a matter of fact, feeling ran so high amongst the white settlers after the brutal murders committed by the escapees that it was considered unsafe for the natives to come down to their homes. Mokena Kohere was acquainted of the plight of the wanderers and he arranged for them to accompany him to his home on the East Coast, where they stayed for several years until feeling in Poverty Bay cooled down.

This was not the first time that members of the NgatiMaru Tribe emigrated to the East Cape district. When I was quite a little boy I remember seeing the remnants of these people. Amongst them were Irihāpeti, Te Kooti's wife, and her son, Wetini Rikirangi. Wetini was well known in Poverty Bay, and his descendants to-day live at Opou, near Manutuke.

Old Pakaku, long generally suspected of having caused the death of several people by indulging in the black art, was found shot dead in his little hut at Tuparoa, East Coast. Very little fuss was made over the case, for the murderer was regarded as having rid the tribe of a menace. And it was also generally expected that beautifully tattooed and handsome old Makaea would be the murderer's next victim. To prevent another atrocity and to save an innocent old man Mokena Kohere took Makaea to Pohakiu, near Horoera, where we were living at the time. As a child I used to wonder why my grandfather took interest in the old man, especially when people whispered into my childish ears that old Makaea was a wizard. I thought then that he did look like one. Makaea was always busy looking after my grandfather's taro1 patch.

Only late in life did I find out why my grandfather had taken the old man under his wing.

1 A vegetable like the yam of the Islands.