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The Story of a Maori Chief


War in Waitara broke out in 1860. After much debating the country has now accepted the fact that the war was unjust and that the natives had been compelled to defend their rights. The New Zealand Government now pays the Taranaki tribes an annuity of £5,000 in compensation.

It may therefore be claimed that the fighting that followed the war in Waitara, viz., in Waikato, the Bay of Plenty, the East Coast, and the Hauhau rising everywhere were repercussions of that war. The tribes in Waikato sympathised with Wiremu Kingi te Rangitake and helped him in his struggle against the Government forces because they knew he was in the right. Furthermore, they felt also that it would be only a matter of time when they would be defending their own lands against the aggressive white man. It must therefore be admitted that the anti-Government attitude of the tribes was pardonable and justified. If the tribes were justified, then the wholesale confiscation of their lands was unjust also. There was no doubt that it was the general desire of the white settlers to obtain as much land as possible from the natives, and to-day the Maoris as a whole are landless. But for social security thousands of them would certainly starve. The greatest problem amongst the Maoris to-day is economic. Without their lands it is my opinion the Maoris as a people are without hope in the world.

Referring to events in Taranaki at the time of the Waitara trouble, Alan Mulgan, in his Short History of New Zealand, says:

“If the first Taranaki war had not broken out there might have been no Waikato war, no second Taranaki war, no Hauhau rebellion; in short, no wars at all, for undoubtedly there was a chain of events.”

I may add there would be no confiscation of native lands and therefore there would be no heartburning, no ill-feeling, and no landlessness of many tribes in New Zealand.

Referring to the trouble over the Waitara land, a Maori chief said: “The Governor has set fire to the fern at Taranaki, and the smoke will cover the whole island.”

page 51

The campaign against the Hauhaus on the East Coast in 1865 has been told by Col. T. W. Gudgeon, Bishop W. L. Williams, Thomas Lambert and James Cowan. They all agree on the main facts, but they miss very interesting and important details which are well known to the Maoris. I, of course, have heard much from the Maoris regarding the campaign on the East Coast, but I had not troubled to arrange the facts and events in any orderly form until late in life.

I am interested in the history of the campaign chiefly for the part my grandfather, Mokena Kohere, had taken in it. I consulted the chief Paora Haenga, Hori Kohuru, Hori Te Manana and others. The first two had joined the ranks of the Hauhaus, and the latter, like his brother, Pineamine Tuhaka, was a staunch loyalist. The chief Arapeta Haenga, Paora's father, co-operated with Mokena Kohere.

I asked Paora why he had not followed his father. He readily replied, laughing, that he preferred the company of the rebels for the reason there were pretty girls amongst them. This shows that hundreds joined the rebellious movement without any serious reasons.

From Paratene Ngata, Sir Apirana Ngata's father, a very well-informed and careful narrator, I also learned much. He had called a meeting of the Ngati-Porou Tribe to discuss the question whether the Ringatu church should be permitted to hold its meetings in the Waiapu Valley. He gave an account of what followed the conclusion of the war on the East Coast. All this was not told by the historians I have referred to. Bishop Williams, in his East Coast records, says that the Government did not confiscate the Ngati-Porou lands because Sir Donald McLean felt generous for the part Ngati-Porou took in assisting the Government. He forgets that only a handful of the tribe remained loyal, while hundreds cast in their lot with the rebels. T. W. Gudgeon states, “Ngati-Porou as a tribe had always been inimical to the pakeha, and strong supporters of the Maori king.” James Cowan follows in the same strain: “Patara preached Pai Marire throughout the East Cape settlements, and many hundreds of the numerous Ngati-Porou Tribe became disciples of the new faith.”

All Ngati-Porou are unanimous in stating that the Ngati-Porou lands were saved owing to the action of the loyal chiefs, particularly to the uncompromising attitude of Mokena page 52 Kohere. So little reference is made by the pakeha historians to the central Maori figure, that of the chief Mokena Kohere, that one may wonder why the Government of the day chose the chief as one of the two Maoris to be first called to the Legislative Council in 1872, and why Her Majesty Queen Victoria presented him with a handsome sword for valour. Lambert states it was the Rev. Mohi Turei who stirred up Mokena Kohere's enthusiasm and loyalty, and that the chief took no part in the important fight at Pakairomiromi when by every reason he should have. Native eye-witnesses state that he did.

In his Thirty Years of Colonial Government, Sir George Bowen records the interesting ceremony which took place at Government House, Wellington, on June 20, 1870, when he as Governor presented the swords of honour sent by Her Majesty Queen Victoria as tokens of recognition of the valour and loyalty of Keepa te Rangihiwinui, Ropata Wahawaha and Mokena Kohere. Addressing the Ngati-Porou chiefs, His Excellency said: “Your tribe has rivalled the Wanganuis in loyalty to the Crown, in goodwill to your English neighbours, and in gallantry in war.… Here, Ropata and Mokena, are your swords, presented to you by the Queen. May you long wear them in health and honour.”

Two years later, after careful consideration, the Governor summoned to the Legislative Council and to the Executive, “Mokena Kohere, of Waiapu, a chief of high rank and commanding influence in the great clan of the Ngati-Porous, and who was recently presented by Her Majesty with a sword of honour for his long and gallant services in fighting for the Crown during the second Maori War.”