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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Chapter XIX — Spread of the Gospel to the East Coast

page 156

Chapter XIX
Spread of the Gospel to the East Coast

Ex-Cannibals as Evangelists—Taumata-a-Kura and Matenga Tukareaho—Native Chapels Before Mission Stations—Strict Observance of the Sabbath.

Strangely enough, the natives inhabiting the seaboard between Cape Runaway and Wairoa owed to the tribe which they dreaded most—the more warlike Ngapuhi—their first opportunity to become instructed in Christianity. From every district which the Ngapuhi visited during their devastating southern raids between 1818 and 1824, they took back prisoners to the Bay of Islands. Many of the captives were slain and eaten; the others were distributed as slaves among the northern chiefs. A large number of the exiles belonged to Ngati-Porou tribe.

Thanks to the missionaries, a small batch of East Coast captives was released in 1833 as a sequel to a fortuitous happening. The English whaler Elizabeth (Captain Black) had called at East Cape in April, 1833, and had carried on to the Bay of Islands some Ngati-Porou as involuntary passengers. They comprised a chief named Rukuata, who belonged to Rangitukia, and about a dozen other natives who were paying a visit to the vessel when she put off to the north.

Accounts differ as to whether these Ngati-Porou were carried away accidentally or deliberately. According to W. L. Williams, a gale sprang up and the captain had no option but to resume his voyage. On the other hand, Barnet Burns, in his narrative, avers that the captain kidnapped the natives because three of his crew were being harboured in the locality. [An account of the rescue of the deserters appears in the chapter entitled: “The East Coast Tattooed Trader.”] In evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines in February, 1836, the Rev. W. Yate (who was at the Bay of Islands when the Ngati-Porou were landed) suggested that Captain Black enticed them on board and landed them among the Ngapuhi in order to gain favour with the northern chiefs.

When Rukuata and his companions were put on shore, the Bay of Islands chiefs wished to share them, but the missionaries redeemed them by making a payment of a pair of blankets for each. In charge of the Rev. W. Williams, they sailed for home on the mission schooner Active. She ran into a southerly off Hicks Bay and was driven back to the Bay of Islands. Pending another opportunity to take them back they received regular instruction at page 157 the Paihia mission station. Towards the end of 1833 the Fortitude was required to take timber and stores to the new mission station at Puriri (Thames), and it was decided to extend her voyage to East Cape. She took about sixty natives, of whom thirty were Ngati-Porou; some had been liberated by their masters. Many had smuggled firearms on board.

In Christianity Among the New Zealanders, W. Williams says that he was accompanied by the Rev. W. Yate, and that the Fortitude reached Hicks Bay [East Coast] on Wednesday, 8 January, 1834. On the evening of that day, the first Christian service—it took the form of Evening Prayers—was held on the East Coast by an ordained clergyman. Historic interest in the occasion is enhanced by the fact that the resident natives were invited to attend, “providing a full assemblage.”

“I have never before seen such a wild-looking set,” Mr. Williams remarks. “… They were exceedingly friendly … Rukuata and his companions soon began to relate their adventures, for their relatives had heard no tidings of them since the ship had carried them off. They told them some of the customs of the missionaries, carefully distinguishing between us and the foreigners they had hitherto had to deal with.”

Mr. Yate told the British Parliamentary Committee in February, 1836, that the natives were astonished to find their long-lost relatives on board. Nothing could possibly have exceeded their gratitude. It had been believed that they had been murdered upon Captain Black's ship in the same way that the natives were murdered on Captain [J.] Stewart's ship [at Banks Peninsula]. The whole of the funeral ceremony had been gone through, and images in representation of their murdered friends had been buried.

Historic Services in Waiapu

On the following day, the visitors, accompanied by a large number of natives, went by sea to Waiapu, halting at Rangitukia, where was situated the outer and well-fortified pa of the Waiapu Valley, which was capable of mustering 560 fighting men. Referring to the service held in the evening, Mr. Williams says:

“There were upwards of 500 men, women and children at prayers. It was the largest assemblage I had yet spoken to in this country. Many old priests were present, but they showed no disposition to cavil, nor any symptom of fear lest their craft should be endangered; on the contrary, they seemed ready to listen to any new thing which might be told them.”

Next day, a visit was paid to the inner pa at Whakawhitira (about ten miles off) which, it was said, had attached to it two thousand fighting men. Many of its fighters were also away. “This village,” Mr. Williams says, “is very large and very well page 158 situated in the midst of extensive cultivations. Waiapu, as a place for a mission station, surpassed any other that I had yet seen.”

Sunday (12 January, 1834) was the first Sabbath observed by the East Coast natives under the auspices of European missionaries. Rukuata and his friends made the arrangements for the services, which were held at Rangitukia and Whakawhitira. About five hundred natives were present at the former place and seven hundred at the latter. As there was no bell, the people were called together by the sound produced by the business end of a European hoe being struck by another piece of metal.

“There was, as yet,” Mr. Williams records, “no prospect of forming a mission station among these interesting tribes, for the simple reason that there was no one to undertake the work; but an important step had been taken, for the district had been explored and there was sufficient proof that it was a promising field for future occupation.”

Mr. Yate's description of the native menfolk who attended the service at Whakawhitira bears out what Mr. Williams says concerning the wild appearance of the East Coast natives:

“Some of them,” he says, “had their beards plastered with red ochre and oil; others, with blue clay and a deep mark of red ochre over each eye, which, together with the tattooing, gives them the most ferocious aspect which can be conceived, strongly resembling some of the pictures of Apollyon in the older editions of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

The missionaries went on by sea to Table Cape (Mahia) before returning to the Bay of Islands.

Although Rukuata is credited with having made the arrangements for the religious services which the visiting clerics held on the East Coast, it was Piripi Taumata-a-Kura who became the outstanding evangelist among the Ngati-Porou. According to Bishop W. Williams, Taumata was carried off into captivity on the occasion of the Pomare-Te Wera raid in 1823. W. L. Williams suggests that he was among the slaves who were restored to their people in 1834. His father was under a like impression. On the other hand, J. G. Baker (a son of the Rev. C. Baker) says that Taumata returned on the mission schooner Columbine some months earlier.

As soon as he got back home, Taumata, who had attended the mission school at Waimate (Bay of Islands), began to share with his kinsfolk his scanty knowledge of Christianity and civilisation. W. L. Williams says that he had never given anyone in the north any reason to suppose that he took a special interest in the pakehas' religion; he had learned to read, but had not been even a recognised catechumen. However, Mr. Baker held that Taumata was baptized at the Bay of Islands.

For his new rôle as an evangelist, Taumata was ill-equipped. page 159 He had brought back with him only a few Scripture texts, a few prayers and some hymns. Mr. Baker says that they were in printed form, but, according to W. L. Williams, they were merely written upon scraps of paper. Luckily, Taumata was of an inventive turn of mind. With the aid of charcoal he made some copies on flat pieces of wood. For a like purpose he also used pieces of flax, first covering them with grease and then dusting them with ashes so that they might be written upon with a sharppointed stick.

Among the self-appointed native teachers, Matenga Tukareaho was not less remarkable than Taumata-a-Kura. He, too, had been a great warrior and a cannibal. Prior to the opening of the first mission station in Poverty Bay (1840), he had laboured in Northern Hawke's Bay. Bishop W. Williams says that, in the first instance, the Gospel was carried to Wairoa and Mahia by three natives who found their way there in quest of their relatives, one having come back from the Bay of Islands and the other two from Rotorua. Probably the two last mentioned had received some instruction at the Rev. T. Chapman's mission station at Rotorua in 1835.

It is certain that the native who had been at the Bay of Islands was Matenga. The year of his return is likely to have been 1834. In the judgment in the Hereheretau No. 2 case, it is stated that he went to the Bay of Islands “either as a captive, or as a guest, of Pomare.” Evidence was given by Ihaka Whaanga to this effect: “Matenga was the first Christian native preacher in the Wairoa district. When he returned from the Bay of Islands, he preached at Te Uhi. Some of the people wanted to kill him. Taitauhi shut him up in a house called ‘Herenga.’ He was saved by going to Turanga, but, eventually, he returned to Nuhaka.”

Sequel to a Slaying

Prior to his visit to the Bay of Islands, Matenga had been closely connected with the treacherous slaying of a relative named Te Ratau, father of Ihaka Whaanga, who proved such a helpful friend to the pakehas during the Hauhau troubles and the Te Kooti revolt, and who died on 14 December, 1875. The murder of Te Ratau is stated to have been an act of revenge, partly on account of the death of Rongo-i-waho at the hands of Rakato (Te Ratau's grandfather), and partly on account of the fact that the body of Akurangi (an uncle of Hine-a-Koia, one of Matenga's wives) had been sent to Te Ratau to be eaten. Matenga was said to have issued an invitation to Whakatohea, of the Bay of Plenty, to provide a war party to attack Te Ratau and his people. On the other hand, the real instigator of the move might have been page 160 Hine-a-Koia. Upon the arrival of the taua, Te Ratau was on Portland Island. A message was sent to him to return to the mainland to greet the visitors, who, he was given to understand, were on a peaceful mission and wished to make a gift of a gun to him.

Relying upon Matenga's presence among the strangers as a guarantee of good faith, Te Ratau returned home. The customary welcome took place and preparations for the entertainment of the guests were put in hand. Unbeknown to Te Ratau, it was intended by the visitors that his own body should be baked in the oven that was being heated to provide a meal. Whilst he and one of the visitors were pressing noses by way of greeting, he was seized from behind by his hair. A blow or two with a whalebone mere sealed his fate. He had been spared the indignity of being forced to collect the fuel to heat the oven—a step which was usually insisted upon when it was desired to heap insult upon the intended victim.

After the slaying of Te Ratau, Matenga, with his sub-tribe, fled towards Poverty Bay. They were pursued by a large number of angry neighbouring tribesmen, and several encounters took place. Matenga's party suffered a heavy defeat at Panui, where Tamawheti (his father) and about half of his followers were slain. The Rongowhakaata, it is stated, aided the pursuers in this engagement. As Pomare was in the neighbourhood, it is not improbable that he, too, lent them a hand, and that it was at Panui that he made Matenga a captive.

When Matenga's religious fervour subsided, he reasserted his former rights as a rangatira. He was a signatory at Poverty Bay to the Treaty of Waitangi. Towards the close of his career he embraced Hauhauism and conducted a church at Mangakino. Otene Pomare (named after the Ngapuhi Pomare) claimed that his father and his grandfather became Christian evangelists in succession to Matenga.

The identity of the natives who paved the way for mission work in Poverty Bay has not been definitely traced. In the Native Land Court at Gisborne (minute book, No. 4) Arapeta Taniwha said that Ngatuku came from the north, showed him a Testament and taught him the Scriptures. Wi Pere, in another case (minute book, No. 26) told the court that Christianity was first introduced into the district by Whanukaitai and that Pomare (presumably Otene Pomare's father or grandfather) came afterwards.

It was not until January, 1838, that the East Coast was again visited on behalf of the Church Missionary Society. Meantime, native evangelists, especially Taumata-a-Kura, had continued page 161 their good work. At several additional centres, chapels had been erected, schools opened, and “Ratapu” (Sunday) had become a recognised day of rest from labour. Bishop W. Williams says that a Ngapuhi, who had visited the East Cape, made it his business upon his return to the Bay of Islands in 1837 to inform the missionaries that great success was attending Taumata's efforts. He also urged that pakeha missionaries should be sent to assist him. On that account, he (Mr. Williams) was required to examine the conditions in Poverty Bay in addition to revisiting the East Coast.

The Revs. J. Stack and Matthews and Mr. Colenso accompanied Mr. Williams. Leaving the mission schooner at Hicks Bay [East Coast] the party proceeded overland to Tokomaru Bay, thence by canoe to Tolaga Bay, and from that point it went on foot to Poverty Bay. In his report to the Church Missionary Society, Mr. Williams said:

“I found the natives very numerous when compared with those of this portion of the island [Bay of Islands], and at all the pas, both at East Cape and at Turanga, all seemed perfectly prepared to receive Christian instruction. Their repeated and strong solicitations for teachers are a loud and imperative call that the field should no longer be neglected…. The demand for books was great and general, and it was truly distressing to be obliged to turn applicants away when we had no longer the means of giving relief. I distributed, in the course of my journey, 500 slates and a few early lessons and catechisms. Books I had none….”


Some early visitors were under the impression that Cook gave the name “Hicks Bay” to the whole of the recess between Matakaoa Point and the Awatere River. On that account, landings which they made adjacent to Te Araroa are described as landings at “Hicks Bay.” Most of these travellers are believed to have landed at Te Hekawa, just to the east of the Awatere River. Later, Te Hekawa became the site of a whaling station. The missionaries appear to have landed at Hicks Bay.