Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Fictions Associated With His Birth and Childhood—Farmhand, Sailor, Soldier and Trader—Unpopular Among Natives and Europeans—Exile Without Trial.
There was not a more daring, nor a more resourceful, rebel leader in New Zealand than Te Kooti Rikirangi te Turuki. His exile, escape and revolt form one of the most colourful and most dramatic chapters in its history. Even to-day, although in pakeha eyes he stood for all that was worst in his race, his name is revered by a large number of natives in the Urewera Country and on the mid-eastern side of the North Island. He was not a rangatira (chief), but he will remain an historic figure when the names of most of the Maori aristocrats have passed into obscurity.
Te Kooti was the son of Hone te Rangi Pataihi; his mother bore the name Turakau. Ngati-Maru (his hapu) was a branch of the Rongowhakaata tribe. In his veins there was also Ngati-Ruapani blood, which he inherited through Waikura, his father's mother.
Several fictitious stories concerning his birth and childhood remain current among his adherents. One is to the effect that a tohunga named Toiroa foretold that in two of three male children about to be born there would be good, and, in the third, evil and calamity. To Turakau he is said to have remarked: “Your unborn child will be a son whose fame will reach to the four corners of the earth for good or evil.” Another story states that, when Te Kooti reached the age of 12 years, his evil propensities occasioned his parents much anxiety. No longer able to endure his misdeeds, his father imprisoned him in a kumara pit and left him to die. To everybody's surprise, he escaped, claiming that a spirit, in the shape of a man, had visited him when he was close to death, saying: “Arise! Let us go forth!” A path then opened in the covering to the pit.
As a lad, Te Kooti was sent to the Whakato mission station school. It was stated by some of his early followers that he proved most proficient in the reading of the Scriptures. His special Biblical hero (we are told) was the Psalmist David, whose writings, it has since been suggested, made a powerful impression upon his young and imaginative mind. The Rev. T. S. Grace, in a letter to the Church Missionary Society in 1877, mentions that, at his baptism, he was given the name “Te Kooti,” a transliteration of “Coates” [C. Danderson Coates, the lay secretary of the society.] Early adherents also believed that he wished to be trained as a mission teacher, but that Bishop W. Williams did not discover sufficient grounds to justify him in gratifying his desire.page 300
In early manhood Te Kooti followed various occupations, including farm and bush work. He was a very capable horseman. Then he followed the sea for some years. Cowan says that he rose to the position of supercargo on the native schooner Henry, and that, later on, he became captain of the native-owned Rua-Whetuki. No shipping list, however, has been traced which shows him in the role of a master mariner. Consequent upon visits to Auckland, he became a victim to over-indulgence in liquor and to other vices. Irihapeti was his principal wife.
Te Kooti was of medium height and of athletic build. He was broad-shouldered and keenly knit. His head was well shaped, with a high and arched forehead, and he had an aquiline nose. Colonel Porter reckoned that his profile resembled that of Julius Cæsar on Roman coins. Dark, bloodshot and deeply-set eyes were a prominent feature of his stern countenance, and a restless glance betokened that he was suspicious to a degree. Heavy lines drooping towards his mouth and firm and tight lips assisted to give him a cruel appearance. He had a moustache and long, pointed beard; his face was not tattooed. No genuine photograph has been traced. The name “Rikirangi” was engraven in blue across his chest and “Te Turuki”—an old family name—was tattooed on his right arm. Porter says that he rarely smiled and that, when he did, it was in a sinister manner. He spoke in a jerky, dictatorial tone.