Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

Cook's Te Ratu: “King of the Maoris” — Rival Poverty Bay Claimants to Descent

Cook's Te Ratu: “King of the Maoris”
Rival Poverty Bay Claimants to Descent

When Captain Cook reached Poverty Bay, he lost no time in setting on foot inquiries as to how the Maoris were governed. At each of the other groups of islands that he had visited in the Pacific he had found that the inhabitants were under a supreme ruler. Tupaea asked their three young native guests the name of their Ariki, or king. One of the lads—W. L. Williams said that it was Ikorangi—replied, “Te Ratu,” and pointed to the west (the locality in which they resided). Ikorangi might have thought that Tupaea wished to learn the name of the chief of their tribe. Cook took the answer to mean that a leader named Te Ratu was king of the whole land, and that he lived to the west of his anchorage.

On the day on which the Endeavour left Poverty Bay, Banks wrote in his journal: “This country is certainly divided into many small principalities …” Perhaps he had in mind the fact that their young native guests had told them that the natives who resided in the vicinity of Turanganui River were enemies of their tribe. Off Hawke's Bay he made a note that some natives with whom Tupaea conversed “answered his questions relating to the names of the country, kings, etc., very civilly.” When Mercury Bay was reached he made an entry stating that, from Cape Turnagain, the natives had acknowledged only one chief (Te Ratu), and added: “If his dominion is really so large, he may have princes, or page 465 governors, under him, capable of drawing together a vast number of people, for he himself is always said to live far inland.”

As a result of the inquiries that were made at Tolaga Bay, Cook wrote in his rough diary: “They have king who lives inland; his name is…. We heard of him in Poverty Bay.” At Mercury Bay, Cook found that the natives there “do not own subjection to Teeratie the Earadehi [Te Ratu, the ariki], but say that he would kill them was he to come among them.” Hawkesworth says that Cook regarded the Mercury Bay natives as outlaws in rebellion against Te Ratu. Some weeks later, on the run up from Cook Strait to Cape Turnagain, it was learned that the natives to the south of the latter point did not acknowledge Te Ratu as their king.

Nevertheless, the elusive Te Ratu remained in Cook's thoughts. Just before he sailed from New Zealand he wrote (Wharton's Captain Cook's Journal, pp. 220–1) that it was much to be regretted that they were obliged to leave the country without learning anything about him except his name. “Te Ratu,” he says, “was owned as chief by every one we met with from Cape Kidnappers to the northward and westward as far as the Bay of Plenty, which is a great extent of territories for an Indian Prince.” It was Cook's opinion that Te Ratu lived in the Bay of Plenty, and that outside his domain the natives “were very much divided into Parties which make war one with another …”

Polack (New Zealand: Travels and Adventures, vol. 1, p. 45) says that when he inquired from the chiefs of Poverty Bay and of Uwoua [Uawa] in 1835 about Te Ratu, “mentioning his name as having belonged to a great chief,” they laughed and told him that Te Kuki [Cook] knew nothing of the language at the time, or he would have early discovered that Te Ratu was not an ariki, but merely the first chief who was killed in Poverty Bay. [In strict fact, the first native to lose his life was named Te Maro.]

A very heated controversy as to which of two chiefs named Te Ratu who lived in Poverty Bay at or about the time of Cook's visit was Cook's Te Ratu raged in Pipiwharauroa in 1906. The writer who set the ball rolling [No. 104, November, 1906] said that there were many descendants of that Te Ratu in Poverty Bay. He described him as having been descended from Te Ikawhaingata (who married Hineuru, a granddaughter of Taupara, of T'Aitanga-a-Mahaki tribe, and of Mangatu fame) and traced the line down to Pimia Aata (Euphemia Arthur). Naturally, the article was very warmly approved by Pimia and her relatives.

Strong exception to this claim was taken by Mrs. Kate Gannon (formerly Wyllie and née Halbert). She held that the more important Te Ratu was a descendant of Te Aringa-i-waho, and that this line followed down to Marara, wife of Hirini te Kani, and thence, in turn, to Heta te Kani and Mrs. P. Tureia. In order to distinguish between the two Te Ratus, it might be as well to describe Pimia's Te Ratu as Te Ratu (a) and the other as Te Ratu (b). Mrs. Gannon claimed that Te Ratu (b) lived on Titirangi (west end of Kaiti Hill), whereas Te Ratu (a) resided at Turanga (meaning, presumably, at the bottom of Poverty Bay). She also averred that Cook's informant had pointed to Titirangi pa and not to Turanga. [No pa was observed on Titirangi by Cook and his companions.]

Writing to The Gisborne Times (2 July, 1927), Dr. Wi Repa said:

Both Pimia Aata and Mrs. Gannon were capable and successful Native Land Court pleaders. Both, too, were recognised and acknowledged generally as high authorities in the lore and learning of their great tribe. They both belonged to the “blue blood” of that proud page 466 tribe, by virtue of which distinction they enjoyed and exercised the prerogative of mutual recrimination as rangatiras of equal standing would do—but all in a Pickwickian sense. Indeed, to such a degree of bitterness did the controversy go that the two principal pleaders, when they met on the open pavements of the Gisborne streets, and away from the pages of the “Pipi,” did not fail to remind the world of their high lineage by the free use that they made of expletives which a constable on his beat would not accept from a common pakeha roysterer.

In early manhood Te Ratu (a) suffered the indignity of being made a slave. Trouble arose over the fishing rights at the mouth of the Waipaoa River, and Tarake, of Ngati-Maru, slew Te Hukaipu, father of Te Ikawhaingata, of Ngati-Kaipoho. With the aid of Konohi, of Whangara, Ngati-Kaipoho drove Ngati-Maru from Tapatahi pa. As the slain on the Ngati-Maru side included Hikatoa, of Ngati-Porou, Ngati-Maru sent to Hunaara, of Waiapu, for help. Meantime, Konohi had returned home. In turn, Ngati-Maru and Ngati-Porou expelled Ngati-Kaipoho from Orakaiapu pa.

On account of a threat of reprisals, Ngati-Maru went off with Hunaara to Waiapu. Te Ratu (a) was among the Ngati-Kaipoho prisoners whom they took with them. During a quarrel over a woman between Ngati-Maru and Ngati-Porou, Tarake (the Ngati-Maru leader) lost his life. Ngati-Maru (now under Mokaiohungia) then set off on their journey home. At Uawa they were attacked by T'Aitanga-a-Hauiti, who slew Mokaiohungia, and, at Pakarae, another section of T'Aitanga-a-Hauiti beset them, and they lost Te Kaka, their new leader.

When the remnant reached Kaiti, Konohi negotiated with Te Ikawhaingata for their return to their former lands, which, in their absence, had been seized by Ngati-Kaipoho. It was, we are told, a sad home-coming for Ngati-Maru, whose once proud boast had been that they were “as numerous as the stars in the heavens.” Now, greatly reduced in numbers, they were prepared gladly to accept whatever Ngati-Kaipoho were willing to give them. To Ngati-Maru, Konohi said: “Pass on! Return to the kainga! Let the top fruit be for those who remained, and the under, or shaded, fruit for you!”

Meantime, Te Ratu (a) had been retained as a slave by Hunaara, whose home was at Kokai. His lot, it is stated, became one of abject misery. One of his most terrifying experiences was to have a large crayfish placed on his bare back. According to the story, it tore into his flesh, “cutting it to ribbons.” Taking pity on him, Te Whi-o-te-Rangi (a benevolent old chief) advised him, saying: “When you are sent for water, contrive to break the calabash, so that your master will beat you.” Te Ratu (a) did as he was advised, and Te Whi-o-te-Rangi not only protected him, but returned him to his own people.

According to Dr. Wi Repa (supra), very little is known about Te Ratu (b) beyond the existence of the name in the genealogies of the Rongowhakaata tribe. Te Kepa te Turuki (a grandson) was, however, a rangatira of considerable mana. Wi Repa went on to suggest that Te Ratu (a) would be well known in the Bay of Plenty on account of the fact that he had married Hinehoki, the highborn daughter of Hikawahia, a grandnephew of the famous Apanui, the progenitor of the Whanau-a-Apanui tribe, and that he would be equally well known in Hawke's Bay by virtue of the circumstance that some of his seven daughters had married chiefs belonging to Ngati-Kahungunu tribe. But even so (as Wi Repa added) the fact remained that Te Ratu (a) never made conquests in those districts, and he would not be acknowledged by their inhabitants as their ariki.

page 467

Neither of the Te Ratus was a famous warrior, and neither held mana over a large area. Polack states that he learned in Poverty Bay in 1835 that the natives whom Cook met there had not been long resident in the district. They were described to him as strangers from the southward, who had destroyed many of its inhabitants only a few years prior to Cook's arrival. Sir James Carroll told the writer that he did not think Cook's informant had in mind a chief when he gave the reply which has been handed down as “Te Ratu.” Seemingly, the word ra (sun) had been used, but it was his opinion that the question had been misunderstood, that the reply given had reference to the fact that the sun was about to set, and that it was a mere coincidence if one or more chiefs bore the name “Te Ratu.” Lady Carroll, whom Mrs. Gannon claimed was descended from Te Ratu (b), was not aware that she was a descendant of any ancestor named Te Ratu.