Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1988
Te Rangihaeata: A Personal Analysis
Te Rangihaeata (Dawn of the Day) — the name chilled the hearts of Maori and Pakeha alike through central New Zealand for over 25 years. His reputation as a fierce warrior was legendary. His exploits were notorious — from the fighting expeditions with his uncle, Te Rauparaha, in both islands — to the Wairau Affray and, finally, to his desperate war against the Europeans in the Hutt Valley. But what kind of man was he?
The life of Te Rangihaeata was colourful. Born about 1780, he was the son of Te Rakahera and Waitohi, the sister of Te Rauparaha. Rangihaeata's uncle was to have a great influence upon him, giving an example that he was hard-pressed to follow.
Rangihaeata grew into a fine young chief. He was fully six feet two, broad, handsome and immensely strong. His prowess as a warrior was soon known, not only throughout his tribe, but also across the west coast of the North Island. Frequent attacks by the Ngatiapa, Rangitane and Muaupoko, gave the young prince plenty of opportunities to exhibit his skill with mere and taiaha. Rangihaeata rose through the ranks to take his place at the right hand of his uncle. They formed a formidable partnership as fearsome warriors, patient tacticians and cunning leaders.
Rangihaeata had other talents, however.All the carving on his personal whare was his own work, showing a great skill and patience in this field. Rangihaeata was welllearned in tribal lore and history and, like his sister Rangikapiki Topera, an accomplished poet. His abilities made him a man of high mana and proud nobility among his peers.
Around 1819–20 the chief of the Ngapuhi, Waka Nene, led a strong taua or war party through Ngatitoa territory in Kawhia. Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata were induced to join the expedition south.
It proved to be more than a reckless raid to gather valuables and prisoners, as it enabled the chiefs to determine future tribal territories. The experience of such a journey was invaluable to the young Rangihaeata. It also enabled him to procure for himself another bride, Te Pikinga, of the Ngatiapa. Their marriage was to be instrumental in peace, because of her status in the tribe. It also brought out a diplomatic quality in Rangihaeata which would rival that of his uncle, in later years. The fearsome warrior now showed a subtle side which, allied with his natural guile and charm, could defuse volatile sitautions.
Upon their return, a continued war with the Waikato tribes resulted in Rauparaha and his tribe being captured. A spate of attempts on his life inevitably led to a paranoia of all around him. This in turn made an impact on the impressionable Te Rangihaeata. Some of his reputed brutality may be attributed to this continual distrust. Allowed to escape, Rauparaha's only choice was to head south and consolidate. Taking his tribe with him, he captured the plains beside Cook Strait and finally, by cunning and strategy, took Kapiti Island for his fortress. It was from here that his tribe was to dominate central New Zealand for many years. The trek was not without incident. Constant harassment, treachery and betrayal followed Rauparaha in his search for a new home. Te Rangihaeata suffered a personal loss when his only child was drowned while crossing the Mokau. In a touching display for one of his reputation, Rangihaeata took the name Mokau in memory of his son. The tribe now settled into its new home and planned for the future.
Over the next ten years, the Ngatitoa grew from strength to strength. This was due to the skilful generalship of Te Rauparaha and to the introduction of the musket. By convincing his people to trade flax and smoked heads for muskets, Rauparaha made them into a powerful force. 1page 27
With their new weapons, the Ngatitoa laid waste their neighbours the Ngatiapa, Rangitane and Muaupoko.
On the Kapiti coastline and even in the Manawatu, Rauparaha satisfied his desire for utu on his betrayers.
Throughout these years of conflict Rangihaeata was learning from his uncle. Like Te Rauparaha, he became a fierce opponent and an adroit tactician. He picked up his uncle's shrewdness, patience and tactical skills.
The vacuum created by the death of the chiefs was filled by Rangihaeata, who stepped into an even greater role in the tribe. With his help, Te Rauparaha prepared for his chance of utu. With a great taua which included tribes from Taranaki, the two chiefs swept south, killing or enslaving the defenceless tribes of Marlborough and Canterbury. They finally exacted vengeance on the Kaiapohia pa, killing its inhabitants and razing the pa to the ground. They destroyed the Onawe pa at Akaroa and routed its people. It was time to return to Kapiti.
The inter-tribal wars receded, but a new threat began to emerge, that of the Pakeha. The rapid influx of white settlers brought the need for land to accommodate them. Great efforts were put into purchasing land for the settlers. The Europeans began to play on the naivety of the Maoris in land matters, cheating them out of millions of hectares of rich, fertile land. Te Rangihaeata was involved in dealings with Colonel William Wakefield of the New Zealand Company, and his mistrust of the devious Europeans led to trouble. On 13 April 1842 Wakefield surveyed the Hutt Valley, against Rangihaeata's wishes, and the chief met the surveyors with an armed party. He then proceeded to burn houses and destroy their work. This alarmed the settlers in Port Nicholson, who demanded his arrest. Rangihaeata, however, insisted that he had never sold the land.
The trouble did not stop there. A dispute over ownership of the Wairau Plains, in 1843, led to the two Ngatitoa chiefs confronting surveyors and burning their huts. The incensed Europeans sent an ill-armed force to arrest them for arson. The two parties met at the Tuamarina Stream. In a scuffle, a shot was fired and battle ensued. The outnumbered and poorly equipped Europeans were forced to retreat, under heavy fire, up the Tuamarina spur. Some fled into the bush, while the leaders of the party ordered a surrender to the pursuing Maoris. They were captured at the top of the spur, where they convinced Te Rauparaha to spare them. However, Te Rangihaeata demanded utu for his wife, Te Rongo. She had been shot by a stray bullet during the exchange, and Rauparaha could not deny his nephew's demand without insulting the mana of the younger chief. Te Rangihaeata tomahawked eleven prisoners. Governor Fitzroy decided that the Europeans were to blame for what had happened:
'the English were very greatly to blame as they brought on and began the fight' 2
Rangihaeata now waged a guerilla war on the settlers in the Hutt Valley. This culminated in the attack on European troops at Boulcott's Farm, 16 May 1846. He was not personally involved in the fighting, which resulted in the deaths of six of the troops, but the Maori attackers were largely constituted of his Ngatitoa warriors. The raids on the farms continued, with several settlers killed and homesteads burnt. Governor George Grey brought matters to a head by dispatching 2000 troops to capture the renegade chief for a reward of 400 pounds. They chased him from his pa in Porirua, up the densely wooded Horokiwi Valley, where the crafty chief played a game of hit-and-run with the superior force, turning and fighting at defensible positions, only to abandon them during the night. Governor Grey, seeing that he could not win this type of warfare, opted to leave the chief alone. Rangihaeata retired further, settling at Poroutawhao, in the Manawatu, where he was left in peace.
Te Rangihaeata was no longer young. With age came a slight lessening in his anti-Pakeha fervour. He declared himself to be tired of war and began to leave the Europeans alone. In 1852 he supervised the construction of a road and even drove about in a European buggy. His vehement anti-European opinions remained with him until his death from measles at Otaki on 18 November 1855.
There is no doubt that Te Rangihaeata held Europeans and their law in contempt. This came from a conflict of cultural values with people who believed themselves in-page 29herently superior to the Maori. To Rangihaeata they had no right to land that had been his ancestors'. If this meant resisting with violence he was ready to accept the consequences. In incidents, such as that at Tuamarina, where his brutality has been confirmed, there was always an element that set off his wrathful temper. There it was the foolhardy attempt by Magistrate Thompson to handcuff Te Rauparaha. The death of his wife, Te Rongo, was his justification for killing the prisoners. It had been accepted practice for hundreds of years and Te Rangihaeata carried out the appropriate sentence.
Rangihaeata did not exist simply as a warrior. His skills in carving and tribal history complimented his diplomacy and tactical skills in making him a chief of great mana. The European threat to his land sparked off a patriotism that set him apart from his peers. Te Rangihaeata was a great leader, a proud man and a bastion of resistance against the overwhelming European influx. Any criticism of his brutality can be answered by his own words:
'if the Pakeha had attacked a Maori village and killed some of our people, it is called a great victory. But if the Maori attacks and kills in time of war, it is called a blood-thirsty massacre.'3
1 Burns, P. Te Rauparaha a new perspective. Reed, 1980. p. 157.
2 Buick, T.L. An old New Zealander. Whitcombe & Tombs, 1911. p.291.
3 Rotorua Post 23/10/65.