The man and the mana: Te Rauparaha’s story finally comes to light

A riveting translation of the story of powerful chief and war leader Te Rauparaha, written by his son, tells of a time of great change for Māori. by Sally Blundell.

Te Rauparaha’s footprints cover much of the country, from the west coast of the North Island down to the east coast of the South. His haka, Ka Mate, thunders across rugby fields around the world.

Yet his story, 125 pages of neat copperplate writing in te reo Māori penned by his son Tamihana Te Rauparaha, has been quietly shelved – or wilfully ignored – for close to a century.

However, a new translation by Ross Calman is a riveting account drawn from the stories of Te Rauparaha himself, those of other Ngāti Toa elders and Tamihana’s own memories.
Beginning with Te Rauparaha’s birth in Tahāroa near Kawhia Harbour around 1770, it maps the migration of Ngāti Toarangatira (Ngāti Toa) down to the Wellington region during the turbulent fallout of the Hingakākā battle between Ngāti Toa and Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto tribes. In a historic shifting of tribal boundaries, the migrating group makes new alliances with the Ngāti Awa people of northern Taranaki and Ngāti Raukawa, the tribe of Te Rauparaha’s mother.

From his base at Kapiti Island, Te Rauparaha forges strong relationships with European traders, building up the firepower that enables Ngāti Toa to dominate the Cook Strait region and execute lethal war raids on Rangitāne and Ngāi Tahu in the South Island. When Ngāi Tahu kill a number of Ngāti Toa chiefs during a trading visit to Kaiapoi in 1827-28, Te Rauparaha applies his military might to exacting revenge on the southern iwi. “In the old way of the world, if you were wronged against, it created a curse on your soul,” says Calman. “Only through revenge by killing the person or people responsible did that lift off your soul.”

There is a description, for example, of events in 1826, when Te Rauparaha’s war party crossed Te Moana-o-Raukawa/Cook Strait, into Cloudy Bay “and began attacking and killing there … The Chief who had cursed Te Rauparaha was killed in the fighting by Te Rauparaha himself.Te Rauparaha left five hundred men lying dead on the battlefield and four pā overthrown; a further one thousand women and children were also killed. The survivors were allowed to live there as serfs. Peace was proposed and agreed to. Some from that tribe were taken back to Kapiti, where they lived until they were sent back to homes by Te Rauparaha to be serfs at some other places.”

Within a year, another Te Rauparaha war party kills a further 200 men. “As for theeight hundred women and children, they were taken back to Kapiti as slaves.” This brings Te Rauparaha’s personal slaves to 200 men, women and children.

In 1843, at Wairau, Te Rauparaha disrupts what was clearly a spurious claim by the New Zealand Company on thousands of hectares of land. Shots are fired; there are deaths on both sides. Although Te Rauparaha is exonerated, increasingly he comes to be seen as a threat to the colonial agenda and is later held without charge on the ship Calliope.

Following his release in 1848, Te Rauparaha focuses his attention on building the new Rangiātea church at Ōtaki – he dies there in November 1849 aged about 80. “Here ends this narrative,” writes Tamihana.

A historic find

Calman chanced upon a copy of Tamihana Te Rauparaha’s He Pukapuka Tātaku i Ngā Mahi a Te Rauparaha Nui (A Record of the Life of the Great Te Rauparaha) in 1992 in the University of Canterbury library. He knew it was a historic find – a 19th-century biography by an indigenous author in an indigenous language is unusual in any country.

But it also held personal significance. Calman knew he was a descendant of Te Rauparaha through Tamihana’s sister, Karoraina Tūtari, the result of a peace marriage forged between Ngāti Toa and Ngāi Tahu in the 1840s, “but that was about all”.

With only a basic grasp of te reo Māori at that time, he put the manuscript aside, knowing one day he would return to read the story of his famous tupuna in the language in which it was written.

Nearly two decades later, Calman, by now a freelance writer and editor, set out to translate and annotate the original manuscript held at Auckland Libraries. The result is a dynamic and very readable account, using modern conventions of spelling and grammar to achieve what Calman hopes is a “crisp, modern translation” while also preserving usages that reflect the “old language”. Included in Tamihana’s account are snippets of dialogue, speeches, proverbs, waiata, descriptions of military tactics and rare insights into Ngāti Toa cultural traditions.

It also illustrates a time of huge change for Māori, both geographically and culturally. Even before the arrival of Christianity, says Calman, contact with whalers and traders may have prompted Māori to question some of the old spiritual beliefs. Tamihana couches traditional practices, including cannibalism, within a more historical framework. Clearly written for a non-Māori readership, this was, he writes, “the Māori way”. He exercises restraint in describing Te Rauparaha’s attack on Ngāi Tahu at Akaroa: “I will not write down all of the particulars of this massacre.”

Tamihana studied English, adopted Pākehā manners and became an ardent Christian. A close friend of missionaries Octavius Hadfield and George Selwyn, he was the first adult Māori student to attend St John’s College. In 1842, against Te Rauparaha’s wishes, he and his cousin Mātene Te Whiwhi took the gospel to Ngāi Tahu communities to bring an end to years of fighting.

His trip to England in 1850-52 may have undermined some of these beliefs, says Calman. “In England, he saw what a Christian country was like. He saw drunkenness, unruliness, prostitution. By the time he wrote the manuscript, he was an established gentleman farmer and going to church, but you do wonder if his beliefs weren’t as strong.”

On his return, Tamihana advocated the establishment of a Māori king as an equivalent to the British monarch and encouraged a landed Māori class, similar to the Pākehā landed gentry. Nevertheless, in his role with the Native Land Court, he supported the sale of Māori land to the Crown. “But everyone had the expectation that most of the land would be sold,” says Calman. “The main point of contention was who would be the seller – it was about the mana of the seller.”

Shoring up the mana

In a lengthy introduction, Calman applies a forensic lens to Tamihana’s account. Why did Tamihana compile this record? In his first sentence, Tamihana says he is telling the story of Te Rauparaha “so that it is not forgotten”. Fair call. As Calman explains, one of the by-products of increasing literacy was a growing reliance on the written word rather than memorised histories.

But Tamihana was also working to retain the mana of his father in the face of numerous slurs on his reputation. His narrative highlights episodes that bolster his father’s reputation but glosses over the series of defeats suffered by Ngāti Toa at the hands of Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto. His record may also have been an attempt to uphold Tamihana’s own authority.

Running through the text is the story of a favoured son included in his famous father’s war parties. Describing the raid on Kaikōura in 1827, he assures the reader, “I also accompanied this war party as a child. I was able to walk by then. I was perhaps five at the time, although this is only a guess as Māori did not reckon age this way” (he was probably round 10).

To identify when it was written, Calman sifts through the events described in the manuscript, the photographs pasted inside the front cover (one of a pencil sketch of Te Rauparaha, the other a seated studio photograph of Tamihana and his wife, Ruta), the watermark on the paper itself and Tamihana’s work schedule with the Native Land Court to establish the time of writing between 1866 and 1869, when Tamihana would have been in his mid-forties.

Was he commissioned to write it? In quoting the verses of a waiata, Tamihana adds, “You fix it up.” Who was this “you”? A note on the cover by George Grey saying the manuscript was dictated to Tamihana by his father and written down at Grey’s request does not bear scrutiny – Tamihana writes in the first person and talks of his father in the third.

A more likely contender is Wellington lawyer and politician William Travers. Tamihana gave his manuscript to Travers, who then used it as the basis for a series of lectures before publishing it under his own name with a number of additions and embellishments (and some errors). “But the whole impetus for writing this account came from Tamihana himself,” says Calman. “Travers opportunistically stumbled across it and proceeded to take the guts out of it and put out his own book.”

Errors and all

Subsequent versions and extracts have further diminished Tamihana’s role and proficiency. In 1879, three years after Tamihana’s death, ethnographer John White included in his multi-volume The Ancient History of the Māori chapters credited to Tamihana. But for these he used chunks of Travers’ text, which he then translated back into Māori, errors and all. Widely referenced as a genuine source, the resulting text, writes Calman, “was hugely damaging to Tamihana’s reputation”.

It gets worse. An English translation produced by George Graham between 1915 and 1918 was based on a typed transcript that was itself full of errors. Although recognised as being inaccurate by Apirana Ngata in the 1920s, it is still consulted by historians.

In 1980, Alister Taylor published The Life and Times of Te Rauparaha, promoted as a “unique story of bloodshed, warfare and cannibalism”. The text, edited by Peter Butler, is an abridged version of Graham’s translation. Most galling for Calman is a passage stating that Tamihana “was certainly no scholar and the manuscript had to be extensively edited”.
As Piripi Walker wrote in a damning review in Salient, “Is a knowledge of a rough typescript translation in English sufficient to judge a classical piece of Māori narrative in the tongue of the old people?”

Now, in returning to the original manuscript, Calman has come to appreciate the richness and depth of Tamihana’s story.

“Sometimes he is saying things with irony or humour; other references are quite cryptic. You get all these different shades of meaning. He knew he wasn’t going to have any children – this was his legacy.”

'Te Rauparaha will never die'

In traditional times, Te Rauparaha was Ngāti Toa’s talisman – a role he continues to fulfil. by Ross Calman.

In the autumn of 1833, Te Rauparaha and a small group of Ngāti Toa were in a canoe that was being driven east by fierce winds towards Te Rae-o-Te-Karaka (Cape Campbell), after they had narrowly avoided death at the hands of a Ngāi Tahu war party at Kāpara Te Hau (Lake Grassmere). Perhaps in exhilaration at their escape, one of the party, a man named Kōiro, described as being a little crazy, called out: “E kore e mate a Te Rauparaha, ahakoa whai noa te mano o te iwi, e kore rawa a Te Rauparaha e mate, he pakoko tawhito!” (Te Rauparaha will never die, even if he is pursued by thousands of people, Te Rauparaha will never, ever die, he is a venerable warrior!). In Tamihana Te Rauparaha’s account, Kōiro likens Te Rauparaha to an ancient carved ancestral image, impervious to the passage of time and other hazards.

Although Kōiro was unceremoniously tossed off the canoe for potentially giving away their position to the pursuing Ngāi Tahu war party, in many ways his prediction has been borne out, for Te Rauparaha continues to exert his presence today, particularly among his Porirua-based Ngāti Toa tribe. In traditional times, he was Ngāti Toa’s talisman, and he continues to fulfil this role in modern times. With his bravery and ingenuity, he was able to come through so many scrapes during his long life, often in an almost miraculous fashion – the most famous was the event that led to his composing the haka Ka Mate, but that’s another story.

My quest to learn about my ancestor started when, at 18, I found I was one of his descendants. In my early twenties, I sought to learn about my Māori heritage by studying at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, the tribal university at Ōtaki, where I encountered Uncle Iwi Nicholson. He spoke about Te Rauparaha with such vividness that it did not seem my ancestor had been dead for nearly 150 years. Fast forward 20 years and it was appropriate that Uncle Iwi was on the Ngāti Toa Whakapapa Committee who approved my proposal to publish Tamihana’s account in 2016. Uncle Iwi knew parts of it would make difficult reading for some, but he was adamant nothing would be gained by withholding any part of Tamihana’s text. Moe mai, e te rangatira, e Iwi.

For despite being a Christian, Tamihana doesn’t shy away from recording the details of wars, belief in the supernatural and the eating of enemies killed in battle – he describes this last dispassionately as simply a “ritenga” (practice) of Māori at that time. We must remember it was very much about survival in those days – it was kill or be killed in many situations. Te Rauparaha’s first wife, Marore (my ancestor), was killed by a Waikato war party and many of their children were put to death by Muaūpoko at Lake Papaitonga. Such events were never forgotten.

As Uncle Iwi said to the Waitangi Tribunal in 2003, “Na, ko te Ao Māori tērā, tā rātou mahi he patu tangata, kai tangata, muru taonga, muru whenua, mahi raupatu – ahakoa te weriweri, ko te Ao Māori tērā, me ōna tikanga.” (Well, that’s the traditional Māori world, what they did was to kill people, eat people, forcibly take possessions and land, undertake conquests – even though it’s unpleasant, that’s the traditional Māori world, and its customs.)

To understand Te Rauparaha and his times, we must attempt to understand the traditional Māori world view. In battle, Te Rauparaha would encourage his warriors with the cry, “Kaua e whakaaro ki Te Ao Mārama!” (Do not be distracted by thoughts of the material world!) This was a reminder to warriors in battle that they were in the spiritual realm and should not be distracted by thoughts of the material world. Warriors going to battle were under a strict tapu during which they did not come into contact with food.

The spiritual and the natural universe were not held to be distinct, but were intertwined. Rangatira were held to be tapu, or sacred; a tribe’s mana or standing was wrapped up with that of its leader. Utu, or reciprocity, was a key concept that governed social relations. Groups sought to maintain a finely balanced equilibrium. If a group transgressed and upset this balance, there were various remedies, with warfare against the offending group being the ultimate sanction. Thus Māori had their own system of justice that was enforced by the community itself, rather than being a responsibility of the state as it is today.

Te Rauparaha was born at Taharoa on the southern shores of Kāwhia Harbour about 1780. His father was Werawera of Ngāti Toa and his mother Parekōhatu of Ngāti Raukawa. As the youngest in his family, Te Rauparaha received the nickname Māui-pōtiki – like Māui, Te Rauparaha was the last-born, but the one who was destined for greatness. By the time he assumed a leadership role within his tribe, about 1800, Ngāti Toa’s very survival was threatened because of constant attacks from various elements of Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto, who were vying for control of the Kāwhia region and its resources.

In the early 1820s, Te Rauparaha engineered the successful migration of his people from their Kāwhia homeland to Kāpiti. To move a whole tribe – men, women, children and kaumātua – through enemy territory was a massive undertaking at that time. It could only be achieved through inspirational leadership, as well as with the support of Ngāti Toa’s allies, the northern Taranaki iwi.

In 1825, Ngāti Toa won a victory against the odds at the Battle of Waiorua on KāpitiIsland. They overcame a huge force made up of most of the iwi from Whanganui in the north through to the iwi from the top of the South Island. This cemented Ngāti Toa’s dominance in the region and led to their being joined at Kāpiti by their allies from northern Taranaki and southern Waikato (Ngāti Raukawa).

From 1826, increasing numbers of European ships called at Kāpiti, and Te Rauparaha proved himself adept at establishing positive relationships with the ships’ captains. Trade flourished: flax, pigs and potatoes were exchanged for muskets, shot and powder. After Waiorua, and now armed with muskets, Ngāti Toa and their allies expanded into the top of the South Island to take revenge on groups that had opposed them at Waiorua.

Once Ngāti Toa crossed Cook Strait, it was inevitable that they would come into contact with Ngāi Tahu. In the summer of 1827-28, after attacking the Ngāi Tahu people of Kaikōura whose chief had threatened to rip Te Rauparaha’s belly open with a niho mangā (barracouta-tooth knife) if he dared set foot on his lands, a group of Ngāti Toa carried on to Kaiapoi Pā to trade for pounamu, possibly unaware their hosts were kin to the Kaikōura people.

About 40 Ngāti Toa chiefs slept inside the pā. Before morning, Ngāi Tahu attacked them in their beds, killing 20 chiefs, including the ariki (hereditary leader), Te Pēhi, and Te Rauparaha’s half-brother, Te Aratangata. Although Ngāi Tahu maintain Ngāti Toa harboured evil intentions so this was a pre-emptive strike, the magnitude of this kōhuru (murder) meant Te Rauparaha was consumed over the following decade with the need to seek utu (recompense) from Ngāi Tahu. In doing so, he was following a code of honour that Ngāi Tahu themselves would have fully understood at the time. The subsequent campaigns against Ngāi Tahu are described in vivid detail in Tamihana’s fascinating account – Tamihana was at most of those battles, although only a boy at the time.

Te Rauparaha is widely considered to be among the greatest tribal leaders of the 19th century. He was a visionary leader, a skilled warrior, a cross-cultural communicator, a composer and a tohunga. He led his people over a 50-year period, from traditional times when Pākehā were unknown to Ngāti Toa, through to being at the early flashpoint of colonisation when the ink was barely dry on the Treaty of Waitangi – a document he signed twice, so desperate were Governor William Hobson’s officials to ensure his consent.

Throughout his life, Te Rauparaha excelled in manaakitanga – the provision of sustenance for his own Ngāti Toa people and for visitors. One could not maintain his standing within his tribe for such an extended period without excelling on this point. For me, Te Rauparaha is simply one of the most remarkable people ever to have walked on this earth. As long as there is such a collective as Ngāti Toa and descendants of Te Rauparaha upon this earth, he will never die.

Ka mate, ka mate. Ka ora, ka ora.

He Pukapuka Tātaku i Ngā Mahi a Te Rauparaha Nui (A Record of the Life of the Great Te Rauparaha), by Tamihana Te Rauparaha; edited and translated by Ross Calman (Auckland University Press, $59.99).

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