Two very different cultures
By John Robinson
Early Maori culture was tribal and primitive. Then in the late eighteenth century developed European people came, bringing the advances of millennia of Eurasian development. I have written of this in When two cultures meet, the New Zealand experience (2012).
An extraordinary cultural shift followed. However, there was no uniformity in Maori thinking. Some led the changes and some resisted, while many vacillated between the two cultures, not sure of which way to go.
Here the lives of a number of influential chiefs are outlined, to show how the times were changing and how individual personalities helped to define the story of the new country.
A cultural revolution for all Maori
Although the focus here is on chiefs, it is important to recognise that all Maori participated in the extraordinary cultural revolution, which was largely informed by missionaries and then carried out by Maori themselves.
The changes were well under way before the Treaty of Waitangi. The new British administration certainly lacked the resources to control and monitor the considerable changes that took place within Maori society. Maori were in charge.
There was a remarkable change as commoners (and, we must not forget, slaves) moved from their old tikanga (culture) to Christianity. Steadily Maori came to regard all people with respect, and there was an end to attacks on other tribes with the associated killing, cannibalism and slavery.
Maori Christians were responsible for the freeing and resettling of slaves, as from Northland back to Kapiti in 1839 and from Waikato back to Taranaki in 1842.
Warrior chiefs at the forefront
Some of the key Maori leaders involved were:
- Tamati Waka Nene of Ngapuhi (1785-1871)
- Te Wherowhero of Waikato (1770-1860)
- Te Rauparaha of Ngati Toa (1768-1849)
- Wiremu Kingi of Te Atiawa (1795-1882)
- Rewi Maniapoto of Ngati Maniapoto (1807-1894)
- Tamihana Te Rauparaha of Ngati Toa (1820-1876)
- Titokowaru of Ngati Ruanui (1823-1888)
Weary of the destructive inter-tribal wars
Tamati Waka Nene (1785-1871) was one of a group of northern Ngapuhi who recognised the cultural destruction of the expanded tribal wars.
They had been warriors. Nene was a leader of the great taua (war party) of 1819-1820 that swept down the west coast to Wellington, and back, killing as they went, but not conquering or settling. It seems to have been driven by a love of warfare.
By the time of the death of Hongi Hika in 1828 they were war-weary and started a transition towards peace. A letter to King William IV in 1831 called for help from Britain.
By 1835 they realised that a concrete expression of sovereignty, a confederation of chiefs, was a necessary first step before Britain could join in any agreement. They signed a declaration calling for the formation of a Confederation of the United Tribes, and a sent copy to the King. Unfortunately Busby headed this “Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand”, which suggests that the confederation existed. It did not and that worthy effort failed as other tribes would not join.
Support for the Treaty of Waitangi
They then supported the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which was a key part of the ongoing process of cultural transformation within Maoridom, and became supporters and partners of the new government. They had been traders in timber for some time by then – for example, Patuone was overseas on a trading mission in 1835.
Nene joined in the general peace-making among Maori around the time of the Treaty and was the first to fight against the rebellion of Hone Heke. He was guarantor, with Te Wherowhero, for the good behaviour of Te Rauparaha in 1847, and was a major spokesman in the 1860 Kohimarama Conference of Chiefs that pledged continuing loyalty to the Crown, while discussing improvements in government.
He was a powerful regional leader, an adviser to Governors, and an effective participant in government at a time when Maori tribes remained largely in control of their own affairs.
Te Wherowhero: another warrior turned peacemaker
Te Wherowhero of Waikato (1770-1860) followed a similar path, from brutal war to peacekeeping.
After the fall of Pukerangiora in 1831 he is reputed to have despatched 150 Te Atiawa captives single-handedly with blows to the head.
By the late 1830s he was living in Mangere as guarantor of the security of those who were returning to their previously denuded lands on the Auckland Tamaki isthmus, a process that came to fruition with the 1842 reconciliation between Ngati Whatua and Ngati Paoa, “the blotting out of the transgressions of the people”.
He had refused to join the Confederation suggested by Ngapuhi, and did not sign the Treaty, but by 1845 he was offering troops to fight with the government against Heke.
When appointed the first ‘king’, he was an old and feeble man, and his calls for peace and cooperation were ignored by belligerent members of the movement, most notably by Rewi Maniapoto.
Te Rauparaha: a brutal warrior who repented
Te Rauparaha (1768-1849) was a renowned warrior who had joined the great taua of 1819-1820 to the south, and later moved there to escape the attacks of powerful Waikato led by Te Wherowhero.
While peace was coming to the north in the 1830s, Te Rauparaha was carrying out brutal attacks on South Island tribes, from his base on Kapiti Island.
After 1840 he continued to act as before, and at Wairau in 1843 he and his nephew Te Rangihaeata murdered their captives after a fight had broken out.
His speeches continued to be violent and threatening and he was arrested by Governor Grey in 1846.
There was ample evidence that he had invited warriors from up the Wanganui River to join him in an attack on Wellington, but he claimed that he had been active in peacekeeping.
There could be truth in both claims. It may be that he may have been of two minds, caught in transition from one set of beliefs to another (two major influences on him were his warlike nephew and his pacifist son).
While this is only speculation on my part, we must keep in mind the extraordinary cultural changes of the time. It would be only human for participants to act for a while in a contradictory manner, torn between two very different ways of life.
When his son visited him on board HMS Driver, he appeared to regret his actions.
“I am living as a chief on board the man-of-war. All the satisfaction that I want is, that peace may he enjoyed by all men, that they may live. As for you, continue to adopt the Pakeha customs. It is true I am wrong, and I do not wish other people to suffer for my faults. I therefore say, it is well that I should remain on board the man-of-war, lest I get into mischief again.”
Wiremu Kingi: a key figure in causing war in Taranaki
(The actions of Wiremu Kingi (1795-1882) have been noted in previous articles, “Wiremu Kingi: From Waikanae to Waitara” and “Wiremu Kingi at Waitara”)
Kingi was a supporter of the government, opposed to the threatening actions of Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata when he lived at Waikanae.
But when Commissioner Spain ruled in 1843 that Taranaki land including Waitara had been properly purchased by the New Zealand Company, he proclaimed that the land was his and would never be sold. His threats were a major reason why Governor Fitzroy refused to accept Spain’s decision.
In 1848 he moved back to Waitara and settled on the south side of the Waitara, breaking his commitment to Governor Grey to keep to the north. He was active in the feuds between Maori who wanted to sell land and those who wanted to ban all such sales.
When Commissioner Parris ruled in 1859 that land at Waitara belonged to Teira (as Kingi himself recognised) and could be sold, Kingi announced that he forbade any such sale.
His letters were a mix of friendship (“From your loving friend”) and threat (“Waitara shall not be given up; the men to whom it belongs will hold it for themselves”).
Kingi ignored the law and acted on that threat, building a fortified pa on the disputed land. Thus war began.
(We pause here and continue next week, starting with the story of Rewi Maniapoto, who joined in the Taranaki war and was responsible more than any other for the onset of further war in the Waikato.)