The Story of a Maori Chief
Chapter 6 — Mokena Kohere as a Builder
Mokena Kohere as a Builder
Mokena Kohere showed great interest in the work of the missionaries and rendered help as much as he could. In spite of his impetuous nature he endeavoured to behave and to do as the missionaries expected of him.
One thing he thought he could do and that was to build a large church at Rangitukia. First, he asked his people to accompany him into the bush and saw timber. Two saw-pits were erected some miles up the Maraehara River, close to a good supply of suitable timber. The natives, under the direction of Mokena Kohere, set to work with enthusiasm, and in a few months a sufficient supply of timber was ready. This was floated down the river, and from the river bank carried by the people to where it was intended to build the church. For the roof bundles of shingles were made ready.
Then trouble arose as to the dimensions of the proposed church. Mr. J. G. Baker, whose notes I quote, narrates: “We found the Maoris busy under the direction of Mokena Kohere and Pita Whakangaue preparing materials for building a large wooden church. Mokena, having an ambitious turn of mind, was anxious to construct on rather a gigantic scale, chiefly on account of adding importance to Rangitukia, his own principal pa, which he considered should be the recognised centre of attraction. Pita, on the other hand, being a quiet and practical man, contended that it was better to do things in moderation, and advocated building on a modified plan. The impetuous Mokena rose to his dignity and said he would have his own way or abandon the whole scheme, and, as an earnest of his determination, went off to the forest and dragged on to the ground a ridge pole measuring eighty feet in length.
“Then a battle began and raged so fiercely that at length my father was called upon to arbitrate. Although fully in sympathy with Pita, he, finding an overwhelming majority favoured Mokena's plan, very reluctantly gave his verdict on his behalf. Poor old Pita was much distressed at the decision, but rose high in our estimation by his patient submission, and he entered with all his energy into the work of construction. But before very long he and Mokena again page 35 came in conflict, and my father was appealed to to settle the dispute. On this occasion he gave judgment in favour of Pita, much to the disgust of Mokena, who, throwing down his tools, stated that he was a passionate man, but having promised himself never to insult the missionary, he would retire from the scene.” After a long while he returned to Rangitukia.
Mokena Kohere went to Kawakawa (Te Araroa) and helped the local tribe to erect a church for themselves. The church built at Rangitukia was named St. John, the first church built on the East Coast. It was destroyed by fire during the Hauhau troubles in 1865. The church at Kawakawa was built in 1861, and named St. Stephen. In the plan of the Pa-kairomiromi the church is clearly seen at a distance.
Rangitukia, as Mokena Kohere wished it to be, did become a very important centre, a Gospel centre from which the evangelisation of the East Coast was carried out. There is a famous haka of the Ngati-Porou which to-day is often recited and performed with zest. I give only the opening lines:
Rangitukia was the hub whence four teachers were sent out:
Ruka to Reporua, Hohepa to the coast,
Kawhia1 to Whangakareao, Apakura to Whangapirita, e.
“Four years ago I was travelling along the Bay of Plenty in company with the Rev. Rota Waitoa3 and Mokena Kohere, the leading chief of Ngati-Porou. At Maketu, when the people of the place came together, Mokena spoke to them about the want of a church for their village. The answer given was: ‘We are waiting for the pakeha to build it for us. We are looking to the Bishop and to Archdeacon Brown.’ This was just the keynote for Mokena. ‘I will tell you what we have done at Waiapu,’ he said. ‘We began at first with chapels of raupo, which soon decaye and fell to pieces; but, knowing that the pakeha built with wood, we thought we would have churches like theirs. We had no money to pay English sawyers with, so we went into the woods ourselves page 36 and cut down timber, and I took charge of one of the pits myself. Then came the difficulty about erection. Carpenters' wages are high, but dressing the boards seemed to be a simple process, so we bought planes and other tools, and, having cut the timber, we then became our own carpenters; and there the buildings stand for you to look at. Now, I recommend you not to wait for the pakeha to build your church for you, but go and put it up yourselves.’”
Whenever Mokena Kohere went to Wellington to attend to his Parliamentary duties he had to be picked up by the Government steamer Luna and returned home in the same way. My grandmother, Hinekukurangi, with one or two of the children, often accompanied him. He made the acquaintance of the Wairarapa chief, Hikawera Mahupuku. They became very great friends. To cement their friendship Mokena Kohere took a fine-looking Ngati-Porou woman, whom he gave Hikawera for his wife. The chief and the woman proved very faithful to each other, for the woman came home only after the death of her husband. On one occasion the chief accompanied Mokena to the East Coast, where he and his wife stayed for quite a long time.
Hikawera asked Mokena to build him a large carved house, worthy of his position as a great chief. Mokena took with him some of the expert carvers of the Ngati-Porou and the result of their work was the erection of a magnificent house at Kehemane, Martinborough. It was called “Takitimu,” and it took eight years to finish it. The carved slabs of the house were large and high, for timber was abundant in Wairarapa in those early days.
There was some talk of the Government removing the house to Wellington, but before the final arrangements were completed that beautiful work of Maori art was destroyed by fire.
1 A venerable, fully tattooed Maori clergyman.
2 Christianity Amongst the New Zealanders.
3 The first Maori ordained in the Church of England.