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

Te Kani-A-Takirau: A Great East Coast Chief — Descended From a Famous Couple

Te Kani-A-Takirau: A Great East Coast Chief
Descended From a Famous Couple

Te Kani-a-Takirau (the far-famed East Coast chief) was born at the close of the eighteenth century. He was descended from Konohi, who lived at Whangara, and whose principal wife was Hinekino. Their eldest son (Marakauiti)—who must not be confused with the native youth of like name who was one of the guests on the Endeavour in Poverty Bay—had two wives, and his brother (Te Rewai) was the husband of three women. By Puhinga (his principal wife), Marakauiti begat Tane Tokorangi. When Tane reached manhood Konohi had a quarrel with Rerekohu, another East Coast chief. As a peace offering Rerekohu handed over to Konohi two women of high rank, one being Ngunguru, who was given to Tane for wife.

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It was as a result of this union that Hinematioro, the great “Queen of the East Coast,” was born. She chose for husband Te Hoa-a-Tiki, a grandson of Te Rewai, her great uncle. Their daughter (Ngarangi-Kahiwa) married Te Rongo Pumamao, who was a great grandson of the second wife of Marakauiti, one of her own great grandfathers. Te Kani was the offspring of this marriage, and he was, therefore, the issue of a union between a great grandson and a great granddaughter of Marakauiti, but who were descended from different wives. Although Te Kani had at least three wives he left no issue.

The introduction of Ngunguru into Te Kani's family tree gave him the distinction of being descended from a famous couple—Tahito-kuru Maranga and Tao Putaputa—who, according to tradition, were united in wedlock as a sequel to the successful working of a love charm. Tahito, it is stated, dwelt in Titirangi pa on Kaiti Hill (Gisborne) circa 1500 A.D. He visited Opotiki to pay court to Tao, but was unfavourably received. Upon his return home he made an atahuoi, or neck pendant. Elsdon Best considered that it might have been composed of part of a bird's skin saturated in oil expressed from the seeds of the fruit of the titoki and scented by the inclusion of fragrant leaves, moss or gum. Tahito placed the atahuoi in a ngaruru shell, repeated a love charm over it, and instructed it to make haste to Opape (near Opotiki), where Tao was in the habit of gathering paua.

One day, whilst Tao was on the beach, the only thing that she found was the ngaruru shell; she threw it away. No matter which part of the beach she examined, the shell turned up. When she returned to the camp fire her basket was empty, although her companions had had no difficulty in filling theirs. To her friends she remarked: “A ngaruru was the only thing I saw. Even although I moved from place to place I was followed by the shell.” Next day, when she returned to the beach, there was the faithful ngaruru, and Tao placed it in her basket.

Whilst she was sitting in front of the fire that evening she noticed the strand of the pendant, and placed it on her necklet. Soon Tahito's love began to affect her overwhelmingly. Brought close to the embers, the ngaruru is said to have opened its lips and to have told her the old, old story in the form of a lament which Tahito had composed. Said the cockle: “When Tahito flung me on the waters, he cried: ‘Tell of my love to, Tao,’ and I, now dying, am fulfilling the trust that he reposed in me.” No time was lost by Tao in hitting the Kowhai trail leading to Poverty Bay, and, soon, she was in the arms of the waiting Tahito, of whom Ngunguru, a great grandmother of Te Kani, was a descendant.

Te Kani must have owed much to Hinematioro, whose fame, on account of her kindly disposition, spread far and wide. She would never permit the slaying of anybody to provide food, no matter how meagre the supplies on hand. When Marsden was at Rangihoua in 1820 he met a young East Coast captive woman, who claimed to be a niece of “Hina, a great Queen,” of whom, he said, he had often heard. Upon Te Wera's return from his first lengthy expedition to the south in April, 1821, he told the Rev. J. Butler that the chief place which he had visited was “Enamatteeora,” about 400 miles from the Bay of Islands—clearly a reference to the district ruled over by Hinematioro.

Like some other distinguished figures in Maoridom, Hinematioro met a tragic death. Pakira, who resided in the Waiapu district, was insulted by a brother-in-law named Whakarara, whose abode was at Marahea. When Whakarara heard that Pakira was on the way to attack his pa, he went to Tolaga Bay to secure the protection of Hinematioro, leaving behind a message for Pakira that he should be well content with the sands of Anaura for utu (compensation). Pakira, however, continued to pursue Whakarara, who took refuge on Pourewa Island.

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When Pourewa pa was about to fall into Pakira's hands Hinematioro was assisted down a cliff and placed in a canoe, which made off towards Whangara Island. W. L. Williams was told that the canoe upset, and that Te Kani was the only survivor. Smith (Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, p. 172) says that her remains were buried on Whangara Island. When the ownership of Pourewa Island was being investigated by Judges Heale and O'Brien in July, 1881, evidence was tendered to the effect that the canoe was overtaken, and that Hinematioro was taken back to the island, where she was slain and her heart was roasted and eaten. This tragic event occurred circa 1823.

D'Urville, commander of the French vessel L'Astrolabe, which visited Tolaga Bay in 1827, gives the earliest pen-picture of Te Kani. It seems that, at the outset, he allowed on board only Te Rangui-Wai-Hetouma (Rangiuia), who claimed to be the principal rangatira of the district. Next day some other chiefs were denied a like privilege, “although with visible repugnance.” One of them (Te Kani) would not obey the sentinel, and, trembling with rage, left only when peremptorily ordered by D'Urville to do so. He was hardly 30 years old, and became known to the voyagers as “Shaki.”

On account of Te Kani's stature and haughty mien, and the air of submission adopted by those who surrounded him, it soon became obvious that he was a chief. Moreover, a young woman in his canoe, who spoke a mixture of English corrupted and of Maori, kept on repeating, with extraordinary volubility, that Shaki, her master, was a great chief and friend of the English, and that it was very bad on D'Urville's part not to receive him. As Rangiuia admitted that Shaki was a great chief, D'Urville signalled him to come on board, and, after explaining to him that he had not been aware of his high birth, made him a few gifts. Soon they became the best of friends.

Shortly afterwards a tumult arose when another canoe, in which there were two old and more heavily tattooed chiefs, put in an appearance. Te Kani invited D'Urville to frighten them away; he even went so far as to demand a musket so that he might fire at them. When the newcomers accepted an invitation to go on board, however, Te Kani adopted a very modest demeanour towards them, offering them some large hatchets which he had received as gifts. Suddenly the elderly chiefs left the ship. When D'Urville sought an explanation he was told that Te Kani and his companions had given them to understand that they were to be slain!

According to Smith (supra, p. 172) Te Kani was “one of those great chiefs who seemed more like the arikis of Central Polynesia than were usually found in New Zealand.” Major Ropata Wahawaha claimed that “all the lines of Maori aristocratic descent converged in Te Kani; that he could trace his ancestors back to Maui-Potiki, and that his mana (authority) extended from Whangaparaoa to Mahia.” Polack (New Zealand: Travels and Adventures, vol. 2, pp. 125–6), who first met Te Kani at Tolaga Bay in June, 1835, describes him as noble in appearance, above 6 feet tall, and about 36 years old. He adds: “His handsome countenance was but little marked with the moko, and was garnished with a large, dark, bushy beard, which gave him the appearance of an Arab of Mocha.”

Sir Donald McLean, who met Te Kani in Poverty Bay in 1851, says, in his journal (Alexander Turnbull Library), that Te Kani frankly welcomed him.” although he was taken rather by surprise when I got up to him.” His only emblem of chieftainship was “a bone mere decorated with tapes of hair about the handle, which he waved carelessly about in his right hand as he rode on horseback.” McLean adds, inter alia: “He is a fine, nice-looking man, but not strikingly so—not nearly so much determination in his features as Te Hapuku possesses, nor even so much of page 464 the gentleman in appearance as Te Rawiri, a cousin of his at Turanganui—but, in reality, he is freely acknowledged by all the natives to be one of the greatest men on this side of the island.”

In an address at Gisborne in 1901, Joseph Goadley Baker (who was taken to Tolaga Bay by his parents in 1843) described Te Kani as “a man of princely appearance, tall and handsome, with curly, auburn hair and possessing all the qualities of one of Nature's gentlemen.” Te Kani, he said, was looked upon as sacred by his people, and, he could sway them by a word or a wave of the hand. He was a great friend of the Europeans, and put off all restraint whilst in their company. Although such a good friend to the missionaries, he never accepted Christianity, nor would he attend public worship. Mr. Baker added: “Unfortunately, he became addicted to strong drink, which brought him to an untimely end.”

It is stated by Smith (supra, pp. 171–2) that Te Kani took part in a battle which was fought on the banks of the Waipaoa River in 1820–21, when Ngapuhi, under Te Wera and Titore, and war parties of Waikato and Ngati-Maniapoto crushed Rongowhakaata and their allies. The slain included three of his brothers (or, perhaps, cousins), and he escaped only by jumping into a canoe and paddling for dear life to a pa at the mouth of the river. This engagement does not appear in E. F. Harris's list of battles fought in Poverty Bay, and no reference to it has been found in the Native Land Court minute books. Nor are any details available concerning a battle in Poverty Bay in which, according to Polack, Te Kani was taken prisoner, and, afterwards, “formed a serail from the families of his captors.”

Te Kani died on Paremata block (Tolaga Bay) in 1856 after a lingering illness. By stages his body was taken to Whangara. Some accounts state that the burial took, place, first of all, in the village, and that, subsequently, the remains were removed on to the island. However, Richard Leach, of Whangara, pointed out to the writer a clump of trees to the north-east of the village, which, he said, sheltered Te Kani's last resting place.