Story: Kohere, Mokena

Page 1: Biography

Kohere, Mokena


Ngati Porou leader, assessor, politician

This biography, written by Rarawa Kohere, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Mokena Kohere was born at Waiora-a-Tane, Rangitukia. His father was Pakura, his mother Moahiraia. He belonged to Te Whanau-a-Rerewa, which has sub-tribal links with Ngai Tuiti-Matua and Te Whanau-a-Tu-whakairi-ora of the Ngati Porou tribal confederation. He succeeded to the leadership of his people on the death of his elder brother, Kaka-ta-rau, who had no children. The name Kohere means protector of land and people, and was to prove prophetic. The name Mokena was taken from that of the CMS missionary John Morgan. His first wife was Erana Umutaru. For nearly 50 years he was married to Marara Hinekukurangi of Te Whanau-a-Tapuhi. They lived at Waiora-a-Tane, and at Kamiti, where their eldest son, Hone Hiki, was born.

In 1834 Kaka-ta-rau and Kohere fought together in the successful defence of Rangitukia pa against an attack by Te Whanau-a-Apanui. In 1836 Kaka-ta-rau assembled an expedition at Waiapu, which included chiefs from Wharekahika (Hicks Bay) to Wairarapa, to take reprisals against Te Whanau-a-Apanui. After a lengthy siege of Toka-a-Kuku pa at Te Kaha, which caused great suffering to the Bay of Plenty people, the expedition withdrew, having obtained sufficient utu.

The people of Waiapu were greatly influenced by the Christian teachings of Taumata-a-Kura (who had been at Toka-a-kuku), and later of the CMS missionaries, who came to the East Coast in 1840. Mokena, who later became a lay synodsman in the Waiapu diocese, was responsible for constructing St John's Church at Rangitukia. This church, capable of holding 800 people, was consecrated by Bishop G. A. Selwyn in 1856.

Mokena fostered those elements of European culture and technology which he regarded as beneficial for his tribe. Traditional expertise in cultivation and navigation was turned to advantage, and as early as 1840 his people had successful agricultural and commercial enterprises. Wheat and maize were grown on a large scale, and schooners were purchased to transport their produce to Auckland and even to Australia. Mokena saw to the purchase of a 20 ton schooner, named Mereana after his daughter. He is recorded as master of the vessel in 1852. He also negotiated with traders on behalf of his people.

In January 1862, as part of Governor George Grey's scheme for local Maori self-government, Mokena was appointed principal assessor for the Ngati Porou runanga in the combined districts of Waiapu and Tokomaru Bay. His fellow chiefs, Iharaira Te Houkamau and Wikiriwhi Matauru, were appointed assessors at Wharekahika, and at Te Kawakawa (Te Araroa). Much of the business of the assessors, who were assisted by a European resident magistrate, concerned internal matters of law and order. These were largely dealt with by local runanga, of which the assessors themselves, because of their tribal status, were members. Grey's system, in effect, reinforced an existing form of Maori self-government.

By the early 1860s some Ngati Porou were supporting the growing Maori King movement. The position of the Ngati Porou chiefs was one of neutrality. Archdeacon W. L. Williams noted that the people of Waiapu 'call themselves always "Kupapa" as being partizans of neither side'. Mokena, apart from his misgivings about the Maori kingship, actively dissuaded his people from becoming involved in the Waikato conflict, lest Ngati Porou territory become subject to confiscation. Nevertheless, some Ngati Porou did participate and in 1862, on their return home, the King's flag was raised at Waiomatatini. This act was interpreted by Mokena and others as a challenge to the traditional authority of the chiefs.

Mokena came to national prominence during the warfare on the East Coast in 1865. His stand against the Hauhau forces prevented the escalation of a conflict which could have engulfed not only Mokena's own region but much of the North Island. Mokena's actions were consistent with his obligation to uphold his own and his people's mana, his acceptance of the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi, which his brother Kaka-ta-rau had signed, and his commitment to his religion.

The murder of the missionary C. S. Völkner at Opotiki in March 1865 by Hauhau directly affected people of the East Coast. Völkner's attendance at Waiapu diocesan synods had made him well known to most of the East Coast chiefs who had attended either as ministers or as lay synodsmen. These included Mokena Kohere, Henare Potae, Raniera Kawhia, Mohi Turei, Hotene Porourangi (Te Horo) and Rapata Wahawaha; they wrote to Bishop William Williams deploring the killing.

After leaving Opotiki the Hauhau reached Turanga (Gisborne) in March 1865, where they threatened to treat Williams as they had Völkner. The bishop and his family left the district; members of Ngai Te Kete, a hapu of Rongowhakaata, sent for Mokena, a close friend and relative of their chief, Paratene Turangi.

Mokena arrived to find that Ngai Te Kete had prepared a huge spar as a flagstaff for the British ensign. They decided not to erect it immediately, as they were apprehensive of the Hauhau. Mokena, however, alarmed at the increasing influence of the Hauhau and with the help of some Ngai Te Kete, erected a moderate-sized pole and immediately hoisted the British flag. Some Poverty Bay people were indignant, but as those who had raised the flag did so on their own land, the excitement soon subsided. Mokena explained his action in letters to Donald McLean, the provincial superintendent: 'I raised the flag over them for their protection.' He stated also that he 'made no attempt to influence anyone other than my own relatives.'

On 8 June 1865 Mokena, accompanied by McLean and Archdeacon Williams, returned to Tuparoa and awaited the arrival of Henare Potae, Raniera Kawhia and Mohi Turei. These chiefs came from a meeting at Popoti, an inland pa, where the announcement had been made that 'the Hauhau who murdered Völkner have entered the portals of Waiapu'. They informed those waiting that some of the tribe had already gone to apprehend Patara Raukatauri, the Taranaki leader of the Hauhau. Under Henare Nihoniho and Rapata Wahawaha, the 40 Te Aowera men were forced to retreat, after encountering a well-armed band of 150 Hauhau, mainly from outside tribes, but including some Ngati Porou recruited from north of Waiapu. Mokena took a party of his own hapu to support Te Aowera. He, too, had to withdraw, and he took up his stand at his pa, Te Hatepe, on the coast at Rangitukia. The Hauhau encamped at Pakairomiromi, two miles away.

Mokena and his people withstood a Hauhau siege, with intermittent skirmishing, for almost a month. Although they received support from other chiefs, they were outnumbered by two to one, and had little in the way of arms or ammunition. The chiefs sent a letter to Wellington stating that 'the Hauhau of Taranaki and elsewhere are now here, carrying into effect their word to us, viz. that we be annihilated', and requesting arms and reinforcements. Lieutenant R. N. Biggs and 20 European volunteers reached Mokena's pa on 3 July, and helped repel a Hauhau attack two days later. By 13 July McLean had managed to land Captain James Fraser and 50 colonial troops with supplies of arms and ammunition. Patara sent a message to Mokena, calling for peace, so that he would have only European troops to contend with. Mokena, however, instead sent word to those of Ngati Porou, mainly former Kingites, who had aligned themselves with the Hauhau. He would make peace with them on condition that they deliver up Patara, and take the oath of allegiance.

On 2 August the combined forces, led by Mokena and Fraser and following Mokena's plan of attack, stormed Pakairomiromi and inflicted heavy losses. The Hauhau retreated to Pukemaire pa, where they were again attacked, and then withdrew to Hungahunga-toroa, near Te Kawakawa, 13 miles away.

To prevent their escape, Biggs and Rapata Wahawaha pursued them, using the inland track, while Mokena and Fraser took the longer coastal route. Mokena's party reached Hungahunga-toroa soon after the other contingent. Mokena was anxious to give Ngati Porou there the opportunity to surrender and called on Biggs and Rapata to make peace with them. The Hauhau belonging to Ngati Porou then gave up their arms. Those from outside tribes, knowing that their lives were at risk, made their escape to Waerenga-a-hika, in Poverty Bay. Hauhau of Ngati Porou were escorted to Te Hatepe, where they took the oath of allegiance. Mokena pardoned them and allowed them to return to their homes under supervision.

Mokena's rejection of Pai Marire stemmed from his opposition to a creed at variance with the treaty covenant and with his own religious beliefs, from his objection to interference in his territory by outsiders, and from his concern for the welfare of his people. He realised that action against the government would lead to the confiscation of tribal land.

The events at Hungahunga-toroa brought conflict to an end in the Waiapu district. The focus shifted to Poverty Bay where the Hauhau were well-entrenched at Waerenga-a-hika. McLean travelled to Tuparoa to enlist the aid of Ngati Porou. He returned to Turanga on 9 November 1865 with 260 Ngati Porou under Rapata Wahawaha and Hotene Porourangi. Mokena, although not involved in the Poverty Bay fighting, led a reconnoitring expedition inland to Makauri, which restricted the movements of Hauhau scouts. A combined Maori and European force under Fraser overcame the Hauhau at Waerenga-a-hika, after a seven day siege.

After the Poverty Bay conflict Raharuhi Rukupo invited Mokena to live with him on the land, while Paratene Turangi appointed Mokena to look after the land interests of Ngati Maru. Mokena, to a large degree was successful in preventing the confiscation of Rongowhakaata land, and was rewarded with the gift of the greenstone mere Hinewirangi.

At the conclusion of the fighting in 1865 Grey and McLean promised that Ngati Porou land would be preserved for the tribe's own use. In 1866 Mokena and Rapata, in consultation with McLean, prohibited the sale or lease of all northern Waiapu land. However, some East Coast land was offered to the government in reparation. When Biggs, now Crown agent, rejected it as insufficient, the offer was withdrawn. Biggs then defined an area stretching from Hicks Bay to Reporua to be confiscated, but when he tried to survey the block Mokena instructed him to leave. The government's next move was to offer Mokena a large sum of money. The chief declined to accept, because he knew very well the money had 'teeth' – 'Take your money away, the fight was mine, not the pakeha's'. This action, an expression of rangatiratanga, safeguarded Ngati Porou land from confiscation.

Despite this, government agents continued to press East Coast people for land. Mokena took a petition to Wellington, recalling Grey and McLean's earlier promises, and asking that the pressure should cease. Ngati Porou managed to preserve their land until a gathering at Wharekahika in 1874 resolved to bring the Native Land Court to Waiapu to investigate land claims.

Mokena was opposed to this policy, which did bring the court to Waiapu in 1875, believing that communal ownership provided a safeguard against the sale of tribal land. Early in 1875 he held a meeting at Te Pakihi, East Cape, where it was resolved to reserve from sale the land from Awatere River to Maraehara Stream. This land was under Mokena's immediate jurisdiction. Two weeks later a further meeting, at Horoera, confirmed this decision. The other chiefs of northern Waiapu also defined their areas to be included as whenua tuturu (permanent land). Mokena's initiative saved it from sale. He urged his people to hold the land for themselves and their children.

In 1868, when elections for the first four Maori members of the House of Representatives were held, Ngati Porou nominated Mokena as their candidate for Eastern Maori, but the nomination arrived at Napier too late. However, in 1872 Mokena was appointed as one of the first Maori members of the Legislative Council. Here he took up a number of issues, including the Te Aute College Estate Inquiry, the establishment of local constabulary in tribal areas, and the closure of Te Waka Maori, the official Maori newspaper. In 1870 he received a sword of honour from Queen Victoria, and in 1871 was awarded the New Zealand War Medal.

During his travels to and from the General Assembly, Mokena became friendly with the Wairarapa chief Hikawera Mahupuku. At his request, Mokena brought some of the expert carvers of Ngati Porou to build the magnificent carved house Takitimu, at Kehemane, near Martinborough. Mokena retired from the Legislative Council in 1887, to live at his home in Rangitukia with his daughter-in-law, Henarata, the widow of his eldest son Hone Hiki, until his death on 4 March 1894. He is believed to have been in his 80s.

A Ngati Porou haka contains the line, 'But for Mokena, what then?' It commemorates Mokena's timely intervention to save captured Ngati Porou Hauhau from execution at Te Pito, near East Cape. While it relates to a specific incident, the phrase may equally be applied to Mokena's service to the people throughout his lifetime. Some years after his death it was said: 'Mokena Kohere was the chief who enabled tribal fires to be rekindled, both in Waiapu and in Poverty Bay…much of the heritage of his people might have been lost, but for Mokena.'

How to cite this page:

Rarawa Kohere. 'Kohere, Mokena', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 May 2020)