Story: Murupaenga

Page 1: Biography



Ngati Whatua leader, war leader

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

Murupaenga, leader of Ngati Rongo, a hapu of Ngati Whatua, was born, according to one calculation, about 1770. His parents were Ahi-wera and Tuaea. In the period of his most important activity his home was near Makarau, on the eastern shores of the Kaipara Harbour. He first came to prominence when, early in the nineteenth century, a series of wars began between Nga Puhi and Te Roroa, a people of the Kaihu area, midway between Hokianga and Kaipara harbours, who were related to both Nga Puhi and Ngati Whatua. About 1806 Murupaenga called together a war party of sections of Ngati Whatua to avenge the losses of Te Roroa. The combined force travelled by canoe up the Wairoa River to Kaihu, then moved overland to attack Nga Puhi settlements at Mataraua on the Punakitere River, a branch of the Hokianga Harbour. They later attacked Taiamai in the hinterland of the Bay of Islands, the heartland of Ngati Tautahi and Ngai Tawake, the hapu of the chief Pokaia.

After further skirmishes Pokaia, in 1807–8, planned a decisive campaign to defeat Te Roroa and their Ngati Whatua allies. News of the impending attack reached Murupaenga, and he raised another huge war party to come to the support of Te Roroa. Taoho of Te Roroa, who had retreated from Kaihu to Tokatoka pa, on the Wairoa River, set watchmen on the cliffs at Maunganui Bluff. His scouts warned of the approach of Nga Puhi with a column of smoke. When Murupaenga heard that Nga Puhi were soon to march from their camp near Maunganui Bluff to Moremonui, he immediately moved his people into ambush. When Nga Puhi arrived at the little flax-studded valley, Murupaenga's forces charged out. Some Nga Puhi, however, were armed with muskets, and the new weapons initially gave them an advantage. Murupaenga, however, observed that it took time to load them; he ordered his men to throw themselves down as their enemies were about to fire, and to charge on them while they were loading. The Nga Puhi force was disastrously defeated; among the dead were Pokaia, two of Hongi Hika's brothers, and other important leaders, while the party led by Whiwhia, the elder brother of Titore, was almost annihilated. Others, including Hongi Hika, escaped only through flight and concealment. Murupaenga's victory was later known as Te Kai-a-te-karoro (the sea-gulls' feast) because the dead were so numerous that many of them were not consumed but left for the sea-gulls. Murupaenga was greatly feared and respected after this battle; for 20 years various Nga Puhi leaders attempted to gain revenge without success.

Between the years 1810 and 1819 Murupaenga took part in at least three expeditions to Taranaki. The first was peaceful; Murupaenga was made welcome at Manu-korihi pa, on the north bank of the Waitara River, because his people and the Manu-korihi hapu were related. Murupaenga was said to be so delighted with the fertile country and the fine quality of the local kaitaka (a variety of woven cloak) that he composed a waiata in praise of Taranaki. The second expedition, about 1818, included an attack on the great pa at Tataraimaka, on the coast south of New Plymouth. Te Puoho-o-te-rangi of Ngati Tama had induced Murupaenga, Tuwhare and other important chiefs to help him reduce it. Many Taranaki leaders were shot by Nga Puhi marksmen, having been identified by Te Ati Awa allies of Te Puoho. Murupaenga also took part in the great 1819–20 war expedition in which Tuwhare, Patuone, Nene and Te Rauparaha were among the many leaders who took a force down the west coast to Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) and then into Wairarapa, conquering and taking captives as they went.

By mid 1820 Murupaenga had returned home, in time to resist attacks on the Wairoa River area organised by the Bay of Islands chief Tareha in May; the attacks were planned to avenge the deaths at Moremonui. A battle was fought about June, but it seems to have been inconclusive.

In August 1820, when Samuel Marsden visited Murupaenga, Nga Puhi forces were still raiding the northern Kaipara area. Marsden was very impressed with Murupaenga, having heard much about him from Bay of Islands chiefs. He met Murupaenga's adult son, Kahu, and Kahu's young wife; he was received with formality by Murupaenga, whose principal wife, Tangirere, was dressed in a dogskin cloak; his various children had adorned their heads with feathers. Marsden was lavishly feasted and presented with provisions for his journey to Hokianga. Murupaenga expressed interest in European settlement at Kaipara and promised to protect any shipping that might cross the harbour bar. Marsden left Murupaenga as he was about to follow up and destroy the enemies laying waste his territory.

In spite of the need of many of the Bay of Islands chiefs to avenge previous defeats by Murupaenga, the accepted code of intertribal relations permitted Murupaenga to visit the Bay of Islands without fear between campaigns. He was there on a visit to his kinsman Pomare I when the 1823 Nga Puhi expedition against Mokoia Island, Rotorua, was decided on. It is uncertain whether Murupaenga joined the expedition.

In February 1825 the Bay of Islands tribes at last set out to restore the mana lost at the battle of Moremonui. An advance force led by Te Whareumu of Kororareka (Russell) was followed by the main force of perhaps 300 Nga Puhi led by Hongi Hika, his son Hare Hongi, Rewa and other leaders; it left the Bay of Islands on 25 February 1825. They spent about a month at the little harbour of Taiharuru, north of Whangarei, fishing and repairing their canoes. It was during this time that the various branches of Ngati Whatua heard of the impending attack and gathered at the head of the Kaiwaka River, south of Whangarei. Murupaenga, again showing his superior military leadership, proposed that part of the 1,000-strong combined force should ambush Nga Puhi as they arrived by canoe at Mangawhai, while they were at a disadvantage. But, fatefully for Ngati Whatua, he was over-ruled, other chiefs refusing to believe that Hongi could ever be caught at a disadvantage.

Contact was made between the two forces at Te Ika-a-ranga-nui, at the junction of the Kaiwaka River and the Waimako Stream, inland from Mangawhai. An attempt at negotiation failed; the parties kept their distance for three days, after which Murupaenga's force began firing, wounding Wharepoaka, a chief of Rangihoua. No further fighting occurred that day, and during the night Murupaenga's people managed to burn and hole many of the 50 canoes of Hongi's force. Hongi's party then spent several days repairing their canoes, but on the fourth day Ngati Whatua closed in, apparently determined to do battle. Murupaenga came close to victory, but Hongi then led a charge and there was heavy fighting lasting several hours. Both sides sustained heavy losses but Ngati Whatua were decisively defeated and forced to flee the battle site, leaving their muskets in the hands of their conquerors.

Murupaenga escaped, and is said to have pronounced a farewell to his dead as he fled. He took refuge with the remnant of his people on the Mahurangi peninsula. In 1826, while most of his people were away up the Puhoi River, he and his party were taken by surprise at Mahurangi by a party of Te Hikutu from Hokianga. Murupaenga was killed; his body was found by his people floating in the sea. The explorer Dumont d'Urville claimed that the death blow had been struck by 'Tepouna' (Te Puna?) of Rangihoua. Murupaenga is buried at Mihirau, on the Puhoi River.

Of medium height, very dark, and with a fiery, intelligent expression, Murupaenga could persuade reluctant warriors to join in his campaigns through his inspiring oratory. Taoho referred to him as 'Murupaenga, he who will…deliver plans of war.' A Taranaki poet described him in 1818 as 'Murupaenga, the mover of war parties'. He was a brilliant strategist and military commander, and a leader of exceptional talents.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Murupaenga', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 May 2020)