Story: Turei, Mohi

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Turei, Mohi


Ngati Porou leader, minister of religion, carver, composer of haka

This biography, written by J. T. Tamahori,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Mohi Turei was born probably about 1830 and was brought up at Te Kautuku, near Rangitukia, in the Waiapu district, where his parents lived on their ancestral lands. His father was Te Omanga Turei of Ngati Hokopu and his mother Makere Tangikuku of Te Aitanga-a-Mate, both hapu of Ngati Porou. He was their only child. Te Omanga and his brothers Te Paraone Pohukura and Te Paaka were among the leading men of Ngati Hokopu. Mohi was also closely related to Mokena Kohere and to Rapata Wahawaha. Like them, during the conflicts of the 1860s and in the following decades, he became a major leader, especially in the Waiapu district, where he lived almost all of his long life.

Mohi was still a child when Christianity was brought from the north by teachers who had been converted at the Church Missionary Society station at Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Some had been prisoners of Nga Puhi; others had visited the mission on their own initiative. The first Christian service was held at Rangitukia on 12 January 1834, conducted by Rukuata and Piripi Taumata-a-Kura. Taumata-a-Kura became a war leader as well as a teacher. He set new rules of war: no cannibalism, no fighting on Sundays, prayers morning and night, care for the wounded and no wanton destruction. It is said that he took part in the fighting against Te Whanau-a-Apanui in 1836 with his Bible in one hand and his gun in the other, and that he came out unscathed. This combination of militancy and Christianity would be characteristic of Ngati Porou leadership during the 1860s, and of Mohi Turei himself.

During the 1830s the missionary William Williams visited the Waiapu district on three occasions, and took young men to the north for training. In 1838 his brother Henry Williams brought six of them back to the Coast, three for Waiapu. One, Hemi Kiko, by 1839 had a school at Rangitukia attended by a large number of adults as well as by 38 children. It is likely that Mohi Turei was one of the children. One of the Rangitukia teachers, Raniera Kawhia, went to the mission at Waerenga-a-hika in 1856 to study for the ministry, and was ordained deacon in February 1860. He joined the first Maori minister, Rota Waitoa, at Te Kawakawa (Te Araroa). Both as a child and as a young man, Mohi Turei grew up in a community that had accepted Christianity, and given it a Maori character.

Mohi Turei appears to have made a careful choice between the old Maori religion and the new Christianity. When he was a teacher at the Rangitukia school (probably in the 1850s), he was also attending Te Whare Wananga of Taperenui, where his mentor was Pita Kapiti, a tohunga of high standing. He is said to have made a deliberate intellectual choice between the two religions; nevertheless, he acquired from Pita Kapiti the depth of traditional learning for which he was respected in later years. There were, too, those who said that in his Christian ministry he used the arts he had learned from the tohunga. In September 1864, after four years study at Waerenga-a-hika, he was ordained deacon. He had attended the first synod of the diocese of Waiapu in 1861 as a lay synodsman; at the fourth synod in 1865, he was one of eight Maori and six Pakeha clergy present.

By the time Mohi Turei was ordained, the East Coast was being drawn into the series of wars that had begun in Taranaki in 1860. Some Ngati Porou wanted to join the forces of resistance to the government. The Maori King's flag was hoisted at Waiomatatini in the Waiapu district in 1862 by men who had been to Waikato. But the more powerful leaders supported the government, fearing the confiscation of land if they joined what they believed would be the losing side. They also took the opportunity to assert their leadership against the challenges from supporters of the King, and especially from those who adhered to the new religion, Pai Marire.

Pai Marire missionaries were active on the East Coast by 1865 and were attracting converts from Ngati Porou and especially from the Poverty Bay tribes. The traditional leaders of Ngati Porou took military action against the Hauhau in their midst, and also against those of Poverty Bay, who had become the dominant force in that region. By 1865 they had forced the Waerenga-a-hika mission to close and William Williams to leave. Mohi Turei was at the mission when that decision was made; at first he advised resistance, if need be to the death. Then he counselled the missionaries at least to leave in daylight, for at night they would surely be tomahawked.

After the killing of the missionary C. S. Völkner at Opotiki in March 1865, Mohi Turei became a major force. When the new church at Popoti, near Hiruharama, was dedicated in June at a gathering of Te Aowera, he is remembered to have appeared in military uniform with a bandoleer across his shoulders. He summoned the people to drive out the 'philistine' Hauhau, and a party set off to attack a Pai Marire leader, Patara Raukatauri, who had arrived at Te Kawakawa and was expected at Pukemaire, in the Waiapu Valley, where the King's followers had their pa. Meanwhile Mohi Turei went to Tuparoa to meet Donald McLean, the provincial superintendent and agent for the general government, Mokena Kohere and W. L. Williams, who had arrived there from Turanga (Gisborne) on 8 June. McLean promised them troops and ammunition; the first colonial troops arrived the following month.

In the fighting that followed, Mohi Turei did not himself bear arms, although he accompanied the contingent of Ngati Porou who came down to Turanga late in October 1865 and defeated the Hauhau forces at Waerenga-a-hika. He was very active in whipping up support against the Hauhau forces, and an important source of information for McLean. However, his support of government did not mean that he encouraged settlement at this time. By the end of the 1860s J. H. Campbell, resident magistrate at Waiapu, was complaining that Mohi Turei was the source of the hostility to settlers which was driving them out of the district.

On 30 October 1870 Mohi Turei was ordained priest by William Williams, now bishop of Waiapu, and continued his work in the northern part of the diocese. His life was not always smooth. About 1871 his house at Te Rapa was burned down, and he was driven off by members of a hapu who claimed the land. He moved to Waikoriri, but there too his fences were pulled down by the same people, and there was almost bloodshed. The dispute about the land went on for many years.

Turei acted (in vain) as an election agent for Hotene Porourangi in the disputed election of 1875–76. He constantly supported Rapata Wahawaha and Paratene Ngata in their efforts to improve the lot of Ngati Porou through agriculture and trade. He vigorously opposed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the 1880s. By the mid 1870s he no longer opposed settlement; with other tribal leaders he helped organise Native Land Court hearings in the Waiapu district. Often the wishes of the community were taken to the court by the leaders after discussion and decision. Court hearings were not as demoralising in this district as elsewhere, and Ngati Porou retained a good deal of their land through short-term leasing.

In the mid 1860s Mohi Turei married Meri Awhina-a-te-rangi. They had four children – Wiremu Matenga, Mere Te Rina, Erena Heni and Poihipi. Mohi and his wife Meri were closely connected with the birth of Apirana Ngata, who would become a Ngati Porou leader. Apirana's father, Paratene, recorded that it was on the advice of his cousin, Meri, that he and his wife, Katerina Naki, went to the tohunga, Hakopa, to perform the rites that would give them children. Katerina was promised two children if she observed certain strict rules. But the tohunga continued: 'When your son is born I shall die. He will bring me bad luck. Why did you come to me? Why did you not go to somebody else?' Apirana was born in 1874 and was baptised by Mohi; and Meri was the godmother. During the ceremony word came that Hakopa had died. The name 'Turupa' (trooper) was given by Meri to the baby, in memory of a daughter who had recently died.

It is not known when Meri died, nor when Mohi Turei married his second wife, Kararaina Korimete (Caroline Goldsmith), a school teacher. They were to have five children, Te Paraone, Teki, Ngarangi, Peta and Te Paaka. Te Paraone followed his father into the church, gaining his licentiate in theology at Te Rau College. But after a short ministry at Tuparoa he died of typhoid in 1912.

During his long ministry at Waiapu, Mohi Turei became one of Ngati Porou's major figures, exercising his leadership qualities in a wide variety of ways. He was celebrated as a composer of haka, as an orator, and as a writer. He was consulted by Samuel Williams on Maori tradition and language, and by Elsdon Best on the names of winds that made up the points of the Maori 'compass'. He was a notable carver. In 1885 he worked on the meeting house Hinerupe at Te Araroa: it was refurbished in the 1930s. The interior carvings of O-hine-waiapu, another meeting house, at the mouth of the Waiapu River, are also the work of Mohi Turei, assisted by Hoani Ngatai of Te Whanau-a-Hunara; the house has been moved twice and had the carved frontal features of amo, maihi and koruru renewed in the 1970s.

Mohi Turei became the first vicar of Waiapu in 1904, and supervised the building of the second St John's Church there; the first, a raupo building, had been burned by Hauhau followers in 1865. By this time he was suffering from paralysis, which kept him in his bed for his last 13 years. He was said to be in his mid 80s when he died on 2 March 1914.

How to cite this page:

J. T. Tamahori. 'Turei, Mohi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 30 September 2020)