Te Moananui, sometimes known as Kurupo, was a Ngati Kahungunu leader of high rank in Heretaunga (Hawke's Bay) in the nineteenth century. His hapu was Ngati Hawea. Through his father, Whakato, he was descended from Te Whatu-i-apiti. Te Moananui's mother, Paeroa, was a descendant of Tarewai. Te Moananui was not Whakato's eldest son, nor was he intended by him to be his heir, but his energy, drive and generosity gave him pre-eminence over his elder brother, Te Karawa, and his half-brother, Te Matenga.
In the early nineteenth century there was a series of battles among Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti and Ngati Te Upokoiri in Heretaunga, and the region was also invaded by war parties from outside the region. When Ngati Te Upokoiri and Ngati Tuwharetoa occupied Te Roto-a-Tara pa, near Te Aute, Te Moananui took part in a successful storming of it. About 1823 war parties led by Te Hauwaho of Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti and Te Wera Hauraki of Nga Puhi came to Heretaunga to avenge the killing of Te Hauwaho's brother, Hungahunga, by Ngati Te Upokoiri, incited by Whakato. They landed at Ahuriri (Napier) and attacked Ngati Hawea, killing many. Te Moananui himself only just escaped the slaughter. Now that Hungahunga's death had been avenged, Te Moananui and his father were able to make peace with their kin and join Te Pareihe, leader of Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti, and his Nga Puhi allies in Tanenui-a-rangi pa, on the banks of the Ngaruroro River at Whakatu.
The Heretaunga chiefs, including Whakato and Te Moananui, then fortified Te Pakake pa, an island pa at Ahuriri. Te Pareihe attempted to persuade them to take refuge in the north, but they chose to remain in Heretaunga. A huge Waikato war party, armed with muskets, attacked and took Te Pakake, killing many, including Whakato. Te Moananui was one of the chiefs who were captured and taken away to Waikato. Waikato leader Te Wherowhero subsequently released them into the custody of the Heretaunga chief, Tiakitai.
When Te Whatanui of Ngati Raukawa sought to establish his people in Heretaunga, Te Moananui fought to repulse them from Puketapu pa, on the banks of the Tutaekuri River, about 1824. Later in the 1820s or early 1830s a party of Ngati Raukawa and Rangitane killed Te Moananui's mother, Paeroa, in the Tangoio area. In response, Te Moananui and other chiefs led an avenging war party at a battle called Te Ruru.
By the 1840s Christianity was beginning to reach Heretaunga, and its influence was expressed in an increasing desire for peace. Te Moananui took part in negotiations with the tribes which had invaded Heretaunga, and peaceful solutions were reached. The Heretaunga people who had taken refuge at Nukutaurua, on the Mahia peninsula, in the 1820s, returned to their lands. Te Moananui settled at Waipureku (East Clive), on land between the lower reaches of the Ngaruroro and Tukituki rivers. After the death of Tiakitai in 1847 he was the patron and landlord of the whaling station at Rangaika, just south of Cape Kidnappers. His relations with the missionary William Colenso, who had arrived in Heretaunga in 1844, were not always cordial, but by 1848 he had become a Christian. Colenso had brought with him Renata Kawepo, of Ngati Te Upokoiri, whom Te Moananui supported in his demands for the return of Ngati Te Upokoiri ancestral lands in the upper Rangitikei district, known as inland Patea, which had been occupied by Ngati Tuwharetoa allies.
When Captain W. B. Rhodes had arrived in Heretaunga in 1839, Te Moananui had sold him the rights to the area between Cape Kidnappers and the Ngaruroro River; and on the arrival of Donald McLean in 1850 to purchase land for the Crown, Te Moananui was eager to sell. At a meeting on 14 December at Waipukurau he spoke of his desire for English settlers to come to Heretaunga, and the opportunities for trade which would accompany them. But he resented the way McLean treated Te Hapuku of Te Hauke as the paramount chief of Heretaunga. In private McLean regarded Te Hapuku and Te Moananui as equal in rank, but decided to work through Te Hapuku for practical purposes.
In 1851 Te Moananui participated in the sale of the Waipukurau and Ahuriri blocks. William Colenso attempted to persuade Heretaunga chiefs to set up a large reserve of land for themselves and their children, but the rivalry between Te Moananui and Te Hapuku proved to be an insurmountable obstacle. Te Moananui sold the Okawa block in 1854, and Te Matau-a-Maui (Cape Kidnapper) block in 1855, reserving the land at Rangaika. He also sold land at Waipureku and, like Te Hapuku, was not always concerned to compensate others who had claims to the lands he sold.
Resentment continued to grow over Te Hapuku's monopoly of land dealing, and his tendency to sell blocks in which others had claims. An informal agreement had been reached in which Te Hapuku and his Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti supporters were given jurisdiction over land to the south of the Ngaruroro River, while Te Moananui, Tareha and Karaitiana Takamoana, designating themselves Ngati Kahungunu, controlled land to the north of the river. When Te Hapuku and Tawhara offered to sell land on the north side of the Ngaruroro, matters came to a crisis. In March 1856 the district commissioner, G. S. Cooper, reported to McLean that Te Hapuku was determined to be paid for this block, and that Te Moananui, Tareha and Karaitiana Takamoana were determined to go to war if any such payment was made. Tensions heightened when Te Hapuku and his followers came fully armed to a race meeting at Waipureku, leading their opponents also to ignore the government ordinance against carrying firearms.
Te Moananui was also beginning to regret some of his sales. He accepted an invitation to attend Iwikau Te Heuheu Tukino III's meeting at Pukawa in November 1856, where proposals for a Maori kingship were discussed, and came away with a firmer resolve to halt land sales to the Crown. On the pretext of Cooper's refusal to pay him for some land in the Ruahine Range, he declined for a period to accept the second instalment of the Crown's payment for Te Matau-a-Maui block, hoping to force the return of some of the land.
In anger at the huge sums passing through Te Hapuku's hands in payment for lands in which he had claims, in February 1857 Te Moananui offered for sale a block between Te Mata and Ngawhakatatara, which came under Te Hapuku's jurisdiction. At the same time Karaitiana Takamoana gave Te Hapuku notice to quit the pa he was occupying at Whakatu in disputed territory to the east of the Ngaruroro River in its lower reaches. Cooper predicted that war would result.
His prediction was borne out in August 1857. Te Hapuku determined to test the mettle of his opponents by building a new pa. He was camping at Whakawhiti, close to Te Pakiaka, a stand of bush where his followers had Te Moananui's permission to gather firewood. However, when Te Hapuku's people began to cut standing timber for a new pa, the limit of Te Moananui's tolerance was reached. He erected a pole as a sign of his claim to the timber, and on 18 August went within hail of Te Hapuku's camp, telling him not to remove the timber that had been felled the previous day. When a party of Te Hapuku's men reached the felled timber and refused to go back, firing began. Both sides sustained casualties but Te Hapuku's party came off worse.
After this reverse some of Te Hapuku's Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti supporters abandoned him, while Te Moananui sent messengers to Taupo, Waikato, and the East Coast asking for support. He built a new pa at the edge of Te Pakiaka, and made preparations to build another on the bank of the Ngaruroro River, between Whakatu and Tanenui-a-rangi. Further skirmishes took place on 14 October and 9 December 1857. In each case Te Moananui's party got the better of the struggle, and Te Hapuku continued to lose support. By late December 1857 it was clear that Te Moananui's party had the upper hand. In response to attempts at negotiation by McLean, the Reverend Samuel Williams and others, Te Moananui demanded that Te Hapuku withdraw to Poukawa, 11 miles inland. Te Hapuku finally withdrew in March 1858, sending his women and children on ahead, and delaying long enough to burn the pa at Whakatu so that Te Moananui could not occupy it.
Te Hapuku and Te Moananui continued to argue over land sales. In July 1858 Te Moananui demanded payment for land in the Kaokaoroa and Ngatarawa areas, and in the Ruahine Range, threatening to import an army of the Maori King's supporters from Waikato if Te Hapuku's opposition caused payment to be withheld. McLean refused to pay unless all the claimants participated in the division of the money. Peace was arranged between Ngati Kahungunu and Ngati Te Whatu-i-apiti in September 1858, although Te Hapuku and a few of his closest associates still refused to co-operate. Te Moananui and 10 other chiefs informed the governor that no further land sales would take place without the full knowledge and consent of all interested parties. Gifts were exchanged to cement the peace but Te Moananui and Te Hapuku were never reconciled. In 1859 McLean attempted to arrange a meeting between the two leaders, but although Te Moananui was willing to receive Te Hapuku, the latter felt such a meeting would compromise his mana.
In April 1859 a delegation from the Maori King visited Pawhakairo, Te Moananui's village on the south bank of the Tutaekuri River. Te Moananui had been granted the title of kawana (governor) as the King's representative in Hawke's Bay, but during the week of negotiations concerning Ngati Kahungunu allegiance to the King he emerged as the only chief to support the authority of the King himself. Others were, however, in favour of the King's runanga system of Maori self-government.
Te Moananui spent the last five years of his life at Matahiwi marae as the undisputed leader of Heretaunga Maori. He died there in 1861. In February 1862 a huge commemorative tangi was held. He was buried at Farndon, near Clive. On his death Tareha paid him the compliment of taking his name and was known henceforth as Tareha Te Moananui. Little is known of Te Moananui's family: no record can be found of the names of his wife, or wives, nor whether he left any children.