Te Moananui, sometimes known as Kurupō, was a Ngāti Kahungunu leader of high rank in Heretaunga (Hawke's Bay) in the nineteenth century. His hapū was Ngāti Hāwea. Through his father, Whakatō, he was descended from Te Whatu-i-apiti. Te Moananui's mother, Paeroa, was a descendant of Tarewai. Te Moananui was not Whakatō'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 Mātenga.
In the early nineteenth century there was a series of battles among Ngāti Te Whatu-i-apiti and Ngāti Te Ūpokoiri in Heretaunga, and the region was also invaded by war parties from outside the region. When Ngāti Te Ūpokoiri and Ngāti Tūwharetoa 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 Ngāti Te Whatu-i-apiti and Te Wera Hauraki of Ngāpuhi came to Heretaunga to avenge the killing of Te Hauwaho's brother, Hungahunga, by Ngāti Te Upokoiri, incited by Whakatō. They landed at Ahuriri (Napier) and attacked Ngāti Hāwea, 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 Ngāti Te Whatu-i-apiti, and his Ngāpuhi allies in Tānenui-a-rangi pa, on the banks of the Ngaruroro River at Whakatū.
The Heretaunga chiefs, including Whakatō and Te Moananui, then fortified Te Pakake pā, an island pā 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 Whakatō. 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 Ngāti Raukawa sought to establish his people in Heretaunga, Te Moananui fought to repulse them from Puketapu pā, on the banks of the Tūtaekurī River, about 1824. Later in the 1820s or early 1830s a party of Ngāti Raukawa and Rangitāne killed Te Moananui's mother, Paeroa, in the Tāngōio 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 Māhia peninsula, in the 1820s, returned to their lands. Te Moananui settled at Waipūreku (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 Rēnata Kawepō, of Ngāti Te Ūpokoiri, whom Te Moananui supported in his demands for the return of Ngāti Te Ūpokoiri ancestral lands in the upper Rangitīkei district, known as inland Pātea, which had been occupied by Ngāti Tūwharetoa 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 Hāpuku of Te Hauke as the paramount chief of Heretaunga. In private McLean regarded Te Hāpuku and Te Moananui as equal in rank, but decided to work through Te Hāpuku 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 Hāpuku proved to be an insurmountable obstacle. Te Moananui sold the Ōkawa block in 1854, and Te Matau-a-Māui (Cape Kidnapper) block in 1855, reserving the land at Rangaika. He also sold land at Waipūreku and, like Te Hāpuku, was not always concerned to compensate others who had claims to the lands he sold.
Resentment continued to grow over Te Hāpuku'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 Hāpuku and his Ngāti Te Whatu-i-apiti supporters were given jurisdiction over land to the south of the Ngaruroro River, while Te Moananui, Tāreha and Karaitiana Takamoana, designating themselves Ngāti Kahungunu, controlled land to the north of the river. When Te Hāpuku 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 Hāpuku was determined to be paid for this block, and that Te Moananui, Tāreha and Karaitiana Takamoana were determined to go to war if any such payment was made. Tensions heightened when Te Hāpuku and his followers came fully armed to a race meeting at Waipūreku, 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 Tūkino III's meeting at Pūkawa in November 1856, where proposals for a Māori 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-Māui block, hoping to force the return of some of the land.
In anger at the huge sums passing through Te Hāpuku'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 Ngāwhakatātara, which came under Te Hāpuku's jurisdiction. At the same time Karaitiana Takamoana gave Te Hāpuku notice to quit the pā he was occupying at Whakatū 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 Hāpuku determined to test the mettle of his opponents by building a new pā. 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 Hāpuku's people began to cut standing timber for a new pā, 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 Hāpuku's camp, telling him not to remove the timber that had been felled the previous day. When a party of Te Hāpuku's men reached the felled timber and refused to go back, firing began. Both sides sustained casualties but Te Hāpuku's party came off worse.
After this reverse some of Te Hāpuku's Ngāti Te Whatu-i-apiti supporters abandoned him, while Te Moananui sent messengers to Taupō, Waikato, and the East Coast asking for support. He built a new pā at the edge of Te Pakiaka, and made preparations to build another on the bank of the Ngaruroro River, between Whakatū and Tānenui-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 Hāpuku 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 Hāpuku withdraw to Poukawa, 11 miles inland. Te Hāpuku finally withdrew in March 1858, sending his women and children on ahead, and delaying long enough to burn the pā at Whakatū so that Te Moananui could not occupy it.
Te Hāpuku and Te Moananui continued to argue over land sales. In July 1858 Te Moananui demanded payment for land in the Kaokaoroa and Ngātarawa areas, and in the Ruahine Range, threatening to import an army of the Māori King's supporters from Waikato if Te Hāpuku'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 Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Te Whatu-i-apiti in September 1858, although Te Hāpuku 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 Hāpuku were never reconciled. In 1859 McLean attempted to arrange a meeting between the two leaders, but although Te Moananui was willing to receive Te Hāpuku, the latter felt such a meeting would compromise his mana.
In April 1859 a delegation from the Māori King visited Pāwhakairo, Te Moananui's village on the south bank of the Tūtaekurī 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 Ngāti 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 rūnanga system of Māori self-government.
Te Moananui spent the last five years of his life at Matahiwi marae as the undisputed leader of Heretaunga Māori. He died there in 1861. In February 1862 a huge commemorative tangi was held. He was buried at Farndon, near Clive. On his death Tāreha paid him the compliment of taking his name and was known henceforth as Tāreha 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.