Story: Te Puoho-o-te-rangi

Page 1: Biography

Te Puoho-o-te-rangi


Ngati Tama leader

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

Te Puoho-o-te-rangi, also known as Te Puoho-ki-te-rangi, Ngarau, and Te Manu, was born possibly in the late eighteenth century, at Poutama, the tribal homeland of Ngati Tama, in northern Taranaki. He was the eldest son of Whangataki II (his father) and Hinewairoro (his mother). There were two other sons of this marriage, Te Taku and Te Rangi-takaroro. Te Kirikakara is sometimes described as a sister, and sometimes as a cousin. Te Puoho's tribal affiliations were with both Ngati Tama and Ngati Toa; some accounts identify his father as Ngati Toa and his mother as Ngati Tama, but others reverse these identifications. Through his father he was descended from the first Whangataki, and through him by many generations from the ancestor Tiotio. Through his mother he was descended from Te Maunu and his first wife, Waikawhia.

Te Puoho had many wives. His first wife is said to have been Hinetawake; they had two sons, Hori Te Korama and Herewini Te Roha, and a daughter, Tikawe. Before 1815 he married his brother Te Taku's widow, Kauhoe, of Ngati Mutunga, and adopted her son Paremata Te Wahapiro, also known as Te Kiore. Their son, Wiremu Katene, was born about 1815; he became the father of Huria Matenga, later celebrated for her heroism. Other partners are mentioned in some accounts, including his cousin Karanga, and Matua or Matuna, possibly of Muaupoko. It is recalled by some that a slave girl who enjoyed his protection was strangled by other women when the news of Te Puoho's death reached them.

For the last 20 or more years of his life, in difficult times, Te Puoho was the leader of his people. A small but brave tribe, Ngati Tama had powerful enemies as well as important allies. They occupied lands in northern Taranaki, and were allied to Ngati Mutunga to the south. Across the Mokau River, to the north, lived enemy hapu of Ngati Maniapoto and other Tainui tribes. Further north, towards Kawhia, lived their allies Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa. There was considerable warfare and restlessness in this area in the early nineteenth century. In the early 1820s Ngati Tama became involved in the southward migrations which brought them, together with Ngati Toa and other tribes, to the Cook Strait region.

In 1815 Ngati Tama were defeated by Ngati Maniapoto at Nga-tai-parirua. To avenge an insult to Te Kirikakara by a chief of Ngati Ruanui, Te Puoho sought help from his distant relative Te Rauparaha. A combined force of Ngati Toa, Te Roroa and Nga Puhi had their own reasons for attacking the southern tribes. The war expedition assembled at Te Puoho's pa, Pukearuhe, and swept south to Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) and Wairarapa in 1819 and 1820. It was on their return, according to one account, that Ngati Ruanui were made to pay for the insult.

About 1819–20 Ngati Maniapoto again heavily defeated Ngati Tama, at Tihi-Manuka pa. However, Te Puoho and his cousin Tupoki pursued Ngati Maniapoto as they retired along the coast. A little later a Ngati Tama force joined Ngati Toa in their defence of Kawhia. At the battle of Te Kakara, near Lake Taharoa, which Ngati Toa lost, Te Puoho killed with a musket for the first time. The other Ngati Tama leader, Raparapa, was killed while trying to outdo Te Puoho's feat, by killing a man with a traditional weapon. Te Puoho took this attempt as an insult and withdrew from the field. Tupoki was also killed in battle about 1821. With these two deaths, Te Puoho became the leader of Ngati Tama.

The decision of Ngati Toa to leave Kawhia for new land in the south deprived Ngati Tama of a major ally, and weakened their position in Taranaki. Under Te Puoho's leadership many of the tribe joined the southward migration, and helped Ngati Toa on their way south. Te Puoho's pa, Pukearuhe, was the first safe refuge and staging post south of Kawhia. There Te Akau, Te Rauparaha's wife, was left to give birth to their son, Tamihana. In 1822 Te Puoho joined Ngati Toa with a small contingent of Ngati Tama, on their migration (Te Heke Tataramoa) to Kapiti Island. He returned to the north, and in 1824 brought more of his people south to Waikanae on another migration (Te Heke Niho-puta). Ngati Tama took up residence on the land between Ohariu and Paekakariki, with some going on to Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

In 1828 Te Puoho led the attack on Ngati Apa in the Moutere and Motueka districts in the South Island. Several villages were established in the region, and crops were planted. After this Te Puoho travelled widely among the numerous Ngati Tama villages. In 1830 he attacked Rangitane people at Waikanae, in retaliation for the death of some of his people at the hands of Rangitane's Ngati Kahungunu allies. Ngati Tama also tried, in vain, to help Te Ati Awa when they were attacked by Waikato at Pukerangiora pa, on the Waitara River. Te Puoho joined Te Rauparaha in the raid on Ngai Tahu at Kaiapoi pa and Banks Peninsula at the beginning of the 1830s.

Relationships with Ngati Toa became uneasy, and led to frequent hostilities in the mid 1830s. Te Puoho was angered by Te Rauparaha's slaughter of Muaupoko, and the uneasy alliance between Ngati Tama and Ngati Toa (and with Rangitane) broke down when Te Rauparaha killed 200 Muaupoko and Rangitane while they were Te Puoho's guests. In the mid 1830s Te Puoho led south the final migration of his people from Taranaki (Te Heke Hauhaua); this fresh influx led to land disputes and war between the tribes that had migrated south. As a result Te Puoho went to the South Island to join his people there, and eventually settled at Te Parapara in present day Golden Bay.

There he conceived the epic march against Ngai Tahu, a remarkable plan to attack them from the south-west. He is said to have described his plan to Te Rauparaha as scaling a fish – striking south and then marching from south to north, picking off one tribal settlement after another. It is likely that he was just as interested in gaining control of the lucrative trade which had grown up in the 1830s between Maori and Pakeha in Te Ara-a-Kiwa (Foveaux Strait).

An expedition of 50 men set off down the West Coast in 1836, led by Te Puoho and his adopted son Paremata. At Mawhera (Greymouth), where Niho and Ngati Rarua lived, Te Puoho hoped to increase his numbers. Niho warned him against the enterprise, but some of his men joined it. The expedition proceeded down the long coast, crossed through Tiori-patea (Haast Pass), and went down the Makarora Valley towards Lake Wanaka. They captured Ngai Tahu eeling camps at Paekai and Takikarara. Taking prisoners with them, they traversed the dry mountains of Central Otago, to emerge footsore and hungry on the Waimea Plains in Murihiku (Southland). There abundant food was found at another eeling camp, and the expedition pushed on to the lamprey fishing settlement of Tuturau.

By this time word had reached the southern Ngai Tahu leader Tuhawaiki. He quickly gathered a war party, marched up the Mataura Valley, and attacked, either in late December 1836 or in early January 1837. The invaders were captured; Te Puoho and another man were the only casualties. They were shot in the opening moments of the attack, Te Puoho by the young leader Topi Patuki as he tried to rouse Ngati Tama from sleep. Te Puoho's body was left among the burning dwellings. According to various stories, his head was preserved and returned, either to Nelson, or sold in Sydney, and later retrieved and eventually sealed within a tapu cave. Other stories suggest that it was preserved and sold in Sydney and later retrieved for burial on Kapiti Island.

Te Puoho's wife, Kauhoe, settled with their son, Wiremu Katene, at Whakapuaka, near Nelson. She died about 1843 and Wiremu Katene in 1879. Paremata returned from captivity in Otago about 1842. In 1937 a monument was erected at the site of the battle at Tuturau, near present day Mataura. The inscription reads: 'The last fight between North and South Island Maoris, in which the southerners were victorious, took place in this locality in December 1836.'

How to cite this page:

Atholl Anderson. 'Te Puoho-o-te-rangi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 September 2020)