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Te Rerenga, Hōne Wētere

?–1889

Ngāti Maniapoto leader

This biography, written by DNZB, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Hōne Wētere Te Rerenga was born, probably in the 1830s, at Māniaroa or Rangitoto in the Awakino district. His father was Waitara, a direct descendant of Hoturoa and Maniapoto; his mother was Mākareta Hakahaka, also known as Hokipera Rangihikaia. He had an elder brother, Te Rangituataka, also known as Reihana Tākerei.

Waitara was keen to establish contact with Pākehā and to educate his sons about their world. As young men Te Rangituataka and Wētere met Pākehā travellers, and were taught to observe them closely in order to discern their attitude towards the Māori. Wētere was probably baptised by the Wesleyan missionary Cort Schnackenberg sometime after 1845, taking the name Hōne Wētere (John Wesley), and was taught in Schnackenberg's school. He was always to remain more influenced by the Pākehā world than was Te Rangituataka.

Waitara bought the trading vessel Hydrus about 1845, since he did not wish to have to cross Te Āti Awa territory to reach Pākehā traders at New Plymouth. For the same reason he wanted to encourage the settlement of Pākehā in the Mōkau district and was prepared to sell land for this purpose. He made land on the Awakino River available for sale in 1850.

When Sir George Grey visited Taranaki in 1850, Waitara adopted the name Te Kerei, or Tākerei. He was appointed a native assessor in 1852, and was a candidate for the leadership of the King movement in 1858. Wētere came to a position of prominence in his tribe following Waitara's death in 1862. He had acquired a name for bravery as a young man when he personally delivered mail over hostile territory. Wētere was a signatory to the deeds of sale of the land blocks at Awakino in 1854 (under the name Wētere Te Haruru), Taumatamaire in 1855 and Rauroa in 1857. By 1858 he had begun to play a more visible role than Te Rangituataka, and it was Wētere who took the initiative in establishing the shareholding appropriate to each owner in the Te Kawau block. He became well known as an orator, and was a source of knowledge about the Pākehā world. He corresponded with newspapers, engaged in trading with the vessel Paraninihi and was part-owner of the Hannah Mōkau.

On one notable occasion Wētere's desire for friendship with the Pākehā came into conflict with his wish to retain his people's mana. The people of Mōkau had long seen the danger of the expansion northwards of the land-hungry settlers of Taranaki. The 1865 construction of a military redoubt at Pukearuhe was seen as a threat, and it impeded Ngāti Maniapoto contact with Taranaki. The situation was worsened by the return to Taranaki from the Chatham Islands of the traditional enemies of the Mōkau people, Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Mutunga, who had been driven from the lands between Mōkau and Pukearuhe in the 1830s. The potential for trouble increased in the late 1860s when the military successes of Te Kooti and Tītokowaru encouraged those in the King movement who wished to resume the war with the government.

Responding to these pressures, a war party led by Te Rangituataka and Wētere attacked the redoubt on 13 February 1869. Three of the garrison staff, and the wife and four children of one of them, were killed, as was the Wesleyan missionary John Whiteley. Wētere, who later denied direct responsibility for the incident, returned to Mōkau to take refuge in the interior, perhaps at Māhoenui; he was consequently called Te Rerenga. He returned to Mōkau in 1872.

Despite the attack on Pukearuhe, Wētere befriended many Pākehā. He was instrumental in saving the lives of the surveyors Charles Hursthouse and William Newsham when they were captured by Te Mahuki in 1883 and in saving G. T. Wilkinson when he was similarly threatened. In 1865 he had intervened to save the life of ensign Charles Hutchinson who was delivering a proclamation from Governor George Grey to insurgent Māori. He rescued Hursthouse and marine surveyor Thomas Perham in March 1884 when their boat capsized on the Mōkau River bar, an action for which he received the medal of the Royal Humane Society of Australasia.

From the mid 1870s Wētere became embroiled in disputes over his Mōkau lands. A group of Ngāti Tama who had been living near Mōkau as guests of Ngāti Maniapoto claimed the right to sell the land. When they withdrew from the King movement, Tawhiao lost his jurisdiction over the dispute. Ngāti Tama intended to take their claim to the Native Land Court, but Tāwhiao was opposed to Ngāti Maniapoto lands being adjudicated there. In an effort to have title to his lands defined, Wētere tried to secure a sitting of the Native Land Court at Mōkau. He was supported by Rewi Maniapoto who was under similar pressure from Ngāti Hauā.

In 1882 the minister for native affairs, John Bryce, allowed the court to sit at Mōkau, but the outcome was disastrous for Ngāti Maniapoto as the expenses of the hearings were charged against the land. Nevertheless, increasing pressure from land agents and from Ngāti Hauā forced them to turn to the court again. First, however, they attempted to have the legislation changed to exclude lawyers from the process and to end the system of agents making advances on land before it had gone through the court.

Under pressure from the land purchaser Joshua Jones and the land agent William Grace, Wētere, in December 1882, persuaded Rewi and Wahanui Huatare to arrange a meeting with Bryce to discuss the opening of Ngāti Maniapoto lands. As one of the suspected murderers of Whiteley, he also wished to secure his own position. He was granted an amnesty in early 1883, and in April accompanied Bryce and Hursthouse on their trip from Waitara to Alexandra (Pirongia).

Hōne Wētere Te Rerenga died at Mōkau on 9 March 1889 and was buried at Hingarangi Kauri; he was reinterred some 35 years later in the ancestral cemetery of Hikumutu at Māniaroa marae. There were at least seven children by his first wife, Mere, and three by his second, Te Āta Hoani.

How to cite this page:

DNZB. 'Te Rerenga, Hōne Wētere', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2t29/te-rerenga-hone-wetere (accessed 25 October 2021)