Story: Raukura, Eria Tutara-Kauika

Page 1: Biography

Raukura, Eria Tutara-Kauika


Ngai Tahupo, Tuhoe and Ngati Kahungunu; Ringatu tohunga

This biography, written by Judith Binney, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Eria Tutara-Kauika Raukura was the leading tohunga of the Ringatu church, founded by Te Kooti Arikirangi. His father, Raukura, from Ngai Tahupo of Mahia Peninsula, was taken prisoner by Tuhoe after tribal fighting. His mother, Whakatiki Te Momo (Te Moumou), was from Tuhoe and Ngati Hingana (Ngati Hinganga) of inland Wairoa. Eria (Elijah) was born probably in 1834 or 1835 at Te Papuni, his mother's community on the upper Ruakituri River, an important inland route into the Urewera.

In October 1866 Eria was exiled to Wharekauri (Chatham Island) as a result of the fighting on the East Coast between the Hauhau and government forces. He was sent with the fourth batch of prisoners, those captured at Petane (Bay View) and Omarunui near Napier. He was described as five feet seven inches tall, and without tattoos. Eria escaped from Wharekauri with Te Kooti in July 1868, and fought alongside the ex-prisoners in their first military engagements of July and August 1868. After the fight at the Ruakituri River, Eria left the group at Puketapu and went overland to Opotiki. He subsequently rejoined Te Kooti in the Urewera, fighting and escaping from Te Hapua on 1 September 1871. He lived with Te Kooti when he took shelter at Te Kuiti; there, in 1881, Te Kooti baptised Eria in the waters of the Manga-o-Kewa Stream as the principal tohunga of the new faith.

Eria developed a reputation as a man of formidable authority. He was attributed with the power of makutu, and it was warned of him: 'Never let his shadow fall upon you! He'll kill you!' From 1913 Eria became a guardian of Rongopai, the great painted meeting house built at Waituhi for Te Kooti in 1887, and he was still active there as a guardian and tohunga in the mid 1920s. He was considered a man of singular independence of mind. He interpreted the Ringatu faith as the conjunction of two religious traditions: a Maori belief in the supreme deity, Io, the knowledge of whom they brought with them in their migration from 'Canaan', and the Christian teachings they learnt after 1814 in New Zealand. He discussed aspects of this new faith with Colonel Thomas Porter, who published a serialised biography of Te Kooti in 1914, partly based on Eria's information.

After Te Kooti's death in 1893, Eria accepted the Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana as being the messiah who Te Kooti had predicted would complete his work. Therefore, in 1906 at Pakowhai, near Rongopai, Eria baptised Rua with the predicted name, Hepetipa (Hephzibah), in the waters of the Waipaoa River, after Rua had entered Rongopai, the house which Te Kooti had never been able to visit. Later, Eria ritually married Rua to seven of his wives. He played a pivotal role in securing Tuhoe conversion to Rua's new faith.

By 1913 Eria had separated from Rua and sustained his own section of the Ringatu, keeping its original name, Te Hahi o te Wairua Tapu (the Church of the Holy Spirit), and its early rituals. In July 1913 Elsdon Best arranged for James McDonald, the Dominion Museum photographer, to take a series of glass-plate photographs of Eria. Eight magnificent portraits have survived, and they depict Eria as he wished to be seen: reading the Bible; preaching, with his right hand raised in instruction; wearing vestments of his own design – a black frock-coat edged with gold braid, bearing the words 'Holy Church' on the cuffs and the same words in Maori, 'Hahi Tapu', on the collar, worked in gold. In 1915 he rode out from Waituhi dressed in these vestments and a hard bowler hat, carrying in front of him on his horse a large portmanteau containing the exhumed bones of elders – victims of a typhoid epidemic – which he was taking home to Waimaha and Maungapohatu for display and reburial. In 1930 he outlined the seven positions of significance within the Church of the Holy Spirit: poutikanga (the head), ture (keeper of the law), tohunga (religious teacher), takuta (healer), kaituhituhi (recorder), apotoro (apostle), and kaitiaki (guardian against 'wickedness'). He described them collectively as a marae of the house of Jehovah, with the independent church as a pa.

Eria lived at Te Papuni and Waimaha, his mother's land, to which he established title, and he was a knowledgeable informant on land rights and customary usufruct for the vast hinterland between upper Wairoa and Maungapohatu, giving evidence for the Native Land Court and government commissions. As a consequence of a local dispute, when he had been accused of practising makutu and thereby causing deaths, he left Waimaha in 1912. He went to Pakowhai, where he lived in a tent settlement at the community of the chief, Te Miini Kerekere of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki. In 1913 he moved to Ngatapa, where Te Miini gave Eria land on which to live. There, Eria and those who joined him earned their living shearing. Together they built the meeting house Nukutaimemeha-a-Maui and beside it Eria erected a whare kawenata (covenant house) for the Bibles and religious texts. The gift of land was registered as belonging to Te Whanau-a-Eria. From 1915 to 1918 he was involved in the protracted struggle for the return of Lake Waikaremoana to Maori ownership. The old man petitioned Parliament and undertook long and frustrating journeys to give his evidence, travelling painfully by bus.

Eria married Huka Huinga o Te Ao (Ngaaikiha Te Kaaho), who had Tuhoe affiliations. They had no issue but brought up several adopted children, including the Tuhoe scholar John Rangihau. Eria died at Ngatapa on 29 June 1938, and was buried there. He was said to be 103 years old. Two months later Huka died, also at Ngatapa, aged 90. For many, Eria remains a very tapu man.

How to cite this page:

Judith Binney. 'Raukura, Eria Tutara-Kauika', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 July 2020)