Story: Te Taniwha, Tukumana

Page 1: Biography

Te Taniwha, Tukumana


Ngati Maru and Ngati Whanaunga leader, historian

This biography, written by Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Tukumana was born in the Thames district probably in 1862 or 1863. He was the son of Reihana Poto of Ngati Maru, and Karukino Te Taniwha of Ngati Puku and Te Mateawa hapu of Ngati Whanaunga. Taiwiwi was another of his names. His maternal grandfather, Te Horeta Te Taniwha, was an important influence in his life. Hence he was commonly known as Tukumana Te Taniwha, although he also used the name Tukumana Reihana.

Although Ngati Whanaunga reside predominantly at Moehau (Coromandel Peninsula), a few of their subtribes live at Waimango in the Wharekawa district, on the western side of the Firth of Thames; Tukumana lived here and at Kupata, near Thames. According to Tukumana, Wharekawa had been fought over for many years by Ngati Whanaunga and Ngati Paoa. The crew of the Tainui canoe had originally erected an altar there and conducted ceremonies to implant mana, that is, to gain authority and rights to the land. Two descendants of the Tainui crew, Hotunui and his son Maru-tuahu (the ancestors of the Maru-tuahu confederation of tribes) made their home in the Wharekawa district. The rights were maintained by Maru-tuahu, despite challenges by Ngati Paoa. Finally, Ngati Puku (Tukumana's subtribe) took up the cause of maintaining these rights, particularly those of Ngati Whanaunga, who had always maintained a presence at Wharekawa. Tukumana's family had land rights in blocks ranging from the Piako River to Tapapakanga.

Living among tribes that owed nominal allegiance to the King movement, Tukumana was drawn into its affairs. He may have been part of the King movement faction opposed to Pakeha settlement within the Rohe Potae block, and in 1903 he unsuccessfully petitioned the government to exclude his lands from the boundaries of the recently promulgated Waikato district. By 1917 he was a member of the lower house of Te Kauhanganui. He continued in that position until 1920.

In his youth, Tukumana was a gifted student of the histories and traditions of his people. Benefiting from the legacy of Te Horeta, he became an exponent of the traditions of all Maru-tuahu people and of Ngati Whanaunga in particular. In 1925 he began to write down some of his knowledge of Maru-tuahu, prompted by a proposal to shift Hotunui, the great meeting house of the Parehauraki people, to the Auckland Museum in an attempt to preserve it. Tukumana attended a large hui convened at Parawai, near Thames, on 7 March 1925, as spokesman for Ngati Whanaunga. The people agreed that the house needed to be preserved. Parehauraki were not keen to sell the house and agreed to the proposal of the Auckland ethnologist George Graham that Hotunui be shifted to the museum for safe custody on their behalf. The house was eventually transferred to the museum in 1929.

It is believed that it was on this occasion that Graham met Tukumana. Certainly, it was after this that Tukumana began to record Maru-tuahu histories and traditions. The earliest, and perhaps the most valuable, was entitled simply 'Marutuahu'. Tukumana produced further manuscripts and contributed to papers by George Graham. These writings are of enormous value to the Maru-tuahu–Parehauraki peoples. Parts have been published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society. Other parts were incorporated into the book Tainui by Leslie Kelly.

Tukumana married Edith Bennett on 5 March 1915 at Auckland. They had no children but fostered many; some lived permanently at Waimango and others lived there at intervals. Two of the children, Haunui Tukumana Royal of Ngati Tama-Te-Ra and Ngati Te Aute, and Iramutu Karewa of Ngati Maru, succeeded to Tukumana's land at Waimango. When Haunui grew up he wanted to marry Meri Thompson, a Nga Puhi woman who was studying to be a nurse at Thames Hospital. Tukumana, however, was not happy with this. He still felt greatly aggrieved by the treacherous attack by Hongi Hika of Nga Puhi, which resulted in the fall of the great Maru-tuahu pa, Te Totara, in 1821. However, Haunui and Meri married and the old man treated their children as his own grandchildren. These people subsequently became known as Te Whanau-a-Haunui.

Tukumana appears briefly in Henry Ashby's small book The history and legends of the western coast of the Hauraki Gulf (1963). Ashby describes how Tukumana maintained a stable of horses at Waimango and in 1885 won a racing cup with a horse named Kotiroa. He lived in 'a well-built European house' and was termed 'a very progressive Maori.' In his last years, a journalist, Chris Barlow, visited him at Waimango, and later published an article and accompanying photograph. A phrase used by Tukumana in the interview has been made into a proverb by the descendants of Haunui Tukumana: 'I shall be with the land always.'

Tukumana died on 28 March 1941 at Waimango, and was buried at the Waimango cemetery. His wife had predeceased him. He was mourned by all the Hauraki tribes, who knew that with his departure they had lost a wealth of knowledge that could never be recovered.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal. 'Te Taniwha, Tukumana', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 July 2020)