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No. 37 (December 1961)
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Behind the recent hoisting of the Ngati Porou flag on a flagstaff at Mangatuna (East Coast) lies a great deal of New Zealand history. On the centre of the stage is Ropata Wahawaha; the time is the Te Kooti wars. This story gives the background, written by Leo Fowler who has already published a novel and several articles on the Te Kooti period.

In spite of the weather and a strong counter-attraction offered by the ministerial opening of a new school at Mangatuna, there was a large attendance at the Kie Kie marae last September when the ninety-year-old flag was hoisted on the eighty-year-old flagstaff, Te Rakau i Mataahu. Both flag and flagstaff have a rich background of history.

After the flag had been hoisted by ninety-year-old A. B. Williams a service was held under its folds to re-dedicate the loyalty of the Ngati Porou people, and especially of the Ngati Rakairoa hapu on whose marae the ceremony was held.

In the place of honour on the meeting house porch were the portraits of Major Rapata Wahawaha, N.Z.C., M.L.C., Sir Apirana Ngata and 2nd Lieutenant Te Moananui a Kiwa Ngarimu, V.C., all members of the Ngati Rakairoa, and all outstanding leaders among their Maori people.

Behind this ceremonial flag-hoisting lies a story of one man whose vision and courage and purpose make him, perhaps, the greatest and most significant Maori of all time. I'd like to begin this story at the point where he held a similar flag-hoisting ceremony, some eighty years ago.


In 1871 Major Rapata Wahawaha, N.Z.C., was presented with a flag by the British Government and a word of honour by Queen Victoria. In 1872 he had erected at Mataahu, on the East Coast just north of Waipiro Bay, a huge flagstaff on which to fly the flag and it was there hoisted with due

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Flag ‘Ngati’ Porou flying on ‘Te Rakau i MataahuEastland Photographers

ceremony in the June of that year. Several thousand Maoris, many of them being those who had fought against the British Crown in the Hau Hau and Te Kooti wars, were assembled to see the hoisting of that flag. They heard the Reverend Mohi Turei preach on loyalty to God and the Queen, and they saw Rapata Wahawaha, wearing his New Zealand Cross and girt with his sword of honour, newly returned from a ceremony of honour in Wellington where the highest in the land had assembled to praise and congratulate him.

Mataahu was chosen for the site of the flagstaff because it was the traditional landing place for war canoes returning from an expedition. It was a symbolic place because it was close to there that the Government steamer had not long before landed the Ngati Porou contingent which Rapata Wahawaha had commanded so successfully in the Hau Hau and Te Kooti campaigns, the contingent which succeeded in doing what two British columns had failed to do, that is to break the might of Te Kooti's Tuhoe allies and to drive Te Kooti himself into futile exile in the King Country. The cost, in lives and in privation, had been recorded by pakeha historians, who have paid full tribute to the courage and hardiness of the Ngati Porou warriors.

Many, many pages could be filled with details of the prowess of Ngati Porou in these campaigns, but the record is there in the history books for you to read for yourselves.* In this article I wish to deal more with some of the lesser known aspects of those campaigns and especially with the symbolism which lay behind that historic flag-raising nearly ninety years ago.

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Primarily it was an occasion chosed by Rapata Wahawaha to re-affirm the loyalty of Ngati Porou and also of some of the neighbouring tribes. Many of them, as I have said, had been in arms against the Crown. Many of them had, in fact, been taken prisoner in the Urewera campaign by Rapata and his Ngati Porou. They were gathered together on this June day of 1872 to unite in re-affirming their loyalty to Queen Victoria and the British Crown. They did so by marching under the flag which had been hoisted on Rapata's flagpole and by taking part in the service of re-dedication conducted by the Rev. Mohi Turei and Rapata himself.

Paratene Ngata, father of the late Sir Apirana and adopted son of Wahawaha, records that there was one solitary Maori rebel who refused to take the oath. He ran in a direction away from the flag, chanting as he did so a little haka:

Tieke taretare; tieke taretare;
Po! Tu ana i waho e.

which might freely be translated

Thou ragged Jack, thou tattered Jack;
Behold! I stand aloof from thy circle.

I like to think of that rugged individualist, defying both the distant Queen and the nearer and more grimly terrible Rapata Wahawaha. There is always a place for the noncomformist, the intransigent and the upholder of the old order. But I like even more to think of those thousands of others sinking their ancient enmities and their conflicting ideologies in a new affirmation of a common purpose.


Rapata Wahawaha was born about the year 1807. That is to say he was born into a world, and a society, where cannibalism and slavery were part of the accepted social usage. He was himself made captive as a young boy. He learned at first hand the ruthless savagery as well as the bravery and fortitude of his people. He saw the beginnings of pakeha settlement, the sowing of the seed of European customs and European religious beliefs, and he saw the ancient customs and practices of his people become modified or pass completely away in the face of newer and stronger though not always better concepts.

He was a small man, this Rapata, but like his tupuna Hikitai he might have claimed “He iti ra; he iti mapihi pounamu” and have further remarked with that progenitor that a small axe could cut down the biggest tree, if the axe were but of greenstone. In fact Rapata possessed something of the characteristics of the prized pounamu. He was hard, he kept his edge in spite of rough usage, he was polished and he was of great intrinsic value to his people.

He came first into prominence when the Hauhau forces under Kereopa and Patara came seeking converts in the Waiapu valley. Rapata, Mokena Kohere, Henare Potae and Henare Nihoniho frowned on the new religion and gave orders that their followers were to remain loyal to their own beliefs and to the British Crown.

With the aid of a small force of European Volunteers and Militia they attacked the invading Hauhau, subdued their strongholds one by one and put them to flight. Rapata shot some of his own followers out of hand for disobedience to his orders. Some three hundred other Ngati Porou, taken in arms against their own people were given the choice of marching under the Union Jack and taking the oath of allegiance to the Crown or of being shot out of hand. Many of those who took this enforced oath became Rapata's most gallant followers in the campaigns that followed.


Rapata and Mokena, with their Ngati Porou, were among the combined Maori and European forces which inflicted defeat on the Hauhaus at Waerenga-a-hika. Rapata and his men spear-headed the pursuit and defeat of the Hauhaus at Wairoa in the following months. Ngati Porou furnished the greater part of the garrison which kept uneasy peace in Poverty Bay during the four years which followed the Hauhau defeat. The letters of Major Reginald Newton Biggs, who was resident magistrate at Turanga during that period, give some idea of the cost at which Ngati Porou demonstrated their loyalty.

“I have sent Henare Potae a ton of flour and a ton of potatoes and 4 cwt. of sugar,” he wrote to McLean. “I hope the Government won't find fault, but Ngati Porou are starving. They were protecting us, here at Turanga and at Wairoa, at a time when they should have been planting the food of which they are now so badly in need.”

Paratene Ngata wrote in his diary:

“We were sent for (by Rapata) to take up garrison duty at Turanga. The job was without monetary consideration so we depended on catching horses and hunting stray cattle and pigs. At times we had to leave the garrison because the rations were so meagre, and take odd jobs pit-sawing timber.”

It was Rapata and his Ngati Porou who led the storming of parties in the advance on Te Kooti's position at Ngatapa and it was Rapata and his Ngati Porou who bore the main burden of keeping Te Kooti on the move in the Urewera, defeating one by one the supporting parties of Tuhoe and finally driving Te Kooti to sanctuary in the King Country. Under conditions so severe that two European columns, under Colonel's Whitmore and St John, had to be withdrawn Rapata and his tribesmen fought on. Rapata would not allow a fire to be lit lest it pinpoint his position to the enemy. It was a campaign that only the strongest

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General view of marae Eastland Photographers

could survive. Rapata and his men survived it, conquering privation as they conquered the enemy.


It is in this campaign that the amazing reverse facet of Rapata Wahawaha's character emerges. This grim, ruthless, taciturn man, who could and did shoot even his own followers for disobedience; this relentless leader who shot recalcitrant rebels out of hand on more than one occasion, who is conceded by more than one historian to have shot at Ngatapa prisoners, standing them on the brink of the high cliff so that they might fall into the ravine below; this amazing man throughout the Urewera campaign fought for, as well as against, the Urewera tribes. He kept a running correspondence with McLean and other Government leaders, imploring, nay, demanding generous treatment for the defeated Tuhoe. He sent literally hundreds of them back to his own East Coast, giving them land and furnishing them with food, and with the implements and the seeds to grow more food, under no other conditions than that they lay down their arms.

He threw all the weight of his prestige, his influence and his argument into what was sometimes a bitter fight with officialdom in order to soften the harshness meted out to defeated rebels. On occasion he went so far as to make that leniency the price of his continued support in the field.

Other Maori contingents in the field claimed head-money, the reward paid by the Government for the heads of rebel Maoris. Rapata's Ngati Porou were forbidden by him to take the heads, much less claim the reward.

Reading the detailed history of those bitter and arduous campaigns it becomes obvious that Rapata Wahawaha, even in the very pursuit of the enemy, already was planning for the unifying of those warring tribes, once peace had been achieved.

So it was that among the hordes who marched under the flag at Mataahu, a great proportion were former enemies. Once they had taken the oath of loyalty they were allowed to go back to their home. ‘Allowed’ is not, perhaps the word for they were assisted back and afforded some measure of rehabilitation by their former enemy.


The name of that flag, under which they marched, is I am told, Ngati Porou. I am indebted to Pine Taiapa for an earlier name, ‘Pari Arau’ which might very broadly be translated ‘Shadow of the plume’ the inference being that the rebels expressed their allegiance by walking under the shadow

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Mr Arnold Reedy explains the history of the flagstaff. Eastland Photographers

of the flag which was the ‘Plume of Queen Victoria’.

Some stress was made, in the speeches at Kiekie, on the symbolism of the flag in its uniting of the Maori and pakeha people. I think that its greater symbolism is in its standing as a token of the need for a closer uniting of the various sections of the Maori people themselves into one united race. Both aspects of this symbolism are as important and as urgent today as they were in that historic past when Rapata Wahawaha first erected his ‘Rakau i Mataahu’

A few books in which further information on these events may be found are the following:

James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period, 2 volumes, Government Printer, 1955.

Thomas W. Gudgeon, Reminiscences of the War in New Zealand, 1879.

G. W. Rusden, History of New Zealand, Vol. II, 2nd edition, 1895.

Major-General Sir George S. Whitmore, The Last Maori War in New Zealand, 1902.

Lieut.-Col. Porter, The History of the Early Days of Poverty Bay, Major Ropata Wahawaha, The Story of his Life and Times, Gisborne, 1897.