Taiaroa (christened as Te Matenga) ? – 1863

Taiaroa was a leading Ngāi Tahu chief, son of Korako and Wharerauaruhe and belonged to Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki and Ngāti Moki hapū based at Taumutu (a settlement on the shores of Waihora / Lake Ellesmere). He was born at Waikākahi, the pā of his mother, probably in the late 1790s. Taiaroa is also identified with Ōtakou (Otago peninsula) where he held a leadership position with his cousin Karetai at that time and where many of his descendants live today.

Involvement in the Kaihuānga feud

With strong connections and links to Taumutu and Waikākahi it was inevitable that Taiaroa would get involved even though he generally lived at Ōtakou. The inter-hapū (sub-tribe) feuding began when a woman from Waikākahi put on a cloak left there by the paramount chief Tamaiharanui. This was a huge insult to the chief and his kinsmen outraged at this serious breach of tapu, responded by killing not the woman herself but a slave belonging to her relatives. They in turn sought revenge for the death of their slave by killing a man living at Taitapu pā. Matters soon escalated when the widow sought the assistance of her brother the chief of the Taumutu people, against those based at Waikākahi. Taumutu’s response was to attack Waikākahi and soon three highly connected chiefs from Ngāti Irakehu hapū had been killed thus alienating Taumutu from most of the peoples living on Banks Peninsula.

Tamaiharanui who had been away, returned to find the feud well underway and responded by raising a war party to attack Taumutu. Many of the women living at Taumutu were from Kaiapoi pā and although some were killed, others were saved by Kaiapoi warriors accompanying the war party (taua). Among them was Te Parure, sister of Taiaroa. The Taumutu people sought the assistance of their relatives further south. Led by Taiaroa and reinforced by warriors from Kaiapoi, the Taumutu and southern contingent attacked Wairewa. This was the first battle (1827) where firearms were used in the South Island as two guns had been brought from Ōtakou with Taiaroa’s party.

The role that Taiaroa would play in this battle and several others after, demonstrates his strong appreciation of kinship. In this encounter against Wairewa and several others that occurred during the feud, he would get ahead of the war party and warn the inhabitants to flee to safety. He was fully aware that the inhabitants of these settlements were connected by kinship to each other. Although his actions sought to mitigate the effects of the feuding, unfortunately he was not able to stop all of the atrocities that were perpetrated by kin against kin.

It is also clear that restoring family honour and the mana of chiefs was a key driver for chiefs like Tamaiharanui who held the power to have ended the feud earlier. Taiaroa played a significant role in trying to bridge the breach between the kinship groups involved in this long and devastating feud.

Kaiapoi Pā

In 1831 the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha attacked the Ngāi Tahu stronghold at Kaiapoi. Taiaroa and a contingent of warriors were nearby returning to Ōtākou when they heard of the siege. They returned and attempted to destroy Te Rauparaha’s canoes but were foiled by rainfall. Taiaroa entered the pā and remained there for several months during the siege with his taua (war party). The siege against Kaiapoi had arisen from the killing of Te Pēhi Kupe in 1828. Taiaroa had not been involved in this event and chose to withdraw before Te Rauparaha’s final assault and capture of the ill-fated pā.

Ngāi Tahu Expeditions

Following the capture of Kaiapoi and Ōnawe Pā in Akaroa there was concern that Te Rauparaha would chose to venture further south. This fear galvanised Ngāi Tahu leaders from Ōtākou and Murihiku to organise a number of expeditions (taua) to oust Te Rauparaha and his allies. Taiaroa was one of these chiefs who along with Te Whakataupuka (Uncle of Tuhawaiki), Tuhawaiki, Makere and Haereroa spent several summer fighting seasons harassing Ngāti Toa in their settlements in the north of the South Island. In 1834 Taiaroa led an expedition against Rangitane (a tribe based in Queen Charlotte Sound), who had supported Ngāti Toa and whaling stations in Cloudy Bay. This expedition marked the end of fighting with Ngāti Toa who were effectively removed from Ngāi Tahu’s territory after this time.

The final incursion into Ngāi Tahu territory was made by Te Pūoho-o-te-rangi of Ngāti Tama in 1836/1837. The Ngāti Tama war party had travelled down the west coast to Tūtūrau (in Southland). Fugitives from the pā eventually reached Ruapuke the island home of Tuhawaiki, who then gathered a war party (including Taiaroa) to recapture the village of Tūtūrau. This was the last invasion of the South Island area by northern tribes.

Taiaroa’s Later Years

Through the later half of the 1830s Taiaroa continued to visit Banks Peninsula especially settlements such as Peraki where whaling had been established by George Heppelman. In 1838 he travelled to Sydney and sold land (including Banks Peninsula) to John Jones as well as George and Edward Weller.

In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed but Taiaroa did not actually sign the copy taken to Ōtākou although his name appears on that copy. He was involved in the Ngāi Tahu land sales starting with the sale of the Otago block in 1844, the Canterbury sales in 1848 and the sale of Murihiku in 1853.

In 1856 he attended the meeting when Pōtatau Te Wherowhero was elected as the first Māori King. Baptised in 1859 as Te Matenga, he set aside land at Ōtākou where a church was built. He lived mainly at Pigeon Bay on Banks Peninsula. When he died in 1863 he was buried at Taiaroa Head.


Related pages

A group of representative Maoris. Photograph from The weekly press, 23 Aug. 1899, p. 53. Shows several members of the Taiaroa family.

Print this page