Tamaiharanui was born during the late 1700s and died in 1830/31. Through his whakapapa Tamaiharanui (Te Maiharanui / Tama-i-hara-nui) belonged to Ngāti Rakiamoa (as a descendant of Tūāhuriri and Tūrakautahi) and was regarded as the paramount chief and spiritual leader of his iwi (tribe). During these times the status of a high chief was such that the person and the personal objects belonging to the chief were very sacred. To touch or wear a garment belonging to the chief was a severe breach for an ordinary person and could result in death.
Unfortunately such an event did happen! Murihaka, a woman living at the lakeside village of Waikākahi, could not resist donning the chief’s dogskin cloak. Outraged at the insult to the chief his followers killed Rerewaka, a slave of Murihaka’s relatives. They inevitably responded by killing a chief called Hape, whose wife was from Taumutu another village across the lake (Ellesmere). The Taumutu group killed several people at Waikākahi leading Tamaiharanui to retaliate by attacking the Taumutu people in their village on the lakeshore.
Through their whakapapa the people of Taumutu were linked to Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki and Ngāti Kaweriri peoples living further south in Otago (Ōtākou) and asked for support from Taiaroa in the intra-tribal feuding that had begun after the cloak incident. The Taumutu people left their pā and many went to live amongst their relatives in Otago.
These retaliatory incidents persisted over the following decade, during which time many small communities on Banks Peninsula were abandoned (including Taumutu) due to the feuding and many people on both sides were killed (including Tamaiharanui’s sisters). Many of the settlements remain abandoned to this day. The final act of the feud was the killing of Taununu, the chief from Rīpapa Island, who was found near a place called Ōtokitoki and tomahawked to death with his companion.
With the sacking of the Ngāti Kurī pā at Kaikōura by Te Rauparaha in 1828 the feuding ended as the Ngāi Tahu chiefs turned their attentions to a new protagonist from the north.
The Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha and his followers in looking to the South Island coveted the rich resources of greenstone and land to be found there. They were well armed with many muskets and experienced in this type of warfare. Through subterfuge they easily overcame the Ngāi Tahu pā along the Kaikōura coast at Kaikōura and Omihi. Many people were killed or taken prisoner.
After sacking the northern Ngāi Tahu pā, Te Rauparaha was urged by his kinsman Te Pēhi Kupe to continue on to Kaiapoi. So with a number of his principal chiefs Te Rauparaha arrived and camped on the banks of the Ashley River.
The Ngāti Toa were visited by Tamaiharanui and claimed their purpose was to trade for greenstone (pounamu). During this encounter after professing his peaceful intent Te Rauparaha was said to have recited the following chant:
Anga atu au ki te uru, e tuai, e tuai;
Anga atu au ki te tonga, e tuai, e tuai;
E kāhua in ate riri, te tāwhatitawhati,
Taka ngākau tō riri.
Look to the clouds in the west, there is nothing but darkness;
Look to the clouds in the south, there is nothing but darkness;
They have the appearance of combat, the form of death,
My Body tingles to enter the fray.
News was soon to reach Tamaiharanui of the descration of the grave of his relative (grandmother/aunt) recently buried at Tuahiwi by Ngāti Toa, followed by news from the north of Ngāti Kurī’s defeat by Te Rauparaha at Kaikōura and Omihi.
Up until this point the Ngāti Toa chiefs had been welcomed and treated as honoured guests inside Kaiapoi pā. Te Rauparaha was more cautious and did not enter the pā, a move that was to save his life when the eleven chiefs were killed. Tākatahara (who would later lead the Ngāi Tahu against Te Rauparaha at Ōnawe) killed Te Pēhi after an argument over a block of greenstone and the killing began.
Te Rauparaha escaped and after slaughtering his captives at Omihi in retaliation, returned to Kapiti.
Tamaiharanui and Te Rauparaha
The earlier events at Kaiapoi set in motion Te Rauparaha’s revenge against Tamaiharanui for the killing of Te Pēhi Kupe and the other chiefs. Te Rauparaha chartered the brig Elizabeth, in an arrangement with Captain John Stewart for a cargo of dressed flax, to transport the chief and a party of about 100 warriors to Akaroa harbour.
Once there the Ngāti Toa party remained concealed on the brig which anchored off Takapūneke where Tamaiharanui was based. Eventually Tamaiharanui returned from Wairewa and on boarding the brig with his wife Te Whe and daughter Roimata was captured by the Ngāti Toa chief. Before leaving the settlement at Takapūneke was sacked and many inhabitants killed. It is told that Tamaiharanui took his daughter’s life and threw her overboard to prevent her being taken into slavery. Other accounts state that Te Whe also threw herself overboard on the journey to Kapiti.
It is recorded that the brig Elizabeth reached Kapiti on 11 November 1830 and Tamaiharanui was kept on board by Captain Stewart, until the last week of December, as he was anxious about getting the promised cargo from Ngāti Toa.
He was finally handed over at Otaki. Tribal accounts of his death state that he died at the hands of the Ngāti Toa widows of the chiefs killed at Kaiapoi. These accounts attest to his courage at the torture he received before he died. Today at Ōnuku marae this story is remembered in the carvings that adorn Karaweko, where Tamaiharanui is depicted as the tekoteko (ancestral figure) on the wharenui (meeting house).