Wiremu Tāmihana Tarapīpipi Te Waharoa

Prophet, Kingmaker


see caption
Wiremu Tāmihana
Prophet, Kingmaker

Portrait Photograph by John Kinder, Public Domain

Tarapipi Te Waharoa, or Wiremu Tamihana as he was later known, was the second son of the famous Ngati Haua chief, Te Waharoa. Tarapipi participated in several war expeditions in the Waikato and Taranaki districts, but, when Ngati Whakaue destroyed the mission station at Ohinemutu in 1836, he intervened on behalf of two mission workers and led them to safety.

In 1835 Alfred Brown, assisted by his wife Charlotte, set up a mission station near the Mata-mata pa, just north of present day Waharoa. Tarapipi was one of their most promising pupils, and he continued to be a diligent student of the Bible all his life. When Brown was forced to abandon the Matamata mission station, Tarapipi kept in touch with him at Tauranga and organised church services and school classes at Matamata.

After the death of Te Waharoa in 1838, Te Arahi was the eldest son of Te Waharoa, but it was Tarapipipi who inherited his father's mana, and became Rangatira of his tribe. He followed the advice of Brown and with 200 converts left Matamata pa and set up a Christian pa named Tapiri nearby, where services could be held undisturbed and where the inhabitants could live a Christian life. Here a raupo chapel was built, and on 23 June 1839 Brown baptised Tarapipi, who chose the European name of William Thompson, the Maori form of which is Wiremu Tamihana. He now embarked on a life of teaching and preaching in the Tauranga and Matamata districts.

Tamihana continued his peacemaking efforts by constant attempts to persuade his own tribe to give up war. He also arranged a peace with the traditional enemies of the Ngati Haua, culmi-nating in a feast at Matamata in 1846 to celebrate the occasion with the Rotorua tribes. In the same year, Tamihana moved his Christian followers to the Peria Hills. Here a settled, orderly community was established, with each house surrounded by its own plantations of wheat, maize, kumara and potatoes. There was also a school, flour mill, post office, whare runanga, and a church built on top of a hill. A contemporary noted:

Every morning and evening a bell called this orderly, simple, religious people to prayers. I never saw a more charming instance of simple idyllic life, than this re-markable Maori village presented in 1856.

In the 1850s Wiremu Tamihana began to take a greater part in the wider arena of Maori affairs. He became concerned with the problems of how the Maori people were going to cope with the increase in European settlement and the worst features of European culture. He had the vision of Maori and Pakeha working side by side and the Maori people presenting a united front, unbroken by tribal conflicts. He wanted to encourage agriculture and education for his people and to prevent the further sale or lease of Maori land. Although Tamihana was not the originator of the King movement, he took a leading part in its development and earned the title, “kingmaker”, in the 18 months leading up to Potatau Te Wherowhero’s election as the first of the Waikato kings. Wiremu Tamihana saw no conflict between the King movement and the English monarchy.

When the Waitara dispute erupted into war, Tamihana went to Taranaki in an attempt at mediation, but was unsuccessful. Despite Tamihana’s efforts to keep the peace, hostilities broke out in the Waikato in 1863. He tried to mediate during the land wars and negotiated a settlement when they ended. He wrote many letters to colonial authorities advocating a just provision for Maori and Pakeha. Having lived to see many of his dreams unrealised, but holding unflinchingly to his faith and his vision, Wiremu Tamihana died with his Bible in his hand.

Wiremu Tamihana was a peacemaker who had a vision of a future which placed him ahead, not only of his Maori but also his Pakeha contemporaries. He is commemorated by the church on the day of his baptism.

BORN:c.1805, Tamahere near Cambridge, New Zealand.

DIED:27 December 1866, Turanga-o-moana near Matamata, New Zealand.