Missionary in Mataatua


Maori Chiefs
Ngakuku, Missionary in Mataatua

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Ngakuku was a chief of Waikato, from the Ngati Haua iwi, living near Waharoa. We are dependent almost entirely on missionary records for details of his life, in particular the diaries of the Church Missionary Society missionary, A.N. Brown. Brown was stationed at Matamata from 1835 till October 1836, then at Te Papa, Tauranga, from January 1838 till his death in 1884. In his diary for 24 June 1835 he notes:

Ngakuku very ill, . . . quite insane, but still he insists upon being led to attend prayers whenever he hears the bell ring. The Maoris say he is visited with this severe illness for attending the Missionaries’ Karakia (Service) and for putting aside native superstitions.
On 30 June he noted that Ngakuku was gradually recovering his strength. Then on 24 August, Brown records:
Met my little band of three enquirers this evening. . . . I was speaking to them on their duty of persevering in the course they had entered upon - “Looking unto Jesus” for support and strength. Ngakuku remarked, “That is very good. If I plant potatoes with no heart to my work, my crop is scanty, but if I labour hard and my heart is very large, then my crop is large. I suppose it is the same in spiritual things.”

On 22 January 1836 Brown reported that there was a hui to discuss the murder of a chief. He comments:

The Chiefs whilst speaking held some instrument of war in their hands. Ngakuku had in his the Scriptures and in allusion to it remarked, “This is the two barrelled gun and the cartridge box and the war axe of the Believer.”

On the first anniversary of his arrival in the Matamata area, Brown lists Ngakuku as one of the two men for whom:

“We have reason to hope the Gospel is proving under the influence of the Holy Spirit, a saviour of life into life . . . “- Archdeacon Brown

Frequent inter-tribal skirmishes in the district led to the decision to close the mission station at Matamata and evacuate the school children. On 18 October 1836 Ngakuku left with John Flatt, one of the missionaries, and 20 children to travel from Matamata to Tauranga. They stopped in the Kaimai Range overnight and were attacked by a war party from Rotorua, and Ngakuku’s daughter Tarore was killed. At 9 a.m. the next day Ngakuku returned to Matamata carrying his daughter Tarore’s body.

Buried poor Tarore at the pa. Those who so narrowly escaped sharing a like death, followed the corpse to the grave. . . . After singing a hymn and addressing the assembled party, Ngakuku asked me if he might also say a few words, and on my assenting, he said with deep solemnity of feeling, “There lies my child; she has been murdered as a payment for your bad conduct. But do not you rise to seek payment for her. God will do that. Let this be the finishing of the war with Rotorua. Now let peace be made. My heart is not dark for Tarore but for you. You urged teachers to come to you - they came - and now you are driving them away. You are crying for my girl. I am crying for you, for myself, for all of us. Perhaps this murder is a sign of God’s anger towards us for our sins. Turn to him. Believe, or you will all perish.” - Archdeacon Brown

Brown attributed this remarkable plea to the work of the Holy Spirit. Ngakuku was eventually baptised on Good Friday 1839. He took the baptismal name of William Marsh, William from Henry and William Williams, and Marsh because that was the name of A. N. Brown’s only son.

Ngakuku was a keen traveller, and on more than one occasion Brown cautioned him “lest he should acquire a vagrancy of habit that would prove detrimental to his growth in grace”. Nevertheless, Ngakuku helped to found the Opotiki mission station and was a teacher there before J.A. Wilson took up residence. He also frequently accompanied Archdeacon Brown on his journeys and assisted wherever he could in forwarding the work of the missionaries, including work in the Te Whaiti area of the Urewera Range. Ngakuku was also asked to Tolaga Bay to teach and preach there. In later years as Archdeacon Brown was confined to Tauranga by his bad eyesight, it was Ngakuku and others who carried on the work further afield.

Uita, the man who was responsible for Tarore’s death and who took her copy of Luke’s Gospel, is said to have had the Gospel read to him by a slave called Ripahau. He was moved by what he heard to a sense of repentance for Tarore’s death, and was converted to Christianity. This experience led Uita to send a message asking if he could visit the church at Ngakuku’s pa to worship and to confess his faith in God. After some hesitation on the part of Ngakuku’s people, his request was granted. He arrived at the pa a visibly changed man and asked Ngakuku in great humility to forgive him. It is said that they knelt in the little church and prayed together.

It is not known when Ngakuku died, but he is remembered as a faithful witness to the gospel.

BORN: Before 1835, Ngati Haua Iwi, Waharoa, New Zealand

DIED: Date Unknown, New Zealand.