Taraia Ngakuti Te Tumuhuia was an important Marutaahu and Hauraki chief who belonged to the Ngati Kiriwera and Ngati Kahuwhatiki sub-tribes of Ngati Tamatera. He was a fearless leader in battle, and he took part in what is thought to have been the last cannibal feast in New Zealand in 1842. He didn't accept Christianity, and refused to adapt his beliefs or way of life following European settlement.
Taraia Ngakuti, sometimes also known as Te Tumuhuia, was born in the late eighteenth century. He was the son of Te Kaharunga and of Rewa, daughter of Te Rangi-tu-mamao. His mana came from his descent from Hine-ipu, sister of Te Mangapai who was a great chief of Ngati Tama-Te-Ra and Ngati Maru, and one of the last great conquerors of the Coromandel Peninsula and Hauraki hinterlands from an early tribe, the Ngati Huarere. Taraia was descended from early marriage alliances between this ancient people and Ngati Maru. He was a prominent leader from the 1820s.
Much of Taraia's life was taken up in warfare. In 1818 Nga Puhi war parties invaded Hauraki and the Coromandel Peninsula. Those who were not killed fled inland to hidden valleys. In 1821 Te Totara pa, near present day Thames, fell to Hongi Hika and most of Ngati Maru abandoned the district, taking refuge in the Waikato. In 1823 or 1824 Ngati Maru and Ngati Tama-Te-Ra returned to Hauraki. At that time Te Maitaranui of Tuhoe came to ask Te Rangi-anini, who was senior to Taraia, to help in avenging the deaths of two chiefs killed by Ngati Kahungunu. A vast army assembled at Ruatahuna in 1824, and Taraia was one of the leaders of the Ngati Maru section. Taraia's section took Moumoukai, Waikotero and other pa, and then moved on to take part in the siege of Puke-karoro pa (also known as Okurarenga and later as Kai-uku), at Nukutaurua on the Mahia peninsula.
Despite being allies of Nga Puhi in these battles, Ngati Maru and Ngati Tama-Te-Ra had old scores to settle with this northern tribe. In May 1826, at Te Rore in Waikato, they succeeded in surrounding and killing a war party led by Pomare. Te Rangi-anini and Taraia are said to have fired the shots that ended Pomare's life. Once again Ngati Maru and Ngati Tama-Te-Ra were fully in control of their own district and freed from the threat of invasion by Nga Puhi.
From the early 1820s Taraia and his people made great efforts to arm themselves with muskets and powder to resist Nga Puhi raids. By 1830 they were so well armed with muskets that they were able to trade them to others for pigs, flax fibre or slaves. Tensions grew among the many independent sections of the Maru-tuahu confederation - four tribes who shared descent from Maru-tuahu, son of Hoturoa of the Tainui canoe. Rival chiefs established claims to kauri forests and sought to establish control over the European traders in the area. In one of these quarrels, possibly in the late 1820s, Taraia contested the right of the chief Mangakiekie of Ngati Naunau, a hapu of Ngati Maru, to place Pakeha timber workers on land called Moehau, near Cape Colville. He sent Potiki with 60 Ngati Pare to contest possession of the area, and followed up himself with 200 Ngati Tama-Te-Ra. Motu-kahakaha pa was hurriedly abandoned by Ngati Naunau. Taraia himself arranged timber contracts with William Webster and a man called McCormick on the Opitonui block, land to which he had claim only through his descent from the ancient Ngati Huarere. However, according to the Native Land Court judge H. A. H. Monro, Taraia was a man of such standing that he could have sold any property he chose and the rightful owners would not have been able to gainsay him. With their newly acquired arms, Ngati Maru and Ngati Tama-Te-Ra in the 1820s followed the Nga Puhi pattern and undertook many raids of the East Coast.
In 1840, when John Logan Campbell and his partner William Brown were temporarily settled at Waiomu, on the Coromandel west coast, they were visited by Taraia. Taraia's son, Te Rite, was treated for burns sustained when a keg of gunpowder blew up. Taraia repaid Campbell and his partner by lending his people to haul out the Europeans' vessel from its construction site in the bush.
Taraia did not sign the Treaty of Waitangi in May 1840. One consequence of this refusal to acknowledge the transfer of sovereignty was that he claimed a right to resolve disputes by force as he always had. In 1842 he received letters from Ngai Te Rangi chiefs of Tauranga which included an insulting message. This rekindled long-standing animosity between the two tribes. Taraia put together a war party of 50 men, and travelled up the Waihou River and over the mountains to Tauranga, timing his arrival with nightfall. Ongare pa near Katikati was taken by surprise, the chief Te Whanake and a number of followers killed, and captives taken. The bodies of the chief and one other man of rank were partly eaten and their heads carried back to Thames. The victims had belonged to a Christian settlement, and on his return to Thames Taraia transferred his anger to Christians there. At a Christian settlement his people caricatured a service in the local chapel. At his own settlement at Purua (about 10 miles from present day Thames), the heads of the two chiefs were rolled into the midst of the Christians while they were at prayer.
A period of anxiety for the Hauraki people followed. Rumours of possible retaliation were substantiated by the departure from Otumoetai of three canoe-loads of warriors seeking revenge. In June the chief protector of aborigines, George Clarke, accompanied by Bishop G. A. Selwyn, was sent to investigate. At first Clarke recommended the arrest of Taraia by force, but prudently decided against this course. In July Willoughby Shortland, the colonial secretary, accompanied by Clarke and Ensign A. D. W. Best, was sent to negotiate a settlement. On both occasions Taraia admitted the facts of the case but was unrepentant. He remarked that he had not signed the Treaty of Waitangi, and that as no European was involved it was not the business of the governor. If an attempt was made to capture and hang him he would first take utu for himself by killing Europeans. His people had been fighting the people of Tauranga for generations; they had killed many of his relatives, including his mother, and they had occupied land he claimed near Katikati. However, he accepted Shortland's terms for settlement, including the sale of the disputed territory to the Crown.
In 1850 Taraia led a war party to avenge the theft of a tapu axe, taken from a burial ground by Ngati Manawa. Taraia gathered a force and marched south to attack Ngati Manawa and their hastily gathered allies at Te Takatakanga, on the Whirinaki River. Thanks to mediation by the Reverend J. Preece and his Maori teacher colleagues, peace was made without bloodshed. During this affair Te Rangi-anini died, and after his death Taraia was acknowledged as the paramount leader of Ngati Maru and Ngati Tama-Te-Ra.
The last two decades of Taraia's life were disturbed by land disputes. When gold was discovered in the Coromandel district in 1852, he came under pressure to open up his lands at Moehau and Kauaeranga for mining. He journeyed to Auckland to hear Governor George Grey's proposals, but refused to allow his lands to be opened, preferring to wait and see how lease arrangements would work in practice. Nevertheless, he was sufficiently friendly with Grey to address a farewell waiata to him when Grey left New Zealand in 1853.
In the 1860s Taraia was inclined to support the King movement but he was too old to go to war himself. In an effort to keep his allegiance the government paid him a pension of £50 a year. A contingent of Ngati Maru supported Waikato in the wars, but by 1866, when the King, Tawhiao, sent war garments to him at Ohinemuri, in an effort to renew hostilities, Taraia would not agree to become involved.
When Taraia died at Thames in March 1872 he was thought to be over 80. He had long been considered tapu, had never accepted Christianity, and had refused to adapt himself, his beliefs or lifestyle to the changes surrounding him. He remained agile and active until shortly before his death. His portrait was painted by Gottfried Lindauer.