In Vincent O'Malley's book Voices from the New Zealand Wars/He Reo Nō Ngā Pakanga O Aotearoa, wāhine toa give striking and compelling first-hand accounts. To mark Waitangi Day, O'Malley introduces an extract from the book, an account from Hariata Rongo - the wife of rangatira Hone Heke Pokai.
By 1840 northern Māori had forged relationships with representatives of the British Crown stretching back nearly half a century. The Treaty of Waitangi signed that year represented a deepening of those relationships rather than a radical departure from them. Sceptical rangatira had been assured their rights would be scrupulously respected when presented with the document for their consent. They weighed those promises carefully, considering everything in the light of their prior dealings with British representatives, not just in New Zealand, but also in Sydney, London and elsewhere.
So it was that a young and supremely confident rangatira known as Hone Heke Pokai came to be the first person to sign the Treaty at Waitangi on 6 February 1840 and also one of the first to become deeply disillusioned with what he saw as the Crown's failure to uphold its end of the bargain. That disillusionment saw Heke topple the British flagstaff on Maiki Hill at Kororāreka (Russell) four times, the final occasion on 11 March 1845 sparking the start of the Northern War fought against Crown forces and their Māori allies. After the war had ended inconclusively at Ruapekapeka in January 1846, a young artist called Joseph Jenner Merrett decided to seek out Heke.
When Merrett set out to interview Hone Heke he first came across Hariata Rongo at Whangaroa. Married to Heke, Hariata was a formidable woman of mana in her own right, the daughter of famous Ngāpuhi leader Hongi Hika and the sister of important rangatira Hare Hongi. It has been suggested that Hariata not only penned letters in her husband's name but that she composed the contents herself, exercising considerable agency in the process. Certainly, when Hone Heke died at a comparatively young age in 1850, Hariata took on a more openly acknowledged leadership role, encouraging supporters to continue boycotting land sales to the Crown and writing to oppose the establishment of a European town at Kerikeri, on the site previously suggested for a military settlement.
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Merrett's meeting with Hariata confirmed that she had written at least one letter to the Governor in her husband's name. It was also revealing of some of the horrors of war.
I asked her if it was true that Heki [Hone Heke] was still bent upon fighting. She said it was not true; that he did not wish to continue the war if the Governor chose to treat with him face to face. "He is willing to make peace," said she; "and I myself wrote a letter from him to the Governor, expressing his wishes. I confined myself to civil language, and it was a good letter. It is true that Heki said afterwards he would not make peace; but that occurred in this manner: Pomare gave him a bottle of rum, which intoxicated him; and while he was in this state, Pomare teased him by telling him the Americans would kill him for making peace with the English. That he was much annoyed at what the other said, and that he did at the time make use of violent language. Heki wishes the Governor to meet him as an honourable enemy, and shake hands with him; and that in return for His Excellency treating him with consideration, he will himself assist with his own hands in raising the flag of Great Britain. He had many reasons for commencing this war – one was, that he had been assured that French and American vessels would never visit the bay as they used to do before the British flag was hoisted. He wished both these nations to have their flags flying as well as the English, for he was friendly to the vessels of all nations. He had other reasons – he had been deceived; but if the Governor behaved to him as he expected he should, why he would reveal to His Excellency the parties who had fomented the rebellion. He had been told by Europeans that the peace was not sincere on the part of the Governor, who only waited for more soldiers to commence an exterminating war." She further said, "Heki has appointed places of meeting with the Governor – he might (the latter) choose which he pleased. Tamati Waka alone seemed to wish a continuance of the war; Heki had crossed his hands on his breast till he was compelled to strike by fresh aggression. All reasonable conditions for peace he would accede to; he might not express himself peaceably to all Europeans who spoke to him about it. He knew the Governor was not like the last – he had his own opinion, and did not allow Mr Clarke [George Clarke, Senior], or Mr [Henry] Williams, or anybody else, to speak for him; and, therefore, as he knew no one but the Governor himself had any business to speak, he did not intend to make any inferior Europeans the medium of communication with him. All the missionaries and other Europeans were slaves to the Governor, and they must only pay attention to what he says when he requires anything done. Then as the Governor only could propose terms, and was the only chief amongst the white men, he would treat with no other than His Excellency."
I asked Harriet if she wished for more war; she replied with truly feminine expression – "Oh, no! a rocket went so close over my head at Ruapekapeka, that it nearly frightened me to death; oh, no, let us live peaceably; the war may soon be ended: let the Governor treat Heki kindly, and he will find my husband repay his goodness."
Joseph Jenner Merrett, An Account of a Visit to the New Zealand Chiefs, Heki and Kawiti, Simmonds's Colonial Magazine and Foreign Miscellany, September–December 1846, Simmonds & Ward, London, 1846, pp.430–31.
[Editorial note: extract ends]
The Northern War - Vincent O'Malley
The Northern War was to have lasting repercussions for Ngāpuhi. Failing in its objective to assert control over the region, the Crown instead turned its back on Northland after 1846, leaving it to become an economic backwater. Ngāpuhi had entered into Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840 in the expectation of a mutually beneficial partnership with the Crown. Instead, they got nothing. Even after Ngāpuhi unilaterally re-erected a flagstaff on Maiki Hill in 1858 as a symbol of partnership, matters did not materially improve. The legacies of the Northern War continue to be felt today.
Edited extract from Voices from the New Zealand Wars/He Reo Nō Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa by Dr Vincent O'Malley (Bridget Williams Books).