This beautifully handwritten letter has a letterhead in detailed filigree pen work that reads "Pokopoko".

Gifted to the Whanganui Regional Museum in 2011, it is part of an extensive collection of archival materials compiled by Robert Anthony Leighton Batley, of Moawhango, Ōtaihape (Taihape).

Pokopoko was home to the writers of this letter, who were Winiata Te Whaaro, his brother Irimana, and their close whanaunga, Pirimona and Arona, all rangatira of Ngāti Hinemanu and Ngāti Paki.

The Pokopoko letter complete with hand-drawn letterhead. Author: Winiata Te Whaaro, February 1883. Photo/Supplied
The Pokopoko letter complete with hand-drawn letterhead. Author: Winiata Te Whaaro, February 1883. Photo/Supplied

Winiata, who had previously managed sheep, bought a small number of sheep for £50 in 1877. He started at Waiokaha and moved to Pokopoko where water and firewood was plentiful. Pokopoko was part of an extensive and fertile block of land named Mangaohane.

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Winiata Te Whaaro married Pēti Mokopuna, and all but the four oldest of their 11 children were born at Pokopoko. Everyone thrived, with a '"wharepuni built of timber", a "wooden building", a "woolshed clad in manuka bark", a "fenced stockyard" and "houses" used year after year for shearing. Winiata increased his flock to 11,000 by 1892.

John Studholme Senior coveted the lush Mangaohane lands and engaged Walter Buller, a prominent lawyer, and others, to help him attain the land. Beginning in December 1879, he dragged Winiata through the courts with relentless litigation.

Written in te reo Māori, and dated February 18, 1883, this letter is addressed to George Donnelly and the police. It states that the writers are not afraid of Donnelly's threats to send the police in to evict them from their land that Donnelly, John Studholme and McLean wished to possess.

Studholme was well connected with key judicial and political figures. The Crown, through the Native Land Court process, facilitated the privatisation, alienation and fragmentation of the Mangaohane land block.

Winiata Te Whaaro at left in late 19th century. Photo / S Carnell
Winiata Te Whaaro at left in late 19th century. Photo / S Carnell

The Crown also assisted Studholme by passing legislation on several occasions, which he could use to give effect to deeds that were otherwise invalid and were in breach of the Native Land Amendment Act 1883.

In 1895, the Validation of Invalid Land Sales Act was passed and thus Pākehā misdealings concerning Māori land were instantly legitimised. In 1896, Studholme secured land titles on Mangaohane and Pokopoko and sought aid to evict the "illegal squatters" when they would not leave voluntarily.

On Tuesday, May 18, 1897, Sergeant Cullen of Whanganui, assisted by constables Sherman and Black, with Barnes as the interpreter, arrested Winiata Te Whaaro.

Ngāti Hinemanu and Ngāti Paki community were forcibly evicted from their Mangaohane lands in the middle of the night. Winiata and his immediate whānau were marched through the cold Makokomiko Stream to Waiokaha.

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The rest of the community was dispersed and threatened with imprisonment if any people returned.

The men in the arresting party reported that they destroyed five houses, sheds full of wool bales, a store and the church by setting them alight. They took the 10,000 sheep and the Winiata land, over 10,000 acres, was confiscated.

Winiata was transported to Wellington. Two days passed before he was finally fed. His jailers did not want him to die on their hands. Winiata Te Whaaro established Winiata Marae, on State Highway 1, just two kilometres south of Ōtaihape. His legacy for Ngāti Hinemanu and Ngāti Paki lives on, and so do his words:

Me tū rangatira tātou mai i tētehi whakatipuranga ki tētehi.
Let our integrity and noble qualities be seen from one generation to the next.

Āwhina Twomey is Kaitiaki Taonga Māori and Kaiwhakaako Māori at Whanganui Regional Museum.