Eruera Pare Hongi

He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene

On 28 October 1835 at the Waitangi residence of James Busby, 34 chiefs signed He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene (known in English as the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand). By 1839, 18 more chiefs had signed He Whakaputanga, which was acknowledged by the British government. This biography of one of the signatories was originally written for the He Tohu exhibition.


Signing details

Signature number: 
0
Signed as: 
Eruera Pare
Probable name: 
Eruera Pare Hongi
Iwi/Hapū: 
Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Tawake
1835 residence: 
Pēwhairangi
Tohu (signature): 

Eruera Pare Hongi, originally known as Hongi, was a pioneer of Māori literacy and the scribe of He Whakaputanga. Born around 1815, he was likely to have been the son of Te Koperu, a close relation of Te Morenga and Hongi Hika. Te Koperu’s death around 1820 left the young Hongi an orphan. As a result, and with the support of Hongi Hika (who may have been his uncle), he lived with the missionary George Clarke at Kerikeri, studying at the mission school there.

In 1825 the ten-year-old Hongi wrote the earliest known letter in the Māori language. As Alison Jones and Kuni Jenkins note, his confident letter ‘e te tini rangatira o ropi’ (to the many chiefs of Europe) was vivid and assertive. [1]

He was baptised by William Yate in November 1831 and took the name Eruera Pare – a transliteration of Edward Parry (after the English Arctic explorer). At this time Eruera was a constant companion to Yate; he had helped Yate translate scriptures into Māori during a trip to Sydney in 1828. Although Eruera is said to have married in 1833 or 1834, it is likely that he and Yate had a sexual relationship (Yate was later dismissed from the Church Missionary Society because of allegations of sexual relationships with men).

Eruera’s skill as a scribe saw him help with the selection of Te Kara (the United Tribes’ flag) in 1834, and he was a key figure at the signing of He Whakaputanga. Eruera is described as ‘te kai tuhituhi’ (the scribe) on the document. Some think that he simply wrote out a fresh copy of the text that Henry Williams had first translated. Others argue that his role was much more significant – that he not only wrote out the Māori text but also had a significant influence on its phrasing and concepts. According to Patu Hohepa, the evidence for this is the quality of the document’s language and expression, which were 'formal Ngāpuhi idiolect.' [2] While recognising that the idea and the first draft began with James Busby, Hohepa believes that Eruera Pare Hongi wrote He Whakaputanga. Interestingly, Busby counted him as a signatory when sending the English text of the Declaration to his superiors in the Colonial Office in London.

It is likely Eruera would have gone on to play a similar role at the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, but he died in October 1836, barely in his twenties.

[1] Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins, He Korero: Words Between Us. First Māori-Pākehā Conversations on Paper, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2011, p.188.

[2]  ‘Linguistic Evidence of Patu Hohepa’, Waitangi Tribunal Research Report, WAI 1040 Doc D4, 2010, p.36.

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