Mātenga Paerata

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: 
Signed as: 
Probable name: 
Mātenga Paerata
Ngāti Kahu, Te Rarawa, Te Patukoraha
1835 residence: 
Tohu (signature): 

Mātenga Paerata was associated with Pairātahi pā, near Rangaunu. Born around 1795, he was said to have had seven wives, including Ere Awarau of Ngāi Takoto. According to tribal historian Shane Jones, ‘Paerata’ is a transliteration of ‘pilot’ – Paerata piloted a number of the early vessels coming up into that part of Northland. The name Mātenga (Marsden) was taken when he was baptised.

An early convert to Christianity, in December 1834 Paerata guided the missionary William Gilbert Puckey along Te Ara Wairua, the spirit trail on the way to Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Rēinga) at the top of the North Island. The Anglican missionaries were then considering whether to establish a station at Kaitāia, and were aware of the importance to Māori of their path to Te Rerenga Wairua. While guiding Puckey there, Paerata and others in the group were questioned by local Māori at Houhora as to their motives for wanting to travel to this most sacred place. They strongly advised Paerata not to continue – a number of angry speeches were made, and some threatened to waylay the missionaries as they were returning to their station.

As promised, on their return the group was confronted at a large gathering of hapū, who were concerned that they might have cut the aka – the ladder down to the sea, whereby spirits were understood to depart for Hawaiki – thus causing destruction to the whole island. Puckey wrote in his journal:

When about 100 natives had assembled, speeches on the occasion of the visit to the Reinga were made... After two old Chiefs had spoken their minds on the subject, and had declared 'it was a very wicked thing to cut away their ladder to the Reinga, and nothing but right that Paerata’s property should be taken as a payment.' Paerata then rose, and made an animated speech in defence of his new belief, which lasted two hours. [1]

Paerata assured the hui that the path had not been disturbed, and that ‘the road still lay straight’ for those who believed in the old ways. However, as for himself, he now believed in the Christian concept of afterlife.

Paerata was the first rangatira to sign He Whakaputanga, on 28 October 1835. And on 28 April 1840 at Kaitāia, he signed the Waitangi sheet of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. During the hui he put his faith in the missionaries: 'We shall not be made slaves by these people… If what we hear from our teachers are not lies, then what we hear from the Governor is true.' [2]

[1] W. G. Puckey, Journal, quoted in Walter Brodie, Remarks on the Past and Present State of New Zealand, its Government, Capabilities and Prospects with a Statement of the Question of the Land-claims, and Remarks on the New Zealand Land Company: Also, a Description (Never Before Published) of its Indigenous Exports and Hints on Emigration, the Result of Five Years’ Residence in the Colony, Whittaker & Co., London, pp. 170–71.

[2] Journal account of Dr John Johnson of the Kaitāia Treaty meeting, quoted in Anne Salmond, ‘Treaty Transactions: Waitangi, Mangungu and Kaitaia, 1840’, Waitangi Tribunal Research Report, WAI 45, F19, 1991, pp.52-53, Waitangi Tribunal.

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