Nōpera Panakareao

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: 
Nōpera Panakareao
Te Rarawa, Te Pātū
1835 residence: 
Tohu (signature): 

Nōpera (Noble) Panakareao, an influential Te Pātū leader, was the son of Te Kaka; his mother’s name is not known. The name Panakareao (meaning ‘spurned by the supplejack’) recalls Te Kaka’s entanglement in thick supplejack vines during an escape from a visiting taua. Known as Noble or Nōpera to Pākehā, Panakareao was sometimes known as Tūwhare to his own people.

Based around Kaitāia, Panakareao embraced European contact and was motivated by the welfare of his people. With his guidance a mission station was established at Kaitāia, where he was baptised with his wife, Ereonora (Eleanor), on 20 November 1836. Ereonora was the daughter of Te Huhu, with whom Panakareao probably signed He Whakaputanga sometime between late October 1835 and mid-January 1836.

Panakareao was a tall, powerful figure, and his support of Te Tiriti o Waitangi was essential to the Kaitāia signings of 28 April 1840. During the meeting he spoke last and asked the people to accept William Hobson. He then spoke the now famous words, 'What have we to say against the governor, the shadow of the land will go to him but the substance will remain with us.' [1]

Only a year later Panakareao reversed this statement. Missionary Richard Taylor noted that Panakareao 'thought the shadow of the land would go to the Queen and the substance remain with them but now he fears the substance of it will go to them and the shadow only be their [the Māori] portion.' [2] Despite this, Panakareao sided with the British during the 1845–46 Northern Wars, partly due to long-standing hapū conflicts; in January 1846 he fought against followers of Te Ruki Kawiti at Ruapekapeka.

Panakareao died from illness at Ōruru during the night of 12–13 April 1856, and was buried in the missionary churchyard at Kaitāia.

[1] Claudia Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi (first published 1987), rev. ed., Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2011, p.84.

[2] Richard Taylor, Journal, vol.2, pt.2, qMS-1986, Alexander Turnbull Library.

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