Te Kahakaha

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: 
Te Kahakaha
Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Tautahi
1835 residence: 
Tohu (signature): 

Te Kahakaha, a brave and experienced rangatira, is said to have been a staunch ally of Hongi Hika. Historian Kathleen Shawcross described Te Kahakaha as a chief of considerable importance and a leader of the Ngāti Tautahi settlement at Waitangi.

As a member of Ngāpuhi’s northern alliance he took part in many taua: in 1831 he led one such expedition against the people of Tauranga alongside Tītore. In June 1831 the Reverend Henry Williams noted, 'Kahakaha with 4 Canoes went from Waitangi to Tauranga… He said his relations had been killed and he must go to seek satisfaction, that it was far better that they all should die than suffer such indignities.' [1]

Absent from the hui of 28 October 1835, Te Kahakaha signed He Whakaputanga almost two years later, on 25 June 1837. Parore Te Āwhā also signed that day.

Te Kahakaha was a key player in the battle of Ahuahu, fought between contending forces that included He Whakaputanga signatories on both sides during the 1845–46 Northern Wars. On 12 June 1845 Makoare Te Taonui, an ally of Tāmati Wāka Nene, had taken the undefended Te Ahuahu pā. Hōne Heke Pōkai then assembled his warriors and allies, including Te Kahakaha. Heke attacked the pā at dawn, while Te Kahakaha led another group to attack its rear. When Te Taonui saw Te Kahakaha’s men approaching, he led his warriors out to face them and engaged in a fierce fight. The battle swung between both sides, but from the fading sound of gunfire Te Kahakaha knew that Heke’s forces were retreating. He attempted to pull his men back to join with Heke, then changed his tactics and ordered a final charge. He was gunned down.

After learning that Te Kahakaha had been mortally wounded, Heke rushed to his side and reportedly said 'Aue! Aue! Are you slain?' The wounded chief replied, 'Son, I am slain, but in whose battle should I die if not yours? It is good that I die thus.' [2] According to Freda Kawharu, Te Kahakaha was removed from the battlefield: '[T]he tohunga Papahurihia with his followers also assisted, but the tohunga saw it as an ill omen when Heke picked up an enemy gun smeared with red. His fears proved correct when Heke fell, severely wounded in the thigh.' [3] Heke retreated to Ōhaeawai to recover, but Te Kahakaha died of his wounds.

[1] Lawrence M. Rogers (ed.), The Early Journals of Henry Williams, Senior Missionary in New Zealand of the Church Missionary Society, 1826–40, Pegasus Press, Christchurch, 1961, p.179.

[2] F. E. Maning, History of the War in the North of New Zealand Against the Chief Heke in the Year 1845, Geo. T. Chapman, Auckland, 1862, p.28.

[3] Freda Rankin Kawharu, ‘Heke Pokai, Hone Wiremu’, from The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

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Posted: 10 May 2018

brother to atuahaere i am quite certain