Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mike Butler: Mokomoko and the gullible MP

When a select committee chairman appears to have offered a signed blank cheque to a claimant to fill out the amount, you know that emotion has trumped reason in the highest level. That is virtually what happened as the Maori Affairs committee heard a submission from Pita Tori Biddle at Waiaua Marae, Opotiki, last week, on a bill to restore the character, mana, and reputation of chief Mokomoko and his descendents.

My article titled “Mokomoko, murder, and money”, published in December, outlined the 1992 pardon, the evidence that convicted Mokomoko and led to his execution at Mount Eden jail on May 17, 1866, the exhumation in 1989, and details of the frenzied murder of Reverend Carl Volkner on March 2, 1865.

But when I saw that Maori Affairs committee chairman Tau Henare told the Mokomoko leadership group that: "What you want you'll most probably get. I have a funny feeling that we may break a few rules on the way” and “it has ramifications outside of our own country and I think we should get it as right as possible,” (1) I took a closer look at the submissions to the select committee and the historical record.

Volkner was murdered 25 years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, at a time when settlers outnumbered Maori and newspapers the length of the country kept these settlers well informed. Those newspaper accounts survive at National Archives in the Papers Past collection, which is a Google search away from any computer connected to the net. Another detailed account of that period is James Cowan’s The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period volumes 1 and 2, digitised by Victoria University and accessible via any good search engine.

A news report in the Papers Past collection shows that Mokomoko was one of five executed on May 17, 1866. Others were executed not just for killing Volkner, but also for subsequently murdering two people sent to investigate the Volkner murder – James Te Mautaranui Fulloon, described as a native agent and surveyor, and a seaman simply named Ned.

Those others executed at Mount Eden jail on May 17, 1866, were Heremita Kahupaea, Hakaraia Te Rahui, Horomona Poropiti, Mikaere Kirimangu. The executions were described in detail in newspaper accounts (2) In addition, 12 were jailed for life, five were jailed for 14 years, four were jailed for seven years, three were jailed for four years, and one was jailed for one year. (3) It was a huge event at the time.

The firebrand Pai Marire preacher Kereopa Te Rau, who instigated the killing, decapitation, and drinking of the blood of Volkner, and who gouged out and swallowed the unfortunate reverend’s eyes, was hanged in Napier on January 5, 1872.

After Volkner was killed, the government sent Fulloon to investigate. Fulloon was killed, along with the seaman Ned, on July 22, 1865, aboard the Kate, a trading cutter.

The government’s next move came nearly two months later, when a Crown force of 500 men arrived in the settlement in early September 1865. Cowan says that this force landed with difficulty at Opotiki during wind and heavy rain under fire from well-armed insurgents. That force took possession of Volkner’s church and fortified it. The Hauhau hapus of the Whakatohea fortified themselves between four and five miles up the valley. (4)

After some skirmishing, a battle on October 4 at a new fortified pa four miles from Opotiki forced the Hauhaus to retreat, leaving 35 Hauhaus and three government soldiers dead. A well-executed attack by government troops in the Waioeka Gorge on October 20 resulted in Mokomoko surrendering, with others. Yes, Mokomoko had to surrender after being bailed up by government troops. The firebrand Hauhau preacher Kereopa managed to escape.

Mokomoko descendent Biddle puts the blame for Volkner's death on Kereopa Te Rau, saying: "You always get a rebel and I can't tar [Hauhau followers] with the same brush."

Biddle did not say that his ancestor Mokomoko was a Hauhau. (5) Neither did he say that Whakatohea opposition to the colonial government preceded Kereopa’s rabble-rousing arrival in the Bay of Plenty. Whakatohea and some Ngati Porou had tried to join Waikato’s fight against the government and were repulsed by Te Arawa at the battle of Te Kaokaoroa, near Matata, on April 28, 1864. (6)

Settlers called them Hauhaus, although they are now described as followers of the Pai Marire faith. The cult continues. The “Hauhau” name came from their battle cry “Hapa, hapa! Pai-marire, hau!” which they chanted in the belief they could ward off bullets.

Hauhaus were as well known in the 1860s as the Mongrel Mob is today. Governor Grey had declared Hauhau practices “repugnant to all humanity” and declared that it was to be suppressed by force. Apologists like Biddle try to distance themselves from Hauhau atrocities, but those atrocities became a part of the cult before Kereopa’s mission to Opotiki.

Founder Te Ua had a vision on September 5, 1862, in which the archangel Gabriel told him that he was chosen by God to cast off the Pakeha yoke and lead his people into the promised land. Fanatical followers attacked and defeated a patrol of imperial and colonial forces at Te Ahuahu, north Taranaki, on April 6, 1864. The bodies of the seven soldiers killed in the attack were found naked and decapitated.

Hauhau fanatics carried the dried head of Captain Lloyd from tribe to tribe to use in worship and to gain recruits. Lloyd's head was distinctive because he was a fair-whiskered man with shaven chin, in the fashion of those days. As the white man's head was passed from hand to hand among the frenzied worshippers, some of the people, particularly those who had lost relatives in the Taranaki War, gnawed the dried flesh in their demonstrations of hatred and revenge.

Biddle says the government of the day “is equally culpable because the tragedy was linked to the work (Tau Henare called it spying) that the missionary undertook on its behalf.” Biddle maintained all the government was interested in was getting the economic base and getting the land for the colonists who were queuing up to come to New Zealand."

Land is an issue for Mokomoko descendents because the government confiscated approximately 448,000 acres [181,300ha] as punishment because it considered, quite correctly, that Whakatohea and other Bay of Plenty tribes had been in rebellion. It appears that Whakatohea had interests in over 100,000 acres of this land.

Aside from the high-sounding title of the bill, the Mokomoko (Restoration of Character, Mana, and Reputation) Bill, (7) a government bill introduced by Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, and due to be reported back to Parliament on April 24, let us be clear that Mokomoko’s family is seeking a payout. The bill intends to explore “the possibility of separate settlement negotiations between the Crown and Te whanau a Mokomoko”.

Was Mokomoko a hapless innocent wrongly convicted, or was he a long-time opponent of the government and an active participant in the frenzied killing of Volkner? Does passing legislation that describes him as a great chief with character and mana change history, or seek to expunge the record of atrocities committed by a savage ancestor? The sources quoted in this article show that Mokomoko's tribe sought to fight against the government about a year before the Volkner murder, and Mokomoko himself fought and surrendered as a Hauhau.

What will our descendents think of gullible 21st century politicians turning imagined histories into legal fact, opportunist claimants playing politicians for financial gain, professional historians tailoring reports to suit their masters’ demands, cultural safety groups rewarding and punishing civil servants for bowing to a brown-washed new orthodoxy?

One thing is certain -- the old pioneers who fought the Hauhaus around Opotiki in 1865 would turn in their graves if they knew about the Mokomoko (Restoration of Character, Mana, and Reputation) Bill.

If Maori affairs committee chairman Tau Henare is serious about getting this "as right as possible", he would tell the claimants that the 1992 pardon was more than adequate, that legislating to make Mokomoko's character and prestige appear better than it is would be out of the question, as would financial compensation.

1. Passionate drive to restore chief’s character, NZ Herald, March 9, 2013.

2. Execution of five Maoris for the murder of Fulloon and Volkner, Taranaki Herald, Volume XIV, Issue 721, 26 May 1866, Page 6

3. The Maori prisoners, Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXII, Issue 2747, 15 May 1866, Page 4

4. James Cowan, The NZ Wars and the Pioneering Period, Vol II, The Hauhau Wars.

5. Passionate drive to restore chief’s character, NZ Herald, March 9, 2013.

6. Tairongo Amoamo. 'Mokomoko - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10 URL:

6. Passionate drive to restore chief’s character, NZ Herald, March 9, 2013.

7. Mokomoko (Restoration of Character, Mana, and Reputation) Bill,


Anonymous said...

I read the comments by MP's when the bill was introduced to the house. All sorts of bizarre claims were made but no Mp's who spoke were of any doubt as to the absolute innocence of Mokomoko. However the report provided by the Ministry of Justice to the Minister in 1992, found that information submitted by the claimants requesting a pardon for Mokomoko did not cast serious doubt on the validity of the conviction and did not warrant the granting of a pardon. The only reason that a pardon was subsequently granted was that two men of Ngati Awa who were convicted and hung along with Mokomoko were granted a pardon as part of the Te Rununga o Ngati Awa Act in 1988. Despite considerable effort I have been unable to find any information that remotely points to Mokomokos innocence. The only evidence seems to be the oral history of the family. After all of the treaty settlements to date are we now going to start compensating any Maori family that can dream up some wrong done to an ancestor? How can a bill like this even get to Parliament?

Adam R said...

"Hauhaus were as well known in the 1860s as the Mongrel Mob is today. "

The Mongrel Mob is nothing like the Hauhaus.

The Hauhau were an armed force of native 'rebels' engaging in open warfare with the nz government, along side a number of other tribal groups, over sovereign issues and land.

The Mongrel Mob on the other hand is a 1970's street gang based on Western style outlaw gangs.

Anonymous said...

When Hekia Parata (National) supported the First Reading of the Mokomoko etc Bill on 24th Oct 2012 Hansard reports "In that regard I want to pay tribute to the Māori Party and to the Minister of Māori Affairs, who ensured that this bill would be part of our coalition agreement, that it would come before this House, and that we would memorialise the recognition of the restoration of the mana and character of Mokomoko in the way of this democracy, which is to pass it into law so that it may sit in our statutes mōaketonu atu."
What is the point of Select Committees if the outcome has been pre-decided as part of a coalition agreement? This may be Hekia Parata's view of what constitutes a "democracy" but it sure as heck isn't mine.