War chief of the Ngati Toa.
This famous chief of the Ngati Toa was born in 1768 or 1769, probably at Maungatautari, the home of his mother's people. He was the son of Werawera, a chief of the Ngati Toa, and, through him, was descended from Toa Rangitira, the eponymous ancestor of the Ngati Toa branch of Tainui. As his mother, Parekohatu, of Ngati Raukawa, was not Werawera's first or principal wife, her children were not of the highest rank in the Ngati Toa. Shortly after his son's birth Werawera was killed by a Waikato chief who boasted that, if his victim's infant son should also fall into his hands, the child would make an excellent relish for his rauparaha (an edible plant of the convolvulous family which grew in profusion on the sand dunes at Kawhia). Werawera's people thus named the child “Te Rauparaha”.
Te Rauparaha's prowess in battle and his remarkable qualities of leadership were shown at an early age. Although very little is known of his early life, tribal history records several skirmishes with Waikato and Maniapoto war parties, and he is said to have incited Hongi Hika to make his famed attack on the Arawas at Rotorua. In September 1819 a Ngapuhi taua (war party) who had recently acquired muskets which they were anxious to test on tribes living further south, passed through Kawhia, and its leaders, Waka Nene and Patuone, induced Te Rauparaha and his nephew Te Rangihaeata to join them. This party attacked and dispersed the Ngati Ruanui and other tribes, but spared Ngati Awa. At Kapiti Island Te Rauparaha concluded a temporary peace with the Ngati Apa, as, even then, he hoped to return later to occupy their territory.
When he returned to Kawhia Te Rauparaha found that his first wife, Marore, had been killed at the instigation of Te Wherowhero. This involved Ngati Toa in unsuccessful war with the Waikatos. After this Te Rauparaha retired to his stronghold at Te Arawi, where he decided to enlist support from his kinsfolk, the Ngati Raukawa, by travelling to Maungatautari. While he was there the Ngati Raukawa chief, Hape Te Tuarangi, died and Te Rauparaha was elected to succeed him. To consolidate his position Te Rauparaha then married Akau, Hape's favourite wife, and she later became the mother of his son Tamihana Te Rauparaha.
Back in Kawhia Te Rauparaha prepared for his tribe's migration to Kapiti. As he realised that this would take several years, he negotiated with the Ngati Tama and Ngati Awa for stopping places in their territories. Because these tribes possessed close blood ties with the Waikatos, Te Rauparaha realised that neither Te Wherowhero nor Te Waharoa would be disposed to permit Ngati Toa to depart unmolested. Early in the summer of 1820 the Waikatos, Maniapotos, and their allies attacked Ngati Toa positions around Kawhia. An invading army of 5,000 men struck simultaneously by land and sea, and Ngati Toa survivors were forced back upon Te Arawi, where Te Rauparaha had to capitulate after a siege lasting several weeks. There Te Rangituatea, a Maniapoto chief who was related to Te Rauparaha, arranged canoes for his escape. On the understanding that he and his tribe would be allowed to withdraw, Te Rauparaha ceded all the Ngati Toa lands around Kawhia to Te Wherowhero and Te Hiakia. Early in 1821 the remnant of Ngati Toa – numbering 1,500 men, women, and children – commenced their arduous trek to the south. Later in the year Waikatos attacked them at Motunui (near Waitara), but were repulsed. From Waitara the tribe trekked overland to Patea (autumn 1822) and journeyed in canoes to the mouth of the Manawatu River (Foxton). They then moved on to Ohau, where they built a pa and began cultivation.
Before Te Rauparaha reached Ohau, the Muaupoko of that district sent messengers who requested peace. Te Rauparaha accepted, but soon infuriated the Muaupoko chiefs by killing a woman of their tribe. They therefore conspired to kill him by guile, but their plans went awry and Te Rauparaha escaped.