Hone Heke’s importance
Rawiri Taonui in his review of my book Ngapua (NZB, October 2006) expresses reservations over my claim that Hone Heke Ngapua was one of the greatest Maori leaders of the last two centuries. Until recently, given Ngapua’s anonymity in the pantheon of Maori leaders, such a conclusion is understandable, but my biography will hopefully redress this.
Two examples highlight his enormous importance to Maoridom. The first occurred in the mid-1890s, when he was offered the role of leader of the council of paramount chiefs that made up the Kotahitanga movement. This was the highest position that existed in Maoridom at the time and the fact that he was not yet 30 when the offer was made suggests something of his extraordinary capabilities as well as the esteem with which thousands of Maori viewed him.
And when Ngapua died in 1909, his tangi was attended by 8000 people at a time when the country’s population was just under a million, and when a journey to Kaikohe – where he was laid to rest – could be an exhausting affair. No Maori leader since has had a tangi which, in real terms, has had such a high attendance.
Although largely shunted to the historical sidelines after his death, during the final decade of his life Ngapua was regarded within Maoridom as one of its greatest leaders – an assertion I am happy to stand by.