Prophet and chief of the Popoto tribe, Hokianga.
A new biography of Taonui, Aperahama appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Aperahama Taonui, as well as his father, Makoare Taonui(q.v.), signed the Treaty of Waitangi at the Hokianga meeting of 12 February 1840. But whereas the elder Taonui merely made his mark on the parchment, the younger, being mission taught, wrote his own name, in the form “Abaraham tautoro”.
On 8 April 1845 Aperahama reported to the authorities that the Popoto tribe had commenced hostilities against Heke; but within a fortnight, in the fighting at Lake Omapere prior to the arrival of British troops, he was very severely wounded, a bullet passing through an arm and entering his body. He was taken to Auckland where, after many months, he recovered, though the bullet was never extracted. During his stay in the capital he met Governor Grey and, in January 1846, visited Waikato. For his services in the war he was given a grant of £15 and a pension of £5 a year. (By 1863 he was receiving £75 a year.)
Aperahama shared his father's suspicions of Heke, writing to Kati (whom he had met in Waikato) from Kororareka in March 1846: “Hone Heke only is still urgent to fight. Peace is not yet made–much evil prevails”. Early in the following year, as a precautionary measure, he was living with Papahia, a Rarawa chief whom Makoare Taonui suspected of planning to join Heke in further disturbances.
It has been said that Aperahama was a ship's interpreter “for several different European languages”. Although this claim is surely somewhat exaggerated, it is quite possible that on his travels between Auckland and the north in the Victoria and other vessels his services as interpreter were sometimes called upon. He would surely have acquired some knowledge of the English language during his long convalescence in Auckland in 1845 and on subsequent visits (in 1858 Governor Gore Browne presented him with an English dictionary and a writing desk); moreover, being mission educated and himself a mission teacher–it is said that at one time he had a school at Rawene–he was of a scholarly disposition. It is of interest to note that, when forwarding a collection of Maori implements to Grey in 1850, he complained of the irregularity in receipt of Te Karere Maori.
Aperahama appears to have been recognised as the actual leader of his tribe for some time prior to Makoare's death in September 1862. In 1859 he was made an assessor at Hokianga, and in March 1862 attended the first Bay of Islands Runanga, at Waimate. He was also a member of the Hokianga Runanga, and in 1867 worked for a peaceful settlement in a land dispute between the Uritaniwha and Ngarehauata tribes at Te Ahuahu.
A fellow Hokianga chief and assessor, with whom Aperahama was on fairly intimate terms during the 1860s, was Papahurihia, also known as Te Atua Wera. During the 1830s this Omanaia chief had been the leader of a religious movement, the first of the Maori nationalist cults, which opposed the spread of Christianity in the Hokianga; and in the 1845 war he had been Heke's supporter and chief priest–“the wisest priest and prophet of all the Ngapuhi”. Though he later made his peace both with Christianity and with the Government, there is no reason to suppose that by the 1860s there had been any lessening of his remarkable psychic powers or of his fundamental misgivings about Europeans. The mysticism and increasing doubts about Pakeha good faith which characterised Aperahama's later years may have resulted, at least in part, from his association with Papahurihia.
As a prophet Aperahama Taonui had a large following both in Hokianga and in Kaipara, where nga kupu o Aperahama are still quoted and debated. He was a principal agitator and supporter of a petition concerning Treaty of Waitangi observance, which was taken to England after his death by Hirini Taiwhanga; and it is said that when the Maori monument commemorating the treaty was erected on the Waitangi marae in 1881, Aperahama advocated that a Maori mat, not the Union Jack, should be used in the unveiling ceremony, prophesying that if the treaty (that is, the monument) were placed under the British flag the Maori people would lose the rangatiratanga which had been guaranteed to them by the Queen.
In his last years Aperahama spent most of his time amongst the tribes on the Northern Wairoa and Otamatea Rivers. He died in March or April 1882 and was buried at Oturei, near Dargaville.
Though much of his life is obscure it is doubtful if any other northern chief of his time has had a more lasting influence than Aperahama Taonui, the interpretation of whose prophecies and writings is of particular concern in present-day Kotahitanga, a movement much concerned with Treaty of Waitangi observance.
by Ruth Miriam Ross, School Teacher and Authoress, North Auckland.
- Maori Affairs files (MSS), Resident Magistrate's Letter Books (MSS), National Archives
- Maning Papers (MSS), Auckland Public Library
- Rawene Educational Centenary, Irvine, F. M. J. (1959)
- Old New Zealand … together with … the War in the North, Maning, F. E. (1948).