tree tops

A History of the Arawa People

Mitchell, Henry Taiporutu Te Mapu-o-te-rangi


Ngati Pikiao leader, farmer, surveyor, land development supervisor, community leader


Henry Taiporutu Te Mapu-o-te-rangi Mitchell was born at Ohinemutu on 5 May 1877, the elder of two children of Te Whakarato Rangipahere Taiehu of Ngati Te Takinga, a hapu of Ngati Pikiao, and Henry Walker Mitchell, a surveyor. Taiporutu, or Tai as he was generally known, had a younger brother, James Zealand (Tireni) Niramona. Henry Mitchell senior had arrived in Port Chalmers from Scotland in 1858. By 1867 he was engaged in survey work for the Native Land Court between the Bay of Islands and Tongariro. He then worked in the Native Land Purchase Office. As a result the family moved frequently and Tai attended several primary schools at Koutu (in Rotorua), Maketu, Waharoa and Havelock North. He received his secondary education at Wesley College, Auckland.

For about 12 months from 1893 Tai Mitchell farmed at Matata in the eastern Bay of Plenty. During that time he showed an aptitude for survey work, which led to his joining the Lands and Survey Department as a cadet in 1894. After two years with the department he joined H. D. M. Haszard, district surveyor at Thames, and was later attached to the staff of Kenneth Rennie, roads engineer at Rotorua. He was employed in the Lands and Survey Department in 1901, qualifying as a licensed surveyor in 1902 and working mostly in the Bay of Plenty.

In 1915 Mitchell set up in private practice in Rotorua where his services were in great demand by Maori and Pakeha. He was called on by the government to undertake survey work on the island of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands during 1921, and again in 1930 when he reported to the government on the water supplies on the islands of Mangaia, Rarotonga, Atiu and Mauke. After the latter trip he accompanied the ashes of Maui Pomare back to New Zealand.

Mitchell accepted leadership roles in both the Maori and Pakeha communities. He served on the Rotorua County Council from 1916 to 1923, and on the Rotorua Borough Council from 1931 to 1944. His professional skills made a valuable contribution to his own people of Te Arawa as well as to people of other tribes. He became a district surveyor and director of native surveys in the Bay of Plenty; took a prominent part in the consolidation of Crown and Maori land titles in the Urewera district, acting as interpreter to Judge H. H. Carr and R. J. Knight of the Lands and Survey Department; and even planned a subdivision of the East Cape for settlement. In 1909 he surveyed some 40,000 acres of Ngati Whakaue land at Rotorua for lease for farming. He was a member of the Waiariki District Maori Land Board from 1906 to 1913 and was appointed a member of the village committee at Ohinemutu in 1910. In 1916 he opposed the official licensing of guides at Ohinemutu village, on the grounds that payment for guiding would put unwanted temptations in the way of Maori, and that tourists should have free access to the settlement.

Together with Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Tarawhai leaders Mitchell devoted a great deal of effort to creating scenic reserves in the Rotoiti and Rotoehu areas. As chairman of Te Arawa District Maori Council, in the early 1920s he was closely involved in organising the negotiations between government officials and Te Arawa leaders over compensation for the loss of fishing and burial rights in the Rotorua lakes district. The settlement of this dispute involved an annual payment to Te Arawa of £6,000, which was entrusted to the Arawa District Trust Board, newly established to administer the funds. Mitchell chaired the board until his death in 1944, exercising a strong influence on tribal matters.

Under Mitchell's leadership the board undertook a wide range of activities. In 1924 it purchased land at Maketu, the resting place of the Arawa canoe, for farming; the land was managed and farmed on the board's behalf. It reopened the original Kaituna River mouth, restoring pipi beds at Ngatoro; made grants to students for secondary and tertiary education; and made money available for the upkeep of marae. In 1934 the board made land at the Waihi Estuary a public reserve, naming it Bledisloe Park in honour of the departing vice-regal couple.

Mitchell's work in the 1920s was often bound up with his close friendship with Apirana Ngata. They had met about 1905 when Ngata attended a hui at Ohinemutu seeking support for his proposals for the incorporation of tribal land; Te Arawa leaders were unco-operative and refused to help. As Ngata stepped out on to the porch at the end of the hui, Mitchell was waiting and asked him home for a cup of tea. They later worked closely together on the Rotorua lakes case, and on Ngata's development schemes.

When Ngata was appointed native minister in 1928 he was determined to push ahead with his land development policy, but he needed landowners who were prepared to commit their land for the purpose. Mitchell invited Raharuhi Pururu, one of the leaders of Te Arawa, to discuss with Ngata the prospect of using Horohoro, an area of land that belonged to Pururu's hapu, Ngati Tuara and Ngati Kearoa. As a result Horohoro became the first land development scheme. Once the schemes had begun, Mitchell became their supervisor in the Rotorua area, working particularly on Horohoro, the Arawa–Ruatoki consolidation and the Taheke scheme. When the Native Affairs Commission sat in 1934 the administration of the development schemes was investigated. It was found that Mitchell had been placed in an invidious position since there was a conflict of interest between his chairmanship of the Arawa District Trust Board and his duties as a departmental supervisor. He resigned from the latter position.

Tai Mitchell was recognised as an authority on matters affecting the welfare and progress of the Maori people. When the Senate of the University of New Zealand offered him an appointment to an advisory committee to consider the problems of adult education among Maori, he found himself unable to accept for fear that the time given to it might interfere with his many other responsibilities. In the Rotorua district all hui and public events of any significance were organised under his guidance. He was active in sport as a secretary of the Arawa Bowling Club, honorary surveyor to the Rotorua Racing Club, secretary of the Bay of Plenty Rugby Football Union and the Rotorua sub-union, and a member of the Maori Advisory Board of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. In 1936 he acted as spokesman for Te Arawa in requesting the NZRFU not to schedule a game between the touring South Africans and a Maori team in 1937; he did not want Maori to be subjected to the racial abuse that had occurred on the previous tour in 1921.

Mitchell served as chairman of the Lake Okataina Scenery Board and as a member of the New Zealand Mission Trust Board and the 1940 centennial celebration committee. In 1927 he helped arrange a concert to welcome the duke and duchess of York to Rotorua, and in 1934 was one of the organisers of the tour by the duke of Gloucester. In 1928 he helped establish the Whakaue meeting house at Maketu, and he was one of the designers of St Peter's Anglican Church at Owhata in 1932–33, supervising its construction. He was involved in the restoration of Whakarewarewa village in 1929, and in 1933 he provided land to establish a carving workshop. In the First World War he had raised money for the Maori Soldiers Fund; during the Second World War he was active in recruiting Te Arawa soldiers. He was made a justice of the peace in 1924 and appointed a CMG in 1939.

Mitchell had married Te Aomihi Merriman (Meremana) of Ngati Maru from Parawai, Thames, in 1901; she also had connections with Te Whakatohea. According to family information, they had at least nine girls and two boys. Mitchell first saw Te Aomihi while surveying near Atiamuri; the Mihi Bridge over the Waikato River at Atiamuri was named after her. Mitchell was closely involved with a variety of people ranging from ministers of the Crown to dignitaries from all parts of New Zealand and overseas. He relied heavily on Te Aomihi to help provide hospitality to their many visitors, who often stayed in their home at Ohinemutu. Whether they came for business or social reasons Te Aomihi would make them feel at home. As the children grew older they were expected to help entertain and take a greater responsibility with the work.

By the mid 1930s Mitchell had become less active; he had been suffering from diabetes, and nearly died in 1936 from complications arising from an operation for appendicitis. He died suddenly at Rotorua on his 67th birthday, 5 May 1944, survived by his wife and children. A bell shrine was erected at Ohinemutu and dedicated to his memory, the inscription on the bell, 'Ahakoa kua mate ia e korero ana ano' (although dead he still speaks), indicating the esteem in which he was held and the sincere affection of the people who felt his loss deeply.

'Mitchell, Henry Taiporutu Te Mapu-o-te-rangi - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10 URL:

Historic Maketū

The Origins - Genealogy

The Te Arawa people of the Bay of Plenty are the offspring of Pūhaorangi, a celestial being who descended from the heavens to sleep with the beautiful maiden Te Kuraimonoa. From this union came the revered ancestor Ohomairangi. He was responsible for protecting Taputapuātea marae a place of learning on the island of Raiatea or Rangiātea, in the Polynesian homeland known as Hawaiki. High priests from all over the Pacific came to Rangiātea to share their knowledge of the genealogical origins of the universe, and of deep-ocean navigation.

By the time Ohomairangi’s great-grandson Atuamatua was born, the people were known as Ngāti Ohomairangi and lived in the village of Maketū. Atuamatua married the four granddaughters of Ruatapu. A generation later, six of their sons, Tia, Hei, Rakauri, Houmaitawhiti, Oro and Makaa became the leading family group of Ngāti Ohomairangi. Then war descended on the isle of Rangiātea, contributing to the migration to Te Ika-a-Māui (New Zealand’s North Island). This occurred over 20 generations ago.

The Journey - A new world

Houmaitawhiti, one of Atuamatua’s six sons, also had a son, Tamatekapua (also known as Tama). Tama took up the challenge laid down by his father: to seek a peaceful new home in the southern islands of New Zealand. It is said that these had earlier been discovered by Ngāhue, captain of the Tāwhirirangi canoe. Ngāhue had an axe known as Kaoreore, carved from pounamu (greenstone retrieved from the South Island). This was used to carve a 40-metre twin-hulled voyaging canoe. As the migrants departed from Rangiātea, Houmaitawhiti stood on the shore, chanting a farewell.

One reason for the journey was to find some meaning for the death of Tama’s brother, Whakatūria, killed in a battle with the rival tribe of Uenuku. This battle was the culmination of a series of acts of revenge that originated in the eating of Houmaitawhiti’s dog, Pōtaka Tawhiti.

Over 30 Ngāti Ohomairangi tribe members accompanied Tama. Among them were Tama’s uncles, Tia and Hei, the twin sons of Atuamatua. The canoe was originally named Ngā rākau rua a Atuamatua (the two trunks of Atuamatua) in memory of their father.

During the voyage they had a perilous encounter with the great ocean creature, Te Parata, who almost swallowed them. However, they were delivered from the jaws of certain death by a mythical great shark, and the people renamed the canoe and themselves Te Arawa in its honour.

At this time another canoe, the Tainui, also set out from Rangiātea, captained by Hoturoa.

The Arrival - Discovery and Settlement

When the Te Arawa arrived at Te Ika a Māui (the North Island) the crew explored the coast from Whangaparāoa (Cape Runaway) to the inner harbours of Waitematā (Hauraki Gulf). At different places the tohunga Ngātoroirangi alighted to perform rituals and conceal spiritual guardians brought from the home marae, Taputapuātea. Fresh supplies would be gathered before they set off, secure in the knowledge that the area was spiritually clear for future occupation.

At one landing at an island in the Hauraki Gulf, Tama was confronted by the Tainui’s captain Hoturoa over an alleged adultery. The resulting fight left Tama’s face bloodied. That is why the island is named Rangitoto, an abbreviation for Te Rangi-i-totongia-a-Tamatekapua (the day the blood of Tamatekapua was shed).

The western Bay of Plenty was chosen as the best place for settlement. As dawn broke, the canoe approached a prominent headland, sailing between Matarehua (on Mōtītī Island) and Wairākei (a stream that once flowed over Pāpāmoa Beach). On seeing the headland Tama rose and proclaimed, ‘Te kūrae rā, ko te kūreitanga o tōku ihu!’ (That point there [Ōkūrei] is the bridge of my nose!). His uncle Tia followed, saying, ‘Te toropuke i runga rā, ahu mai ki te maunga nei, ko te takapū o Tapuika!’ (From that hill to the south, and to the mountain here [Pāpāmoa], is the belly of [my son] Tapuika!). Not to be outdone, Tama’s other uncle, Hei, added, ‘Nō tua nei o te maunga rā ahu atu ki tērā pae maunga e rehurehu mai rā i raro, ko te takapū o taku tama o Waitaha!’ (From this mountain [Pāpāmoa], to that far mountain range to the north [Coromandel range], is the belly of my son Waitaha!).

As the canoe drew near its final resting place – a river mouth leading into a generous estuary – the weary but joyful crew composed a haka. It is still performed today to remember and honour Tama’s father Houmaitawhiti, his fallen brother Whakatūria, and the canoe that safely delivered the people to Ngāhue’s great island (the North Island).

References: Paul Tapsell. 'Te Arawa - Origins', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 4-Mar-09 URL: