Rangi Kemara (Photo supplied)

Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara’s name is indelibly associated with the 2007 terrorism raids, with “paramilitary training camps” in the forests of Te Urewera, with the subsequent trial of the “Urewera Four”, and with serving nine months in prison for, as he put it, “being in possession of Pākehā rifles while harbouring Māori thoughts.”

He refused then to be reduced to a cartoon villain in someone else’s drama — and in this illuminating kōrero urges others to resist the process of polarisation that pushes people to the extremes on any issue.

Inflamed by what Rangi calls the “dumpster fire that is social media,” it’s a short step from being influenced to becoming enslaved. That’s an abdication of rangatiratanga, he says, and thus a denial of what it means to be Māori.

It’s time to revive an old tikanga . . .


In te ao Māori, no one gets to tell you what to think. At least, that’s how it used to be, and how it should still be.

In earlier times, in the rūnanga, you could present your view, for instance, about whether to go to war against another tribe. Others would listen, absorb your perspective and then go away. There was no pressure to make a decision on the spot. This practice enabled everyone to deliberate in their own time whether they agreed or not with your argument — or something in between agreeing and not agreeing.

A tohu (proof) of agreement would be made clear when your hapū went off to war against that enemy. Those who agreed would be standing by your side at the start line.

If some disagreed, but only mildly, they might sit out the war. If they disagreed violently, they might join the other side to fight against you.

This is tino rangatiratanga in action. It’s how it was in Te Rohe Pōtae — my part of these islands. Before that name, it was known as Te Nehenehenui (the great rainforest) and Raukura Moana (the turbulent sea).

Each whānau or hapū had to have serious regard for whakapaparanga, the interwoven relatedness of those they would be going to war with and against, and to live by the law of not going to war against your own people.

That is why some of my ancestors from Arapae and Maraetaua (just over the hill from the town called Te Kuiti) did not fight with Waikato in their initial war at Taharoa against Te Rauparaha, because, after much deliberation, it was determined that we were too closely related to Te Rauparaha, and even more so to the hapū supporting him.

Sound straightforward? It’s not really. Here’s why. (Whakapapa alert — bear with me.)

The grandmother of my tupuna Hari Maruru (the war chief at Maraetaua who led the main body of central, south-east Ngāti Maniapoto in those days) was Tauhunu of Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Koata, and Ngāti Te Ariari. These hapū closely aligned with Ngāti Toa, and therefore with Te Rauparaha.

Through his mother, Hari Maruru was Ngāti Urunumia, one of the mainstay fighting hapū of Ngāti Maniapoto. Tuawaerenga, the peacemaker (and one of his half-brothers) is where I get my Ngāti Rereahu side from.

The grandfather of Hari Maruru’s youngest son (through his second marriage) was also from Ngāti Rarua. This hapū fought with Ngāti Toa against any enemy that stood against them. Eventually, this son of Hari Maruru married into Ngāti Mahuri, another Ngāti Toa-aligned hapū. His wife was my great-great-grandmother, Whakatari.

Many of Hari Maruru’s nephews and nieces were also Ngāti Kahinga, yet another hapū aligned with Ngāti Toa. So to go to war against Ngāti Toa and Ngati Rārua and all of these hapū would likely have meant that Hari Maruru would be attacking some of his own whānau.

To complicate matters further, there were sometimes dynamic scales of disagreement. For instance, one tupuna fought against Waikato alongside Ngāti Toa in one part of the war, then remained neutral in a subsequent war between Hari Maruru and Te Rauparaha.

Does this level of complexity hurt your brain? So be it. Life is complex. People are complex beings. Put those complex individuals into whānau and hapū and the complexities multiply. Our ancestors understood this all too well.

The things that bind us together are more important than the differences that come between us. The enemy of my enemy is . . . not always my friend or my enemy.

Hari Maruru eventually did go to war with Te Rauparaha because of the killing of his mother-in-law. He was obliged under another tikanga to respond and seek justice. The final standoff at Te Arawi on the west coast, just inland of Taungatara (Albatross Point), is remembered in this waiata tawhito:

Haere atu ki te amiomio
I te nuku o te whenua
Rapurapu tao
Rapurapu taiaha
Tahi te moana
Tu e ‘Raha, ki runga
Kia kite koe i te ao rere mai o tou kainga
O Kawhia
Ko te patu a Hari, kua takoto i raro aa! 

Go forth and traverse
The length and breadth of this land
Gather up spears
Collect your taiaha
Meet as one at the ocean (Te Arawi)
For standing above (up on Te Arawi) is you, the great Te Rauparaha
Observing the vastness of your country
Of Kawhia
For the patu of Hari awaits you below!

The culmination of this final war was peacemaking between Te Rauparaha and Hari Maruru.

Hands up how many of you thought this story would have ended this way?

This is tino rangatiratanga ā tāngata, the autonomy of human beings, and it is the tikanga. It allowed for these and other types of intricacies to flourish. It enabled immeasurable complexities to materialise and, at times, the happy coexistence of dualities.

It’s because of that ability to settle issues without becoming ensnared in a dichotomy — “my way or the highway” — that I, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, son of Hari Maruru III, from Ngāti Urunumia, Ngāti Mahuri, Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Rereahu, Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Maniapoto, and many other hapū in this complex interwoven mat, am alive today to give you my take on this tikanga of ours and of other tribes.

This brings me to my central point.

Following colonisation (there should always be a mandatory pause after stating those two words) we have the arrival of the mindset of the binary, a rudimentary process where opposite views are formed and extreme positions are taken on each side of any dichotomy. Combine that with the dumpster fire that is social media, and tino rangatiratanga ā tāngata is nowhere to be seen.

Everyone is telling everyone else what to do and how to think about a given issue. And if you don’t see it my way, then you are cursed as kūpapa or abused as pōkokohua. You may find yourself being accused of being ihi kore, wehi kore and/or wana kore — that is, to be without connection to the spirit realm that exists within each one of us.

What is increasingly common is that if you don’t accept the smorgasbord of in-group views, concerns and conspiracies, then you are with the enemy.

Don’t we have enough on our plates to worry about already? Still surviving ongoing colonisation, recovering our reo, restoring our mana motuhake? Crawling our way out of the economic mire that we were relegated to?

Instead, new lines are being drawn in virtual sand.

“Aim, fire!”

We are flushed from friend lists, expunged from timelines. Whānau on whānau. The dogmatic cry, “You’re either for me or against me,” inevitably results in fragmentation and the sullying of the other’s mana. Rinse and repeat until everyone is isolated and alone.

Yes, we all have our political, spiritual and environmental concerns, which social media makes trivial to evangelise out to a large and disparate audience. Yes, you and I get to put those messages out into the ether. We get to state our positions.

But what about this old tikanga of tino rangatiratanga ā tāngata?

It tells me that you don’t get to direct me in how to perceive, feel and grapple with these things. And especially, you don’t get to make the diagnosis for me.

If I agree with your political, spiritual or environmental concerns, I will respond. I will be standing at your side at the protest or in whatever trench line that crystallises around your views.

This is the way of our ancestors. Now, more than ever, we need to bring this tikanga out from its state of hibernation.

Telling me how to think and feel strips away my rangatiratanga and therefore the rangatiratanga of all those who came before me, who sit on my shoulders and also on the shoulders of all in my many hapū.

If I were to allow that to occur, to concede that the world is entirely tou tika ānake — reality as seen only through your eyes — then under tikanga I would become mokai to you: enslaved. My whakapapa would therefore end at that point. This is another of our old worldviews.

There is one lesson I learned from those who passed their knowledge on to me, and from my time in Te Urewera learning from the Tūhoe nation. It was this: Do not allow yourself to be mokai to another.

With you (and your collective, whānau or hapū) lies the ultimate responsibility to form your own views without fear, and to act on them in your own way and in your own time, as you see fit. This will add to this complex tapestry that exists in te ao Māori.

Kaati noa, whānau. Step back and take a breath. Be wary of anyone who uses the imported tikanga of binaries as a way to divide us against ourselves.

Kaati noa ra.


Rangi Kemara is a customary forest gardener and fisher from Ngāti Urunumia, Ngāti Mahuri, Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Rereahu, Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Maniapoto (the hapū), Ngāti Hikairo, Ngāti Parewaeono, Ngāti Waiora, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāti Pukauae, Ngāti Kinohaku, Ngāti Peehi, Ngāti Hia and others.

© E-Tangata, 2020

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