A remarkable figure in the history of the wars with the Hauhaus was Major Ropata, warrior chief of the Ngati-Porou, East Cape. A fearless and determined, even ruthless, soldier, he took the side of the Government at the outbreak of the Hauhau wars and the story of his stubborn chase after the rebel leader, Te Kooti, reads like wild romance.
In his boyhood he was taken prisoner by a Poverty Bay tribe and kept as a captive for some years, a number of his people being killed and eaten in the raid in which he was captured. In his later life Ropata took a grim and stern revenge on his oldtime enemies.
In 1864 he began to distinguish himself on the side of the Queen against the Hauhaus. In a fight at Tikitiki he killed a chief with his stome mere, in single combat out in front of his people's lines. For his attack against heavy odds at Ngatapa in 1868 he was awarded the New Zealand Cross. After the capture of Ngatapa, Ropata was left by Colonel Whitmore to deal with the Hauhau prisoners. He gave them short shrift.
In 1870-71 he grimly pursued Te Kooti through the wild forests of the Urewera, in spite of starvation, cold and snow. Innumerable stories are told of Ropata's prowess in battle, of his fearless leadership and of his unrelenting treatment of captured enemies. When a pa was to be stormed or a dangerous position to be won, there was Ropata in the forefront of the charge. His column was the last to remain in the field against Te Kooti.
In after years of peace he was the recipient of a Highland claymore from Queen Victoria. He became a respected member of the Legislative Council and was more than eighty when he died in 1897.
By the end of Te Kooti's War Ropata was recognized as one of the leading men of the Ngati Porou. He used his influence to strengthen the tribe's position both with the Government and with their traditional enemies. The tribe lost very little land by confiscation partly because Ropata helped to persuade many of them to let out their land on long-term leases.
In 1875 he stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in the Eastern Maori electorate. In 1878 he was awarded The Sword of Honour from Queen Victoria and appointed commander for the regional militia together with a pension from the Government, originally 200 pounds a year, although later it was halved. He was also a sheep farmer, sometimes successful and sometimes not.
By a curious twist of fate he eventually got the chance to arrest Te Kooti. Te Kooti had been pardoned in 1883 and since then had built up a quite large religious following. This was tolerated until 1889 when he decided to return to Poverty Bay, the scene of his earlier exploits. Ropata and Porter, still working together, were appointed by the Prime Minister to make sure Te Kooti did not enter the East Cape or Urewera region. The Ngati Porou were mobilized once again. They arrived on the scene just as Te Kooti was arrested by a police inspector, in time to prevent Te Kooti's followers from making a violent issue of it. Unfortunately Ropata missed the actual arrest because of ill health.
On 10 May 1887 he was appointed a member of the Legislative Council. He remained a member until he died.
Ropata died in Gisborne on 1 July 1897. His last words were, apparently, "Where's Porter?"
He accomplished a great deal in his life; rising from slavery to be a leader of his people and an important man on the national scene. It is said that there was only one goal he didn't accomplish—he never learned to speak English.
Born 1820 Te Puia Springs or Akuaku, Waiapu, New Zealand
Died 1 July 1897 Gisborne, New Zealand
Major, New Zealand Militia