Kehu - Māori Guide Extraordinaire
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Kehu was hired from his chiefs to provide information and act as a guide for New Zealand Company explorers. In 1842 he assisted Thomas Brunner’s survey of Motueka and hinterlands, and later other districts. In February/March 1846 Kehu led Brunner, Charles Heaphy and William Fox through the Rotoiti and Rotoroa districts to the Matakitaki. Heaphy wrote a glowing account of Kehu’s talent as bushman and instinctive navigator, saying he was also:
"A good shot, one who takes care never to miss his bird, a capital manager of a canoe, a sure snarer of wild fowl, and a superb fellow at a ford, is that same E. Kehu; and he is worth his weight in tobacco!" 1
He admired Kehu’s fishing expertise and recounted his methods:
"After supper … he recrossed the river, and, to dispel all feelings of lonesomeness, commenced chanting his Wesleyan missionary service, mixing with the translated version of the ritual special incantations to the taipo of the lake and the river for propitious weather and easy fords, together with request to the eels to bite quickly, and not keep him longer in the cold. Then, as he caught one which would not die quick enough to please him, would he introduce some decidedly uncomplimentary language which he learnt at a whaling station, and again subside into the recitation of his Wesleyan catechism and hymnbook, bringing in our various names in the versification. He did not leave off till long after we were asleep; and in the morning when we awoke, four fine eels were roasting for breakfast, and other four were hanging from an adjacent tree."2
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Kehu subsequently guided Heaphy and Brunner to identify and map a coastal route from Massacre Bay to the West Coast in 1846. When the party reached Pakawau Pā in western Golden Bay, a further slave was hired from the Te Ātiawa chief, Hemi Kuku Matarua. This slave was Tau of Ngāi Tahu who had killed Kehu’s father more than three decades earlier. Heaphy said “they became merry at the idea of journeying to Kawatiri [Buller] together”.3 The expedition reached the mouth of the Arahura River.
In December 1846 Kehu set out again with Brunner and another Tūmatakōkiri guide, Pikiwati, to follow the Buller to its mouth and explore country to the south; Kehu’s and Pikiwati’s wives accompanied them. The expedition became an epic 18-month struggle of danger, hardship, appalling weather and starvation. When Brunner suffered paralysis on the return journey, Pikiwati and his wife abandoned Brunner, but Kehu and his wife cared for him until he could be moved. The final sentence of Brunner’s journal of the expedition reads:
"… I found my native Ekehu of much use – invaluable indeed, but the other three rather an incumbrance – I could have made better progress without them; but to Kehu I owe my life – he is a faithful and attached servant."4
Sources used in this story
- Heaphy in Nelson Examiner (7.3.1846) ; Mitchell, H.& J. (2007) Te tau ihu o te waka, volume 2. Wellington, N.Z.: Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatu Incorporation. p.280
- Heaphy in Nelson Examiner (14.3.1846); Mitchell, p.280
- Heaphy, C. (1846) Notes of an expedition to Kawatiri and Araura on the Western Coast of the Middle Island perfomed by Messrs Heaphy and Brunner. In Nelson Examiner (5.9.1846-17.10.1846); Mitchell, p.281
- Brunner, T. (1848, June 15) Journal of an expedition to explore the interior of the Middle Island of New Zealand 1846-1848. In Nelson Examiner ; Mitchell, p.289
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Further sources - Kehu - Māori Guide Extraordinaire
- Hindmarsh, G. (2010). Kahurangi calling. Nelson, NZ: Craig Potton Publishing. p 176.
- Host, E. (2006) Thomas Brunner : his life and great journeys. Nelson, N.Z. : Nikau Press.
- Kehoe, E (1946) Pioneer explorers of West Coast : the story of Brunner and Heaphy : 100th anniversary of arrival at Grey.
- Mitchell, H & J: Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, Volume II. Huia Publishers Ltd, Wellington, and Wakatu Incorporation, Nelson, 2007: pp276-291.
- Rice, L. (1983) Brunner and Kehu : West Coast explorers. Auckland : Longman Paul Sharp, I (2008) Heaphy: Explorer, Artist, Settler. Auckland : Auckland University Press.
- Brunner, T. (1848) Journal of an Expedition to Explore the Interior of the Middle Island of New Zealand 1846-1848. In “Nelson Examiner” 1848, Enclosure No 12 in G Grey to Earl Grey: Papers Relative to the Affairs of New Zealand. In British Parliamentary Papers 1850: 343-378.
- Heaphy, C. (1846) Notes of an Expedition to Kawatiri and Araura, on the Western Coast of the Middle Island, performed by Messrs Heaphy and Brunner. In Nelson Examiner; instalments from 5.9.1846 to 17.10.1846.
- Heaphy, C. In Nelson Examiner. 7.3.1846, 14.3.1846.
- Mitchell, H. & J. (1996) Kehu (Hone Mokehakeha): Biographical Notes. Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, pp3-20
- Fitzgerald, Michael.(2007) 'Heaphy, Charles 1820 - 1881'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography:
- Journey of Brunner, Fox Heaphy and Kahu. In Jock Phillips. 'European exploration', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 20-Oct-2008
- Temple, Philip.(2007) 'Brunner, Thomas 1821? - 1874'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography:
Can anyone tell me the name of Kehu's wife?
Posted by Kelvin Woodley, 25/09/2020 10:41am (3 years ago)
I believe the name Kawatiri ,for the Buller is incorrect ,How do you get the name Kawatiri as a maori word .As there are not many nouns in the Language ,What i see as being correct is that Kahu ,has said Ko Awatiri ,and the Europeans Buller etc have heard it as Kawatiri . . Ed. A number of sources state that the Maori name for the Buller was Kawatiri - meaning deep and swift
Posted by Neville Reilly, 24/09/2019 1:04pm (4 years ago)
Kehu was utterly superb
Posted by Jakob Poulsen, 26/04/2019 3:53pm (4 years ago)