Te Rangihaeata lived during the particularly turbulent time when land-grabbing had gathered momentum, bringing mixed though mostly devastating consequences for Maori. Like George French Angas's, Oliver's representations of people, in this case a great Ngati Toa Rangatira, imply mana by virtue of the kakahu they are depicted wearing. Here, Te Rangihaeata's include a kaitaka, or korowai, with a highly-embellished taniko border, as well as what appears to be a kahukuri, the most prestigious of Maori cloaks, made from dog skin. Te Rangihaeata's facial moko also indicates his great mana.
However, neither the Government forces who periodically pursued him nor the artist ever fully 'captured' Te Rangihaeata. In this watercolour he is distorted, incongruously in terms of the Rangatira's well-documented ferocity in battle. Intentionally or not, Oliver emasculates his body, giving it an impossible tip-toed pose. The odd, outwardly-turning hand holding a mere renders the muscular arm weaker than it ought to be. In view of such an effete representation it is a matter of some irony that Te Rangihaeata never gave in to colonialist power during his lifetime, passing away as the result of an introduced disease rather than in one of the battles in which he was such a noted participant.
This watercolour depiction does little to diminish the power he held during his lifetime and affords only a glimpse of both the artist's abilities as well as the story of a Rangatira who never acknowledged another authority. JD
The Fletcher Trust Collection
Captain Oliver commanded H.M.S Fly, which carried out coastal surveys in New Zealand and Pacific waters during 1847-51. A prolific watercolourist who made many sketches of Maori, he published seven of them as lithographs in 1852, at which time some errors in figure drawing were corrected by the publishers, Dickinson Bros of London.
In his journal, Oliver commented on the beauty and dignity of Te Rangihaeata in his native dress, adding "there is no one with the least feeling for the Picturesque who would not lament the change in the native costume." Oliver described him as being "from both descent and energy of character the most influential native in the southern district of New Zealand . . . Te Rangihaeata had not embraced Christianity up to the point of my departure and still affected to despise the manners, customs, arts and religion of the Pakehas."
Born in the Kawhia area, probably in the 1770s, Te Rangihaeata was known primarily as a war leader. It is said that he was his uncle Te Rauparaha's lieutenant, credited with possessing greater ferocity than the older man, who was known more for his cunning. The story of their warlike exploits over large areas of the country is long and well-known. In later life, Te Rangihaeata ceased active opposition to European expansion. He visited Otaki in 1853 to say farewell to Governor Grey, attending church services though still without ever embracing Christianity. He died on 18 November 1855 as the result of pneumonia contracted after lying in a stream to reduce fever caused by measles. PS