Volume 53 1944 > Volume 53, No. 3 > Obituary, p 106-110
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THE LATE HENRY MATTHEW STOWELL (“HARE HONGI”)
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OBITUARY.
THE LATE HENRY MATTHEW STOWELL (“HARE HONGI”) (1859-1944)

IT is with great regret that members of the Polynesian Society learnt of the death recently of Mr. Henry Matthew Stowell, of Wellington, who was a contributor to the Journal of the Polynesian Society at intervals over a number of years, beginning as far back as its second volume. Mr. Stowell suffered a severe accident three years ago, and whilst he made a remarkable recovery his strength began to fail about a year ago, and he passed away in the Wellington Hospital, on 23 March, 1944, at the age of 86. He retained all his faculties until the last, and continued to take an interest in current Maori problems. A large and representative gathering of both Maori and Paheka, including members of the Council of this Society attended the funeral.

“Hare Hongi”, by which self-chosen cognomen he was so well known, was very proud of his Ngapuhi descent. He was born at Waimate-north, at the headwaters of the Waitangi river, Bay-of-islands, in February, 1859. His father was John Sheppard Stowell, an engineer who settled in the north where he married Huhana (Susan), one of the four daughters of Maumau who was a member of the hereditary ariki family of Ngapuhi people, and who had been married to Matthew Farley, shipwright, in the early days of settlement, by the Rev. Petit-Jean. This ariki family, of whom other well-known members were Hone Heke, Hongi, and Titore, claims to trace its descent back to Toi-kai-rakau (see whakapapa attached). Hare Hongi's only brother, Samuel, died in Australia not long ago.

Hare Hongi as a child was sent to Auckland to be educated, first at Singer's school in Parnell, where he attracted the attention of Sir George Grey, and then, through the intervention of the Governor, at the old Three Kings college, mount Roskill, where he was distinguished for his knowledge of English and history and also for his athletic achievements. He became a first-class rower, wrestler, and runner. In 1876 he carried off the Northern Wairoa championship cup, winning all three distances in the 100, 220, and 440 yards events.

On leaving College he worked for nearly three years with a surveyor's party in the north, this also enabling him to study tribal lore and the Maori language as spoken by the great leaders of that era. He was singled out as one worthy to be told the inmost secrets of the northern whare-wananga, and was allowed to reside for about fifteen months with the famous tohunga, Nga-kuku-mumu, at his headquarters at Waitaha near the foot of the Ninetymile beach. Hare Hongi always spoke of this place as one of the most sacred, if not the most sacred, in New Zealand of those days. Here, sitting under a huge old pohutukawa, he learnt ancient chants, secret incantations, the real meaning of words and phrases even then almost forgotten, and the - 108 practice of the traditional artcrafts. That period of tuition under one who had acquired his knowledge in pre-European days, was a turning-point in the young man's life, and from then onward his main purpose was to become a master of the Maori language, to record its traditions and history as spoken from the lips of the great tohunga, and to impart from time to time to the people of New Zealand a small portion of what he knew. He travelled twice from North cape to Bluff, recording and studying tribal speech and tribal lore, and later published a text-book, Maori-English Tutor and Vade-Mecum, which is a classic in its own field. Like most Ngapuhi authorities, Hare Hongi always claimed that Ngapuhi is standard Maori and that the speech of other districts is dialect. He told the writer many years ago that he considered there was some mystery attaching to the scarcity of copies of his Maori Tutor. “One moment”, he said, “you could buy it in any bookshop—the next, not a copy to be got for love or money. . . . Now where did all those copies go”?

In the late 'eighties he was Interpreter in the Native Land Courts of Taranaki, with headquarters at Hawera, and in 1891, at the age of 31, he married Mary Rachel Robson, of Ngaere, near Stratford. Her father, James Robson, a sawmiller, came to New Zealand in 1862 in the ship Prince of Wales, and was a member of a Northumberland family whose recorded history goes back twelve hundred years; the remains of a castle built by the family in Hesleyside still exists. Her mother, the wife of James Robson, was Mary Harrison, a half-caste, better known to students of Maori whakapapa records as Mere Ngamai o te Wharepouri. Mere Ngamai's mother was Mereana Ngamai, a wahine-rangatira of Ngati Rahiri section of Te Atiawa tribe, originally of Taranaki, who had migrated to the Wellington district; the chief Te Wharepouri was her first cousin, and her parents were Rawiri te Motutere and Tapaki-marae; Mareana is buried in the Catholic burial ground of Tuara-whaiti at Petone. Te Whiti and Tohu of Parihaka were first cousins of Mere Ngamai.

Mere Ngamai (Mary Harrison) was born on Kapiti island, at Waiorua at the northern end, where there was formerly a large whaling station. Her father had been in charge of a whaling ship, and at one time had eight whaling crews under his command. Mere had one brother, John, who was a sawmiller in the Hutt valley. She herself was educated at the convent of St. Joseph's Providence, Wellington. On the death of her father, her mother married Wi Tako Ngatata, who subsequently upon her death, married both her sisters in turn, and when Mary Harrison left the convent, at the age of sixteen, he decided to marry her too. At that time, about 1858, Mary Harrison was an extremely beautiful and high-spirited girl, and the prospect of becoming Wi Tako's fourth wife was distasteful to her. She ran away from the pa at Waikanae to find her brother in the Hutt valley. Climbing the steep mountain track from Paekakariki over the Pao-o-te-rangi range, alone, she managed to find her way to her brother, and thus met her future husband, James Robson. The family records state that she carried always the scars from the severe lacerations her bare feet had suffered in the flight across the ranges. Mary Rachel Robson, her daughter, was also very beautiful, with hazel eyes and curly chestnut hair, and as a noted horsewoman, dancer, and musician, was the belle of the district when she met Hare Hongi Stowell; the writer's husband remembers the family well and as a small child went with his family to the Robson-Stowell wedding, a great gathering of relations and mid-Taranaki settlers, on the Robson farm which was quite near to the farm his own family had made from the - 109 heavy bush-land of the district. At that time Hare Hongi was in the prime of his manhood, well over six feet in height, with a fair complexion, blue eyes, and curly brown hair.

Hare Hongi and Rachel had seven children, six girls, and one boy (James Farley) who died during the influenza epidemic and is buried at Hawera. The girls were Eileen Constance, Doris Maple, Alys Norma, Olive Muriel, Mary, Beryl Charlton, and all are now married. Their mother died in 1939 at New Plymouth and is buried in Te Henui cemetery there.

During the years he spent in Taranaki, Hare Hongi continued the gathering of lore from the older authorities, and the famous tohunga of Karioi, Nakora te Mamu, often stayed with him. After he came to Wellington to take up an appointment with the Native Land department, he spent two years in close collaboration with a very learned old Maori authority from the Whanganui, who had unique knowledge of the Moriori origins—delving into the obscure references and allusions and studying old manuscripts. Unfortunately the kaumatua decided that what they were discovering was too tapu to be placed in the hands of Pakeha or published in books, and he destroyed many valuable papers. It was this belief, that the lore of the Whare-wananga lost its sacred quality once it was transferred to paper, that has caused so much knowledge to be lost during the last century, and research work is now carried on with great difficulty owing to the key to the allusions in old waiata and karakia being lost or preserved orally only and by a very few. In deference to promises made to his teachers, Hare Hongi refrained from setting down much of the esoteric lore of which he had knowledge; further, he considered that, with a few exceptions, the great majority of ethnologists are too materialistic to understand it.

In the course of the years, up till 1920, after which date he did not contribute, Hare Hongi made twenty-five contributions to the Journal of the Polynesian Society, either original articles or notes, translations, or comments upon current research. The Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington has a collection of other work by him, including reprints and typed MSS. Much matter very valuable to the student appears in his articles published from 1909 onwards in various papers and reviews such as the Wellington Evening Post, the Dominion, the Auckland Herald, the Christchurch Sun and Weekly Press, and the systematic listing of this material is a task which, though difficult, would well repay the work involved. In addition, he wrote often to the press on matters of current interest, and many spirited “duels” in correspondence were waged through the years over the work of Dr. Macmillan Brown, Fenton, Newman, Ettie Rout, and others. Again, the collection of this correspondence would be a weighty but valuable task for future historians and ethnologists to undertake. He also wrote some fine fighting letters in defence of the Maori cause generally, and in particular the correct use of the Maori language, place-names, and personal names. In later years he vigorously championed the cause of the Orakei Maoris, with whom he had close relationship through the inter-tribal marriages of Ngapuhi and Ngati Whatua; he had lived for some time with these relations, including his uncle Paora Tuhaere, as a boy, and in addition to knowing the members of the tribe living at Orakei village (or Okahu as the kainga by the beach is called) he knew the branch of the family at Reweti, Kaipara. He had sailed the great war-canoe of Orakei, Tahere-tikitiki, on the Waitemata harbour. He told the writer in 1936 that he had himself carved a tauihu for this historic canoe, which was taken to the Waikato - 110 and abandoned among the reeds and swamps of the lower reaches of the river; one portion of the canoe is said to be incorporated in the structure of the beautiful carved house “Mahinaarangi” at Ngaruawahia pa. The tauihu which Hare Hongi carved is now, he claimed in the War Memorial Museum at Auckland. The writer examined the specimen which he said was his work, but cannot vouch for its identity, although its details tallied with the description furnished by Hare Hongi himself, who had not seen it for many years but remembered the workmanship.

In January, 1929, he began a series of broadcast talks from 2YA, planned to include instruction in the correct pronunciation and meanings of Maori place-names, phrases, proverbs, and so on. Those that were given attracted many listeners, but Hare himself was dissatisfied with the radio as a medium and soon discontinued them; he said that it was not the Maori way to plunge hastily into the exposition of tribal or racial affairs; that the whole technique of modern broadcasting, with prepared script, fixed time-period and so on, was the exact antithesis of the traditional methods of the Maori orator or teacher, and that he could not talk with inspiration and freedom to an audience who could neither see nor be seen.

For many years Hare Hongi was a personal friend of Sir James Carroll, and was associated with much of “Timi Kara's” work, as interpreter, agent, and adviser. It was probably due to the influence and support of Hare Hongi that Sir James Carroll when Native Minister maintained his famous taihoa policy, checking the indiscriminate Europeanization of the Maori race and thus paving the way for Sir Apirana Ngata's later wise and statesmanlike schemes such as consolidation and co-operative buying. It also probably made possible the later remarkable rennaissance in Maori craftsmanship and traditions.

In his middle years, Hare Hongi published much verse, distinguished by its enthusiasm and stirring quality. Examples of the work of this period are his poems “The Defence of Orakau”, and “Maori Hymn to the Creator”.

So in 1944 passed this remarkable character whose life spanned nearly ninety years in time but nearly nine centuries in racial tradition. He had known and talked with the great chiefs and warriors and tohunga-priests who preserved the racial records of the Maori people. He maintained throughout his life the belief, founded on those contacts and teachings, that the Maori people were autochthones; that New Zealand, or Nukuroa as it is called in the old chants, is part of a now vanished land, reduced to its present dimensions and aspects through great cataclysms and gradual alterations in the land levels. These views he was accustomed to maintain with a wealth of detail gleaned from his teachers of old, lore astronomical, geological, mythopoetical, and etymological. He was not alone of course in these beliefs, as a perusal of the files of the Polynesian Journal will disclose. Hare Hongi felt that time would justify his statements and demonstrate the accuracy of the esoteric knowledge of Nga-kuku-mumu and others, and he was prepared to wait for the day when research or accidental discovery would support the contentions of the secret science of the Maori people.

—M. Chapman-Taylor, Silverstream.
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