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Heni Te Kiri Karamu of Gate Pa

By / 28 February 2008

In the chapel of Lichfield Palace there is a stained glass window that recalls an incident which happened during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. On 29 April 1864, over three hundred Maori barricaded themselves in two adjacent hill-top fortresses at Gate Pa in the Tauranga Moana area, a hill that had previously been known as Pukehinahina. The larger pa was occupied by Ngai Te Rangi and the smaller by Te Koheriki. Heni Te Kiri Karamu was with the latter. The Maori group was surrounded by a force of 1500 British troops who had been ordered there by the governor. He suspected the people of Tauranga Moana of involvement in the war in the Waikato.

The day began in the pa with prayer as it always did,. Then the fighting erupted. Twice during the day the British almost succeeded in breaching the walls of the fort, but each time they were driven back. At the end of the day they fell back to their own lines, leaving many of their comrades dead or wounded on the battlefield. The rest of the incident is best told in Heni’s own words:

Towards evening I heard a wounded man calling for water several times, and his repeated calls aroused my compassion. I slung my gun in front of me by means of a leather strap. I said to my brother, “I am going to give that pakeha water.” He wondered at me. I sprang up from the trench, ran quickly in the direction of our hangi (oven), where we had left water in small tin cans, but found them gone. I then crossed to another direction where I knew a larger vessel was, an old nail can, with the top knocked in and no handle. It was full of water; I seized it, poured out about half of the water, and with a silent prayer as I turned, ran towards the wounded man. The bullets were coming thick and fast. I soon reached him. He was rolling on his back and then on his side. I said, “Here is water; will you drink?” He said, “Oh, yes.” I lifted his head on my knees and gave him drink. He drank twice, saying to me, “God bless you.” This was Colonel Booth, as I judged from his uniform and appearance. . . . While I was giving him the water I heard another wounded man begging of me to give him water also. I took the water to him and gave him drink, and another wounded man close by tried to crawl over for a drink. I gave him drink, took the can and placed it by Colonel Booth’s side, and I sprang back to my brother, feeling thankful indeed at being again at his side.

Most of the Maori defenders escaped from Gate Pa, but many of them were killed during a later battle at nearby Te Ranga. One who died was a chief and Anglican mission student called Henare Wiremu Taratoa (see 21 June), who in some accounts was the one who carried out the act of kindness. On his body the soldiers found a set of written orders instructing his people how they were to fight in the battle; orders which Heni Te Kiri Karamu fulfilled perfectly. They were not to harm women or children or those who were unarmed or wounded. At the bottom of the orders Henare had written, “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink” (Romans 12:20).

Heni was born, probably on 14 November 1840 at Kaitaia, to parents of both races. She was descended on her mother’s side from Ngatoro-i-rangi of Te Arawa and belonged to Ngati Uenuku-kopako and Ngati Hinepare of Te Arawa. While still very young she was taken to Henry Williams’ mission station at Paihia, and was there when Kororareka was sacked in 1845. She was evacuated to Auckland along with her family. A little later she was taken to Maketu by a relative and was a pupil at the Chapmans’ school at Te Ngae, Rotorua. Her parents were still in Auckland, and Heni returned there in 1849. She attended a boarding school at the first Wesley College, and then at a Maori school at Three Kings, where she became an assistant teacher.

She married a chief named Te Kiri Karamu, but left him after a quarrel. In 1861 she went with her three children to live with her mother at Te Puru near Maraetai. During the Land Wars Heni identified with the cause of Ngati Koheriki. A red silk flag named “Aotearoa”, made by her for Wi Koka, was captured at Otau and is now held in the Auckland Institute and Museum. At the time of the Land Wars, Heni, who was fluent in Maori, French and English, acted for a while as a translator to Wiremu Tamihana in the Waikato. In 1864 she was at Te Tiki-o-Te Ihinga-rangi pa at Maungatautari. On 2 April this pa was abandoned after the battle of Orakau, and Heni went with others to Tauranga. British troops had landed there in January to stop Maori from the East Coast sending aid to Waikato. Then followed the battle of Gate Pa. Heni and other women helped build the fortifications around Pukehinahina and were then told to leave before the British troops attacked. Heni, however, stayed. She was a recognised woman warrior and in any case was reluctant to leave her brother Neri.

After the battle at Gate Pa, Heni was involved in other skirmishes against Hauhau forces in the Bay of Plenty area. In 1869, when the wars were over, Heni married Denis Foley and took the name Jane Foley (Heni Pore). They lived first at Maketu, where Denis had run the hotel and the military canteen, and then on a farm at Katikati. Heni attended a theological school and successfully reclaimed various family lands. In November 1870, in a drunken bout of violence, Denis attacked her. He was declared insane and committed to an asylum for a time. He eventually drowned in 1890. Heni returned to Rotorua and became a licensed interpreter and an energetic worker for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She was also a secretary of the Maori mission and of the Rotorua Union. She died in Rotorua in 1933 at the age of 92. She is buried in the Rotorua cemetery.

In 1982 some of Heni’s descendants donated her portrait and a commemorative garden plaque to the Anglican church that has stood on the Gate Pa site since the 1890s. In the old church at the Tauranga historic village she is also represented in a painted mural giving water to a British soldier.

For Liturgical Use

Heni Te Kiri Karamu was born in 1840. Later in her life she was active in Maori concerns in Rotorua, where she died in 1933. She is best remembered as the compassionate heroine of the 1864 battle at Gate Pa on the outskirts of Tauranga. During a lull in the conflict, Heni heard a cry for help from a mortally wounded British officer. She crept down to where the officer lay and gave him and some others water to drink. It was discovered later that the defendants had been exhorted with the text: “If thine enemy hunger, feed him: if he thirst, give him drink.”


I wahia e ia nga kohatu i te koraha; a me te mea no nga rire nui tana wai hei inu ma ratou.
Waiata 78:15

You, O God, split rocks in the wilderness and gave the people drink in plenty as from the great deep. Psalm 78:15


E te Kaihoko o te ao,
nau te kupu,
ki te hiakai o matou hoariri me whangai,
ki te matewai me whakainu
penei i ai Heni Te Kiri Karamu
i whakainu ra i te hoariri
i roto i nga pakanga i Pukehinahina:
Meinga matou kia aroha
ki o matou hoariri
ki o matou hoatata;
ki te kororia o te Atua
Matua o te katoa. Amine.

Gracious and merciful God,
in faithful obedience to your Son’s command,
Heni Te Kiri Karamu gave drink
to her enemy at Pukehinahina;
grant to us also
aroha for our adversary and our neighbour;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Jesus, you told us
when our enemies thirst to give them drink;
we remember with delight Heni and all her whanau
who tended the soldiers wounded at Gate Pa;
help us to act with their simplicity.

Psalms 42 107:1-9


Zechariah 14:8-11 The Lord will be king
Revelation 7:13-17 Springs of water of life
John 4:7-15 Living water

Post Communion Sentence

Ki te matekai tou hoariri, whangainga: ki te matewai, whakainumia. Roma 12:20

If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. Romans 12:20

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