Ruatara, (circa 1787 - 3 March 1815) was a chief of the Ngāpuhi iwi (tribe) in New Zealand. He introduced European crops to New Zealand and was host to the first Christian missionary, Samuel Marsden.
Ruatara belonged to the chiefly line of the Hikutu hapu within the Ngāpuhi iwi. He was also the nephew of Hongi Hika. Ruatara's pā was at Rangihoua on the northern shore of the Bay of Islands. Rangihoua had been Te Pahi's pā until his death at the hand of whalers who wrongly accused him of being responsible for the Boyd Massacre.
In 1805, he first attempted to travel abroad, and signed up as a sailor on a whaling ship, the Argo, but was cheated and stranded in Sydney the following year by its captain. Undeterred, he signed up on the sealing vessel Santa Anna in 1807. He reached London in 1809, where he stayed for a little over two weeks before returning to Sydney. There, he studied British agricultural practices and met Samuel Marsden, before finally returning to New Zealand in 1812, and succeeding the recently deceased Te Puhi as leader of the Ngapuhi. He introduced wheat to his compatriots, along with a mill to grind it, given to him by Marsden. By 1814, he had "laid the foundations of a flourishing wheat industry"; the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand described him as "possess[ing] considerable business acumen", although his plans to set up a steady export industry were cut short by his death shortly thereafter.
On 25 December 1814, he and Hongi Hika welcomed Marsden and Thomas Kendall on Ngāpuhi land, and hosted his Christian mission station, the first to be established in New Zealand. Ruatara thus "secured a monopoly over the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand, a goose that would reliably lay eggs of iron, if not gold. He had also introduced Christianity into the country as a side effect. Ruatara's Māori neighbours were left in no doubt about who ran the new mission station or about who was the new rising star of the Bay of Islands." Through the mission, he obtained European plants, tools and pistols, "distributing European goods and knowledge" to Maori and thus increasing his mana (power, influence, prestige). He never converted to Christianity himself.
Ruatara described Marsden and Kendall as "his Pākehā", and was their protector for the remaining months of his life; he died on 3 March 1815, following a month-long "raging fever". His uncle Hongi Hika would continue to host Marsden's mission until his (Hongi Hika's) own death in 1828.
According to historian James Belich,
- "Above all it was Ruatara's enthusiasm for things European that led them to conclude that Māori were the perfect prospects for conversion. [Missionaries] saw his premature death as near-martyrdom. [...] A fourteen-page poem on his death won a prize at Cambridge University in 1823. Behind the admirably convertible Māori of the missionary and humanitarian literature lies the ghost of Ruatara."
- "RUATARA", Encyclopedia of New Zealand 1966
- Carleton, Hugh (1874). "Vol. I". The Life of Henry Williams. Early New Zealand Books (ENZB), University of Auckland Library. pp. 25–26.
- James Belich, Making Peoples; A History of the New Zealanders, 1996, ISBN 0-8248-2517-9, p.142
- J. Belich, op.cit., p.143
- J. Belich, op.cit., p.166
- "Maori intermediaries: Ruatara", New Zealand History online, New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage
- Ballara, Angela. "Ruatara ?–1815". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
- J. Belich, op.cit., p.148
- Nicholas, John Liddiard (1817). "Nicholas’s New Zealand". 1 & 2. Early New Zealand Books (ENZB), University of Auckland Library.