Te Rauparaha was the son of Wera Wera of the Ngati Toa and Paekowhatu of the Ngati Raukawa, he was probably born in Kawhia during the 1760's. Both his parents had chiefly rank in their tribes but it was on his own prowess that Te Rauparaha became the leader of his people. As a child his iwi were constantly at war with the other Waikato tribes for control of the fertile land north of Kawhia. His aggressive leadeship soon attracted a band of followers and he frequently took the conflict into the areas of other tribes, the fighting extended as far as northern Taranaki.
At some time around 1815 muskets became the weapon of choice and changed the character of tribal warfare. In 1819 Te Rauparah joined with a large warparty of Ngapuhi lead by Tamati Waka Nene, they probably reached Cook Strait before turning back.
Over the next few years the intertribal fighting intensified and by 1822 were being forced outof their land around Kawhia. Led by Te Rauparaha they began a fighting retreat or migration southwards, one which ended with them controlling the southern part of the North island and particularly Kapiti Island which became the tribal stronghold. Attempts by various Southern Maori tribes to recover Kapiti Island in 1824 were decisively defeated.
There were already numerous Pakeha whaling stations in the area and te Rauparaha encouraged them, establishing a lucrative of supplies for muskets thereby increasing his mana and military strength. In 1827 he began the conqest of the South Island and by the early 1830's he controlled most of the northern part of it.
The last years of Te Rauparaha's life saw the most dramatic changes. On 16 October, 1839 the New Zealand Company expedition commanded by Col William Wakefield arrived at Kapiti. They were seeking to buy vast areas of land with a view to forming a permanent European settlement. Te Rauparaha sold them some land in the area that became known later as Nelson and Golden Bay. Shortly afterwards he also signed the Treaty of Waitangi acceeding to British sovereignty over New Zealand but only with the guarantee that his chiefly status would be maintained.
Te Rauparaha soon became alarmed at the flood of British settlers and refused to sell any moree of his land. This quickly lead to tension as the settlers believed they had an almost divine right to occupy the whole of New Zealand. The upshot was the Wairau Massacre when a party from Nelson tried to arrest Te Rauparaha and twenty two of them were killed. The subsequent government enquiry exonerated Te Rauparaha which further angered the settlers who began a campaign to have the governor, Robert FitzRoy recalled.
Then in May 1846 fighting broke out in the Hutt Valley between the settlers and Te Rauparaha's nephew, Te Rangihaeata. Despite his declared neutrality Te Rauparaha was arrested by the Governor, George Grey and held without trial before being exiled to Auckland. He was allowed to return to his people at Otaki in 1848 where he died the following year, 27 November, 1849.
Te Rauparaha composed the haka or challenge that is performed by the All Blacks and many other New Zealand sports teams before international matches.