TE PUEA HERANGI, Princess, C.B.E.
A new biography of Herangi, Te Kirihaehae Te Puea appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Born at Whatiwhatihoe in the Waikato, Te Puea came from a family of rank, her mother, Tiahuia, being a chieftainess and eldest daughter of Tawhiao, the second Maori king. Her father was Tahuna Herangi of Ngati Apakura. Te Puea did not attend school until she was 11 because of the ban on schooling by Tawhiao, following the confiscation of land after the Waikato war of 1863–64. After attending Mercer School, she went to Mangere and Parnell Schools, finally leaving in the third standard at the age of 15 when her mother died. Although her formal schooling was limited, she had evening Bible studies under her father's guidance and supplemented this by her growing interest in Maori lore. Even at that early age she absorbed as much as she could of tribal knowledge by listening to the elders in speech and song. She was encouraged to give speeches at gatherings and much attention was paid her. It is said that this made her individualistic and inclined to be arrogant. Conflict with “King” Mahuta and influential elders led to their disapproval and subsequent open criticism of Te Puea. Reconciliation with Mahuta came when Te Puea dragged him to safety from a mob of horses following a defiant session with him in the street when he tried to change her attitude.
As a result of this reconciliation Te Puea became more prominent at meetings and hers was a voice listened to with respect. She became a woman of action whose interest lay in community improvements. At Mercer in 1914 she was evolving her plans, but it was the move to Ngaruawahia in 1921 that paved the way for her work which stands as a memorial to her drive and energy. In 1928 she was the influence behind the construction of carved meeting houses there and in marae improvements of all kinds. Although help was obtained from outside the tribe, Te Puea insisted on sacrifices by Waikato craftsmen who responded by working for three years without payment. Similar sacrifices were asked of, and given by, the men responsible for the dedicated task of canoe construction for the 1940 centenary celebrations. The resurgence of old-time arts was due to her influence and was one of her most notable achievements. It was her aim to lift up the Maori people by a regeneration of culture combined with social progress.
Her main effort in social welfare lay in the development of Maori lands, where she set an example by taking part in the hard physical labour of turning idle lands into productive units. Te Puea's zeal and leadership led to the success of her land policy in spite of disappointments and lack of finances. Her humanity found outlet, too, in seeing to the welfare of young children and, later, in the working of women's organisations. In the latter years of her life she became a national figure, the first modern Maori woman of more than tribal importance and a power behind the King movement. Her work was recognised in the award of the C.B.E.
Princess Te Puea married Rewi Tumoko Katipa. There were no children. She died on 12 October 1952 at Turangawaewae Farm, Ngaruawahia.
by John Bruce Palmer, B.A., Curator, Fiji Museum, Suva.
- Waikato Times, 13 Oct 1952 (Obit).