Page 1: Biography
Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki woman of mana, writer
This biography, written by R. De Z. Hall, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 1, 1990.
Maraea Morete, also known as Maria Morris, is said to have been born on 24 July 1844 at Whakaari, near Tangoio, Hawke's Bay, although she may have been born at Waikokopu, Mahia. She was the eldest child of Puihi and William Morris. Puihi was a woman of mana of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, the people of the Turanga plain, inland from Poverty Bay. She died in 1856. William Morris was an Irishman who had come to New Zealand from Sydney, New South Wales, about 1837. He worked at J. W. Harris's whaling station at Poverty Bay and in the 1840s was whaling and trading in Hawke's Bay. Maraea was sent to school at the Wesleyan Native Institution, Auckland. In 1861, after returning home to her father, she decided to join her mother's people on the Turanga plain. In 1863 she married Pera Taihuka, a man of rank and a strong adherent of the Anglican mission at Waerenga-a-hika.
In 1865 the impact of the Pai Marire religion drew most of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki men into fighting. Pera and Maraea were for a time followers of Pai Marire. She described the ritual of this faith as 'fine fun', but left because 'I did not really believe in it'.
Maraea and Pera joined Wi Pere's village on the Waipaoa River, at Matawhero. In November 1868 European settlers a little way upriver were killed by followers of Te Kooti. By chance one of the raiding parties came into contact with Wi Pere's people. Most escaped, but Maraea and her child were among those captured. When Pera joined the captives, he and another family were executed on Te Kooti's orders. Maraea and her child were set aside with the other women. They were Te Kooti's prisoners for two weeks, and were later joined by others, including Wi Pere. When Te Kooti was attacked at Makaretu many prisoners got away in the confusion. One party was led by Maraea. She joined Wi Pere in the bush and reached safety after five days' travel. The following spring Maraea appeared as a witness before the Supreme Court in Wellington, at the trials of captured followers of Te Kooti.
In 1869 Maraea Morete began to give evidence to the Native Land Court at Turanga (Gisborne), to ensure her family's rights to their lands. A large area extending north-west from the Turanga plain towards the source of the Waipaoa River was identified. In due course her brothers and sisters came to settle on their land. Photographs of Maraea, probably from the 1860s, show her in both Maori and European dress, with a moko on her chin.
About 1873 Maraea had a son, whose father was J. B. Poynter, a farmer. In later years she recorded recollections of her life from her school-days until her escape from Te Kooti. She included descriptions of Pai Marire ritual, as well as the account of her captivity. About 1890 she became an active member of the Salvation Army. She lived on tribal land at Ruangarehu, Te Karaka, where she died on 8 October 1907, after being badly burned in a fire. She was buried near her mother, Puihi, in the tribal cemetery at Waerenga-a-hika. At her funeral two Anglican clergymen officiated, one in English, the other in Maori, and a Salvation Army officer gave a eulogy.