Page 1: Biography
Ngāti Rangiwewehi woman of mana, peacemaker
This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Te Ao-kapurangi was born probably in the late eighteenth century. One of her parents was Parepūwhenua and the other possibly Te Whangongo. Descended from Tamatekapua of Te Arawa canoe and from Hoturoa of the Tainui canoe, she was a woman of mana, who belonged to Ngāti Rangiwewehi and Tapuika hapū. Her two brothers, Te Kohuru and Te Waro, were considered to be most sacred tohunga. Te Ao-kapurangi's first husband was Rauru of Tapuika. They had two sons: the elder was Tarakawateipu, whose son Takaanui Tarakawa left a record of her life; the younger son was Te Hihiko, later baptised Hōne.
In 1818 Te Ao-kapurangi was captured by Hauraki, the Ngāpuhi leader who had gone with Te Morenga on an expedition of vengeance to the Bay of Plenty and East Cape districts. Brought back to the Bay of Islands by Hauraki, she became one of his wives. They had a child, who was accidentally burned, and the incident is remembered by Hauraki's taking an additional name, Te Wera (the burning).
Te Ao-kapurangi became involved further in Ngāpuhi warfare. In 1822 a number of Ngāpuhi, led by Te Pae-o-te-rangi, had been killed by Tūhourangi people on Motutawa (the island in Rotokākahi), and some of the fugitives had been killed at Ōhinemutu by Ngāti Whakaue. In February 1823 a great war expedition set off from the Bay of Islands to avenge these deaths. Te Ao-kapurangi went with them. At Tauranga they heard that many Te Arawa had withdrawn to Mokoia Island, and to reach there they decided to proceed inland from Waihi along the Pongakawa river valley. Te Ao-kapurangi told Te Wera Hauraki that she was concerned for the safety of her Ngāti Awa relatives who were living in this valley. He allowed her to address Ngāpuhi leaders, and Te Koki agreed that his quarrel was only with Tūhourangi and Ngāti Whakaue who had killed his nephew Te Pae-o-te-rangi.
At Rotorua Te Wera asked his wife what they were to do about her Te Arawa relatives, and again permitted her to address Ngāpuhi. Again she reminded them that those responsible for Te Pae-o-te-rangi's death did not include her own people, Ngāti Rangiwewehi and Tapuika. Once again Te Koki agreed that his quarrel was only with Tūhourangi and Ngāti Whakaue. Others agreed and Te Wera sent Te Ao-kapurangi with Taku, another of his wives, to Mokoia Island. When their canoe came close, Te Ao-kapurangi was recognised and given permission to speak by her kinsman Hikairo, a Ngāti Rangiwewehi leader. Calling from the canoe, she proposed that her relatives should go to a separate place, where they would be safe from Ngāpuhi. But Hikairo, although pleased by Ngāpuhi's consideration, refused to abandon his other Te Arawa kin.
Te Ao-kapurangi returned, and told Ngāpuhi that if she was to save her kinsfolk, she would need to be present at the battle. This was agreed to, but Hongi Hika decreed that Ngāpuhi would spare only those who passed between Te Ao-kapurangi's thighs. Next day the attack was launched at Mokoia. As soon as she had landed on the island she hurried to the house, Tamatekapua, and stood on the roof astride the ridgepole, calling for her people to save themselves. They crammed the house, and Ngāpuhi allowed them to enter it and respected it as a place of refuge. This is the origin of the saying, well known to Te Arawa and used when many crowd together in a house: 'Anō ko te whare whawhao a Te Ao-kapurangi' (How like the crowded house of Te Ao-kapurangi).
Among those who escaped from the island were Te Ao-kapurangi's close kin, Hikairo, Te Waro and Te Hihiko. They returned to the island in the night and joined the other survivors in Tamatekapua. The next day peace was made by Te Wera Hauraki and Ngāpuhi, both with the survivors and with the rest of Te Arawa. Ngāpuhi were persuaded not to take the conquered land for themselves, and not to pursue the fugitives. A permanent peace was established; Te Ao-kapurangi had played an important part in bringing this about.
With her husband and her two sons she travelled on to the East Coast where Te Wera established himself at Nukutaurua on the Māhia peninsula. The ally and protector of various tribes, he was assisted in his many battles by Te Ao-kapurangi's sons. Little is known of her later life, however; not even her death is recorded. But after her death her grand-daughter, Rangiwawahia, composed a famous lament for her.