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Story: Te Kakapi, Rīpeka Wharawhara-i-te-rangi

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Te Kakapi, Rīpeka Wharawhara-i-te-rangi


Te Āti Awa woman of mana

This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Te Kakapi, also known as Wharawhara-i-te-rangi, was born in Taranaki. She was the niece of the great Te Āti Awa leader Te Wharepōuri: he treated her, and her brothers Mākere and Mātene Tauwhare, the children of his sister Mātengakūao and her husband, Rangiatia, as his own. Through Te Wharepōuri, Te Kakapi was descended from Te Whiti-o-Rongomai I, the ancestor of Ngāti Te Whiti hapū of Te Āti Awa. Through Āniwaniwa, Te Whiti's son and the husband of Tāwhirikura, she was closely connected with another Te Āti Awa hapū, Ngāti Tāwhirikura.

Te Kakapi's connections and her descent gave her mana, and this shaped her life. During her lifetime sections of Te Āti Awa, some led by Te Wharepōuri, migrated from Taranaki to find a home in the south secure from enemies, especially those from Waikato. Her part in the conflicts and the peacemaking between the new arrivals and the tangata whenua of Wairarapa illustrates how women of mana were used in the diplomatic relationships between tribes.

About 1832 the migration Tama-te-uaua, led by Te Wharepōuri and other leaders came south. Later, they settled in Wairarapa, after the local people were defeated at the battle of Pehikatea and withdrew to Nukutaurua on the Māhia peninsula. Te Kakapi settled with Te Wharepōuri and his people near present day Featherston.

Nuku-pewapewa, the Ngāti Kahukura-awhitia chief and war leader of the Wairarapa people at Nukutaurua, then returned to Wairarapa with Heretaunga (Hawke's Bay) allies from four hapū led by Te Hapūku. Te Hapūku retreated when he saw how numerous the newcomers were; but Nuku-pewapewa led his people against the pā held by Te Wharepōuri. Te Wharepōuri himself barely escaped by leaping down a cliff, but his wife, Te Uamairangi (or Te Urumairangi), and Te Kakapi, were among those captured.

Through the intervention of Nuku-pewapewa the prisoners were not killed, but sent in his canoe, Ngatoto, to nearby Otauira. He released both and, with an escort of his men, sent Te Uamairangi back to her husband to ask him why he had come to take the lands of Nuku-pewapewa's people. She responded to this peaceful overture by giving him Te Kakapi. Nuku-pewapewa returned with her to Hawke's Bay.

Because she was Te Wharepōuri's kin, and because of her beauty, Te Kakapi aroused much interest among the chiefs of Waimarama and Heretaunga. Te Hapūku and Kurupō Te Moananui, both of the highest rank, sought her for themselves. But Nuku-pewapewa kept her to use in a bid to make peace and return to the Wairarapa.

Te Wharepōuri had withdrawn from Wairarapa to Ngauranga, near present day Wellington. There he and his people raised pigs and grew corn to pay their passage to Nukutaurua. About 1840 he travelled north with about 15 followers. By this time many of the people at Nukutaurua had became Christian. Te Kakapi herself, now a young woman, was baptised there about this time, taking the name Rīpeka (Rebecca). The new religion may have helped in negotiating the peace.

As Nuku-pewapewa had been drowned shortly before, Te Wharepōuri negotiated with Pehi Tūtepākihirangi, who declined the first offer of a greenstone mere. He would agree to restore Te Kakapi only if Wairarapa itself was the ransom. Te Wharepōuri agreed, and may have stayed behind as a hostage while Tūtepākihirangi went to Wellington to ensure that Te Āti Awa would honour the agreement. Once the agreement was confirmed, Te Wharepōuri returned home and Tūtepākihirangi and people of many Wairarapa hapū returned to their homes in the summer of 1840–41. Te Kakapi was sent back with valuable gifts, including a block of greenstone called Kai-kanohi and 15 fine cloaks.

While giving testimony in the Native Land Court in 1872, Te Kakapi told how, 20 years before, she had been the recipient of a gift of land by Mītai Te Wehewehe Pōneke of Rākaiwhakairi, because she had been the means by which peace had been made between the two peoples. Her later life is mostly unrecorded, but it is known that she was given in marriage to a Wairarapa man, Īhaka Ngāhiwi of Ngāti Kōmuka, and at first lived at Ngāpuke, east of Lake Wairarapa. She died on 4 January 1880.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Te Kakapi, Rīpeka Wharawhara-i-te-rangi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t39/te-kakapi-ripeka-wharawhara-i-te-rangi (accessed 24 July 2024)