Story: Te Rahui, Anaha Kepa

Page 1: Biography

Te Rahui, Anaha Kepa


Ngati Tarawhai leader, carver, assessor

This biography, written by Roger Neich, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990, and updated in March, 2011.

Anaha Kepa Te Rahui, also known as Anaha Matao, is thought to have been born in the early 1820s, at Te Koutu pa on Lake Okataina. He was descended from Te Rangi-takaroro by his first wife, Rangipare. His father was Te Rahui, a leading man of Ngati Tarawhai of Te Arawa, and a well-known canoe builder. His mother was Rangihonea, who lived before her marriage with Ngati Pikiao at Rotoiti. Anaha grew up around Lake Okataina, where he and his elder brother, Wiremu Kingi Te Ohu, learned their skills from their father.

During Anaha's youth Ngati Tarawhai, led by Te Iwimokai, were establishing themselves at Ruato, on the southern side of Rotoiti. Anaha often stayed there with his Ngati Pikiao relatives. In 1835 the missionary Thomas Chapman began to work in the Rotorua district, and soon Anaha and his whole family became involved in the new religion. By 1838 Anaha was living at Tahunapo, an outpost of Chapman's Rotorua mission station, with Houa Te Hauiti and other Ngati Tarawhai Christian teachers. With the other mission students he retreated to Te Koutu when a Ngati Pikiao force arrived to avenge the killing of their kinsman, Te Wharepurupuru, by Tangata-uia of Ngati Tarawhai; Ngati Pikiao withdrew after firing a few shots in the air.

Anaha spent the next few years living about Lake Okataina, cultivating the family gardens, learning skills from his father and other experts, and building canoes for a number of clients. The first canoe on which he worked was Te Arapaenga. In 1847 he and his parents were among Ngati Tarawhai who moved their homes and gardens to be near Chapman's mission station at Te Ngae. While his brother, Te Ohu, became a Christian teacher at Okataina, Anaha was gradually assuming the leadership of Ngati Tarawhai. He married Wahia, the daughter of Te Iwimokai, and their children were born at Rotorua, Okataina and Rotoiti.

In 1861 or early 1862 Anaha was appointed the assessor at Okataina under Governor George Grey's new runanga system. He had to give up his cultivations and spend more time on tribal business at Okataina and Ruato. The Ngati Pikiao leader Te Waata Taranui especially asked Anaha to reside at Ruato to assist him in dealing with government business. By 1864 Anaha was the acknowledged leader of Ngati Tarawhai; during the wars of the following years he led Ngati Tarawhai through many campaigns involving Te Arawa contingents on the government side. He became a close friend and associate of Captain Gilbert Mair.

When the district was settling down after the wars, Anaha lived mainly at Ruato, and also at Okataina and Rotorua. Children in his family attended the Rotoiti school, set up at Taheke in 1871. Although he continued to carve, more of his energy was devoted to Native Land Court hearings, both as an assessor and as a claimant. He developed special skill in the courtroom and his evidence was always notable for its clarity and conciseness; he was instrumental in establishing the boundaries of the ancient Ngati Tarawhai lands at Okataina, which were made a scenic reserve. In the years after the wars many Ngati Tarawhai became followers of the Ringatu faith, and Anaha must have been in close contact and sympathy with these beliefs.

At this time Ngati Tarawhai carvers were busy building new, large, carved meeting houses for Ngati Pikiao and others, and Anaha participated in this activity. Meeting houses carved for Maori patrons with which he is especially associated are Rangitihi in 1867–71 and Tokopikowhakahau in 1877. Rangitihi stood at Taheke, on the northern shore of Rotoiti. Most of its carvings are now in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and one panel is in St Petersburg. Then, along with Tene Waitere and Neke Kapua, he was employed in 1897 and again in 1904 by Charles Nelson of the Geyser Hotel in Whakarewarewa to complete the carvings for Rauru and Nuku-te-apiapi. These were houses which Nelson erected purely for entertaining tourists. Around the turn of the century Anaha was involved in the production of smaller carvings for sale to Europeans. He became an innovator in designing small bowls, ornate, carved jewellery chests, tobacco pipes, tinder boxes and replicas of traditional artefacts. The museums in Auckland and Wellington also contracted him to supply items for their Maori displays.

Anaha Te Rahui was a master of traditional learning, and was responsible for setting down a great body of tribal history in the course of his testimony at Native Land Court hearings. At the same time he acquired a competence in European ways and skills through his missionary education and his experience in the court hearings. The way in which he gave evidence suggests something of his character. He made his points in logical order, carefully, thoroughly and methodically. He made no extravagant claims and dealt calmly with each objection. Photographs of him, which are numerous because of his close connections with Europeans, show a distinguished looking man with a moustache and beard.

Anaha died at Ohinemutu, on 30 September 1913; and was buried at Ruato. He was the last of the Ngati Tarawhai canoe builders, and was thought to be over 90 years of age. He was very much a man of his people, a great leader, an artist and a capable man of affairs.

How to cite this page:

Roger Neich. 'Te Rahui, Anaha Kepa', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated March, 2011. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 11 July 2020)