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Story: Te Rau-o-te-rangi, Kahe

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Te Rau-o-te-rangi, Kahe


Te Āti Awa leader, trader, innkeeper

This biography, written by Eleanor Spragg, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was updated in July, 2013. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Kahe Te Rau-o-te-rangi was the daughter of Te Matoha, of Ngāti Toa, and Te Hautonga, of Ngāti Mutunga and Te Āti Awa. Her birthplace is uncertain; it was either Kaweka, her mother's village near Urenui, in northern Taranaki, or Tutaerere, the home village of Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toa, on the southern side of Kāwhia Harbour. Kahe was old enough in 1821 to walk on Te Rauparaha's migration, an expedition which took two years to travel 300 miles from Kāwhia to Kāpiti Island. The group stopped twice to raise and harvest food crops; the first major stop was at Kaweka. During their stay there they were attacked by enemies from Waikato. Te Matoha, Kahe's father, is credited with having killed Hiakai and Mama, important Waikato men, in the battle of Motunui.

Kahe's childhood after the arrival on Kāpiti is unrecorded. From 1832 or 1833 she lived there with her Pākehā husband, John Nicoll or Nicholl, sometimes known as Scotch Jock, who had left his whaling ship in Cloudy Bay in 1829. Kahe worked with him as a trader. Her daughter described her at this time as a 'strong well proportioned woman of great muscular strength and endurance'. She was frequently her husband's only crew on trips between the Marlborough Sounds and Kāpiti or the mainland. In 1834 they made a trip that lasted 13 months to trade with the Māori along the Whanganui River, where no European trader had been before.

Kahe became renowned for her seven mile swim from Kāpiti to Te Uruhi on the mainland, with a child, Mākere, strapped to her back, to raise the alarm when Ngāti Toa were attacked by a war party from the south. Because of this incident the stretch of water between Kāpiti and the mainland is sometimes called Te Rau-o-te-rangi. Kahe was one of five women who signed the Treaty of Waitangi; she gave her agreement on 29 April 1840 when Henry Williams brought a copy of the treaty to the Wellington area. Like Te Rangitopeora, another woman who signed the treaty, Kahe was regarded by the Māori signatories and Pākehā negotiators as a leader with mana.

On 10 November 1841 Jock and Kahe (sometimes known as Peti) were formally married on board ship off Kāpiti by the Reverend John Macfarlane, Presbyterian minister at Wellington. In 1844 Kahe was baptised by the Reverend Octavius Hadfield, either at Waikanae where she had cultivations, or at nearby Ōtaihanga; she became a supporter of the Anglican mission. From 1845 Kahe was well known to travellers on the Kāpiti coast, for she and her husband kept an inn at Paekākāriki. Governor George Grey often stayed at the inn and took two of their children away to be educated: a boy at St John's College, Auckland, and a girl with the Grey family, but both children died. Only three of Kahe's children lived to adulthood. They were Hēni Te Rau, who married Henry Brown; Hōne, who married Amīria; and Mere Hautonga, who first married Īnia Tūhata, and then Wiremu Naera Pōmare, with whom she had four children, Māui (the oldest), Piritaka, Te Hia and Pahi.

Kahe's date of death was possibly 1871; her burial place is uncertain. Some say she is buried on Kāpiti. Others believe she lies in the little cemetery in Queen Elizabeth Park, Paekākāriki. However, at an 1890 Native Land Court hearing her daughter Mere stated that she was buried at Kārewarewa, on the northern side of the Waikanae River. Her husband, John Nicoll, died in 1886 and was buried at Waikanae.

How to cite this page:

Eleanor Spragg. 'Te Rau-o-te-rangi, Kahe', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated July, 2013. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t73/te-rau-o-te-rangi-kahe (accessed 23 May 2024)