Story: Waitohi

Page 1: Biography



Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa leader

This biography, written by Teremoana Sparks and W. H. Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Waitohi was the daughter of Werawera, of Ngati Toa, and his second wife, Parekowhatu (Parekohatu), of Ngati Raukawa. She was probably born in Waikato but her date of birth is not known. She was the sister of Te Rauparaha and Nohorua. Her husband was Te Ra-ka-herea, and their children included the war leader and carver Te Rangihaeata, and Te Rangitopeora, herself a notable leader. The other daughters of Waitohi were killed in the conflicts between Ngati Toa and the Waikato peoples in the early nineteenth century.

Eventually, as a result of these conflicts, Ngati Toa were forced to migrate from their home at Kawhia. Waitohi's emergence as a leader is recorded a few years before the migration. About 1815 a strong Waikato war party assembled at the mouth of the Waikato River and set off for Kawhia in seven war canoes. Ngati Toa gathered in their pa at Ohaua-o-te-rangi. There were Ngati Te Ata men among the attackers, and Waitohi recognised her own relatives among them. She urgently pleaded with them for peace. As her own children had so recently been killed by Ngati Pou, who were also among the invaders, her appeal carried great force, and was successful. The war fleet returned to the north.

After Ngati Toa left Kawhia and established a strong base on Kapiti Island in the early 1820s, Te Rauparaha wanted Ngati Raukawa to join them. Waitohi supported him. 'If you return to Waikato bring my kinsfolk back with you – Ngati Kauwhata, Ngati Wehiwehi, Ngati Werawera, Ngati Parewahawaha and Ngati Huia' – so Waitohi is said to have exhorted Te Whatanui of Ngati Raukawa, who had come south with Ngati Toa. Another Ngati Raukawa leader, Te Ahu-karamu, replied with the proverb: 'My back is strong enough to carry them!' This story was told by his son Roera Hukiki.

Waitohi's invitation carried great weight. Te Manahi of Ngati Huia, one of those who had migrated to the Kapiti coast, was emphatic on this point: 'We came at the desire of Waitohi. Had Te Rauparaha called, the people would not have assented. It was at the word of Waitohi.' Te Manahi also testified that Waitohi was responsible for allocating land to the hapu who came south during these years. It is also said that she proposed that the Kukutauaki Stream, between Waikanae and Otaki, should be the boundary between Te Ati Awa to the south and Ngati Raukawa to the north.

Waitohi died in August or September 1839. Her funeral on Mana Island brought the ill feeling between Te Ati Awa and Ngati Raukawa, aroused by disputes over land, to a head. There was armed conflict on the mainland. The battle between these tribes, at Te Kuititanga pa, near Waikanae, took place on 16 October and was on a large scale, with nearly 80 killed and many others wounded. This was, however, the last conflict in arms between the tribes on this coast.

In the 1840s George French Angas, the visiting artist and author, prevailed on one of Te Rangihaeata's wives to allow his party to cross to Mana Island. Later he published a description of Te Rangihaeata's house, carved by the chief himself, and a drawing of what he called Waitohi's 'tomb or mausoleum', an elaborately decorated structure surrounded by a double paling, 'within which the body was placed in an upright position'.

Waitohi was a leader in her own right, an influential voice in the deliberations of her people, one whose views were heeded by Te Rauparaha during the troubled times of the southward migration and the resettlement that followed it.

How to cite this page:

Teremoana Sparks and W. H. Oliver. 'Waitohi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 May 2020)