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Story: Waitohi

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Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa leader

This biography, written by Teremoana Sparks and W. H. Oliver, 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.

Waitohi was the daughter of Werawera, of Ngāti Toa, and his second wife, Parekōwhatu (Parekōhatu), of Ngāti 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 Rākaherea, 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 Ngāti Toa and the Waikato peoples in the early nineteenth century.

Eventually, as a result of these conflicts, Ngāti Toa were forced to migrate from their home at Kāwhia. 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 Kāwhia in seven war canoes. Ngāti Toa gathered in their pā at Ōhāua-te-rangi. There were Ngāti 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 Ngāti Pou, who were also among the invaders, her appeal carried great force, and was successful. The war fleet returned to the north.

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

Waitohi's invitation carried great weight. Te Manahi of Ngāti Huia, one of those who had migrated to the Kāpiti 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 hapū who came south during these years. It is also said that she proposed that the Kukutauaki Stream, between Waikanae and Ōtaki, should be the boundary between Te Āti Awa to the south and Ngāti Raukawa to the north.

Waitohi died in August or September 1839. Her funeral on Mana Island brought the ill feeling between Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Raukawa, aroused by disputes over land, to a head. There was armed conflict on the mainland. The battle between these tribes, at Te Kūititanga pā, 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, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1w3/waitohi (accessed 15 April 2024)