Page 1: Biography
Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki woman of mana
This biography, written by R. De Z. Hall and Steven Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Riperata (Riparata) Kahutia was born probably in 1838 or 1839 at either Makauri or Taruheru in Poverty Bay. She belonged to Te Whanau-a-Iwi hapu of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki. Her mother was Uaia (Uwaia), of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti. Her father, Kahutia, was a principal leader in the Turanga (Gisborne) area. He was the son of Ruku, a chief who had extended his authority across the Turanganui River to include the area now known as Kaiti, and who had married a woman of the Ngai Tawhiri hapu of Rongowhakaata. Riperata had an older half-sister named Kateraina and is believed to have been baptised Harata (Charlotte).
Riperata married Mikaera, a son of Paratene Turangi, the senior chief of Rongowhakaata. They had three children: Rangi, who drowned in 1869; Heni Materoa, who later married James Carroll; and Mikaera Pare Keiha. In the early 1850s Kahutia had given and sold considerable areas of land to settlers and the government, but from 1858 was one of the leaders of a movement to redeem lands sold and even to repudiate sales. When he died, about 1860, Riperata inherited his mana within Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki.
In the winter of 1865 Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki were torn apart by the enthusiasm of the majority for the Pai Marire (Hauhau) religion. Riperata had been living at Otuki-aotea pa in Makauri, near Waerenga-a-hika, but had left before Pai Marire and pro-government Maori troops clashed there in November 1865. She was then living at Waikanae, near the Turanganui River mouth, and during the crisis the British flag flew over her pa.
Inheriting her father's role, Riperata became a well-known figure in Poverty Bay through her active claims to large areas of land in many blocks, on her own behalf and on behalf of her family, her hapu and her tribe. Her actions were motivated by the desire to protect the interests of her people as well as to maintain her chiefly mana. Riperata was one of the principal owners of the Turanganui No 2 block, which was sold to the government in 1869 to provide land for the township of Gisborne. She provided for the southern boundary of the sale to fall short of the Waikanae Creek, to preserve tribal access to its food resources. In 1869 the Poverty Bay Commission compensation court sat to investigate the ownership of land in the district. Those who had fought against the Crown were excluded from landholding. The commission drew up lists of the joint owners of blocks of land. Riperata and her sister were listed among the owners of 12 blocks. Some they had claimed through Rongowhakaata, others through Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki descent.
When the Poverty Bay Commission sat again in 1873, Riperata presented her claim to the land called Awapuni, between the south-west corner of Gisborne and the sea. She presented a very short list of names, and in a spirited cross-examination excluded two other lines of her mother's hapu, Ngai Tawhiri. Counter-claims were so numerous and involved so many people in the Turanganui district that the judge exclaimed that all the inhabitants of Poverty Bay appeared to be involved. The case was adjourned without judgement, and the commission was abolished soon after. Riperata subsequently appeared in the Native Land Court to claim her title to the Kaiti block. Hirini Te Kani, the leader of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, represented by his brother Rutene Te Eke, was a major claimant. Although Hirini's case may have been the better one, Riperata emphasised a personal relationship between an earlier chief and her grandfather, Ruku, and secured without rancour a one-third share in the undivided freehold.
In 1875 Riperata revived her claim to Awapuni and included a claim to the land between the Waikanae Creek and the Turanganui River mouth. The land was barren but the creek provided mullet. At the eastern end, Wai-o-hiharore, Riperata was again in conflict with Rutene Te Eke, who revived an ancient claim to control of the river mouth. Riperata argued that Te Whanau-a-Iwi were guardians of the interests of the whole Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki tribe. Her speech to the court was described as admirably clear-sighted and able. She spoke for over an hour without wavering from the subject and with a fervid eloquence that was listened to attentively even by her opponents. The court found her to be an owner, along with numerous other claimants. A reserve was established at Wai-o-hiharore. In other cases, too, she succeeded in having the names of her Rongowhakaata people added to more numerous Ngati Maru owners.
Riperata worked with Captain W. H. Tucker, who assisted her in the management of her lands. When the Waikanae block near Turanga had been divided into separate freeholds, Riperata was awarded a quarter of the whole extent: about 55 acres. Tucker managed the subdivision of the land and the sale of sections to settlers. However, few land blocks under joint Maori ownership reached final subdivision and individual title in Riperata's lifetime. Usually an income was derived from land under joint ownership by leasing. Riperata leased land in a number of blocks: at Matokitoki she leased to Tucker and James Carroll for a sheep run, and at Makauri and elsewhere she leased to European settlers. Income was also gained by selling the rights to cut timber on jointly owned land.
As her quest for land reached its end Riperata became more closely involved with her Rongowhakaata relatives. A revival of tribal life was signalled by the building of Te Mana-o-Turanga meeting house at Manutuke, which was begun by Ngati Maru in 1880. About 1881 Riperata set about establishing a marae at the western end of her Awapuni land, in conjunction with her relatives Noa Whakaatere and Hape Kiniha. A meeting house, named Te Poho-o-Materoa for a female ancestor of many Rongowhakaata families, was built. The ridge-pole was presented by Horonuku Te Heuheu of Ngati Tuwharetoa, and Ngati Porou carvers aided the local craftsmen. The carved figure above the gable peak represented Te Whanau-a-Iwi ancestor Kuriwahanui, by descent from whom Riperata had claimed the Awapuni land. The meeting house was opened in 1884. The marae around it included a church and a substantial European-style house.
Riperata began to suffer from tuberculosis and did not live long after the opening of the meeting house. Her husband Mikaera is said to have died in 1886. Riperata died at her daughter's residence at Whataupoko on 10 June 1887. She was said to be 48 years old. At the time she may have been living on her land on the eastern side of the Taruheru River. She was buried on the eastern edge of that property and a vault built over her grave. In 1906 a monument to her, the gift of her daughter, was unveiled at Te Kuri-a-Tuatai cemetery at Waikanae. Her greater memorial was the protection and consolidation of her people's lands, accomplished through her foresight, ability and tenacity.