Story: Taiaroa, Tini Kerei

Page 1: Biography

Taiaroa, Tini Kerei


Ngai Tahu; founding mother, community worker

This biography, written by Jenny Lee, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993, and updated in February, 2006.

Tini Pana (Jane Burns) was born at Moeraki, North Otago, probably in 1846 or 1847. She was the third of four children of Pukio Iwa, of Ngai Tuahuriri hapu of Ngai Tahu (descendants of Tautahi), and Richard Burns (Riki Pana) of Argyllshire, Scotland, a farmer at Moeraki. Tini Pana was baptised Jane Burns at Moeraki on 27 September 1850 by the Wesleyan missionary Charles Creed; her brother, John, and sister, Margaret, were baptised with her. By 1854 Tini's mother was a widow; she next married Natanahira Waruwarutu, a man of considerable mana. Waruwarutu supported the work of the missionaries at Moeraki from 1843, and, together with Matiaha Tiramorehu and his supporters, he gave instruction in traditional Maori matters until the late 1860s. This environment fostered in Tini a strong feeling for both cultures.

Sometime in the late 1850s or the 1860s, at Otakou, Tini Pana married Hori Kerei Taiaroa, the son of Mawera and Te Matenga Taiaroa, a major Ngai Tahu chief. The union of Tini and Hori Kerei reaffirmed the alliance between Otago and Canterbury branches of Ngai Tahu whose relationship had become very strained. Tini and Hori Kerei were well matched; both were attractive, intelligent, educated and well born. They were to have six sons.

During the 1860s Tini Taiaroa was a mother, farmer's wife and, increasingly, a politician's wife. At that time Hori Kerei was dividing his time between farming at Otakou and supporting Ngai Tahu land claims. When he became member of the House of Representatives for Southern Maori in 1871, Tini's letters kept him up to date with details of the family's life.

In 1879 the Taiaroa family moved to Taumutu on the shores of Lake Ellesmere. Here, Ngai Tahu people built Te Awhitu, a large European-style house. It was run by Tini in a manner that was reputed to be highly organised and elegant. She had a European servant and also monogrammed linen and a greenstone-handled cutlery set. Tini was a woman of considerable mana in her own right. Her correspondence includes letters on political, business and family matters and she wrote articles for at least one Maori newspaper; but although literate in Maori, she never became a confident speaker of English.

Tini and Hori Kerei's six sons all became accomplished sportsmen and were able to move easily in both Maori and European worlds. Tini also brought up her eldest son's children. Their father, Te One (known as John), drowned in 1907 and their mother, Rakapa Potaka, had died giving birth in 1904. Tini's third son, Riki (later known as Poua Dick), also lived at Te Awhitu. He adopted and brought with him his niece's son, Riki Ellison, who was one of many other children raised by Tini in her later life. They remember her fine flax work and singing of old waiata.

Tini Taiaroa was an important figure behind the scenes in Canterbury and Otago Maori affairs. She supported Hori Kerei in his demanding role as MHR and from 1885 as a member of the Legislative Council. She also dealt with business and farming matters on behalf of her husband during his absences. However, her main role was as parent to a large number of children, grandchildren and members of her extended family. She died at Taumutu on 4 September 1934, surviving her husband by nearly 30 years. During that time she was involved in tribal, community and Methodist church activities in the Taumutu area.

How to cite this page:

Jenny Lee. 'Taiaroa, Tini Kerei', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993, updated February, 2006. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 March 2020)