Story: Waitaoro

Page 1: Biography



Ngati Tama woman of mana

This biography, written by Angela Ballara,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Waitaoro of Ngati Tama was born, according to family tradition, on the Chatham Islands, probably in 1848 or 1849. Her mother was Rongorongo of Ngati Toa, who was a descendant of Werawera, the father of Te Rauparaha, and his first wife, Waitaoro. Her father was Raniera of Ngati Tama. She was also kin to Ngati Maniapoto.

Waitaoro's early life was dominated by the attempts of Ngati Tama to return to their ancestral lands. They had migrated from northern Taranaki south to the Kapiti coast, Wairarapa and Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington harbour) in the 1820s, at the same time as migrations of Ngati Toa and Ngati Mutunga. When Ngati Mutunga, because of their strained relations with Ngati Toa under Te Rauparaha, took over the Lord Rodney in Te Whanganui-a-Tara to take them to the Chatham Islands, some Ngati Tama decided to join their migration. Waitaoro's parents were probably among the Ngati Tama contingent who sailed on 14 November 1835 for the main island of the Chathams group, known to Ngati Tama as Wharekauri.

On reaching Wharekauri Waitaoro's people seized the lands at Waitangi, in contravention of an agreement to wait until the arrival of the second contingent of migrants, which included most of the Ngati Mutunga chiefs. As a result of the ensuing quarrel, Ngati Tama were forced to withdraw from Waitangi to the north-east, to Waikere and Kaingaroa. It may have been in this area that Waitaoro was born and brought up. No stories of her childhood or upbringing have been found, but according to family tradition she met her husband, Tahana Takiroa Coffee, or Kawhe, in the Chatham Islands. Takiroa's father was a sealer; his mother was of Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga, and he was also kin to Ngai Tahu.

Ngati Tama still living at Te Whanganui-a-Tara and the Kapiti coast began to return to Taranaki in 1848, at the invitation of Wiremu Nera Te Awa-i-taia of Ngati Mahanga, an invitation later endorsed by Potatau Te Wherowhero and other Waikato and Ngati Maniapoto chiefs. It may have been as part of this invitation that a spear, called Poutama, was sent to the Chatham Islands. Waitaoro's people regarded this as a message that they might return to their lands, Poutama, between the Mohakatino River and Waikaramuramu, a place near Pukearuhe. They were planning their return by February 1866; the major part of the exodus took place in 1868. One group, led by Tamati Makarati, asked Wetere Te Rerenga of Ngati Maniapoto for permission to settle at Poutama. Wetere refused, saying that he would keep Poutama himself. The chief of Waitaoro's group, Tupoki Te Herewini Ngapiko, brought his followers to Wellington, possibly on the Despatch. Waitaoro may have stayed with her Ngati Toa kin at Porirua at this time, as she would do later in her life. Takiroa Kawhe settled at Mimi pa with Ngati Mutunga.

With Rewi Maniapoto's permission, Waitaoro and her people went to Te Kauri, north of Mokau, to meet Tawhiao, the second Maori King, from whom they sought permission to settle at Poutama. Rewi also asked the advice of Ngati Maniapoto leader Wahanui Huatare. Ngati Maniapoto later claimed that they did not promise Poutama to Ngati Tama, only that if Ngati Tama supported the King movement some of their land would be returned. Waitaoro's group, however, interpreted Tawhiao's and Wahanui's responses as permission to return to Poutama, and Tupoki took 35 people, including Waitaoro, to settle there at Rapanui.

When the case concerning the Mohakatino–Parininihi block, which included Poutama, was heard in the Native Land Court in 1882, Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Tama witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the number of Waitaoro's people and the length of time they occupied Poutama. Wetere Te Rerenga said they remained there for less than a year, cutting sleepers for the railway, and that their houses were burned and they were driven off by Ngati Maniapoto. Other witnesses, of both Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Tama, said that they had been there for as many as seven years, and had made continual efforts to occupy the land, cultivating it as recently as 1879. It was also suggested that Ngati Maniapoto tolerated their presence as a buffer between themselves and the Europeans. The decision to award the block to Ngati Maniapoto caused a serious rift between the two peoples. Ngati Tama's confiscated land was never returned, on the basis that Ngati Maniapoto had driven them all away in the 1830s. Takiroa Kawhe gave evidence in 1927 to the Sim commission, which inquired into the confiscation of Maori land, that some Ngati Tama remained on their ancestral lands throughout the nineteenth century.

Because Tawhiao gave only qualified support to Ngati Tama's occupation of Poutama, and some Ngati Maniapoto leaders made plain their opposition, Waitaoro and many of her people turned to Te Whiti-o-Rongomai at Parihaka. Waitaoro may have spent some years living at Parihaka. A photograph of Waitaoro and her husband shows Takiroa wearing the Parihaka symbol, the raukura (white plume), in his headband.

Later Waitaoro settled at Pukearuhe. As a mature woman she became a respected elder of her people, sometimes spoken of as their guiding light. She had no children of her own, but while on a visit to Ngati Toa at Porirua adopted Matehuirua Horomona, the daughter of Ringi Horomona and Ria Winera Horomona. Waitaoro was given land at Porirua, and was able to exchange part of it for land at Pukearuhe in order to make her holding there a viable farm. She gave part of her Porirua land to Ngati Toa for a burial ground.

She fostered many other children. They included Rangirere Te Kapo, daughter of Mae Taniora of Waikorara, a hapu of Ngati Maniapoto; Rangirere was the grand-daughter of Taniora Parauroa Wharau, who had given evidence in the protracted and bitter Mohakatino–Parininihi hearings, so that this fostering helped to heal the breach made by the loss of Ngati Tama land. In 1910 and 1911 she fostered Alice (Arihia) and Ruihi Batley, daughters of Rangirere and Ernest Riu Batley of Moawhango. Ruihi married Kingi Patrick Wetere in 1936, continuing to draw together the families which had clashed over Poutama.

Although Waitaoro had no direct descendants, many families of Ngati Tama, Ngati Mutunga, Ngati Toa and Ngati Maniapoto regard her as their elder. She was unable to read or write, but was a very shrewd woman in business. She was looked after in her declining years by her adopted daughter, Matehuirua. Waitaoro died on 26 March 1929, and is buried at Pukearuhe, with Takiroa, who died in 1931. A monument was raised there to her memory.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Waitaoro', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 September 2020)