Page 1: Biography
Ngāti 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.
Waitāoro of Ngāti Tama was born, according to family tradition, on the Chatham Islands, probably in 1848 or 1849. Her mother was Rongorongo of Ngāti Toa, who was a descendant of Werawera, the father of Te Rauparaha, and his first wife, Waitāoro. Her father was Rāniera of Ngāti Tama. She was also kin to Ngāti Maniapoto.
Waitāoro's early life was dominated by the attempts of Ngāti 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 Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Mutunga. When Ngāti Mutunga, because of their strained relations with Ngāti Toa under Te Rauparaha, took over the Lord Rodney in Te Whanganui-a-Tara to take them to the Chatham Islands, some Ngāti Tama decided to join their migration. Waitāoro's parents were probably among the Ngāti Tama contingent who sailed on 14 November 1835 for the main island of the Chathams group, known to Ngāti Tama as Wharekauri.
On reaching Wharekauri Waitāoro'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 Ngāti Mutunga chiefs. As a result of the ensuing quarrel, Ngāti Tama were forced to withdraw from Waitangi to the north-east, to Waikere and Kaingaroa. It may have been in this area that Waitāoro was born and brought up. No stories of her childhood or upbringing have been found, but according to family tradition she met her husband, Tāhana Takiroa Coffee, or Kawhe, in the Chatham Islands. Takiroa's father was a sealer; his mother was of Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Mutunga, and he was also kin to Ngāi Tahu.
Ngāti Tama still living at Te Whanganui-a-Tara and the Kapiti coast began to return to Taranaki in 1848, at the invitation of Wiremu Nēra Te Awa-i-taia of Ngāti Māhanga, an invitation later endorsed by Pōtatau Te Wherowhero and other Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto chiefs. It may have been as part of this invitation that a spear, called Poutama, was sent to the Chatham Islands. Waitāoro'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 Tāmati Makarati, asked Wētere Te Rerenga of Ngāti Maniapoto for permission to settle at Poutama. Wetere refused, saying that he would keep Poutama himself. The chief of Waitāoro's group, Tūpoki Te Herewini Ngāpiko, brought his followers to Wellington, possibly on the Despatch. Waitāoro may have stayed with her Ngāti Toa kin at Porirua at this time, as she would do later in her life. Takiroa Kawhe settled at Mimi pā with Ngāti Mutunga.
With Rewi Maniapoto's permission, Waitāoro and her people went to Te Kauri, north of Mōkau, to meet Tāwhiao, the second Māori King, from whom they sought permission to settle at Poutama. Rewi also asked the advice of Ngāti Maniapoto leader Wahanui Huatare. Ngāti Maniapoto later claimed that they did not promise Poutama to Ngāti Tama, only that if Ngāti Tama supported the King movement some of their land would be returned. Waitāoro's group, however, interpreted Tawhiao's and Wahanui's responses as permission to return to Poutama, and Tupoki took 35 people, including Waitāoro, to settle there at Rapanui.
When the case concerning the Mōhakatino–Parininihi block, which included Poutama, was heard in the Native Land Court in 1882, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Tama witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the number of Waitāoro's people and the length of time they occupied Poutama. Wētere 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 Ngāti Maniapoto. Other witnesses, of both Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti 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 Ngāti Maniapoto tolerated their presence as a buffer between themselves and the Europeans. The decision to award the block to Ngāti Maniapoto caused a serious rift between the two peoples. Ngāti Tama's confiscated land was never returned, on the basis that Ngāti 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 Māori land, that some Ngāti Tama remained on their ancestral lands throughout the nineteenth century.
Because Tāwhiao gave only qualified support to Ngāti Tama's occupation of Poutama, and some Ngāti Maniapoto leaders made plain their opposition, Waitāoro and many of her people turned to Te Whiti-o-Rongomai at Parihaka. Waitāoro may have spent some years living at Parihaka. A photograph of Waitāoro and her husband shows Takiroa wearing the Parihaka symbol, the raukura (white plume), in his headband.
Later Waitāoro 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 Ngāti Toa at Porirua adopted Matehuirua Horomona, the daughter of Ringi Horomona and Ria Wīnēra Horomona. Waitāoro 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 Ngāti Toa for a burial ground.
She fostered many other children. They included Rangirere Te Kapo, daughter of Mae Taniora of Waikorara, a hapu of Ngāti Maniapoto; Rangirere was the grand-daughter of Tāniora 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 Ngāti Tama land. In 1910 and 1911 she fostered Alice (Arihia) and Ruihi Batley, daughters of Rangirere and Ernest Riu Batley of Moawhango. Ruihi married Kīngi Patrick Wētere in 1936, continuing to draw together the families which had clashed over Poutama.
Although Waitāoro had no direct descendants, many families of Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Toa and Ngāti 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. Waitāoro died on 26 March 1929, and is buried at Pukearuhe, with Takiroa, who died in 1931. A monument was raised there to her memory.