Page 1: Biography
Te Rarawa leader, politician
This biography, written by Henare Arekatera Tate, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996, and updated in December, 2005.
Wiremu Rikihana was born at Kaiawe, near Waireia, northern Hokianga, in 1851. He was of Ngati Te Reinga of Waihou, and Te Rarawa; his hapu, Te Tawhiu, was prominent in the north. His mother's name was Harata. His father was Rikihana, the son of Whakarongo-uru, who was the younger brother of Te Huhu, Papahia and Nga-kahu-whero. Te Huhu had signed the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand at Mangungu in 1835; Papahia was a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi; Nga-kahu-whero married Muriwhenua, and their son Nganiho Te Tai was also a signatory to the treaty. Te Tai's grand-daughter, Meri Te Tai Mangakahia, was to become active in women's suffrage within the Kotahitanga movement.
Wiremu Rikihana grew up mostly at Waireia, but also lived in his mother's district of Taikarawa. Nothing else is known of his childhood, although he is said to have been a noted athlete. His father was a prominent leader of his people, and Wiremu inherited this role. He was present in the Native Land Court when Rikihana presented evidence in the Te Kauae o Ruru Wahine case in December 1873. Following Rikihana's death, Wiremu was a signatory to the deed signed at Rawene in 1875, under which the block was sold to the Crown.
Herewini Te Toko and Wi Tana Papahia wanted Wiremu Rikihana to marry Raiha (also known as Tahuripo), the daughter of Ihapera and Rapata Harimana (Hardiman). Her brother, Hori Harimana, objected, but Herewini got her to leave home and the couple were married at Waireia. They lived at Waireia and Rangi Point where their two sons were born. The family moved to Kaihu in 1879, where they settled on a block of 200 acres that had been presented to Wiremu's father by Parore Te Awha in recognition of the services of Rikihana and his people to Ngati Whatua. The block became the township site. However, Wiremu never severed ties with his home and whanau at Waireia and Rangi Point, and frequently returned to Hokianga.
In 1903 Wiremu was a principal speaker for claimants to the lands of Waihou and Whakarapa (Panguru) in the Native Land Court. His accurate knowledge of the land and people resulted in his receiving considerable shares in the land. He gave evidence on the Manuwhetai and Whangaiariki lands to the Stout–Ngata commission in 1908.
In 1913 Wiremu Rikihana was the principal speaker in the complicated Waireia land case. In 1914, despite the wishes of the owners, the Native Land Court authorised the selling of the Waireia D block provided that permanent villages were reserved, that all survey costs in excess of a fund collected by the owners were paid by the purchaser, and that the milling timber was valued and paid for separately from the land. Wiremu Rikihana and others wished to retain part of their shares. The conditions were not fulfilled – the timber was never paid for – and the Waireia case was to become the subject of claims against the purchaser and the Crown from 1914 onwards. In 1919 a petition was presented by Rikihana to the MP Tau Henare for a hearing before the Native Affairs Committee. It was referred to the minister in 1920, but nothing was done. A further petition was presented to Parliament in 1925. The Native Land Court concluded in 1932 that a great injustice had been done. The Waireia land was finally returned to Te Rarawa ownership in 1987.
Wiremu Rikihana was a prominent Maori Catholic. His wife and children were baptised in October 1882. Eruera, his son, later married Ani Katete (Cassidy), a grand-daughter of Maraea Te Kuri of Waima, who was believed to be one of the first Maori to become a Catholic. Rikihana established close links with the Catholic family of his friend John Bidois of Te Puna, near Tauranga, and with the Ngai Te Rangi people. He arranged four marriages, three of them successful, between young women of Kaihu and young men of Te Puna.
From 1923 to 1930 Wiremu Rikihana was a member of the Legislative Council. He was in failing health when appointed, and was probably not reappointed for health reasons. He spoke infrequently, although in 1926 he strongly opposed the teaching of religion in state schools. He was concerned at the potential for divisiveness between different denominations, and was convinced that religious instruction was better left to parents than to teachers. He died at Kaihu on 10 July 1933; his wife and children predeceased him, and he was survived by 11 grandchildren. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery at Kaihu.