Story: Rongonui, Kahupake

Page 1: Biography

Rongonui, Kahupake

1868/1869?–1947

Te Wai-o-Hua leader

This biography, written by Te Warena Taua, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Kahupake (Kahupaake) Rongonui, also known as Hariata Whareiti and Kahupake Potatau, was born in Tamaki-makau-rau (the Auckland isthmus), probably in 1868 or 1869. She was a member of Te Akitai, a subtribe of Te Wai-o-Hua. Her father was Te Rongonui Reihana Te Haupatahi Te Aroha, chief of Te Wai-o-Hua. Her mother, Te Tahuri, was a member of Te Taou of Orakei, and Ngati Tamaoho hapu of Te Wai-o-Hua, from south of Papakura. Te Akitai's pa was at Pukaki, near Mangere.

Kahupake was also descended from senior lines of Ngati Mahanga and Ngati Hourua of Waikato, and her influence extended from the Kaipara Harbour to the mouth of the Waikato River. Her paternal grandmother, Toea Hopai Purehina, was a daughter of the Waikato leader Wiremu Nera Te Awa-i-taia and his first wife, Hinu. Toea's husband, Te Aroha Reihana Te Haupatahi, was a chief of Te Wai-o-Hua and a member of the Maori King's council. Through his association with Te Whiti-o-Rongomai the dining hall at Pukaki marae was named 'Te Raukura o Tamaki', after the raukura (plume) that was to become the peace symbol of Te Whiti.

At Pukaki marae Kahupake was a principal tribal leader. She helped to host many important gatherings to discuss the land confiscations that had followed the wars between Maori and Pakeha in Waikato. She was known personally to all the King movement leaders, and it was she whom they approached when problems arose affecting Waikato–Mangere people. In letters to Kahupake, Te Puea Herangi referred to herself as 'to teina' (your younger relative), and regarded her as an expert on historical matters relating to her people. She was able to give advice on land issues and was responsible for some petitions regarding land interests and burial grounds.

Kahupake had a long association with Orakei through her connection with Te Taou. In 1913, when the Auckland City Council planned to build a model suburb there, she and other Maori came under pressure to sell their Orakei land interests. By 1923 she believed she had sold them all, and came into conflict with the government after a native land purchase officer, W. E. Goffe, persuaded her to accept payment for land she no longer owned. In 1938 she gave evidence in a Supreme Court case over the occupation of some Orakei land originally gifted to the Crown by Ngati Whatua in 1858. Kahupake was a witness for the suppliant, but the judge found against her. This judgement, unfavourable to Maori claims at Orakei, affected the result of the Royal Commission on Orakei Lands that was running concurrently.

In 1927 Te Akarana Maori Association, an organisation of Maori and Pakeha with interests in Maori ethnology, decided to set up a model pa and hold a hangi demonstration and other events on Mt Eden. To mark the occasion, the association planted a tree near the old ritual place known as Te Tuahu o Huakaiwaka (the ceremonial altar of Huakaiwaka) after the ancestor of Te Wai-o-Hua. The association was surprised by the opposition of Kahupake and many of her people, and held a meeting with her at Mangere. A long discussion took place, but Kahupake proved impossible to convince.

Because the association's plan was seen by Kahupake as disrespectful to her ancestry and the sanctity of the site, she placed a curse on all those involved. When a grass fire enveloped the hill and destroyed the tree that had been planted, it was seen by Maori as evidence of the mana Kahupake possessed, and just one example of her phenomenal powers.

Kahupake had a commanding presence and was one of the few women who could stand and address people on Waikato marae. She was the last woman of Te Wai-o-Hua to be tattooed in the traditional manner by the tohunga Anaru Makiwhara of Ngai Tai and Te Wai-o-Hua. She belonged to the Pai Marire religion, and was a much respected traditional healer and a noted seer, whose advice was sought by many Maori leaders. After her father's death in 1939, Kahupake assumed the mantle of rangatira, head of Te Wai-o-Hua. She was married to Tautahi Paraihe of Te Wai-o-Hua, who predeceased her. They had no children of their own but adopted many. Kahupake died at Pukaki pa on 17 January 1947.

How to cite this page:

Te Warena Taua. 'Rongonui, Kahupake', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3r27/rongonui-kahupake (accessed 20 October 2019)