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Story: Te Taiawatea Rangitūkehu, Maata

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Te Taiawatea Rangitūkehu, Maata


Tūhourangi and Ngāti Awa woman of mana

This biography, written by Tania Rei, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Maata Te Taiawatea Rangitūkehu was born in 1848 or 1849, probably near Lake Tarawera, where she was brought up as a puhi (a treasured virgin until marriage) by her mother's people of Tūhourangi, a branch of Te Arawa. She was the only child of Rangitōwhare, a daughter of the Tūhourangi chief Rangiheuea and his first wife, Te Tonga. Te Tonga was a principal wife from whom Maata, in the first instance, derived her status. The Rangiheuea family had several dwelling places within the vicinity of the lake although their main settlement was at Te Ariki.

Maata's father, Rangitūkehu Hatua, was the son of Tumuwhare and Hatua, who was a direct descendant of Wairaka, the daughter of Toroa, both of the Mātaatua canoe. Rangitūkehu was the chief of Te Pahīpoto, a central tribe of the Ngāti Awa people. At the time of Maata's birth he was engaged in transporting flour and produce from Whakatane to Auckland on his people's schooner, the Ira. Maata's early years were spent apart from her father, and it is not known whether Rangitōwhare lived with him or remained at Tarawera with her daughter.

Maata was still a child when the war broke out between Māori and Pākehā in 1860. Te Arawa, which included Tūhourangi, had joined forces with the government to fight against Ngāti Awa, so that Maata had relatives who were fighting against each other. After the cessation of fighting, the government awarded loyal tribes, including Tūhourangi, land that had been confiscated from Ngāti Awa. The acceptance by Tūhourangi of Crown awards exacerbated unresolved disputes and complicated Maata's relationships with her relatives. She spent considerable time seeking the return of confiscated lands to their rightful owners and in many cases acted as a peacemaker by settling outstanding familial grievances.

In the late 1860s Maata married Te Hāroto Whakataka Riini Mānuera. His father was Mānuera Te Pohokotia, a principal Ngāti Awa chief, and his mother was Hera of Tūhoe descent. During the wars of the 1860s his father, Mānuera, after being captured by Captain William Mair, had gone over to the colonial forces and Te Hāroto enlisted as a soldier in the local constabulary. In later years Te Hāroto was derided by some members of his and Maata's tribes for his allegiance to the government; he was referred to as 'ware' (common). However, through his support of Maata and their welfare work among his own people after the war, he silenced his critics.

Although Maata and Te Hāroto established themselves at Te Teko, Maata regularly visited her family at Tarawera. In the Rotorua district during the 1870s tourism expanded rapidly with local Māori enthusiastically taking advantage of the interest shown by visitors in their natural environment. The Pink and White Terraces attracted the greatest interest and the Rangiheuea family and their relatives of Tūhourangi profited from the industry. When the duke of Edinburgh visited in December 1870, Maata acted as his guide and companion to the Pink and White Terraces. By then Maata was in her early 20s and was suited to perform this task because of her status within the tribe; guiding was not her vocation.

Maata and Te Hāroto had six children who survived to adulthood; three others died in infancy and there were 10 miscarriages or deaths at birth. Distressed at the loss of so many children, Maata and Te Hāroto sought help from Pētera Te Kōhatu, a seer who was married to Te Hāroto's sister, Irihāpeti. Maata was told by Pētera that Tūhourangi were displeased with her choice of husband and thought she had married a man of inferior status. He informed the couple that their penalty was to forfeit the care of their offspring to others, and advised them to have their children adopted immediately following birth. Accordingly, Maata's surviving children were all brought up by relatives, carefully chosen in order to strengthen the ties between related tribes.

During their marriage, Maata and Te Hāroto built homes for their children and relatives at Kōkōhīnau, Ōtamaoa, Waokonamu, Ngākauroa and Te Waea. After breaking in new ground they would erect a house, and then move on to repeat the process in another area. Each house had a single room with outside cooking and washing facilities.

By the 1880s Maata had assumed many of the responsibilities of her father, who was by then in his final years. She spent long hours in the Native Land Court asserting her interest in tribal lands, and used several versions of her name to register herself on certificates of land title. She succeeded to her parents' and grandparents' interests by using their names to support her claims. Most of the land to which she acquired a title was given to members of the tribe. As a consequence, descendants ended up with less than some of those whom she assisted. Maata had a reputation for being generous.

In 1886 almost the entire Rangiheuea family were killed in the Tarawera eruption. Maata was devastated, and immediately returned to Tarawera to assist her surviving relatives. In the following year her father died and his status as chief passed to Maata. She was also the senior member of the Rangiheuea family and her first cousin, Te Make Rangiheuea, became her spokesperson. Maata was active in both tribes' affairs. Together with Te Make, she attended numerous meetings concerning the relocation of Tūhourangi to Ngāpuna, Whakarewarewa, Coromandel and other places, but never claimed any share of the lands gifted by other tribes for herself. In 1894 a committee was established by Ngāti Tūohonoa, a hapu of Tūhourangi, to administer tribal lands; Maata was a member and kept up a vigilant campaign against the government to ensure continuity of tribal ownership.

A strong adherent of Te Kooti's Ringatū faith, Maata resisted the temptation to join Rua Kēnana, the prophet who set up his commune behind the Te Pahīpoto meeting house, Ruataupare. Maata's family on both sides had a close relationship with Te Kooti; many had travelled with him and hidden him from the constabulary. Maata kept the Ringatū services alive in Ruataupare, getting support from followers of Te Kooti from outer areas. She also insisted on retaining the tribal custom of erecting whare mate (houses where the dead lie in state) on marae.

Maata worked tirelessly for Kōkōhīnau marae, and during renovations to Ruataupare in 1926 she organised timber to be brought in on wagons. When she ran out of money she sold a block of land on the Western Drain Road at Te Teko to finish the work. She was able to complete the renovations to Ruataupare and build a wharekai (dining hall) a year before her death. It was to be her last project and gift to Te Pahīpoto.

Maata died on 27 June 1929 at Te Teko. She lay in state at Iratūmoana and was then carried to the veranda of Ruataupare before her burial at Kōkōhīnau. Throughout his married life Te Hāroto had devoted himself to Maata; after her death he became a recluse and never spoke another word publicly. He died on 20 November 1932 and was buried alongside his wife. In April 1988 the descendants of Maata celebrated their kinship by holding a family reunion at Kōkōhīnau.

How to cite this page:

Tania Rei. 'Te Taiawatea Rangitūkehu, Maata', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3t19/te-taiawatea-rangitukehu-maata (accessed 3 December 2023)