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Story: Te Whāiti, Irāia Te Ama-o-te-rangi

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Te Whāiti, Irāia Te Ama-o-te-rangi


Ngāti Kahungunu leader, farmer, historian

This biography, written by S. M. Chrisp, 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.

Irāia Te Whāiti, also known as Irāia Te Ama and Te Ama-o-te-rangi, was born in south Wairarapa, probably in 1861 or 1862. He was the eldest child of Te Rangihakahaka Te Whāiti and Hine-ki-te-rangi, both of Ngāti Kahungunu of Wairarapa. His mother was the sister of Hoani Parāone Tūnuiārangi, a noted Ngāti Kahungunu leader and tribal historian. Irāia had two full brothers, Hoani Te Whāiti (Tutu Hone Paraone) and Pātito, and one half-brother, Meiha Keepa Hiu (Hui) Te Miha.

Irāia Te Whāiti received an extensive education in the traditions and genealogies of the many hapū of Ngāti Kahungunu of Wairarapa. In later life he was regarded as a leading expert, and wrote a number of articles in Te Puke ki Hikurangi and other publications. He himself strongly identified with Ngāti Ngāpū-o-te-rangi, centred in the Whakatomotomo valley, Palliser Bay; he also had strong links with Ngāti Hinewaka. It is likely that Hoani Tūnuiārangi was responsible for Te Whāiti's education in tribal history, and he became the guardian of his interests following the deaths of Te Rangihakahaka in 1870 and Hine-ki-te-rangi in 1875.

Te Whāiti inherited land interests in a number of south Wairarapa blocks through both his parents, most notably around the southern coast and in the Whakatomotomo valley. Although remaining a staunch Anglican, he was supportive from the turn of the century of Te Hāhi o te Rūri Tuawhitu o Ihowā (also called the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah), founded by Haimona Pātete. Te Whāiti considered he was following the direction of the prophet Pāora Te Pōtangaroa, when, as a service to his people, he began farming his ancestral land in 1881.

That year, on 1 November according to a family Bible, Te Whāiti married Kaihau Te Rangikakapi Maikara Āporo, of Ngāti Hinewaka and Ngāti Kauhī hapū of Ngāti Kahungunu, and of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Maniapoto. Te Whāiti and Kaihau had 13 children; seven of these died at a young age, largely as the result of various epidemics.

In 1894 Te Whāiti extended the range of his farming activities. He entered into a partnership with a Pākehā farmer, John Sinclair, and bought the huge Whatarangi station from Charles Pharazyn for approximately £10,000. Some of the station was still in Māori ownership at this time, and had been leased by Pharazyn. Sinclair and Te Whāiti bought the rights to the leases. The partnership subsequently became known as Te Whāiti and Sutherland when Mary Sutherland took over from her brother. In 1907 Kaiwaru was added to the holding. Later, Te Whāiti purchased Te Karanga, a block of 770 acres, in his own right. In 1912 he estimated the size of his holdings at 18,000 acres; at this time Whatarangi station carried some 20,000 sheep and nearly 500 cattle. Te Whāiti employed a number of the local hapū in shearing and other activities on the station.

Te Whāiti was one of the few Māori engaged in buying land, and his purchase and operation of the station broke a 40-year pattern of Māori land alienation in the Wairarapa Valley. In 1908 only 140,000 acres of land remained in Māori ownership; of this, only 33,000 acres were being farmed by the owners. Te Whāiti owned at least as much livestock as all other Wairarapa Māori farmers combined. He experimented with various methods of farming and employed Pākehā as well as Māori workers.

Te Whāiti's expertise in land management was utilised by the wider Wairarapa Māori community. He was elected to the management committee of the reserves for the Wairarapa lakes, and to the management committee of Pouakani, a block of over 30,000 acres situated at present-day Mangakino; it was given to Wairarapa hapū by the government in exchange for the Wairarapa lakes. Te Whāiti also wrote a number of items about farming and agricultural techniques in Te Puke ki Hikurangi.

He was also elected to a number of other committees to represent the interests of his family and hapū. He was the chairperson of the committee of the Kohunui marae, and was a member of the management committee at Pāpāwai pā, the site of the Māori parliament. In 1906 he was elected to the Rongokako Māori Council, the principal governing body of Wairarapa Māori society in the 20 years following 1900. Later he became deputy chairman. He remained a member of the council until at least 1912. In addition, Te Whāiti was a lieutenant in the Wairarapa Mounted Rifle Volunteers, a Māori military company, and was a director of the Māreikura Company, which published a newspaper.

In later life Te Whāiti moved with his family to Te Kārearea, a large house in Greytown. He and Kaihau became popular figures in Greytown public life, and took part in a number of community activities. The couple made donations to various public works, and were prominent in the patriotic fund-raising society during the First World War. In 1904 Irāia became a Freemason– the first Māori to do so. He initially joined Greytown Lodge No 74, and then transferred to Waihenga Lodge No 150, in Martinborough, as a charter member in 1907, remaining a member until he died.

Te Whāiti died from influenza in Greytown on 15 November 1918. He was buried at Rānana cemetery, in the Whakatomotomo valley; a stone memorial was erected by his family in 1923. At the time of his death his considerable personal wealth was estimated at £36,000. The Te Whāiti and Sutherland partnership was dissolved at his death, and his holdings were divided between his three surviving sons; there were also three surviving daughters. Kaihau lived for another 18 years at Te Kārearea in Greytown, before she died on 19 January 1937. She was buried next to her husband at Rānana.

How to cite this page:

S. M. Chrisp. 'Te Whāiti, Irāia Te Ama-o-te-rangi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3t24/te-whaiti-iraia-te-ama-o-te-rangi (accessed 25 September 2023)