Page 1: Biography
Ngati Pikiao; singer, entertainer, composer
This biography, written by Kanohimohoao Winiata, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 4, 1998.
Merekotia Amohau was born at Ohinemutu, Rotorua, on 16 April 1898, the youngest child of prominent Te Arawa leader Henare Mete Amohau and his wife, Tukau Te Hira of Ngati Pikiao. Known as Mere, she was educated at Ohinemutu and Maketu, then from 1911 at Queen Victoria School for Maori Girls in Auckland.
As a young woman, Mere embarked on her musical career, guided by F. A. Bennett, superintendent of the Maori mission at Rotorua (later first bishop of Aotearoa), who for many years organised musical performances. Mere played Tupa in Bennett’s Maori Opera Company production of Hinemoa, which opened in Auckland on 2 August 1915 and went on to tour the North Island to mixed reviews. She was invited to play the lead, Marama, in the comic opera Marama, or the mere and the Maori maid, which opened in Hastings on 16 November 1920. It was an instant success and played to capacity houses in Hastings and Napier. One audience member recalled Mere ‘gliding across the stage to take her place in front of the Maori haka party and then joining them with great gusto and expertise in a tremendous haka that brought the house to their feet'. Another commented that the opera 'caught people's imagination. We'd come out of the war years and that 1918 epidemic, and here was something New Zealand, something original, something by New Zealanders for New Zealanders’. The melodies and lyrics for the songs, which included 'Manuka', 'My greenstone tiki' and 'Marama, maid of the moonlight', were composed by a New Zealander, H. S. B. Ribbands. The show went on to tour the country under the patronage of the governor general, Lord Jellicoe. It was revived in 1940, and Mere Amohau again played the lead role alongside three other members of the original cast.
She was a member of Saint Faith's choir at Ohinemutu, and of the Rotorua Maori Choir, which toured under Bennett’s direction. Recordings of the Rotorua choir have become collectors' items and in 1930 Mere Amohau recorded Aroha pumai (I love you truly).
Members of the concert party headed by the renowned Guide Rangi (Rangitiaria Dennan) of Whakarewarewa, Mere Amohau, and her cousin, Guide Hera Rogers, would call into the tourist hotels situated near their residences at Ohinemutu and charm the guests into attending their concerts. Waiwera House and Hotel Arawa were their favourite hotels, and they never failed to delight patrons with their colourful haka, traditional costumes and warm personalities. During the two world wars they raised funds for local Maori serving overseas.
When the district nursing sister, Robina Cameron, founded Te Ropu o te Ora Maori Women's Health League on the Tunohopu marae of Te Arawa in September 1937, Mere Amohau became a foundation member. She was also active in St Faith's women's guild. In the 1940s the Taiporutu Club was formed, with the aims of promoting Maori culture and community awareness, and supporting tribal affairs. Mere was always available to advise the club leaders. She helped tutor the waiata, composed action songs and performed and travelled with the club. She was a composer of traditional and contemporary Maori music and was one of the foremost authorities on historical chants of Te Arawa.
Mere Amohau had married Rongomaiwhiti Winiata, a clerk, on 4 February 1939, at the vicarage at Ohinemutu. Mere had three children from other unions and the couple had three more. Rongomaiwhiti died in 1953. Mere died in Rotorua on 30 December 1978. Her tangihanga was held at Tunohopu marae and she was buried at Kauae cemetery, Ngongotaha.