Page 1: Biography
Ehau, Kepa Hamuera Anaha
Ngati Tarawhai and Ngati Whakaue leader, law clerk, interpreter, soldier, historian, orator
This biography, written by Manu H. Pene, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Kepa Hamuera Anaha Ehau was born on 5 November 1885 at Otewa, a small community south-east of Otorohanga in the King Country. At the time of Kepa’s birth Te Kooti and his Ringatu followers were living at Otewa. They included Kepa’s father, Ehau Puka Anaha of Ngati Tarawhai, and his mother, Te Kirikauri of Ngati Hurungaterangi. Te Kirikauri was of Ngati Whakaue, descended from Hurunga Te Rangi to Pango Ngawene, a Te Arawa tohunga, to her father Poniwahio Pango. Ehau Puka Anaha was descended from Te Rangitakaroro and his first wife, Rangipare. He was the son of Anaha Kepa Te Rahui, the noted Ngati Tarawhai leader and carver. Soon after his birth Kepa was baptised into the Ringatu faith by Te Kooti and given the name Te Ngarara a Te Kooti.
Early in his life Kepa was sent to live in the Whanganui area, where he stayed for about nine years. While there the Metekingi family gave him the name Taitoko Te Rangihiwinui in memory of their ancestor Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp). Kepa’s primary education was completed at St Stephen’s Native Boys’ School in Auckland, where he was a keen student of English and memorised much poetry. He attended secondary school at Te Aute College in Hawke’s Bay. On leaving college Kepa took up employment as a law clerk with a solicitor in Rotorua. In 1906 he qualified as a licensed interpreter.
On 2 April 1908 at Rotorua Kepa married Wikitoria Ngahirapu Arama Karaka of Ngati Tuteniu (a hapu of Ngati Rangiteaorere of Te Arawa) and Ngati Rauhoto (of Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Raukawa). Ten children were born of this marriage, two dying at a very early age. Ngahirapu was a woman of strong character and high moral values. She was descended from a powerful rangatira, Ihakara Kahuao of Ngati Rauhoto, who was an ally and fighting chief of Te Rauparaha. Her father, Arama Karaka Hutuha, fought in the campaign against Te Kooti with the Te Arawa contingent. She died in 1947.
At the age of 29 and with a family of four, Kepa enlisted in the army on 17 June 1915 to fight in the First World War. He sailed with the Second Maori Contingent on 19 September 1915 and saw service in Egypt, and then in France with the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion and attained the rank of lieutenant. He was invalided to England in December 1916 and rejoined his unit in June 1917. On 4 August at Basseville (Bassevelde), Flanders, he was severely wounded in both legs under heavy shell fire. He was evacuated to New Zealand in December. During his overseas service Kepa learnt to speak fluent French and later added German and Italian.
On his return to civilian life and for the next half century Kepa assumed a strong leadership role among Te Arawa. Through his early life he gained from his tribal elders a vast knowledge of Maori tradition, ceremonial and whakapapa. Kepa was frequently consulted by leaders such as Apirana Ngata, who considered him to be one of the finest Maori interpreters in the country. He contributed material to Ngata’s collection of waiata, Nga moteatea.
Kepa, like his grandfather Anaha Te Rahui, set down a strong body of tribal history and whakapapa in the course of Te Arawa Native Land Court hearings. Knowledge of Kepa’s expertise prompted numerous requests from outside of Te Arawa, notably from Waikato, Hauraki and Tauranga people, to represent them in Maori land matters. He was an authority on Maori land title, combining a knowledge of tradition with an understanding of land law. Kepa took advantage of visits to other tribal areas to cement relationships with many of the dynamic figures of the period. Among those were Pei Te Hurinui Jones of Ngati Maniapoto, King Koroki, Turi Carroll and Apirana Ngata.
For many years Kepa negotiated for Te Arawa with the Crown over the future of the lakes and Maori land within the Rotorua area. He was the main instigator of a move to have Lake Okataina and the surrounding Ngati Tarawhai lands gifted as a scenic reserve in 1921. In 1924 he was appointed a foundation member of the Arawa District Trust Board (later Te Arawa Maori Trust Board), a position he held for 23 years.
Kepa had been involved in raising money for the Maori Soldiers’ Fund at Ohinemutu in 1918, and was a founder member of the Te Arawa Maori Returned Services League. In 1938 he went with the troops representing New Zealand at the Anzac Day commemorations in Sydney, and in 1939 he helped organise the first dawn parade in Rotorua. At the outbreak of the Second World War Kepa advocated the formation of a fighting Maori battalion, led by Maori officers.
Best remembered for his power of oratory, for at least half a century Kepa was the person who welcomed royalty or famous personages to Te Arawa territory on public occasions, either on his own behalf or as an interpreter for rangatira who spoke no English. He claimed to have wakened the duke of Cornwall and York at Rotorua’s Grand Hotel in 1901 by playing reveille at sunrise. Kepa welcomed Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery to Rotorua during his tour of New Zealand after the Second World War and in 1954 the young Queen Elizabeth II. His coronation address to her had been broadcast nationally in 1953.
His English in oratory was stately and ornamented. He had memorised verses of Shakespeare and other poets, and would translate them into Maori to include in his orations. He surprised Europeans on occasion by giving a French translation of the Maori rather than an English one.
Despite the amputation of both legs in later life as a result of his war injuries, he remained a figure of authority at Maori hui, speaking in a strong, rich voice from his wheelchair. On one famous occasion during a dispute between Tuhoe and Te Arawa over the naming of the dining-hall Te Aroha-o-Te Arawa at Mataatua marae in Rotorua, he drove his wheelchair between the two factions and berated them for their quarrel.
Many of his speeches, in Maori and in English, were learnt by heart by Maori who admired his oratory. One such oration, first given at the funeral of a returned soldier about 1937, is still quoted today. It includes the words: ‘On the pillow that slips not and the bed that moves not you sleep the sleep pre-ordained, predestined, the inevitable destiny of mortal man…Hawaiki-nui, Hawaiki-roa, Hawaiki-pamamao farewell you as you wend your way to Te Hono-i-wairua, the meeting place of departed souls’.
Kepa Ehau died at his home in Ohinemutu on 10 February 1970 at the age of 84. His tangihanga over three days was attended by representatives of all the major tribes of Aotearoa who paid tribute to one of the greatest Maori orators of modern times. He was buried alongside his wife and other members of his family in Kauae cemetery on the lower slopes of Mt Ngongotaha.