Story: Rangi, Tutekohi

Page 1: Biography

Rangi, Tutekohi

1871/1872?–1956

Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti tohunga, faith healer

This biography, written by Angela Ballara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Tutekohi Rangi, also known as Wiremu Retimana Rangi or Richmond Rangi, was born, probably in 1871 or 1872, possibly at Mangatuna (north of Tolaga Bay), on the East Coast. His father was Ratawari Rangi of Ngati Kuranui (Ngai Te Kuranui), a hapu of Tolaga Bay and environs, part of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti. His mother was Arihia Rangi, also of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti. No records have been found of Tutekohi's upbringing or young adulthood, but by the 1920s he was regarded in Mangatuna, his village, as the expert in Maori lore and carving.

Tutekohi Rangi married, but the name of his wife has not been found. He had two surviving sons, one of whom was called Titi. He may have taken another wife at Waikaremoana about 1948. His house at Mangatuna had a single room with an earth floor, about 20 by 14 feet, where the family lived, ate and slept. His wife and sons milked between 12 and 20 cows, and the cream cheque and a family benefit were Tutekohi's only income.

From the 1930s Tutekohi Rangi began to establish a reputation as a faith healer and tohunga. The Tutekohi movement, as officials called it, was probably an unregistered offshoot of the Anglican church. It began with religious meetings based on Anglican prayers at Tahaenui, near Nuhaka, at the home of Rawiri (Dave) Kaipuke, a law clerk and interpreter, and was supported by Kingi Hemopo, a local elder. No meetings were held unless Tutekohi himself was present. He is said to have travelled there on a white horse, a powerful symbol of spiritual leadership on the East Coast since the days of the prophet Te Kooti Arikirangi. From 1938 the length of the meetings – four to six weeks – attracted the official displeasure of the Department of Health and the New Zealand Police Force. The employment and domestic arrangements of the adherents and the schooling of their children were all disrupted; it was rumoured, but not proved, that large amounts of liquor were consumed.

Over the next decade as Tutekohi's reputation grew, the movement gained momentum. By 1949 there were 200 to 300 followers, including invalids hoping for a cure, and meetings were being held in five more locations: Waimako pa, Waikaremoana, led by Wiremu Matamua and Noa Tiwai; Raupunga, led by Paul (Paora) Lemuel Te Urupu and Heuheu Heta; Hinemihi, Wairoa, led by Hakiaha Ponga; Mill pa, Frasertown; and Tikitiki. Many of the sick had tuberculosis and had been written off as incurable by doctors at Cook and Te Puia hospitals. There were no meetings at Mangatuna, but Tutekohi's patients were often brought to his house and left there by relatives in the hope that he would cure them.

Health officials and the police attempted to extract a promise from the movement's leaders to keep meetings to a reasonable length, but despite pressure from the local tribal executive nothing changed. In 1948 the controller of Maori welfare, Rangi Royal, requested that local Maori welfare officers report on Tutekohi's activities with a view to prosecuting him under the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907. In July 1950 Moana Raureti, welfare officer at Whakaki, Wairoa, wrote to Royal saying that the tribal executive was receiving complaints that nothing had been done. Tutekohi's meetings had not grown in size, but they now lasted six to eight weeks. Although members of the executive considered that their authority was being flouted, and they were being criticised as ineffectual, they took no action. Witnesses were needed, but Maori people were reluctant to speak about tohunga, to risk their displeasure or lose their help. Neither government nor tribal authorities found a way to deal with the phenomenon.

Presumably, Tutekohi's movement expired after he died on 21 February 1956 at his home at Ruataniwha Road, Wairoa. Two days later, he was buried at Wainui.

How to cite this page:

Angela Ballara. 'Rangi, Tutekohi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4r2/rangi-tutekohi (accessed 18 November 2019)