Page 1: Biography
Pokiha, Rangi Hauiti
Ngati Pamoana and Nga Rauru; farmer, surveyor, orator
This biography, written by Penny Robinson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 5, 2000.
Rangi Hauiti Pokiha was born at Koriniti on the Whanganui River on 4 August 1895, the first child of Pokiha Peni of Ngati Pamoana and his second wife, Ngarongo Rangitahua of Nga Rauru. Rangi Pokiha was a direct descendant of Turi, captain of the Aotea canoe. He was blessed soon after his birth in a special ceremony by the Ringatu tohunga Te Ture Poutama. The second of Pokiha Peni’s sons, he was chosen by the elders to carry the tribal knowledge and raised by his maternal grandfather, Ropata Rangitahua. As a child he learned ancient waiata, genealogy and other tribal lore under the tutelage of Tamati Tehua Katene and Paama Tinirau. He was also educated at the Pamoana Native School, Hikurangi College and Te Aute College, where he excelled in rugby and tennis. On leaving school he worked briefly as a solicitor’s clerk in Wanganui.
Rangi Pokiha married Kaewa Metekingi by Maori custom on 1 August 1913 and formally at Wanganui on 12 May 1924. Initially the couple farmed on family land at Kai Iwi. They had one son and adopted another boy and a girl. With the onset of the First World War in 1914 Pokiha wanted to enlist, but family responsibilities precluded his doing so until 1917, when he joined the 26th Maori Reinforcements of the New Zealand (Maori) Pioneer Battalion; he served in France and Belgium. Although he became a lance corporal he ended the war returned to ranks, apparently as a consequence of a drinking escapade.
Returning to New Zealand in 1919, Pokiha lived off the land at Koriniti. He got a temporary job with a road gang and later worked as an assistant surveyor for the Public Works Department. He helped to build the Waiouru Military Camp during the Second World War and was involved in reconstruction operations following the Tangiwai railway disaster in 1953.
Pokiha’s war time experiences helped him to develop a network of fellow Maori soldiers from all over New Zealand, which he called upon in his later activities. He was a foundation member of the West Coast branch of the Young Maori Party in 1927, and in 1936 was appointed to the Whanganui Maori Council, a position he held until it was reconstituted in 1945. A man of deep spiritual conviction and an Anglican church warden at Koriniti, he had his unwanted gift of prophecy (matakite) removed by kaumatua through ritual purification in the Whanganui River.
Pokiha was a slight figure of immaculate dress and erect carriage; he was famed as an orator in both Maori and English and acclaimed for his poetic use of both languages. He was highly regarded by kaumatua of Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and the South Island for his understanding of tikanga (custom) and his willingness to share this knowledge with others, especially young people. Pokiha was invited to give lectures at Victoria and Massey universities and Wellington Teachers’ College, where he also helped develop a Maori studies programme. He chaired the local school committee in the early 1960s, and during the 1970s hosted groups from the Youth Aid Section of the New Zealand Police when they held courses at Koriniti marae.
Pokiha was a foundation member of the Whanganui Maori Ethnological Society and an inaugural vice president of the Whanganui Historical Society in 1969, becoming a life member six years later. He assisted M. J. G. Smart and A. P. Bates with The Wanganui story (1972), and provided much of the material for Roger Hardie’s Ngati Pamoana, Koriniti, Whanganui River (1975). He made recordings of traditional waiata and his own compositions, which are held at Radio New Zealand and Victoria University.
He continued to play rugby in advanced age and was known for his agility on the field. Rangi Pokiha died at Wanganui on 8 February 1980, survived by his adopted children. After his death he was farewelled at Koriniti, where he is buried beside his wife, Kaewa, who had died in 1958.