Page 1: Biography
Takarangi, Rangitaamo Tiahuia
Ngati Hauiti and Ngati Hine; Maori welfare officer, community leader
This biography, written by Angela Ballara and Liz Stretch, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Rangitaamo Tiahuia Taiuru was born at Waimoho, near Rangiriri in the Waikato district, on 24 July 1901. Her mother, Paretauhanga Riwhero, was of Ngati Hine of Waikato; her father, Moroati Taiuru of Rata in the Rangitikei district, was connected to both Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Kahungunu through his hapu Ngati Hauiti, Ngati Haukaha, Ngati Hikairo and Ngati Whiti-Tama (the inter-married hapu Ngati Tamakopiri and Ngati Whitikaupeka). Her parents had lost all their earlier infants. When Paretauhanga conceived again, they travelled to Waikato to consult Mahuta, the Maori King. He told them that Paretauhanga was the victim of ill will because she had been a puhi (a young woman of rank whose marriage was important to her people), and Moroati had taken her away from her home. He told them to stay in Waikato, and when the child was born, if it was a girl it was to be called Taamorangi Tiahuia Taiuru Te Rango. After her birth, her first name was altered to Rangitaamo. She and her parents stayed in Waikato long enough for Rangitaamo to attend school at Rangiriri, but after a smallpox epidemic the family returned to Rata. Seven other children were born to the family.
Rangitaamo grew up at Rata on her father’s farm. When not at school she worked with him, milking cows and doing farm work in preference to domestic chores with her mother. She also travelled with her paternal grandmother, Te Maari Maatuahu, visiting relatives and attending Native Land Court sittings. She met Tenga-i-te-rangi Takarangi while attending shows in Taihape when she was about 17. He was of the well-known Takarangi Metekingi family of Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi of Whanganui, and was also of Ngati Whiti-Tama of Ngati Tuwharetoa. Rangitaamo’s father’s people were their close kin and originally came from the same area. Rangitaamo’s and Tenga’s families had arranged a marriage between them; they were to have one son and one daughter, who died aged two. At that time (1932) Rangitaamo adopted another daughter, and she and Tenga formalised their marriage. Their son was killed during the Second World War.
Tenga Takarangi had attended Wanganui Collegiate School, and worked as a farm cadet and farm labourer. He was a leading figure at Putiki marae, and Rangitaamo also worked there. At first this was behind the scenes in the kitchen and dining room, but later she learnt marae customs and was invited to welcome visitors formally. One of her first tasks was to welcome soldiers returning from the First World War. She was a foundation member of the Putiki Maori Club, and later was to act as tutor in waiata, karanga and whaikorero (speech-making). She took part in tukutuku projects, making woven panels as wall decorations in meeting houses at Kai Iwi marae, Koriniti marae, the Maori church at Putiki, St John’s Cathedral, Napier, and Hato Paora College, Feilding.
In 1942 Tenga joined the Native Department. Rangitaamo’s own qualities of leadership, her increasingly prominent position at Putiki and the range of her husband’s interests and areas of influence made her the logical choice for the Whanganui district when welfare officers were being appointed to the new Maori Welfare Division of the Native Department. She commenced her new responsibilities in May 1947. Her area extended from Putiki upriver to Taumarunui, and on almost to Te Kuiti, and included Taupo, part of Taranaki and the Turakina district south of Whanganui. Her main concerns were arranging housing and health care for impoverished Maori, and ensuring the best possible education for their children. Much of her time went to setting up and fostering branches of the Women’s Health League: she had 47 branches in her area, of which five were affiliated to the Rotorua Central Committee. She tried to reduce the number to form larger branches which would function more efficiently, but was thwarted by each small community wanting to work within its own branch.
In 1948 Rangitaamo was sent to the Women’s Health League conference to promote the idea among Te Arawa and Ngati Tuwharetoa of a Maori welfare league, able to deal directly with the different government departments responsible for housing, health, education and employment. Rangitaamo presented these ideas to her Ngati Tuwharetoa kin in Maori, hoping to break their allegiance to the Rotorua Committee. In 1951 she travelled her district, discreetly persuading the Women’s Health League branches to convert to branches of the newly formed Maori Women’s Welfare League. Just before the MWWL’s first dominion conference, Rangitaamo hosted a crucial meeting at Putiki in 1951 which helped to turn the tide towards it. After the league was established, Rangitaamo was ultimately responsible for its administration in her zone. Throughout the early 1950s she forwarded to the Department of Maori Affairs applications to form new branches. This meant attending and assisting at most of their meetings. She also attended all dominion conferences; with Ruth Wright and Ema Otene her special responsibility was to take care of official visitors.
Rangitaamo continued in her work as a welfare officer, attending meetings of the MWWL and Putiki’s many other community organisations for 14 years, dealing with the sick, promoting healthy child-rearing practices among mothers, caring for the homeless and disadvantaged, finding work for the unemployed, and promoting spiritual welfare through her teaching of all aspects of Maori culture. She retired officially in 1962; Tenga-i-te-rangi died the same year. Rangitaamo coped with the massive tangihanga, and later with a ceremony at Putiki to mark the unveiling of his memorial stone.
Neither her husband’s death nor her own retirement lessened Rangitaamo’s activity. In August 1964 she was one of a group of four Maori women who flew to Tonga to attend the 10th annual conference of the Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women’s Association, which was built around the theme of the role of women in preserving cultural heritage. With Te Arahori Potaka, also of Whanganui, Rangitaamo helped to lead the New Zealand delegation in waiata, poi dances and haka during the associated concert. For Rangitaamo, the highlight of the conference was meeting Queen Salote; they became firm friends.
Rangitaamo continued her tutoring of Maori language, arts and crafts and her role as elder at Putiki. In 1982 she was asked to instruct Prince Edward, then a house tutor at Wanganui Collegiate School, in Maori custom. She received the Wanganui Community Award in 1984. That year Sir Kingi Ihaka of the Council for Maori and South Pacific Arts presented her with an award of $700 for her work in promoting Maori arts and culture, and for her compositions of waiata. She was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in 1986 for community service. Rangitaamo Takarangi died at Wanganui Hospital, aged 90, on 5 June 1992. She was survived by a daughter and numerous descendants. After a tangihanga on Putiki marae, she was buried at Putiki cemetery.