Matarena Rēneti was an example of a strong Ngāti Awa woman. Self-educated, she was a key person in shifting Ngāti Awa towards unity. She challenged those who were opposed to the idea and put detractors in their place.
Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki founded the Ringatū faith while imprisoned on the Chatham Islands between 1866 and 1868. It is still a formally registered church, with seven regional branches. Many Ngāti Awa are members.
Hirini Moko Mead
Raised by his Ngāti Awa grandmother and later whānau from Murupara, Hirini attended St Stephens School and Te Aute College before becoming a teacher. In 1949, he was 22, newly married to June Te Rina Walker of Ngāti Porou, and teaching in Rūātoki when his granduncle Eruera Mānuera laid out his expectations for the young teacher. Hirini continued with his teaching career during the years that followed, gaining higher degrees and further experience with schools and eventually with universities both here and overseas.
In the mid-1960s, he took his family to the US to complete his PhD with the encouragement and blessing of his elders. During his years abroad, like his contemporaries Whatarangi Winiata and Patu Hohepa, Hirini would reflect on how the revival of the iwi could be achieved through various means including education.
In 1977, Hirini took up a professorship and established New Zealand’s first Māori Studies department (at Victoria University of Wellington). At this point, Eruera and Matarena called him to the task that became his focus for the next 40 years: the reunification and renaissance of Ngāti Awa.