Page 1: Biography
Tūhoe composer of waiata
This biography, written by Pou Temara, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Mihi-ki-te-kapua was the greatest composer of the Tūhoe and Mataatua peoples. At some time in the last years of the eighteenth century she was born at Ruatāhuna. Her hapū were Ngāti Te Riu and Ngāti Ruapani. While living in the Ruatāhuna area she married and had children. In 1823 she was present when Ngāpuhi war parties came to Manawaru, near Ruatāhuna. In the same period she was one of the women who saw the battles between Tūhoe and Ngāti Pūkeko at Te Whaiti-nui-a-Toi. The Waikaremoana area was appropriated by Tūhoe in the 1820s and the mana of the land taken by them. In order to hold the mana, pā were set up at various points around the lake. Mihi-ki-te-kapua was one of the women who lived there to uphold the mana. The pā where she lived was at the northern end of the lake and was known as Te Matuahu. The chief of the area at that time was Pou-tewhatewha, at pā Pouaru.
At Te Matuahu the fame of Mihi-ki-te-kapua as a composer began to grow. She was living alone: all her children had grown up and gone away, and it seems that her husband had died. Most of her songs expressed the yearning arising from the deep loneliness she felt, unable to turn to family for relief from the oppression of her solitary environment. One of her best-known compositions of this kind is 'He tangi mokemoke'.
As Mihi-ki-te-kapua grew older the fine qualities of her poetry developed until finally her expertise in these skills was widely acknowledged. She was an expert in all the techniques of composition, arranging the wording so it was correct, and the clarity of thought would emerge. She was also skilful at placing the lines of songs, to build up the exposition of ideas.
When the fighting between Te Kooti's forces and government troops spread into the Urewera district, the Tūhoe people moved from Waikaremoana. Mihi-ki-te-kapua fled to Te Whaiti-nui-a-Toi to live. There she wrote her last song, one of yearning for her daughter, Te Uruti, who lived not far from Te Whaiti-nui-a-Toi, at a village called Whakatāne:
Too loftily rears Te Waiwhero,
Would it were thrust down lower,
That clearly I might see
The haze from the fire at Whakatāne.
It may be a sign from my dear one
To relieve my anxious heart
To say that you are homing
To your sleeping place, where we embraced.
If I had only known
The words contained in the letter,
That a message be put in writing
And sent to Ihaka,
So that Te Uruti may read,
'My daughter! My greetings
And my deep affection'.
Mihi-ki-te-kapua died at Te Whaiti-nui-a-Toi, probably between 1872 and 1880. A prolific composer, she is remembered for her many songs which are still sung in Mataatua communities.