Story: Te Rangikaheke, Wiremu Maihi

Page 1: Biography

Te Rangikaheke, Wiremu Maihi


Ngati Rangiwewehi leader, scholar, public servant

This biography, written by Jenifer Curnow, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Te Rangikaheke, known also by his baptismal name of Wiremu Maihi (William Marsh), or Wi Maihi, was born in the early nineteenth century, according to his own evidence, about 1815, possibly at Puhirua or Te Awahou, in the Rotorua district. His father, also called Te Rangikaheke, was from Ngati Kereru sub-tribe of Ngati Rangiwewehi of Te Arawa, and had kinship ties with Ngati Rangitihi. His mother, Kaihau, was descended from Tamahou, Pupu and Hinepo. As a child, together with his mother and siblings, he was taken captive at the siege of Mokoia Island in 1823 by Nga Puhi; they were ransomed by his father. His father, noted as a warrior and possibly a tohunga, died before 1835. His mother was killed at the pa of Hikairo at Puhirua, on the northern shores of Rotorua, just before the battle of Mataipuku, fought between Te Arawa and Ngati Haua, in 1836.

Te Rangikaheke was married at least three times. His first wife, Mere Pinepire, of Ngati Pikiao, was the mother of his three children. Their son, Hataraka, was killed fighting the supporters of Te Kooti in 1869; and his two sons died at boarding school. There were two daughters, Hiria Haua, who had four children, and Ngarongo Pinepire. Te Rangikaheke also married Tirangi Repora (previously the wife of Hataraka), Te Ranga, and possibly Kahau.

Thomas and Anne Chapman set up a Church Missionary Society mission at Te Koutu in 1835 and there Te Rangikaheke would have learned to read and write. As he was an adherent of the Anglican church in later life, it is probable that he was baptised by Chapman about this time.

During the governorship of Robert FitzRoy, Te Rangikaheke made his first contact with the government. But his major dealings were with FitzRoy's successor, Governor George Grey, with whom he was working closely by 1849. He and Grey shared a common political purpose. As Te Rangikaheke explained in two long letters written to Queen Victoria, the governor had the task of looking after both Maori and Pakeha. Maori had been neglected by the government, perhaps because the governor did not know the language and customs of the Maori. Te Rangikaheke was living with the governor in order to teach him.

For a time Grey paid Te Rangikaheke £36 a year, and provided living quarters for him and his family, attached to his own house in Auckland. Te Rangikaheke wrote of Grey's kindness and generosity. His writings show that they worked together in a warm and close collaboration. He produced a very large body of written work – 21 manuscripts of which he was the sole author, and 17 more to which he contributed, in all nearly 800 pages. Almost all are in the Grey Collection in Auckland Public Library. They were written, in a neat, clear hand, before 1854.

The manuscripts encompass most aspects of Maori culture, including language, genealogies, legends, contemporary history, political commentary, customs, commentary on laments, and autobiographical material. In addition Te Rangikaheke contributed to Grey's manuscripts of songs and proverbs. Eight manuscripts deal with myths and tribal history. Three of these were the source of most of the prose material in Grey's Ko nga moteatea, me nga hakirara o nga Maori (1853), and also provided Grey with at least a quarter of the material for his Ko nga mahinga a nga tupuna Maori (1854), and hence for its translation, Polynesian mythology (1855). Grey did not acknowledge his debt, and introduced alterations, combinations and omissions, particularly in the latter two works.

Te Rangikaheke's account of history covers all time, from the evolution of the universe, the origin of man with the separation of Ranginui and Papa-tu-a-nuku, the quarrels of the sons of Rangi and Papa, the deeds of Maui, the migration of the seven canoes from Hawaiki, and the voyage and arrival of Te Arawa canoe, down to the spread of Te Arawa from Whangaparaoa to Maketu and the inland lakes. It is a comprehensive and sequential account, connecting the past to the present and claiming mana and land for his tribe. Genealogical recital and narrative are the techniques used to recount events. His writing is clear and lively; there are many beautiful comparisons, as well as analogies and digressions. The narrative is often conveyed by brilliant use of dialogue.

Other manuscripts recount the story of Hinemoa, and the wars of the 1830s and early 1840s in the Rotorua and Bay of Plenty areas. Others tell of Maori-Pakeha relations, marriage customs, leadership qualities, warfare and religious observances. Through Grey's publications Te Rangikaheke's writings have reached a wide audience. It is his grammar and style which are generally regarded as 'classical' Maori. Since 1950 a number of his manuscripts have been transcribed, translated and published, with proper acknowledgement to their author.

After Grey's departure in 1853 Te Rangikaheke remained in Auckland for most of the decade, moving frequently from one address to another. He lacked a settled occupation, and earlier he had expressed his anxiety about this when writing to Queen Victoria. He left Auckland towards the end of 1860 and returned to Maketu and Rotorua. He was appointed to the Native Department as clerk of works in December 1862. Other official appointments followed. His position as clerk of works was renewed in 1866; he was listed as clerk at Maketu in 1871; and became clerk of the circuit court and land purchase agent in Rotorua and Maketu in 1875. He was appointed assessor in the Native Land Court in 1874, and became assessor at Ohinemutu in 1880. He spent more than 18 years in government employment.

As a tribal leader and a government official Te Rangikaheke played a significant part in the wars of the 1860s. Ngati Rangiwewehi supported the Maori King, with the exception of Te Rangikaheke's hapu, Ngati Kereru. Te Rangikaheke was opposed to the King movement from its beginning. As he feared attack from Waikato and believed the days of Maori power had passed, he considered that an alliance with the Queen was more appropriate. He sent information to the native secretary about adherents to Pai Marire and about Te Kooti's movements at Opotiki. He proposed that Kereopa Te Rau, held responsible for the murder of the missionary C. S. Völkner in 1865, should be captured, and he fought against the supporters of Te Kooti in the Urewera. Te Rangikaheke attended gatherings at Whakatane, Maungatautari and Te Kopua in the 1870s, at all of which he spoke against the King movement. His advocacy and promotion of road development earned him some antipathy from Te Arawa and others.

Te Rangikaheke was the first Maori to stand for election in a European parliamentary constituency. At that time only Maori owning land on European title could vote in such elections. He was a candidate for the East Coast constituency (later to become Tauranga) in the election of 1875–76. In his election campaign he drew attention to the loyalty of his tribe to the Queen and the government, and to his own services under seven governors. He promised a policy of land development and road and railway expansion. He polled 10 votes out of a total 616 cast.

He was also involved as a witness or claimant in 16 cases in the Native Land Court in Rotorua, Maketu and Taheke between 1867 and 1889, giving in evidence extensive genealogies and historical accounts. He successfully claimed shares of land in Maraeroa–Oturoa, Mangorewa–Kaharoa, Te Tumu–Kaituna and Paengaroa. After his death his grandson successfully claimed shares through him in the Mokoia block.

Te Rangikaheke was acknowledged as a brilliant orator by Maori and Pakeha. He spoke at political meetings and in the Native Land Court, and he was chosen to speak on important occasions. His liveliness and charm were displayed at a feast in Auckland on the Queen's birthday in 1851. His speech at the farewell to Grey by Ngati Whakaue in 1853 shows his knowledge, his gift for language and his sense of theatre. Two photographs of Te Rangikaheke are held in the Rotorua Museum. One shows him in ceremonial dress as a warrior in his prime. The other shows him as a mature civil servant in a European suit. Both show his strong but finely chiselled features. He was a handsome man.

Te Rangikaheke moved from Maketu to Ohinemutu about 1880, and remained there until about 1890 when he moved to Mokoia Island, where he had cultivations. It was from Mokoia, on 13 April 1893, that he wrote to Grey, asking him to intercede with the government to get him a house at Ohinemutu. He recalled their earlier work together, and complained that he had now been forgotten by the government. He asked Grey to act speedily because winter, a bad time for his rheumatism, was approaching. Apparently Grey, himself now aged, did not help. After falling ill at Mokoia in 1895, Te Rangikaheke was taken to Te Awahou. He died during the night of 2 February 1896.

His funeral at Te Awahou was on an unusually large scale. His body lay in front of the house, Whakaokorau; Archdeacon W. L. Williams gave an address in Maori, and at its conclusion the body was placed in a boat to be taken for burial to Orangi-kahui height, about three miles away. Notices of his death and obituaries were published in a number of newspapers. Eulogies in the New Zealand Herald and the Auckland Weekly News drew attention to his work with Grey in compiling Maori traditions, to his prominence in political, social and literary matters, to his acquaintance with governors, politicians and civil servants, and to his superb oratory. He was described as a remarkable and many-sided man, one who was truly great.

How to cite this page:

Jenifer Curnow. 'Te Rangikaheke, Wiremu Maihi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 10 April 2020)