Page 1: Biography
Parata, Wiremu Te Kākākura
Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa leader, farmer, politician
This biography, written by Hohepa Solomon, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993, and updated in June, 2017.
Wiremu Te Kākākura Parata was born on Kāpiti Island, probably in the mid 1830s. He grew up during a time of unprecedented and irreversible social change, of which he himself was a product. His mother, Metapere Waipunāhau, was the daughter of Te Rangihīroa, younger brother of Te Pēhi Kupe, the hereditary leader of Ngāti Toa who had occupied the Kāpiti coast from the 1820s. Metapere Waipunāhau was given in marriage to George Stubbs, an Australian-born whaler and trader of English extraction. The name they gave to their son, Te Kākākura, said to have been taken from the dying speech of Te Pēhi Kupe, refers to the red feathers under the wing of the kākā, symbolic of high chiefs. In later years Te Kākākura Parata was to come into possession of a cloak made of these feathers. The name Wiremu (Wī) appears to have been given later.
Wī Parata's father was drowned in a boating accident off Pukerua Bay about 1838, and Parata had only one brother, Hēmi Mātenga. His mother moved her family from Kāpiti to the palisaded pā at Kenakena at the mouth of the Waikanae River, where Parata spent his childhood. A woman of high standing within Ngāti Toa and Te Āti Awa, she was influential in early land dealings, particularly in 1848 when Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke and his followers left the Kāpiti coast and returned to Waitara. This land was the foundation of a substantial estate which was to come into Wī Parata's possession. It was to be further enhanced in 1860 when more Te Āti Awa returned to Waitara, leaving all their land interests in the Waikanae district to Parata.
Parata is said to have married twice. Nothing is known of his first wife. His second wife was Unaiki, of Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Toa. They are said to have married in 1852, and to have had at least 11 children, including four sons.
By 1868 Parata had begun farming and by 1875 ran about 1,600 sheep. He built a house on the north bank of the Waikanae River, but with the advent of the railway, to which he gave right-of-way across family and tribal lands, he moved up to the town which was being established. There he built a large and imposing house. He also relocated the meeting house Whakarongotai, and provided land for the re-establishment of St Luke's Church. He was the largest landowner of the area: the town of Waikanae was originally named Parata Township. His farm boasted a fine stable of horses and a training racetrack on which the Waikanae Hack Racing Club operated until 1914. Parata was followed in these activities by his second son, Natanahira Te Umutapu Wī Parata, and by his grandson, Tohuroa Hira Parata.
During the 1860s Parata became involved in politics in connection with Wī Tako Ngātata. In 1871 he was elected to Parliament as the member for Western Māori, and held the seat for two terms. On 4 December 1872 he was appointed to the Executive Council; Parata and Wī Kātene (appointed a month earlier) were the first Māori to hold this position.
Parata was an astute politician and skilled orator and debater. He expressed the view that the law-makers were making decisions affecting Māori without understanding them. This led him to state in the House that Pākehā were not qualified to decide for Māori, and he persistently asked that Māori and Pākehā parliamentarians work together to make laws that took account of the needs of both peoples. He spoke on a number of occasions on Māori representation and Māori land, requesting in 1872 that a commission be appointed to resolve the issue of Māori land confiscations.
Both Parata and Wī Kātene, however, came to be regarded with suspicion by the Repudiationist newspaper, Te Wānanga, for their apparent change of attitude towards the government after their appointment to the Executive Council. From 1873 Parata rarely criticised government policy, and in 1878 he welcomed the resurrection of the pro-government Māori newspaper Te Waka Māori and condemned Te Wānanga.
After leaving Parliament Parata became prominent in the litigation of Māori land cases. The most notable was his case in the Supreme Court in 1877 against the bishop of Wellington, Octavius Hadfield. It concerned lands that Ngāti Toa had provided for the Anglican church in 1848 to establish and support a school for the education of the young people of Ngāti Toa. The endowment of the school was made on a verbal agreement between Ngāti Toa and the church. In the event no school was established, but in 1850, without the consent of the tribe, a Crown grant had been issued to the church. In the course of giving his judgement Chief Justice James Prendergast declared that the Treaty of Waitangi was 'a simple nullity' having no legal effect, thus allowing the grant to the church and setting a precedent for future claims based on the treaty.
Parata became a supporter of the pacifist leader Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, providing financial support for Te Whiti and Tohu's settlement at Parihaka. His eldest son, Matewhitu Wīnāra (Wī Naera), was imprisoned with the followers of Te Whiti and Tohu in 1879. Parata posted bail for his son, who refused to accept it. Parata is also reputed to have given a personal guarantee for the good conduct of the older chiefs who were imprisoned. In 1882 he presented a petition to Parliament on the West Coast Peace Preservation Bill, stating that he held authority from Te Whiti to act on his behalf.
He established a house at Parihaka, but Waikanae remained the centre of life for Wī Parata. The Parata family burial ground, Ruakōhatu, stands adjacent to St Luke's Church. This is where Wiremu Te Kākākura Parata is buried, his grave being marked by an imposing marble bust which looks down on his many descendants who followed him there. Parata died at Waikanae, as the result of injuries sustained falling from a horse, on 29 September 1906. His tangihanga was reported to have been 'one of the most important functions of this kind that has been held in this island for many years'. His wife, Unaiki, had died on 25 April 1891. Both their portraits were painted by Gottfried Lindauer in 1877, and Parata is commemorated in stained glass in St Luke's Church.