Page 1: Biography
Te Kahuhiapō, Rāhera
Ngāti Pikiao and Ngāti Pūkenga woman of mana
This biography, written by John Aramete Wairehu Steedman, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.
Rāhera Te Kahuhiapō was born probably in the 1820s at Motutawa pā at the southern end of Lake Rotoiti. Her father was Te Nia, a chief of Ngāti Pikiao; her mother, Rangiāwhao, a woman of high rank, was of Ngāti Pūkenga, Waitaha-a-Hei and Ngāti Ranginui.
Rāhera's inherited rank meant that her marriage was important to her people. After a period at Te Pehu pā at Paengaroa, inland from Maketū near the Kaituna River, she grew up at Motutawa pā. Here, while still in her teens, she met and fell in love with Te Ngaru, a young chief of Ngāti Te Takinga. Her father disapproved of the match, and took Rāhera across the lake to Pukurahi, another Ngāti Pikiao stronghold. Te Ngaru, bereft, played his flute so that the sound wafted across the lake, and composed a love song, which was afterwards remembered and widely sung. But Rāhera and Te Ngaru did not meet again.
From 1836 Rāhera's people were caught up in the tremendous 10-year struggle of Te Arawa, Ngāti Hauā and Ngāi Te Rangi for the possession of Te Tumu and Maketū, and command of the flax and musket trades. Ngāti Pikiao were forced to move to the coast and back inland several times. Paurini Te Whatarau, a prominent Ngāti Pukenga chief, played a pivotal role in securing living space for his people at Maketū.
According to one account, in the early 1850s Paurini Te Whatarau met Rāhera at Maketū; their daughter, Katerina, was born in 1854. He eventually arranged for Rāhera to marry Hone Te Atirau, his adopted grandson. They were married, probably in the mid 1860s. This account says that Katerina was adopted by Hone Te Atirau; her own testimony in the Native Land Court named Hone as her father. After their marriage Rāhera and Hone lived for a time at Maketū, sometimes visiting Te Puke. They later settled at Ngāpeke, on the south side of Tauranga Harbour, with other Ngāti Pukenga. Rāhera and Hone were awarded shares by the Native Land Court in the Ngāpeke block, which was to be Rāhera's home for most of the remainder of her life. They had two children: a son, Hone Te Atirau, who died before he reached his teens, then a daughter, Meretaka Te Atirau.
Many of Rāhera's kin were among the defenders of Pukehinahina or Gate pā in 1864, and some of Rāhera's land was included in the blocks confiscated by the government; it was later returned. In spite of this temporary set-back, Rāhera's extended family were recognised as owners in land court hearings in many blocks between Maketū and Tauranga and inland to Otawa and Rotoiti. She had property as far afield as Coromandel and Whangarei.
These large land interests complemented Rāhera's inherited rank, and ensured the spread of her influence. Hone Te Atirau died in 1881; around this time Paurini Te Whatarau also died, and was buried on the summit of Mauao (Mt Maunganui) to guard the harbour. Of the two chiefs honoured through burial there, Paurini was appointed as the sentry. Rāhera now possessed mana over land and people, and her kin came to her for guidance. Because she was connected to many tribes, disputes were brought to her for settlement. Her word was regarded as law. Later in life she gave evidence in the land court, and was able to recite her descent from important Bay of Plenty ancestors.
After the death of Hone Te Atirau, Rāhera lived for a period at Matapihi, Tauranga Harbour, with her uncle, Te Hātiti Heretaura. Before his death in August 1885 she married Eru Nētana of Ngāti Ua; this marriage was childless. Katerina married David Asher, a native agent, licensed interpreter and storekeeper at Tauranga. Rāhera often cared for their 11 children, and the child of her second daughter, Meretaka. Rāhera taught her daughters and grand-daughters the traditional arts of weaving. She cared for two pet kiwi, and when they died she used their feathers to make a cloak, still preserved and used in the family after six generations.
In 1910 Rāhera Te Kahuhiapō became ill and was cared for by her daughters. She died at Ngāpeke on 12 October. Her tangihanga was attended by hundreds, including her grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, and parties continued to arrive to pay their respects for some time after her death. Te Ngaru's waiata was sung many times. Rāhera was buried in a private cemetery on her property at Ngāpeke.