Story: Rongonui, Kahupāke

Page 1: Biography

Rongonui, Kahupāke

1868/1869?–1947

Te Wai-o-Hua leader

This biography, written by Te Warena Taua,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Kahupāke (Kahupaake) Rongonui, also known as Hāriata Whareiti and Kahupāke Potatau, was born in Tāmaki-makau-rau (the Auckland isthmus), probably in 1868 or 1869. She was a member of Te Akitai, a subtribe of Te Wai-o-Hua. Her father was Te Rongonui Reihana Te Haupātahi Te Aroha, chief of Te Wai-o-Hua. Her mother, Te Tahuri, was a member of Te Taoū of Ōrākei, and Ngāti Tamaoho hapū of Te Wai-o-Hua, from south of Papakura. Te Akitai's pā was at Pūkākī, near Māngere.

Kahupāke was also descended from senior lines of Ngāti Mahanga and Ngāti Hourua of Waikato, and her influence extended from the Kaipara Harbour to the mouth of the Waikato River. Her paternal grandmother, Toea Hōpai Purehina, was a daughter of the Waikato leader Wiremu Nēra Te Awa-i-taia and his first wife, Hinu. Toea's husband, Te Aroha Reihana Te Haupātahi, was a chief of Te Wai-o-Hua and a member of the Māori King's council. Through his association with Te Whiti-o-Rongomai the dining hall at Pūkākī marae was named 'Te Raukura o Tāmaki', after the raukura (plume) that was to become the peace symbol of Te Whiti.

At Pūkākī marae Kahupāke was a principal tribal leader. She helped to host many important gatherings to discuss the land confiscations that had followed the wars between Māori and Pākehā in Waikato. She was known personally to all the King movement leaders, and it was she whom they approached when problems arose affecting Waikato–Māngere people. In letters to Kahupāke, Te Puea Hērangi referred to herself as 'tō teina' (your younger relative), and regarded her as an expert on historical matters relating to her people. She was able to give advice on land issues and was responsible for some petitions regarding land interests and burial grounds.

Kahupāke had a long association with Ōrākei through her connection with Te Taoū. In 1913, when the Auckland City Council planned to build a model suburb there, she and other Māori came under pressure to sell their Ōrākei land interests. By 1923 she believed she had sold them all, and came into conflict with the government after a native land purchase officer, W. E. Goffe, persuaded her to accept payment for land she no longer owned. In 1938 she gave evidence in a Supreme Court case over the occupation of some Ōrākei land originally gifted to the Crown by Ngāti Whatua in 1858. Kahupāke was a witness for the suppliant, but the judge found against her. This judgement, unfavourable to Māori claims at Ōrākei, affected the result of the Royal Commission on Ōrākei Lands that was running concurrently.

In 1927 Te Akarana Māori Association, an organisation of Māori and Pākehā with interests in Māori ethnology, decided to set up a model pā and hold a hāngi demonstration and other events on Mt Eden. To mark the occasion, the association planted a tree near the old ritual place known as Te Tūāhu o Huakaiwaka (the ceremonial altar of Huakaiwaka) after the ancestor of Te Wai-o-Hua. The association was surprised by the opposition of Kahupāke and many of her people, and held a meeting with her at Māngere. A long discussion took place, but Kahupāke proved impossible to convince.

Because the association's plan was seen by Kahupāke as disrespectful to her ancestry and the sanctity of the site, she placed a curse on all those involved. When a grass fire enveloped the hill and destroyed the tree that had been planted, it was seen by Māori as evidence of the mana Kahupāke possessed, and just one example of her phenomenal powers.

Kahupāke had a commanding presence and was one of the few women who could stand and address people on Waikato marae. She was the last woman of Te Wai-o-Hua to be tattooed in the traditional manner by the tohunga Ānaru Makiwhara of Ngāi Tai and Te Wai-o-Hua. She belonged to the Pai Mārire religion, and was a much respected traditional healer and a noted seer, whose advice was sought by many Māori leaders. After her father's death in 1939, Kahupāke assumed the mantle of rangatira, head of Te Wai-o-Hua. She was married to Tautahi Paraihe of Te Wai-o-Hua, who predeceased her. They had no children of their own but adopted many. Kahupāke died at Pūkākī pā on 17 January 1947.

How to cite this page:

Te Warena Taua. 'Rongonui, Kahupāke - Rongonui, Kahupake', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3r27/rongonui-kahupake (accessed 18 May 2021)