Story: Te Whāiti, Teoti Kerei Te Hioirangi

Page 1: Biography

Te Whāiti, Teoti Kerei Te Hioirangi

1890–1964

Ngāti Kahungunu leader, farmer, community leader

This biography, written by Ra Te Whaiti and S. M. Chrisp,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Teoti Kerei Te Hioirangi Te Whāiti was born, according to family information, in 1890 at Pirinoa, Wairarapa. He was the third son in a family of thirteen children of Irāia Te Ama-o-te-rangi Te Whāiti, a Ngāti Kahungunu leader, farmer and historian, and his wife, Kaihau Te Rangikakapi Maikara Āporo, a Ngāti Kahungunu woman of mana. Teoti, commonly known as George, grew up in the Whakatomotomo valley, the heartland of his father's hapū, Ngāti Ngāpū-o-te-rangi. He attended Pirinoa School and Tūranganui Native School, then Hikurangi College, Clareville. Around this time a serious bout of typhoid fever turned his hair white and he acquired the nickname Te Huru. After leaving school, George lived with the Hūtana family at Waipukurau before returning to southern Wairarapa to work as a rabbiter.

In 1912 George Te Whāiti married Meri Raita Ēnoka of Ngāti Kahungunu and Te Āti Awa. Meri had grown up in the same household as George, and the two had attended school together at Pirinoa and Tūranganui. After their arranged marriage, George and Meri took up residence at Whakatomotomo station, part of the Te Whāiti family estate, where George was now the farm manager. They were to have two children, one of whom died in infancy.

As a result of the death and departure to other districts of family members, George Te Whāiti acquired a leadership role among his family and hapū for which he had not been prepared as a youth. After the First World War he received training from his mother and her brother, Teoti Āporo, in genealogy, oratory and Māori leadership. By the mid 1930s he was widely recognised as a leader of Wairarapa Māori society. He helped to administer Pāpāwai pā, previously the home of the Māori parliament, and he sought support from the Native Land Court and the Native Department to upgrade the historic site. From 1928 until at least 1945 he served on the Rongokako Māori Council, which administered Māori affairs in Wairarapa and southern Hawke's Bay.

George Te Whāiti was heavily involved in running local Māori land trusts and incorporations for Pāpāwai–Kaikōkirikiri, Mangakino, and Tākitimu station. His experience as a farmer proved valuable; the Mangakino incorporation administered approximately 30,000 acres of the tribal estate in Waikato and was responsible for millions of pounds of tribal assets. Te Whāiti was the secretary of the Pouakani block at Mangakino in the late 1940s and chairman throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.

During the Second World War George Te Whāiti was the local Māori recruiting officer and home guard administrator, organising weapons, munitions, transport and coast-watch activities. After the war he became a principal member of the Pirinoa Tribal Committee, formed after the earlier Māori political structures had been revamped. In April 1951 he secured from the descendants of his maternal grandfather, Hōhepa Āporo, half an acre for the Ōkōura Māori Reserve, which became the site for Kohunui marae and home of the Pirinoa Tribal Committee. George and Meri were both leaders there and George initiated the planning and building of a meeting house. In 1953 he also co-ordinated a petition to Parliament urging the protection of Ngāti Kahungunu fisheries on the Wairarapa coast.

A long-standing member of the New Zealand National Party, George Te Whāiti supported local party activities and was a member of the National Party executive in 1960. He was also a strong supporter of the Anglican church, administering its 400-acre Pāpāwai farm and helping establish a Māori pastorate for Wairarapa. He was a church warden, lay preacher and member of the national committee in charge of the Anglican Māori mission.

Throughout this period Te Whāiti continued to administer the family estate. He oversaw interests in Wairarapa, Kaikōura, Taranaki and elsewhere and was the trustee of the family cemetery at Rānana. He lived at Te Kārearea, the family house in Greytown, where he and Meri carried on his mother's tradition of raising foster children. George became prominent in Greytown through his involvement in Greytown Golf Club, Pāpāwai Rifle Club, Wairarapa Rifle Association (of which he was vice president), and the local Masonic lodge.

A tribal leader who also became important in the community generally, George Te Whāiti was supported in his activities by his wife, Meri, and it was considered appropriate in Māori circles when the couple died within two days of each other. George died at Greytown on 25 November 1964 and Meri on the 27th. They were survived by their son, Irāia. A large tangihanga was held at Kohunui marae and they were buried at Rānana.

How to cite this page:

Ra Te Whaiti and S. M. Chrisp. 'Te Whāiti, Teoti Kerei Te Hioirangi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4t11/te-whaiti-teoti-kerei-te-hioirangi (accessed 18 May 2021)