Te Puea Herangi

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Princess Te Puea Herangi, CBE (9 November 1883 – 12 October 1952) was a Māori leader from New Zealand's Waikato region known by the name Princess Te Puea. Her mother, Tiahuia, was the elder sister of King Mahuta.

Early life[edit]

She was born at Whatiwhatihoe, near Pirongia in the Waikato, daughter of Te Tahuna Herangi and Tiahuia. Te Tahuna Herangi was the son of William Nicholas Searancke an English surveyor.[1] Tiahuia was daughter, by his principal wife, of the second Māori King, Tawhiao Te Wherowhero.

As the eventual successor to her grandfather, she was educated in the traditional Māori ways. At age 12 she began attending Mercer Primary School and then went on to attend Mangere Bridge School and Melmerly College in Parnell. She was fluent in speaking and writing Māori and she could speak English but her written English was very poor. During her teenage years she was often very sick. She lived a wild and promiscuous life. She was given ariki status and developed an arrogant and demanding personality and was often in conflict with her family and whānau over her many partners (such as Tom Paikea, Paraire Herewini, Roy Secombe,Te Tahi Iwikau, and Rawiri Katipa) and her drunken bickering – a lifestyle she later came to bitterly regret. She married Rawiri Tumokai Katipa in 1922. She was unable to have children.[2]

In her twenties, Te Puea settled at Mangatawhiri and began dairy farming. She began collecting and recording waiata (songs), whakapapa (genealogies) and korero tawhito (history) from her extended family.[3]

Leadership role[edit]

When her mother died in 1898, Te Puea returned home reluctantly at the age of 15, supposedly to take her mother's place. However, being young and believing also that she was dying of tuberculosis, she rejected the traditional role expected of her and cut herself off from her people.

This phase passed and in 1911 she returned to her people and resumed her hereditary role. Her first task, the one that re-established her mana among her people, was to successfully campaign on behalf of Maui Pomare in his election bid to become the Kingite Member of Parliament.[4] Te Puea later fell out with Pomare because he supported Māori soldiers fighting for New Zealand overseas. Te Puea worked against this behind Pomare's back. He became aware of her attitude and in the winter of 1918 attended an anti conscription hui called by Te Puea where he was roundly abused by all the elders of the kingitanga. Te Puea's support base was mainly with the lower Waikato tribes initially-she was a minor figure for up river iwi such as Maniapoto.[5]

Because of Waikato's anti government stance on conscription during WW1 and Te Puea's personal involvement in hiding conscripts, she was not a popular figure with government or local pakeha after WW1. Because of the German background of her father Te Puea was often accused of being a traitor. After WW1, farmers were reluctant to offer Kingites work and during the Royal visit of the Prince of Wales the kingites desire to host the prince was snubbed in favour of an Arawa visit which was open to all Māori to attend. Arawa had been selected as they had the experience and facilities to host a large Māori occasion. They were an iwi that had remained loyal to the government, taking an active part against the Kingites in the land wars and playing a full role in WW1.[6]


She was soon acknowledged as one of the leaders of the Kingitanga Movement and worked to make it part of the central focus of the Māori people. She also began farming at Mangatawhiri. Te Puea was firmly opposed to conscription when it was introduced in 1917 and provided a refuge at her farm for those who refused to be conscripted into the New Zealand Army.[7]

Following the influenza epidemic of 1918, she took under her wing some 100 orphans, who were the founding members of the community of Turangawaewae at Ngāruawāhia. It was through Turangawaewae that Te Puea began to extend her influence beyond the Waikato Region. The construction of its carved meeting house was strongly supported by Sir Āpirana Ngata and the Ngāti Porou people. She became friendly with the Prime Minister, Sir Gordon Coates who was raised in a rural community where many Maori lived, and with journalist Eric Ramsden who publicised her tours and the development of the Kingitanga base at Turangawaewae. Coates was keen to lift Waikato Maori out of their sullen depression by addressing land grievances. Coates had been shocked at the conditions in which Waikato Maori lived-calling them the poorest people he had seen in his life.[8] It was through her friendship with Ramsden that articles about her and her work began to appear in the national newspapers. In these she was usually identified as Princess Te Puea, a title that she herself deplored, saying that the role of princess does not exist in Māoritanga. Pomare pointed out that neither does King.

During 1913 and 1914 the Māori community suffered a smallpox epidemic. The main problem was that many of them believed that disease was a punishment from displeased spirits, and refused to go to Pākehā hospitals. In response, Te Puea set up a small settlement of nikau huts devoted to nursing people back to health. This was successful as not one person died and the isolation of the village largely prevented spread of disease.

Te Puea's main drive was to establish Turangawaewae as a base for the Kingitanga but she was always short of funds. In 1922 she decided to raise money for her ambitious building programme by starting a Maori concert party called Te Pou o Mangawhiri . Choosing this name (the place where General Cameron crossed into rebel held territory in 1863) she hoped to remind the Pakeha of the war and the confiscations. TPM, as it was known, travelled around New Zealand performing haka, poi dances, Hawaiian hula dances, with steel guitars, mandolins, banjos and ukuleles. In a 3-month tour the group saved 900 pounds which was used to build a new kitchen dining room.[9] Te Puea restarted the Kingitanga taxation scheme whereby all Kingitanga supporters were required to pay levies to support Kingatanga programmes. This was commonly called the whitebait levy. At other times Te Puea levied every supporter for an additional donation of 2/6 . Te Puea was known to keep meticulous records of these finances. [10]

Tour of the East Coast and controversy over gifted farm[edit]

During her tour of the East Coast in the late 1930s Te Puea visited Ngāti Porou marae where, to her surprise, she was accepted, despite her links to the king movement which Ngati Porou had always despised for its isolation and backwardness. For her part Te Puea was surprised at the affluence that Ngati Porou enjoyed as well as their acceptance of European life style. The East coast tour was a great success and raised more money for Turangawaewae buildings. Following this she was invited to Wellington to take part in a wide range of official and social arrangements. Te Puea used the contacts she had made, especially with Māori MP and minister Apirana Ngata to further her development of the Kingitanga base. She was able to acquire from the government a block of land near the meeting house for growing vegetables, increased pensions and a local post box. The Prime Minister Gordon Coates also gave her a 200-acre farm, built her a house and made a gift of £1,000 for farm development; and also subsidised a Maori workers hostel in Tuakau. Coates said this was given in recognition of her work for Waikato orphans and the poor but also to consolidate her political support at a time when the Ratana church was becoming a major and threatening political force. Ngata gave Te Puea government loans and another 300 acre block to grow food to support the kingitanga. This farm needed a developer and an experienced Pakeha farmer paid for by the government was appointed supervisor. Ngata fired him and replaced him with Te Puea. She was given a car so she could move around the 3 farms. Her husband was given another farm at Tikitere in Rotorua. However concerns were raised in Parliament about how Ngata was operating and misusing government funds in 1934. This led to an investigation held by a Royal Commission that found there had been a host of irregularities involving the expenditure of £500,000. Labour leader Bob Semple said that the commission revealed one of the worst specimens of abuse of political power, maladministration and misappropriation of public funds. Ngata resigned.[5]

In 1935, she was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.[11]

Te Puea was appointed a CBE in 1937. Initially she was confused and reluctant to accept the award because of her dealings with the government. The CBE was awarded for her self-sacrificing devotion and stupendous personal efforts and extraordinary capacity for leadership and organisation, with a talent for diplomacy in her dealings with other tribes and leaders amongst the Pakeha... she turned idle lands into productive excellent farms.[12] A year later another carved meeting house was opened by the Governor General, Lord Galway.


In 1940 she bought a farm near Ngāruawāhia and began developing it provide an economic base for the Turangawaewae community. It was there that she began teaching the beliefs that would sustain the King Movement: work, faith (specifically the Pai Marire faith, which became strongly established in the Waikato region), and pan-Māori unity through the King Movement. Te Puea always stressed the importance of iwi over hapu (the tribe over the sub-tribe or family grouping).

The Government planned nationwide celebrations for the centenary in 1940 of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the document that founded modern New Zealand. Initially Te Puea was in favour, but then withdrew her support when the government refused her request that the Maori king be given the same tax status as the Governor General.[5] At the time she said:

This is an occasion for rejoicing on the part of the Pākehā and those tribes which have not suffered any injustice during the past hundred years.

Reconciliation with Pākehā[edit]

Te Puea was raised by people who had fought to resist the government invasion of the Waikato in 1863, and by people who had lived through the bitter years that followed. She had little reason to love or trust Pākehā. However, as time went by she came to see the need for reconciliation. In 1946 Te Puea approached the government to say the tribe would be willing to accept money to compensate for the loss of lands after the defeat of the Kingitanga in 1863. A large meeting was held at Turangawaewae in which a wide range of opinions were aired. Then the leadership met privately with Prime Minister Peter Fraser and worked out what would be accepted by the tribe. A deal had already been settled with Taranaki tribes and Waikato were keen to do better. The final deal gave Waikato nearly twice the income of Taranaki. The deal was accepted by Roore Edwards at the urging of Te Puea. After nearly 20 years of negotiation she accepted, on behalf of Tainui, a settlement offered by the Prime Minister of an initial grant of 10,000 pounds and 5,000 pounds (later $15,000) a year spread over 40 years. No provision was made for inflation which at that time was very low. By the time the deal was presented to the tribe the next day the money had been increased again to 6,000 pounds for 50 years and thereafter 5,000 pounds in perpetuity.[13][14] She recognised this as an acceptable offer. However the payment acknowledged that a grievous wrong had been done to her people. Te Puea also built Turangawaewae marae and has a statue of her in front of the house called Mahinarangi.

Later years of her life[edit]

In the last few years of her life Te Puea fell out with many of the Maori and Pākehā friends who had worked with her for most of her adult life. She became increasingly demanding and unreasonable when she did not get her way.[5] Te Puea died at her home after a long illness. During her lifetime she had raised the profile of the King Movement, especially outside of Waikato and had helped raise the standard of living of Waikato to that of other Maori.

Biography by Michael King[edit]

In 1974 the historian Michael King, who had worked for the Waikato Times and learnt te Reo Maori, became interested in writing about the famous Kingitanga leader Te Puea. He discovered there was very little written about her and wanted to write about her while the people who knew her at first hand, were still alive. King tried to persuade the Maori author Pei te Hurinui Jones, to write the biography but he refused, saying he knew too much about her. Jones said it would be difficult to write about Te Puea without damaging her reputation (mana). After discussions with the tribe and Dame Te Atairangi-kaahu it was agreed that King would write her biography. He was given restricted access to many of Te Puea's papers by Alex McKay, formerly Te Puea's secretary. McKay said he could not have all the papers as there was too much private and family information that should remain confidential. Many of Te Puea's elderly friends gave valuable time to King. Within a few years nearly all were dead. After the book was published some non-Waikato/Tainui Maori criticised them for allowing a Pakeha to write about a highly tapu person.[15]


  1. ^ Parsonson, Ann. "Herangi, Te Kirihaehae Te Puea". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  2. ^ King, Michael (1977). Te Puea: a Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 40–47. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
  3. ^ Macdonald, Charlotte (ed.) (1991). The Book of New Zealand Women. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books. pp. 664–669. ISBN 0908912048.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Monumental Stories. "Te Puea Hèrangi". Archived from the original on 7 March 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d King, Michael (1977). Te Puea: a Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
  6. ^ King, Michael (1977). Te Puea: a Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 107. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
  7. ^ Ramsden, Eric. "Memories of Princess Te Puea". National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  8. ^ King, Michael (1977). Te Puea: a Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 139–141. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
  9. ^ King, Michael (1977). Te Puea: a Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 120–121. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
  10. ^ King, Michael (1977). Te Puea: a Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 202. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
  11. ^ "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post. 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  12. ^ King, Michael (1977). Te Puea: a Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. p. 218. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
  13. ^ King, Michael (1977). Te Puea: a Biography. Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 250–251. ISBN 0-340-22482-7.
  14. ^ Ministry for Culture and Heritage. "Te Kirihaehae Te Puea Herangi (Princess Te Puea)". Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  15. ^ Being Pakeha. M. King. Penguin, 2004. Ch 6. The Te Puea Trail.

External links[edit]

Herangi, Te Kirihaehae Te Puea from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography