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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)

Famous New Zealanders — No. 42 — Te Puea Herangi: Princess Of Waikato And Leader Of Her People

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Famous New Zealanders
No. 42
Te Puea Herangi: Princess Of Waikato And Leader Of Her People.

Now and again in Maori history a woman has arisen to impress her force of character, her intellect and her high standards of conduct on the life of her people. Such a woman leads to-day the ranks of the tribes in the South Auckland country in a noble effort to restore the race to its olden plane of happiness and independence. This Waikato high chieftainess Te Puea Herangi is rightly styled Princess. That pakeha title has sometimes been misused by lesser people of the race. But Te Puea is in every sense worthy of being called Princess, for she is the great-granddaughter of Potatau to Wherowhero, the first Maori King, and her career is in keeping with her aristocratic descent. There is a beautiful Maori title, Ariki tapairu. It signifies a sacred chieftainess, a queen among the tribes. Te Puea is not only hereditary Ariki tapairu of Waikato, but is a great philanthropist, a great organiser, an inspiration and a guide to her people. There is a strain of the mystic in her, but a very practical mystic. Greatly patriotic, she is restoring the old Maori culture in many forms at her model village at Ngaruawahia. She is a tired and sick woman to-day, for she assumed burdens almost greater than she can bear, and she deserves the warm sympathy and assistance of her pakeha fellow New Zealanders in her heroic work of pure unselfishness for the industrial and social and moral uplift of her Waikato tribes.

(Photo by courtesy of the Auckland Star.) Te Puea Herangi.

(Photo by courtesy of the Auckland Star.)
Te Puea Herangi.

Te Puea Herangi is the grand-daughter of King Tawhiao, the old tattooed monarch of the Waikato and the Rohepotae frontier of whom we saw a good deal in the early days on the southern border of pakeha settlement. Life was still adventurous then, when the King Country was a closed territory against the whites, and when many a sturdy rebel against the Queen's authority lived a few miles beyond our frontier farms, with the Puniu River, a kind of New Zealand Tweed, flowing between. We saw the King and six hundred men, most of them armed, come out from their long seclusion after the war, and march in peaceful if lively parade through the townships. We lived on their good lands, reft from them by conquest, and the losses of war still embittered the Maori mind, long after the return of peace. Those losses have never been made good; the old wounds remain.

The Passing of the Old Order.

We saw some years after that march of peacemaking a dramatic migration, the canoe flotilla of the Waikato tribes sweeping down the Waipa and Waikato Rivers, returning to the remnants of their ancestral lands on the Lower Waikato. Then the final scene in the old primitive regime, the great tangihanga gathering in 1894, when four thousand Maoris met on the plain of a Hundred Wailings, below Taupiri Mountain, to farewell the spirit of King Tawhiao and speed it to the Reinga.

All have gone now, all the old chiefs, Tawhiao's compeers. The new path has opened before the Maori. He is at the parting of the ways; the old overgrown and dusky, the path of ghosts. The new path leads him into the modern farming life. He is a man of the land again, trying to regain the happiness and comfort that were his before the pakeha invasion and the merciless confiscation of his best lands, the old food-gardens of the Waikato.

From a Family of Rulers.

The old chiefs have gone, but a new leader and champion has emerged, and that is Te Puea Herangi. She came just at the hour when an organiser and a director was needed to guide and hold her tribe-folk in the ways of life. There is a strain of English blood in the first lady of Waikato. She may be described as three-quarter caste Maori. Her father, Tahuna Herangi (Searancke) is a half-caste, the son of a Mr. Searancke, who was a Government magistrate in the Waikato, and a chieftainess named Harata. Her mother was Tiahuia (“Adorn with Plumes of the Huia”), a daughter of King Tawhiao and a sister of the late Mahuta, the third King of Waikato, whom the Government appointed a member of the Legislative Council, as representing the native race.

King Koroki, the fifth of the royal house, is her near relative; he plays a quiet, dignified part as titular head of his people.

On her Maori side Te Puea can recite her genealogical descent from Hoturoa, the Polynesian sailor chief, who commanded the canoe Tainui on the voyage from Tahiti to New Zealand six centuries ago. She can recite, too, the collateral lines that link her ancestors with the Arawa and other great tribes of the island. Her great ancestress Mahina-a-Rangi, after whom her beautiful carved meeting-house at Ngaruawahia is named, is the chieftainess whose name brings many tribes to Waikato. From her the Arawa, East Coast, and King Country all trace partial descent.

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A Mother to the Orphans.

In social, political, and economic organisation among her people Te Puea has exhibited the spirit of the pioneer and the progressivist. She established a kind of model village at Ngaruawahia—the historic watersmeet where the Waipa River joins the great Waikato—a beautiful and storied spot, the pre-war headquarters of the Maori Kingdom. Here, while adopting modern ideas in the direction of health and social uplift, she has revived some of the beauty of the old-time Maori life.

Here, too, she has shown herself a mother to her people, in excelsis, for the marae of Mahina-a-rangi is a place where scores of motherless have been cherished. The great-hearted Te Puea has now fifty orphans there whom she feeds and clothes. Often she does not know where the money is coming from, and she has undertaken all manner of work for her beloved kahuipani, her flock of orphans.

Co-operative Work on the Land.

But Te Puea's most strenuous activity was her effort to restore her people to the farming life, following on the methods adopted so successfully by Sir Apirana Ngata on the East Coast and in the Bay of Plenty districts. Here her position as a rangatira was of value in reinforcing her natural gifts of leadership and her exceptional force of character. When Sir Apirana was Native Minister he placed great reliance on hereditary leadership and tribal organisation.

In the various tribes, teams of young Maoris with experience of work on the land and in such things as roadmaking, bridge-building and drainage were selected for the breaking-in work, under leaders who, wherever possible, were recognised rangatiras by pedigree, and who possessed the natural gifts desirable in a chief. Waikato were more backward than other tribes, because they had little usable land remaining to them after the confiscation by the Government. However, what little land was available was turned to use, Te Puea and her teams of people —women and men—handled one block after another, in order to turn them into productive farms.

The Farm Makers.

An example of what has been done is seen at Kohekohe, on the Waikato River, where in two years a waste area of 400 acres was converted into good productive dairying land. Other areas in the Lower Waikato and on the Manukau Harbour were developed at small cost and turned to account as small dairy farms where scores of families could earn a living. This good work, unfortunately, has temporarily been interrupted, but Te Puea is striving with all the powers of a gallant spirit to restore the progress movement. In this back-to-the-land movement just sufficient of the old communal system is retained to blend beneficially with the new. The Maori is able to live more simply than the pakeha; he can get much of his food from the river and the sea, and work on the breaking-in of the land is being carried on more economically than similar schemes among the Europeans. Te Puea herself sets an example in this respect.

The arrangement was that the Maoris supply all labour, to the point where seed, fertilisers, fencing material,
(From a photo about 1888.) King Tawhiao, grandfather of Te Puen Herangi (Died 1894).

(From a photo about 1888.)
King Tawhiao, grandfather of Te Puen Herangi (Died 1894).

stock and implements were required. The Maori labour groups camped on the various blocks were given moderate advances to meet the cost of living, in part, and the cost of materials and stock was financed by the Native Department out of accumulated Maori funds in the hands of the Government.

Te Puea's Toil and Achievement.

When the recent Royal Commission on Native Affairs took the evidence of leading Maoris in Wellington Te Puea was a witness. She described the work which had been her chief endeavour, and I reproduce some of her evidence here. In answer to questions Te Puea said that about the year 1920 she came to the conclusion that her people, being without land, were sinking into hopeless poverty, and so she went to work in their interest. She had assumed the guardianship of sixty orphans whose parents had died in the influenza and dysentery epidemics, and she reared them. She also had taken charge of some of the older people. In accordance with Maori tradition she conceived the idea of making Ngaruawahia the centre of culture for the Waikato people, and she described the steps she had taken to bring this about. She had organised a party of her orphans and travelled through the North Island giving concerts and native entertainments. On one tour #900 had been raised and on another #1,000. As a result of raising money in this way two meeting-houses at Ngaruawahia had been built. She had also erected a number of cottages to house the old people.

Then the chieftainess described early difficulties in breaking in land. “The people never forget,” she said, alluding to the confiscation of the Waikato. “But I tried to forget, for the sake of the children. On the new farms at Waipipi and other places I cut gorse, helped to make roads and did everything with the exception of bushfelling. I worked to encourage the others to work.”

A Work of Rescue.

“I want the people on the land,” she said in answer to further questions. “I want land in order to draw my people back from Chinese gardens. Maori women are living with Chinese gardeners. I had some stolen from me at Ngaruawahia. If the men cannot get a living many of them go to the Chinese. There are about 400 of my people at the Chinese gardens around Auckland, and 300 at Pukekohe. They have gone there to work because they need food and clothing. My scheme will help to bring people back to their land.”

It was shown in evidence that the Maoris most cheerfully worked on the land when they saw a prospect of earning a living from it. At Waipipi (South Manukau) actually only six men out of twenty-seven were on the pay-sheet; the others worked simply for their food; the little community lived on the wages paid to six. But they worked happily all day long; the spirit of co-operation was perfect.

Cheery Communal Life.

“You know,” said Te Puea, “when, the people are working in co-operation, they go on with their singing and their arts and crafts as they did before the pakeha came. They sing and dance and are happy. We realise that the farming of to-day must be carried out in modern pakeha fashion, but it suits us to work together in the old way, page 20 page 21 and have our songs and dances as in former times.”

There is a beautiful spirit of mutual helpfulness among the Maoris, and wise administration will encourage this and utilise it in the development of the new farming effort. The trials so far have been justified by results.

Near Waiuku, where a few years ago hundreds of acres were covered with gorse and fern and infested with rabbits, the Princess and her people have founded dairy farms. These farms, fully stocked, cost only #17 per acre. In 1929, the Kohekohe block of 400 acres, on the Lower Waikato, was unproductive land. Te Puea and members of her tribe set to work, and their labours showed what could be done with organisation in a short time. In the 1930–31 season three small herds were milked on the newly-grassed land.

“Princess te Puea is a wonderful woman,” said Mr. Massey, M.P. for Franklin, in 1931. “She has a splendid influence over the natives and has proved to the rest of New Zealand what can be done in this way. The land shows that excellent work has been put into it.”

The Problem of Landless Maoris.

The Maoris are the only people who are doing their fair share towards the natural increase of the population. The normal birthrate of the native people far outstrips that of the European community. The latest census gives the Maori population as 81,774, an increase of 18,000 in the last ten years. Better living conditions, education in hygiene, and an improvement in economic status as the result of the land settlement schemes, are responsible, largely, for this increase. But the disquieting aspect of this otherwise greatly desirable condition of the Maori is the problem of provision for the landless Maoris whose numbers are inpreasing. There are hundreds of families who are without land they can call their own or land they can use. The tragic diminution of the Maori landed estate has a direct relation to the problem of immigration and the increase of the rural population.

Seeing that the Maoris are proving themselves better citizens than the pakeha in the matter of birthrate, that they have lived more in accordance with natural laws than the white population has, they are fairly entitled to the use of land necessary for the subsistence of themselves and their children.

When I discussed this problem with Te Puea a few weeks ago, I told her that I considered the Maori, the first settler, certainly should be considered before any assistance was given to new pakeha immigrants. New Zealand's first duty is to see that the Maoris, particularly those in Waikato, where old confiscations robbed the tribes of their homes and their farming lands, are given access to the soil that is their moral right. Their old farms and forests have gone from them, but there is other land to be obtained. Te Puea's work, and her people's work, is proof of what may be expected when the landless obtain lands and the liberal financial backing that the white settler has been able to command.

Te Puea's labours and interests are indeed many. There is no branch of Maori culture that this wonderful woman does not touch and advance. The beautiful house, named after her great foremother of centuries ago,
“Te Paki-O-Matariki,” The decorative front door of Te Paea's carved meeting-house “Mahina-a-Rangi.” The seven stars represent the constellation of the Pleiades (Matariki), sacred in Waikato religion And legend. The name of the door means “The Halycon Influences of the Plelades.”

“Te Paki-O-Matariki,”
The decorative front door of Te Paea's carved meeting-house “Mahina-a-Rangi.” The seven stars represent the constellation of the Pleiades (Matariki), sacred in Waikato religion And legend. The name of the door means “The Halycon Influences of the Plelades.”

is a marvel of skill and artistry in woodcarving and interior decoration. The model kainga of which it is the central feature, is well designed, and simply, yet comfortably furnished with modern requirements. Cultivations of food and many fruit trees surround it. For another thing, Te Puea is reviving the canoe flotillas that were the olden pride of the Waikato, and the first of a fleet of seven waka-taua, or war canoes, is being constructed at Waingaro, in the bush near Ngaruawahta. In this fine work the Princess of Waikato should have the practical assistance of Auckland's citizens, for the province will look to Waikato to provide the leading interest in the Centennial aquatic celebrations now only three years, ahead of us.
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