Te Puea Herangi


Te Puea Herangi was born into the Kahui Ariki (royal family) of the Kingitanga (Waikato Maori King Movement). As she was the grand-daughter of the second Maori king, Tawhiao, she was a princess.

In 1910, at 27, Princess Te Puea began working with her people in the Waikato region of the North Island, New Zealand. The Waikato iwi (tribes) had had much land confiscated after the New Zealand Wars, and therefore resented and were suspicious of the Pakeha settlers. They had little land and no government support, and endured poor housing, unemployment and epidemics.

In 1913, a typhoid epidemic hit NZ, and Waikato Maori suffered worst than most people. The Maori death rate was considerably higher than that of the Pakeha. Princess Te Puea worked with her people at Te Pania. Many Maori believed that the sickness was caused by spirits, and were reluctant to go to hospital, so Te Puea set up makeshift open air shelters and nursed the patients, saving many lives.

In the latter years of WWI, Te Puea led an anti-conscription campaign in the Waikato, and refused to let the Maori of the region join the army. Maui Pomare, who introduced conscription, ironically had only been elected with Te Puea’s support. In 1918, the influenza epidemic raged through NZ, killing many. Te Puea worked tirelessly, and at the end, cared for children orphaned by the epidemic. She was now a well known figure in both Maori and Pakeha society, and was the main advisor for the King Te Rata.

In 1921, Te Puea formed the concert party Te Pou O Mangatawhiri (TPM) which toured the North Island raising funds for the building of Turangawaewae Marae (meeting house). While TPM were touring the North Island, Te Puea met Apirana Ngata, who invited her to Wellington to meet PM Gordan Coates. The two politicians were keen to start developing Maori lands. After her visit, the government began to help her with her work in the Waikato.

Te Puea was officially recognised in 1938, when she received a CBE, and in 1946, managed to get compensation from the government for confiscated land.

Princess Te Puea’s work with Coates and Ngata increased her mana, and made her well respected by both Pakeha and Maori. She also spent much of her time encouraging the Waikato Maori to develop the Maori skills in arts and crafts. TPM continued to tour, and finally, Te Puea was able to set up a carving school at Turangawaewae, which revived the tradition of canoe (waka) carving.

When WWII came around, Te Puea supported the war effort, although she was reluctant at first. She raised Red Cross money, and supervised the making of clothing to be sent to the Maori Battalion.

Upon her death, 10 000 people, both Maori and Pakeha, attended her tangi (funeral). Her husband stated that she had led her people from a place of darkness to a place of light. This was true, as at the time of her death, the Waikato Maori had transformed from a landless, disease prone and unemployed people to one of the most thriving tribes in New Zealand.

Maori and Pakeha (Race Relations 1912-1980) :- Mark Sheehan

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