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Beyond Te Tiriti: The Remarkable Women Leaders of Aotearoa | Dr Simone Bull | Wellington

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ශ්‍රී LankaNZ is a free distributed Sri Lankan Community Newspaper that aims to reach a Sri Lankan population of over 18,000 all over New Zealand. The demand for entertainment in literacy media itself gave birth to ශ්‍රී LankaNZ

After the first signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, it was Governor Hobson’s job to go around the country collecting more signatures. But he was sickly, so he delegated the task to British soldiers and missionaries. Soldiers usually refused to allow Māori women to sign. Some did sign though. Not just five or six as was once thought. It’s now believed that as many as 18 women signed, though gender-neutral naming practices make it hard to be sure.

Among those who did sign was Ati, later known by her baptismal name Ereonora (Eleanor). She owned land and timber and signed Te Tiriti on 28th April 1840. Then there’s Rangi Topeora. Her influence was such that she could override her brother and uncle, the famed military strategists Te Rangihaeata and Te Rauparaha. At the battle of Waiorua on Kāpiti Island she stood, legs astride, on the gateway of the pā, forcing the attackers to endanger themselves by passing between her legs, like the goddess of death Hine-nui-te-pō killing the trickster god Maui. She signed Te Tiriti on 14th May 1840 when she was in her fifties, which was about twice the usual lifespan for wāhine Māori at the time. There’s also Rangi’s cousin Kahe Te-Rau-o-te-Rangi. She took part in the migrations of Taranaki Māori to the Kāpiti area in the 1830s, where she settled before making journeys with her husband to trade with Māori in Marlborough and Whanganui. Kahe was a businesswoman who owned and ran an Inn in Paekakariki that was patronised by Governor Grey. She is famous for swimming 11 kilometres from Kāpiti Island to the mainland with a child strapped to her, to raise the alarm about an approaching war party.

Alexander Turnbull Library Reference: 1/2-041822; G

The very first Māori to sign Te Tiriti was a man called Hone Heke. He soon became disillusioned with the Crown’s attempts to break the promise in Article 2 of Te Tiriti to protect the unqualified exercise of Māori chieftainship over lands, villages and treasures. He protested by cutting down a flagstaff in our first capital city, Kororāreka. Heke also challenged the Crown in writing. Or rather, his wife did. Modern analysis of handwriting, writing style and signatures has found that many of Heke’s letters were penned by Hariata Rongo. She had grown up among her people of the Far North but also spent time living with local missionaries where her literacy flourished to the extent that she corresponded with British politicians, Governors and monarchs.

Lucy Takiora Lord – Wikitoria, Queen of the Nukumaru
Source: Peyman, Benjamin, 1823?-1897. Peyman, Benjamin, 1823/24-1897 :Portrait of Victoria `Queen’ of the Nukumaru. Ref: PA2-2829. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22798130


Despite tensions in Kororāreka and elsewhere, the 1840s and 1850s were relatively peaceful. That all changed when Māori started withholding land from sale and selected a monarch who could deal directly with the monarch in England. The Governor of the day saw these actions as a threat to him and the authority of the Crown. On 17th March 1860 war broke out in Taranaki and soon spread. While those wars were being waged and there were no Māori in Parliament, the Government passed laws that enabled Māori to be imprisoned, indefinitely, without trial for ‘rebellion’ and for millions of acres of land to be confiscated as punishment. A new religion, Pai Mārire, sprang up to boost the morale of disillusioned and displaced Māori. Governor Grey attacked Pai Mārire strongholds around Whanganui and South Taranaki. Some Māori supported Pai Mārire and others did not. Among the Māori opposed to Pai Mārire was Wikitoria, Queen of the Nukumaru. She fought in several battles around the Whanganui district in the mid-1860s, including at Te Ngaio in March 1865. She was ‘the first to enter Wereroa Pā when it was stormed by government troops’.

Te Rangitopeora
Source : Auckland Art Gallery – Toi o Tāmaki, Reference 1915253 by Gottfried Lindauer


Then there’s Heeni Te Kirikaramu Pore. Although she is of Te Arawa descent, Heeni was born in the Bay of Islands and was living there in 1845 during the battle over the flagstaff at Kororāreka. Heeni and her mother were evacuated by ship to Auckland. But when the Crown sought to destroy the Māori King Movement by invading Waikato in 1863, Heeni, her mother, her sister and her children left their new home to go and fight for the King Movement. By April 1864 Heeni was fighting again, this time in the battle at Pukehinahina near Tauranga.

Her mercy during this battle cemented her reputation as a fearless but honourable warrior and helped to etch the memory of all of these women into our minds.


Dr Simone Bull – Wellington

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