Wiremu Maihi Terangikaheke
Ngati rangiwewehi's great man of letters
Wiremu Maihi (William Marsh) Te Rangikaheke is remembered as having been one of Te Arawa’s greatest scholars. He was a fine writer and speaker, a politician and an employee of the early New Zealand government for many years.
Nobody is sure exactly when Wi Maihi (as he was also known) was born, but in his own writings he states that it was in 1815.
He learned to read and write at the Anglican mission set up by Thomas and Anne Chapman at Te Koutū and these skills became some of the most important in his life. Through his excellent ability to read and write, Wi Maihi became involved with the New Zealand Governor at the time and ended up working very closely with the next Governor, Sir George Grey.
He began writing all the time and he even wrote to Queen Victoria twice. He told her about the importance of looking after both Māori and Pakehā and explained how he believed it was his role to help do that. He did this by teaching Governor Grey as much as he could about Māori culture, customs and language, even going as far as to live with him for some time so that he could better share his knowledge.
He also created 21 beautifully handwritten manuscripts about many topics to do with Māori life, language, politics and history. He wrote about his own life, as well as stories and histories of the local iwi which he explained through whakapapa. There were Māori creation stories and explanations of how Te Arawa arrived in New Zealand and came to journey inland to the lakes. He included songs and whakataukī, all written in an elegant style of language we now call ‘classical Māori’.
Governor Grey used many of Wi Maihi’s writings to create his book Ko ngā moteatea, me ngā hakirara o ngā Maori. However, he never acknowledged Wi Maihi for all the information he supplied and even made some changes without asking for permission.
Wi Maihi became a politician, and as a respected leader and man of knowledge people looked to him for advice about sometimes controversial matters. Because he supported a close relationship with the Queen of England his hapū Ngāti Kererū was the only Ngāti Rangiwewehi hapu not to support the new Māori King.
He worked for years in the Native Land Court in Rotorua and gave evidence on many cases, supporting iwi with their land claims. It is due to his writings that we still know many of the details of life for Te Arawa during these times.
He lived to be an elderly man who was so respected as an extraordinary scholar and orator (speech maker) that when he passed away in 1896 it was reported in national papers.
Qualities: scholarship, diligence, identity, relationships, wellbeing
Did you know?
All 21 of Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikaheke’s manuscripts are held by Auckland Public Library but you can see almost exact copies of them in the Heritage Collection Glass Case on the second floor of Rotorua Library.
More to watch:
See Arapine Walker give a lecture in Te Reo Māori about Wi Maihi Te Rangikaheke as part of Te Mana’s Po Kauhau series.
Posted by the Ngāti Rangitihi YouTube Channel:
More to read:
From Rotorua Library:
Te Rangikaheke manuscripts (Te Rangikaheke)
Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikaheke: his life and work (Jenifer Curnow)