Story: Te Rangi-puawhe, Te Keepa

Page 1 - Biography

Te Rangi-puawhe, Te Keepa

?–1905

Tuhourangi leader, soldier, entrepreneur

This biography was written by Steven Oliver and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Te Keepa Te Rangi-puawhe was a leader of Tuhourangi of Te Arawa. He traced his descent from Hou-mai-tawhiti through Tama-te-kapua. His father, also named Te Rangi-puawhe, led Tuhourangi in war against Ngati Pikiao before Tuhourangi abandoned their home at Rotoiti and moved to Tarawera. He also fought against Tuhoe at the battle of Pukekaikahu, near Rerewhakaaitu, about 1821, and took part in the capture of Te Tumu pa, near Maketu, from Ngai Te Rangi in 1836. Te Keepa was probably born at Motutawa pa, Tarawera. According to the memorial at his burial place, he was born about 1826. His mother was Hinatuituia of Tuhourangi and Ngati Wahiao.

In the wars of the 1860s Te Keepa Te Rangi-puawhe supported the government. In 1864, when an army of East Coast supporters of the King movement attempted to cross Te Arawa territory, Te Keepa took part in the battles which prevented their progress. The East Coast force was driven back from Rotoiti and defeated at the Waihi estuary, near Maketu, and finally routed at Te Kaokaoroa, near Matata, on 28 April.

In 1869 Te Keepa was one of the leaders of Te Arawa troops who formed part of the force which accompanied Colonel G. S. Whitmore into the Urewera to fight Te Kooti's guerrilla army and the Tuhoe hapu who supported him. The expedition left Fort Galatea on 4 May 1869 and soon captured Te Harema (Salem), the pa of Ngati Whare, Pai Marire adherents who supported Te Kooti, before reaching the Ruatahuna valley. After inconclusive fighting with Te Kooti's forces the column withdrew, as Te Arawa troops did not wish to fight a winter campaign. From 18 May 1869 Te Keepa held the rank of major in the New Zealand militia. In December 1869 he welcomed Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, to Whakarewarewa during his visit to the thermal district. At night haka were performed by firelight, and the duke was presented with taiaha and a mere by Te Keepa and other chiefs. Te Arawa soldiers kept guard at night, as Te Kooti and his supporters were in the Taupo area, not far away.

In peaceful times Te Keepa lived at Te Wairoa, by Lake Tarawera, where he had a European-style house. His wife was Merepeka, and they had at least two children, Potikai and Renati. Te Keepa belonged to the Church of England. He was the senior chief of the district and guardian of O-tu-kapua-rangi and Te Tarata, the pink and white terraces at Rotomahana. He stood unsuccessfully for the Eastern Maori seat in the House of Representatives in the elections of 1875–76 and 1884. In 1882 he represented Tuhourangi claims to the Rotomahana–Parekarangi block, including Lake Rotomahana and the terraces, in the Native Land Court, and appealed an unsatisfactory decision over some land contested by Ngati Rangitihi. The court's ruling was overturned in 1884.

Te Keepa and his people at Te Wairoa provided guides and water transport, and performed haka for tourists visiting the pink and white terraces. They received fees for their services. The sum of £5 was charged for any drawing or photograph of the terraces, with the result that no important paintings had been attempted before Charles Blomfield proposed to make a series of paintings in 1884. A meeting of local Maori leaders was called, at which it was decided that Blomfield should pay a lump sum and bring his own boat. Tourism was a prosperous business: however it came to an abrupt end with the eruption of Mt Tarawera on 10 June 1886. The settlement of Te Wairoa was destroyed and nearly half its population of 250 were killed. People took refuge in Te Keepa's house until he advised them to leave, as it was becoming increasingly unsafe. The survivors fled to Ohinemutu, where Ngati Whakaue made Tama-te-kapua meeting house available to them. Te Keepa remained at Te Wairoa until all known Tuhourangi survivors had reached safety. The tohunga Tuhoto, who had been buried alive, was not discovered until 14 June.

After the eruption Te Keepa worked to recover bodies for burial and to salvage what property remained. He argued with the government agent at Rotorua, H. D. Johnson, for more than the meagre relief offered to the survivors. Tuhourangi were now refugees and resettlement was an urgent need. The government considered offering land for resettlement in return for the cession of the Rotomahana area. Land in Coromandel or the Chatham Islands was mooted, but this proposal lapsed when Te Keepa became ill before agreement was reached, and meanwhile other Maori made offers of land. Most Tuhourangi people settled at Whakarewarewa and nearby Ngapuna, with their near relatives of Ngati Wahiao. One group was resettled at Thames on land donated by Ngati Maru.

In 1896 Te Keepa was elected to Te Kotahitanga (the Maori parliament), and attended its meeting at Tokaanu in March. In 1901 he took part in the reception at Rotorua for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and of York. He died on 27 June 1905, and was buried at Whakarewarewa with military honours. A month later his grave was marked by a red granite monument surmounted by a Celtic cross.