Story: Te Whaiti, Teoti Kerei Te Hioirangi
Te Whaiti, Teoti Kerei Te Hioirangi
Ngati Kahungunu leader, farmer, community leader
This biography was written by Ra Te Whaiti and S. M. Chrisp and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998
Teoti Kerei Te Hioirangi Te Whaiti was born, according to family information, in 1890 at Pirinoa, Wairarapa. He was the third son in a family of thirteen children of Iraia Te Ama-o-te-rangi Te Whaiti, a Ngati Kahungunu leader, farmer and historian, and his wife, Kaihau Te Rangikakapi Maikara Aporo, a Ngati Kahungunu woman of mana. Teoti, commonly known as George, grew up in the Whakatomotomo valley, the heartland of his father's hapu, Ngati Ngapu-o-te-rangi. He attended Pirinoa School and Turanganui Native School, then Hikurangi College, Clareville. Around this time a serious bout of typhoid fever turned his hair white and he acquired the nickname Te Huru. After leaving school, George lived with the Hutana family at Waipukurau before returning to southern Wairarapa to work as a rabbiter.
In 1912 George Te Whaiti married Meri Raita Enoka of Ngati Kahungunu and Te Ati Awa. Meri had grown up in the same household as George, and the two had attended school together at Pirinoa and Turanganui. After their arranged marriage, George and Meri took up residence at Whakatomotomo station, part of the Te Whaiti family estate, where George was now the farm manager. They were to have two children, one of whom died in infancy.
As a result of the death and departure to other districts of family members, George Te Whaiti acquired a leadership role among his family and hapu for which he had not been prepared as a youth. After the First World War he received training from his mother and her brother, Teoti Aporo, in genealogy, oratory and Maori leadership. By the mid 1930s he was widely recognised as a leader of Wairarapa Maori society. He helped to administer Papawai pa, previously the home of the Maori parliament, and he sought support from the Native Land Court and the Native Department to upgrade the historic site. From 1928 until at least 1945 he served on the Rongokako Maori Council, which administered Maori affairs in Wairarapa and southern Hawke's Bay.
George Te Whaiti was heavily involved in running local Maori land trusts and incorporations for Papawai–Kaikokirikiri, Mangakino, and Takitimu station. His experience as a farmer proved valuable; the Mangakino incorporation administered approximately 30,000 acres of the tribal estate in Waikato and was responsible for millions of pounds of tribal assets. Te Whaiti was the secretary of the Pouakani block at Mangakino in the late 1940s and chairman throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.
During the Second World War George Te Whaiti was the local Maori recruiting officer and home guard administrator, organising weapons, munitions, transport and coast-watch activities. After the war he became a principal member of the Pirinoa Tribal Committee, formed after the earlier Maori political structures had been revamped. In April 1951 he secured from the descendants of his maternal grandfather, Hohepa Aporo, half an acre for the Okoura Maori Reserve, which became the site for Kohunui marae and home of the Pirinoa Tribal Committee. George and Meri were both leaders there and George initiated the planning and building of a meeting house. In 1953 he also co-ordinated a petition to Parliament urging the protection of Ngati Kahungunu fisheries on the Wairarapa coast.
A long-standing member of the New Zealand National Party, George Te Whaiti supported local party activities and was a member of the National Party executive in 1960. He was also a strong supporter of the Anglican church, administering its 400-acre Papawai farm and helping establish a Maori pastorate for Wairarapa. He was a church warden, lay preacher and member of the national committee in charge of the Anglican Maori mission.
Throughout this period Te Whaiti continued to administer the family estate. He oversaw interests in Wairarapa, Kaikoura, Taranaki and elsewhere and was the trustee of the family cemetery at Ranana. He lived at Te Karearea, the family house in Greytown, where he and Meri carried on his mother's tradition of raising foster children. George became prominent in Greytown through his involvement in Greytown Golf Club, Papawai Rifle Club, Wairarapa Rifle Association (of which he was vice president), and the local Masonic lodge.
A tribal leader who also became important in the community generally, George Te Whaiti was supported in his activities by his wife, Meri, and it was considered appropriate in Maori circles when the couple died within two days of each other. George died at Greytown on 25 November 1964 and Meri on the 27th. They were survived by their son, Iraia. A large tangihanga was held at Kohunui marae and they were buried at Ranana.