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The Ngāti Ōtautahi Māori Association

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Angela Wanhalla
18 December, 2021


Numerous Māori urban cultural groups were founded during the Second World War, sometimes based around a hostel, a sport, or a workplace. Usually they were intergenerational, and designed to promote and foster Māori culture and networks in an urban setting. One of the most well-known such groups is Wellington’s Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club established in 1937.

Urban Māori formed groups in South Island cities during the Second World War, too. One was the Ngāti Ōtautahi Māori Association. Its origins lie in “a small group of Maori residents in Christchurch [who] met at the Y.M.C.A. and formed the Otautahi Maori Club [in 1940]. On December 9th, 1942, it was re-organised under the name of the Christchurch (Ngati Otautahi) Maori Association, with the patronage of the well-known South Island rangatira Mr R. Te Mairaki Taiaroa. The organisation has been operating in many directions for the wellbeing of the Maori population of Christchurch.”[1]

Ngāti Ōtautahi were formed so Christchurch Māori were represented at the centennial celebrations. But the declaration of war in September 1939 was also an important catalyst for their formation as there was a need to contribute to the local war effort. In January 1940 a Comforts for Māori Soldiers Committee was formed. Arthur Manawatū was appointed president, John Heketā was its secretary and treasurer. At that meeting it was noted that: “It is probable that this committee will be added to at a general meeting to be held shortly, when it is hoped to form a Maori social club and concert party.”[2] What emerged was the Ngāti Ōtautahi Māori Club.[3] Its objective was to raise money for patriotic purposes, inclusive of cultural performances, such as at the Akaroa centennial celebrations.[4]

In 1940, club members also included Ngāi Tahu residents from Rāpaki and Tuahiwi, reflecting kinship ties created through marriage and, importantly, Te Ari Pītama’s influence as a cultural leader in the city.[5] A number of prominent Pākehā were also involved in the club. The Elected officers that year were:

  • President: John Henry Kīngi
  • Vice-Presidents: John Morgan (Mōkena), Henare Pōhio, Te Ari Pītama, D. Phillips, Wera Couch, John Charles Tīkao, Dr. ILG Sutherland, Dr. RA Falla, Roger S. Duff and George Anstice
  • Chair: Frank Lewis
  • Club Captain: Miss Ruiha Royal
  • Secretary: John Heketā
  • Committee: Miss Kia Rīwai, Miss K. Parata, Miss Tui Pannell, Mr G. Gilles, Mr D. Wehipeihana, Mr T. Wesley.[6]

The president, John Henry Kīngi (1876-1942, Ngāti Kahungungu), drew on his Anglican connections to build the club membership, and to gain patronage for the group. For instance, he was a lay reader in the Church of England and was closely associated with Rev. Fraer and the founding of Te Waipounamu Māori Girls’ College, the only secondary school for Māori girls in the South Island.[7] Students, who came to Christchurch from Wellington south and stretching out to the Chatham Islands, performed in the club’s concert party. A number of the graduates became leading figures in wartime cultural groups elsewhere, notably the Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club. In later years this connection was strengthened through Hinekura (Kura) Tāhiwi (Ngāti Raukawa) who was a teacher at Te Waipounamu Māori Girls’ College with responsibility for Māori subjects.[8] Her brother, Kīngi Tāhiwi, was a founding figure of the Ngāti Poneke Club.

John Henry Kīngi’s military background was an advantage when recruiting club members, too. Kīngi was from Pāpāwai in the Wairarapa and had settled in Christchurch prior to the First World War where he had served at Gallipoli and in France with the Pioneer Māori Battalion.[9]  An enthusiatic participant in the home front war effort in Christchurch during the Second World War, Kīngi was an elected officer of the Christchurch RSA, an energetic and successful recruiting officer for the Māori Home Guard and Territorial Force in Canterbury, and for the Māori Battalion in North Canterbury and Westland.[10]

As a recruiting officer for the Territorials and the Home Guard Kīngi visited numerous Māori communities and this translated into Ngāi Tahu membership of the club. For instance, many members of the Rapaki Māori Home Guard were in Ngāti Otautahi.[11] Many were veterans, like Kīngi. Henare Pōhio served in the First World War and was a recruiting officer for the Māori Battalion in the South Island.[12] John Morgan (Mōkena), who was involved with Ngāti Ōtautahi from its beginnings, was the secretary of the Māori Returned Soldiers’ Association.[13] In later years, Arthur Paahi, another veteran of the First World War, joined the group.

The Ngāti Ōtautahi Māori Association

John Henry Kīngi died in July 1942. By the end of that year, the Ngāti Ōtautahi Māori Club had become the Ngāti Ōtautahi Māori Association. Its formation was supported by the Christchurch Mayor, Ernest Andrews, and Riki Te Mairaki Taiaroa was its patron. The first president was Arthur Manawatu.

At the inaugural meeting of the Association Vernon Thomas was elected Chairman of the Executive. Its members were Kura Tahiwi, Hāriata Baker, Hoani Pohio, John Heketa, Mr R. Phillips, Kitchener Hopa and Poihipi Wereta.[14] Close ties between the membership of the Ngāti Otautahi Māori Association and Te Waipounamu Māori Girls’ College continued. Hāriata Baker (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou), daughter of Ngāti Porou rangatira, Matutaera (Tuta) Nihoniho and his second wife, Ria Horomona, for instance, was President of the Old Girls’ Association and led the Rangimārie Ladies’ Club.[15] Ngāti Ōtautahi regularly collaborated with the Ladies’ Club, “an organisation that arranged farewell gatherings to men proceeding overseas.”[16]

A Canterbury Tribal Committee, which operated under the structure of the Māori War Effort Organisation, was also appointed in December 1942 to work with the Māori recruiting officer and direct Māori labour.[17] In February 1943, the Canterbury Executive were:

  • Vernon Thomas (Chair)
  • Mr W. Couch (Secretary, Rapaki)
  • Mrs Hāriata Baker and Mr R. Phillips (Christchurch)
  • Mr M. Waaka and Mr W. Mihaka (Temuka-Arowhenua-Timaru)
  • Tarata and S. Ruru (Port Levy)
  • Miss T.T. Meihana and Mr I. Weepu (Ruru)
  • Robinson and J. Mokena (Akaroa)
  • Manihera and G.M. Tikao (Rapaki)
  • D. Barrett and H.J. Pitama (Kaiapoi-Tuahiwi)
  • Te Mairaki Taiaroa and A.K. Hopa (Kaiapoi-Tuahiwi)
  • M. Tekahuariki and W. Poharama (Kaikoura).[18]

Apart from contributing to the war effort, one the first things on the Ngāti Ōtautahi’s agenda was to establish a club room. Early on its formation, Kīngi invited kaumātua to attend a hui in May 1941 to discuss the options.[19] This kaupapa continued into 1943 under the leadership of Vernon Thomas who wanted a place where Māori servicemen and women based in camps nearby could congregate.[20] Thomas appealed to Mayor Andrews for help, who supported their application for financial assistance, noting that urban Christchurch had 300 to 400 Māori residents by August 1943.[21] Eventually they secured a club room at 153 Worcester Street, near Latimer Square. It was known as the Māori Association Hall and a range of activities were hosted there. Hāriata Baker and Kura Tahiwi held Māori language classes there, for instance.[22]

Ngāti Ōtautahi also focused their attention on supporting Māori servicemen and women stationed in Christchurch and its hinterlands. As a former serviceman, Kīngi placed the welfare of soldiers at the heart of his club’s activities, which was reinforced when a number of the club members enlisted with the Māori Battalion, notably John Heketa. Dances and a social were hosted every Saturday so that “no Maori soldier while in camp is without a friend and a home during weekend leave.”[23]

The group also fundraised to purchase tītī to send to Māori troops overseas. In 1942, they were heavily involved in the Māori Battalion Street Day Appeal, supported by Mayor Andrews, to raise money to purchase delicacies. Close to £600 was raised through the appeal.[24] They also collected 20 bags of mussels, which were boiled down and sealed in casks of vinegar, in preparation to be sent to Māori servicemen in England.[25]  Members also hosted farewells and welcomes for Māori servicemen.[26] Kia Riwai’s concert party, affiliated with Ngāti Ōtautahi, visited Māori soldiers at Burwood Hospital, bringing with them tītī and cigarettes.[27] 

Ngāti Ōtautahi were involved in other activities. They supported the Te Waipounamu College Annual Garden Party, providing food, a hāngī, and cultural performances. Children and young people became an increasing focus by 1944. That year the group hosted a party for 200 Māori children from Christchurch, Lyttelton and Rapaki at Jellicoe Hall. Many of the children were from the Nazareth Home, the Sumner School for the Deaf, and Te Waipounamu Girls’ College.[28] Vocational guidance was on their radar too. In 1944, they supported a survey of local Māori youth by educational authorities and the Christchurch Vocational Guidance Centre so that, in the future, “the talents of the younger members of the community would receive full opportunity for development.”[29] The previous year they had formed a sub-committee to investigate establishing a vocational guidance service for young Māori in collaboration with the Christchurch Youth Centre.[30]

By end of the decade the following people held positions in the Association:

  • Patron: Riki Te Mairaki Taiaroa
  • Vice-Patron: E.T. Tirakatene, M.P.
  • President: Vernon Thomas
  • Vice-Presidents: J. Te Rangi, Ngatiki Piripi (Phillips), John Stewart, Roger Duff, Frederick G. Briggs, George Anstice, D. Tini, J. Daniels, Ruru (Lou) Watene, W.A. Taylor, Joseph Moss, James Wiwi Norton, Dr. ILG Sutherland, Hāriata Baker, Mrs D. Tini, Mrs J. Daniels, Mrs Mae Watene, Mrs G Briggs, Mrs A Paahi and Mrs J. Moss.
  • Chair of Executive: Mr Anaru Phillips
  • Secretary: Mrs A. Paahi
  • Treasurer: Mr G Anstice
  • Leader of Concert Party: Mrs Rima Bell
  • Executive Committee: Mr Arthur Kitchener Hopa, Mr A. Annis, Mr Wi Tauwhare, Mrs Briggs, Mrs Daniels, Mrs A. Annis, Mrs Phillips, Mrs Bell and Miss Ashton.[31]

Welfare concerns and a growing interest in the future of young Māori continued after the war ended and is reflected in Ngāti Ōtautahi’s membership, such as Mae Wātene, nee Bannister. Mae was a secretary for the Ngāti Otautahi Māori Association. She had trained as a nurse and later was appointed a Māori welfare officer. After the war she was president of the Rapaki Ladies’ Welfare League.[32] Erina Paahi (nee Momo) was convenor of the Ladies’ Christchurch Māori Association in 1948, which took an interest in Māori welfare.[33] Ngāti Ōtautahi also affiliated with the Christchurch Branch of the National Council of Women, its delegate being Mae Wātene.[34]

One of its major goals in the post-war period was to establish a community centre for urban Māori. In a letter to Prime Minister Fraser in 1947 they set out the need for a suitable building as their “present room is far too small and has none of the necessary facilities.”[35] What they wanted was a community centre, centrally located and comprising a large hall with a stage “and suitable for meetings of the whole community”, with a room for committee meetings and for hosting language and history classes, another room for holding raranga classes, and a kitchen with cooking facilities “as no really big function would be considered complete unless the tangata whenua were able to offer their guests some food.” In 1952 they joined forces with the Christchurch Maori Community Centre Committee in order to advance this project.[36]

In keeping with Ngāti Ōtautahi’s future-focused aspirations for young Māori living in the city, what emerged from this collaboration was Rehua Marae, opened in 1952, initially for Māori girls. It is most strongly associated with Māori trade training in Christchurch,[37] but Rehua’s antecedents are tied to the Second World War and the foresight of John Henry Kīngi, and others, who formed the Ngāti Ōtautahi Māori Club in 1940. Their war effort is woven into the Rehua story, and into Māori urban life in post-war Christchurch. 


[1] W.A. Taylor, Lore and History of the South Island Maori (Christchurch, 1952), p.55. Public notice of the meeting to form an association at 136 Worcester Street appeared in The Press, 5 December 1942, p.1.

[2] Press, 22 January 1940, p.8.

[3] Press, 19 August 1950, p.6.

[4] Press, 31 August 1940, p.15.

[5] Te Maire Tau, “Ngāi Tahu – From ‘Better Be Dead and Out of the Way’ to ‘To Be Seen and Belong’,” J. Cookson and G. Dunstall, ed. Southern Capital: Towards a City Biography, 1850-2000 (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2000), p.236.

[6] Press, 22 July 1940, p.10.

[7] Obituary, Press, 6 July 1942, p.6.

[8] Press, 12 July 1946, p.2. Pākehā members of Ngāti Ōtautahi, such as Dr. ILG Sutherland and John Stewart, also had strong ties to Te Waipounamu Māori Girls College. Oliver Sutherland, Paikea: The Life of I.L.G. Sutherland (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2013), p.346.

[9] See his Military Personnel File, available from Archives New Zealand, Wellington.

[10] Press, 11 October 1939, p.7; Press, 21 May 1942, p.4; Press, 7 July 1941, p.4; Press, 9 September 1941, p.8.

[11] Press, 7 July 1941, p.4.

[12] Obituary, Press, 8 August 1949, p.3.

[13] Press, 7 November 1939, p.10.

[14] On Poihipi Wereta see:

[15] Steven Oliver, ‘Nihoniho, Matutaera’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated January, 2002. Te Ara- the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 October 2021). Hāriata’s mother passed away at her granddaughter’s residence, 279 Worcester Street, in August 1951: Press, 17 August 1951, p.1. According to a 1945 article the Old Girls’ Association was formed in 1940: Press, 23 August 1945, p.2.

[16] Press, 19 April 1945, p.3.

[17] Press, 10 December 1942, p.3.

[18] Press, 25 February 1943, p.4.

[19] Advertisement (in te reo Māori), Press, 17 May 1941, p.1.

[20] Press, 11 June 1943.

[21] Press, 24 August 1943, p.5.

[22] Press, 20 March 1944, p.6.

[23] J. Morgan to Press, 12 August 1941, p.5.

[24] Press, 9 December 1942, p.4.

[25] Press, 9 October 1940, p.8.

[26] Press, 16 July 1943, p.4; Press, 27 May 1944, p.2.

[27] Press, 1 September 1944, p.2. The group, which included Vernon Thomas, as well as Hāriata Baker representing the Rangimarie Ladies’ Club, were welcomed by Second-Lieut  E.S. Jackson (Ngāti Kahungungu).

[28] Press, 11 October 1944, p.2.

[29] Press, 20 March 1944, p.6.

[30] Press, 30 June 1943, p.2.

[31] Press, 22 March 1949, p.3.

[32] Obituary, Press, 9 April 1952, p.2. She was also known as Mae Denny.

[33] Press, 4 November 1948, p.1.

[34] Press, 7 August 1945, p.2.

[35] John Stewart to Fraser, 21 February 1947, Meeting Houses and Community Centres – Ngāti Otautahi Hall – Christchurch (1947-1974), Record No: 34/3/66, Archives NZ, Wellington.

[36] Press, 19 February 1952, p.9.

[37] Claire Kaahu White, Te Pou Herenga Waka o Rehua: The Story of Rehua Hostel and Marae (Christchurch: Te Whatumanawa Māoritanga o Rehua Trust Board, 2021).

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