Taiawhio Tikawenga Te Tau was a leader of the major Maori political and religious movements in Wairarapa in the 15 years following 1910. He was the younger son of Kaipaoe, a high-ranking woman of Ngati Rakairangi, and her husband, Tikawenga Te Tau, a leading chief of Ngai Tumapuhiarangi. In 1860 Tikawenga initiated a major peace expedition to the trouble spots of Taranaki, Waikato and Hawke’s Bay. Taiawhio was born at Turanganui (near Pirinoa) in the same year, on 16 February, and was named for the expedition.
Taiawhio and his elder brother Puhara appear to have been raised at Papawai, where Taiawhio attended school. He also received an extensive education in the traditions and genealogies of his hapu, and in later life he was a member of the Tane-nui-a-rangi committee, which was charged with recording Wairarapa whakapapa and history.
Probably in 1878 Taiawhio married Makere Kingi of Ngati Muretu, a hapu of the Greytown district. The couple had 11 children before Makere died on 27 August 1893. Only one child, Wiremu Kingi Te Tau, reached adulthood and had issue. On 4 April 1894 at Puketeraki, north of Dunedin, Taiawhio married Pani Parata of Ngai Tahu. She was a licensed interpreter and a talented pianist, later well known at Wairarapa social events. The couple had three children: a son, Richard John Seddon, and two daughters, Hera Merehana and Mary Stuart Victoria (also known as Kuini Wikitoria).
Taiawhio Te Tau was a confirmed admirer of the British royal family. He probably inherited this from Tikawenga, who had been presented to the duke of Edinburgh in 1867. In 1897 he travelled to London to take part in Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. While in London he made a number of gifts to the royal family and received a commemorative medal.
A wealthy man at this time, Taiawhio had interests in a number of Wairarapa land blocks, and farmed an extensive area of family land at Kaumoana, near Masterton. He also owned and operated a horse stud, and bred a number of successful gallopers and trotters; although in 1908 he was suspended from racing for six months for ‘cronk-running’. Taiawhio and his family lived in a large two-storeyed house at Kaumoana. A number of the prized possessions of Ngai Tumapuhiarangi were stored in the house.
In 1901 Taiawhio became interested in Te Hahi o te Ruri Tuawhitu o Ihowa (also called the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah), which originally developed in Marlborough. Within a short period he became heavily involved in its activities as it took root within Wairarapa Maori society. As one of the proprietors of the Maori newspaper Matuhi, Taiawhio appears to have played a major role in the development of the church’s theological tenets and in promoting its cause. He bought a printing press for the paper, and installed his wife as editor. The paper was published regularly between 1903 and 1906.
The church’s teachings were based on the multitude of uses of the number seven in the Bible, and on a belief in the Kingdom of God being brought about in a series of stages. Its dogma included the divine descent – in seven stages – of the English and Maori Kings. Later, a descent line of Maori prophetic authority was added. This carried a Wairarapa bias and featured Paora Te Potangaroa and H. P. Tunuiarangi, Taiawhio’s half-brother. Taiawhio was a keen student of the prophecies of Te Potangaroa, and he subsequently linked the church’s origin and development to him.
In 1910 Taiawhio was elected to the office of district bishop within the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah. Later that year he was created the principal bishop of the whole church, retaining this position until 1925. He regularly led the church in large gatherings to celebrate Christmas and other important events, such as the coronation of King George V in 1911 and the opening of Nukutaimemeha meeting house in 1918. Taiawhio also helped to co-ordinate a large meeting at Te Ore Ore, near Masterton, to analyse Paora Te Potangaroa’s prophecies. In 1921 he arranged the erection of a memorial in Masterton Park (Queen Elizabeth Park) to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Te Potangaroa’s utterance of his main prophecies.
Taiawhio was a member of the Liberal and Labour Federation of New Zealand, and he became the leader of its Maori section in 1903. In 1905 he was appointed a health inspector for the Maori Council District of Rongokako. In this capacity he reported to Parliament on the state of Maori housing, and also published details of all Wairarapa Maori households.
He was elected to the council itself in 1905 as the representative of the Masterton Maori community. In 1908 he became the chairman of the council, a position he would retain until the late 1920s. The Rongokako Maori Council was composed of representatives from every Maori community and commanded the allegiance of the majority of Maori in the district. Its elections were extensively reported in Wairarapa Maori newspapers. Taiawhio was a strict taskmaster and used his position to promote health and hygiene issues, and to stress the need for the maintenance of Maori customs. He also attended a number of national conferences on Maori affairs on behalf of the council.
The Rongokako Maori Council was closely linked to the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah; Taiawhio described the two institutions as the two legs of the Maori people. They shared a philosophy of Maori self-determination and provided a vehicle to achieve that goal. The council and the church were at their peak in the period between 1910 and 1920, and Taiawhio commanded tremendous respect and influence among his constituents.
Enthusiasm for the Maori councils ebbed in the early 1920s, the decline coinciding with the spectacular rise of a new religious and political leader, T. W. Ratana. His prophetic and healing powers attracted many members of the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah, including Taiawhio, who was one of the first to sign the Ratana church covenant in 1925. He later moved to Ratana pa with members of his church. The departure of the principal bishop and so many members meant that the Church of the Seven Rules of Jehovah was virtually absorbed by the Ratana church.
At Ratana pa Taiawhio introduced the teachings of Paora Te Potangaroa. As a result, Te Potangaroa was acknowledged by Ratana’s followers as part of the succession of Maori prophetic and spiritual leaders beginning with Tawhiao Te Wherowhero and Te Ua Haumene and including Te Whiti, Tohu and Ratana himself.
Taiawhio was an apostle of the Ratana church in 1926 and 1927, but then disappeared from public life, at least in Wairarapa. He had spent some time in the South Island in order to allow Pani to be with her own people, but had returned alone as she could not bear to leave her family. In the latter part of his life, through injudicious land sales and mortgages to sustain his way of life, Taiawhio lost his personal wealth. He was dependent on the old-age pension, and lived in a ‘small miserable room’ with no personal effects.
Pani Te Tau went to Ratana pa in 1939 and found Taiawhio in poor health. She brought him back to Masterton Hospital, where he died on 4 June 1939. Taiawhio lay in state, and was buried at Te Ore Ore marae, where 25 years previously he had been such a dominant figure. He was survived by Pani and their three children.