Hēmi Kepa Tupe

He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene

On 28 October 1835 at the Waitangi residence of James Busby, 34 chiefs signed He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene (known in English as the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand). By 1839, 18 more chiefs had signed He Whakaputanga, which was acknowledged by the British government. This biography of one of the signatories was originally written for the He Tohu exhibition.

Signing details

Signature number: 
Signed as: 
Hemi Kepa Tupe
Probable name: 
Hēmi Kepa Tupe
Ngāpuhi, Te Tahawai, Ngāti Kawau, Ngāti Kahuiti, Te Uri Pūtete, Whānau Pani
1835 residence: 
Tohu (signature): 

A leading rangatira of the Whangaroa area, Hēmi Kepa Tupe was the son of Hineira and Houwawe (the elder brother of Hongi Hika). His mother was a descendant of Auha and Pēhirangi, who were the parents of Te Hōtete, Hongi’s father. Through these connections Tupe was closely related to Hāre Hongi Hika and Ururoa. When Houwawe was killed at the battle of Moremonui in 1807, Hongi Hika is said to have taken Tupe, his young nephew, under his wing.

Tupe lived most of his early life in Pēwhairangi (the Bay of Islands) but settled in Whangaroa after taking part in the taua (war expedition) of 1827 against Ngāti Pou, alongside his uncle Hongi Hika. A leading rangatira alongside Hāre Hongi Hika and Ururoa, he had interests at Matauri, Touwai, Tauranga Bay and Matangirau. The whare at Matangairau stands on land gifted by Tupe, which in turn is said to have been gifted to him by Hongi Hika.

Descendants say that Hongi was also responsible for Tupe’s missionary education. Tupe probably attended the mission schools established at Rangihoua and, later, Kerikeri, where he was influenced by the missionary James Kemp. As a result, in 1835 Tupe was baptised by William Williams as Hēmi Kepa (James Kemp), while his wife was baptised Māta (Martha). That year, Tupe also established, at his own expense, a chapel in Whangaroa. He and his people regularly attended Sunday services there.

Tupe had a close relationship with figures such as the British Resident James Busby, to whom he wrote a number of letters. This and his rangatira status meant he was one of three chiefs from Whangaroa to sign He Whakaputanga on 28 October 1835. Historian Aroha Harris notes that Busby and Tupe may have looked to each other for guidance during the hui. Tupe is thought to have been in his thirties at the time. Tupe, like Hāre Hongi Hika and Ururoa, did not sign Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

In 1848 Captain Sotheby of the Royal Navy was sent by Governor George Grey to Pēwhairangi to find out the mood of local rangatira. While in Whangaroa, Sotheby met Tupe, who said he was anxious about the alienation of Māori land and complained of settler cattle overrunning Māori cultivations. Tupe died in 1866, but his son Hēmi Tupe carried these concerns into the Ngāpuhi Kotahitanga (unity) movement of the 1880s and 1890s.

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