Te Kēkēao

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: 
21
Signed as: 
Kekeao
Probable name: 
Te Kēkēao
Iwi/Hapū: 
Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Matakiri, Te Uri Taniwha
1835 residence: 
Te Ahuahu
Tohu (signature): 

A leading rangatira of Te Uri Taniwha, Te Kēkēao was based near Te Ahuahu (or Pukenui) in the Taiāmai district. This fertile area inland from Pēwhairangi (the Bay of Islands) was known for its plantations, and Te Kēkēao was quick to adopt European agricultural methods.

He appears to have had links to the southern alliance of Ngāpuhi. His wife, the daughter of Mauhina, was of Ngāti Korokoro, and in 1819–20 Te Kēkēao joined a massive taua alongside other southern alliance leaders. This taua travelled as far south as Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) and is believed to have comprised around a thousand warriors, including Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata and other Ngāti Toa chiefs.

Historian Kathleen Shawcross notes that by the 1830s the elderly Te Kēkēao had eschewed war and was urging his people to cultivate recently introduced European crops. Seeking to expand the economic base of his hapū through these new methods of cultivation, Te Kēkēao was a pioneer of large-scale wheat cultivation. He was also an early convert to Christianity, and in 1831 was one of 13 rangatira to sign the letter to King William IV.

In 1833 Te Kēkēao was influential in the return of a group of East Cape captives to their homes. Against their will, seven men and five women had been brought to the Bay of Islands aboard the whaling ship Elizabeth. Following negotiations between missionaries and Ngāpuhi rangatira (including fellow He Whakaputanga signatory Wharepoaka), the group were released on the proviso that the missionaries return them to the East Cape. After bad weather hampered their first attempt, the Ngāti Porou group finally reached home on the Fortitude in December 1833, with Te Kēkēao also making the trip.

Te Kēkēao signed He Whakaputanga on 28 October 1835, one of six rangatira to write his own name.

Another Christian convert and a close ally of Te Kēkēao was Ripi, who was baptised Paratene after Bishop Broughton of Australia. When Ripi died in 1838 his son, Paratene II, succeeded him. It appears that Paratene II also succeeded Te Kēkēao after his death sometime before 1840 – Paratene took the name Te Kēkēao Paratene. This is the name recorded on the Waitangi sheet of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which suggests that it was the son of Ripi – not Te Kēkēao himself – who signed.

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