Aotea te Paratene ruled the Waikato people in Aotearoa, or New Zealand, as one of four known wives of King Tāwhiao. He reigned from 1860-1894 as the Second Māori King. They were cousins and had a daughter together born in 1868, named Te Aouru Puahaere Te Popoke Tāwhiao.
According to her great-great granddaughter, Aotea was of Ngati Hikaairo and Ngapuhi descent. It is estimated she was born between 1787 and 1847. Her home Marae, or sacred communal place, was Waipapa Marae which is now situated at the University of Auckland.
Aotea shared her queenship (in Western terms) with Tāwhiao’s other wives, Hera Ngapora, his primary wife, Parehauraki and Rangiaho Taimana. He was leading warfare in the New Zealand wars for most of his reign as Rangatira, or king. The women raised his nine children together.
She was often photographed by Elizabeth Pulman. These 19th century photos by the first prolific photographer in the country still exist in the National Library of New Zealand. They show Aotea’s tā moko, or face tattoos, demonstrating her rank within the Waikato.
However, the colonial context of these images must be considered, where images of indigenous people were sold as a commodity. Although not much is known about how Aotea conducted her role, Pulman’s photographs nevertheless leave an incredible legacy of the queen.
Angela Ballara, Te Kīngitanga: The People of the Māori King Movement (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1996)
Carmen Kirkwood, Tāwhiao: King and Prophet (Ngaruawahia: Turongo House, 2000)
Michael Belgrave, Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of King Country, 1864-1885 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2017).