Rangi Topeora was born in Kawhia, New Zeeland. There is no recorded birth date for her, but it was believed that she was born in the early nineteenth century to her mother, Waitohi, of Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa, and her father, Te Re-ka-herea. She would go on to become the leader of the Ngati Toa. In 1824, she led her people at the Battle of Waiorua and was victorious.
When she was a young woman, Rangi Topeora famously wrote a waiata, a Māori song, about the wars between the Ngati Toa and other Waikato tribes which cursed and predicted violent and degrading deaths for the chiefs of the Ngati Pou. During these wars, the Ngati Pou killed many Ngati Toa women, including some of Rangi Topeora’s sisters, which was why she composed the waiata.
After the wars, Rangi Topeora migrated south with the hapūs (Māori clan) Ngati Kimihia and Ngati Te Maunu to Kapiti Island. On their journey, they went through Taranaki where the people gathered at a pā (a defensive settlement) in Tapuinikau near Opunake where they were besieged. Rangi Topeora’s lover, Te Ra-tu-tonu was in the pā and he was summoned from it so that she could marry him. Another woman, Te Ati Awa, also wished to marry Te Ra-tu-tonu but Rangi Topeora was ultimately successful. Their marriage allowed peace negotiations to be conducted.
Rangi Topeora was married a total of four times to Te Re-tu-tonu, Rangikapiki of Te Arawa, Te Whi-o-terangi of Te Arawa, and Hauturu. She had two children, a daughter named Rakapa Kahoki, who followed her mother’s example and became a composer, and a son named Matene Te Whiwhi, who was known for his political skills.
In 1840, Rangi Topeora was one of five women to sign the Treaty of Waitangi which was outlined to establish a shared power in New Zealand between Māori tribes and Pakeha (white Europeans). Although the aim of the treaty was shared peace, the growing number of Pakeha settlers and the failure to uphold promises made in the treaty lead to a decades long period of conflict.
Claudia Orange, The Story of a Treaty (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 1989)
Teremoana Sparks and W. H. Oliver, “Topeora, Rangi te Kuini,” Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2021, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t103/toperoa-rangi-te-kuini.