Topic: Ripene Wharekawa (1866-1968)
In 1993 the Local History Staff of Tauranga District Libraries (as it was called then) compiled a booklet Mana Wahine highlighting the prominent women in the Tauranga Moana area. This is one of the mini biographies from the booklet. Note that some comments in the text relate to the time of the original publication (1993).
Ripene was born on Matakana Island in 1866, two years after the battle of Gate Pa. She was the second daughter of Te Kuka Te Mea and Ani Te Maki Ngarae (nee Johnson) and belonged to the Ngai Te Rangi tribe in the Tauranga area.
Ripene married twice. Her first husband Te Ponui she married at the age of 22. They had two sons and lived for a time in the Waikato district. This was where she received her moko from a Tohunga named Te Anau. Because of the great pain she experienced, she decided to leave the lip markings until she returned home, and later had this done at the local Wairoa Pa by a man named Te Pomako.
After her first marriage ended she met and married Manuera Wharekawa. They settled in Katikati and had five children, Robert, Jack, Eileen, Kathleen and Te Heke.
For years Mrs Wharekawa kept good health, attributing it to the simple life and the abundance of ‘kai moana’ included in her diet. She enjoyed a beer and was often seen chatting about the “good old days”. She would describe in detail the effects of the Tarawera eruption in 1866 on the Tauranga district and her stories of identities and events in the early days were interesting and authentic.
Her main interest was in young people. She was a tireless worker in Maori welfare and cultural organisations and was always keen to see Maori children take full advantage of educational opportunities. Skilled at weaving as well as at the more modern art of basketwork, she passed on her skill to many young women and children.
She died in 1968 at the age of 102.