Wairukuruku Tata Maere - An elect lady
16 March 1919 - 2 April 2015
Iwi: Ngāti Naho, Ngāti Mahuta o Tainui, Waikato, Ngāti Poporo, Kahungunu
Wairukuruku Tata Maere is affectionately known in her community at Bridge Pa, Hawke’s Bay as ‘Nanny Tata’ or ‘Mother Maere’, a wonderful woman with attributes that reflect her lovely nature. Throughout the past 70 years she had voluntarily given her time to the people of her community and continued to help everyone regardless of their background or nationality.
Tata had a wonderful entry into the world on the 16th of March 1919 when she was born in the mighty Waikato River at Ngaruawahia. Her name Wairukuruku means ‘splashing of the waters’. People marveled when she would tell her story. The people of Tainui knew her and respected her as their 'Nanny Red'.
Her father Karaka Maki was a shearing contractor and with his wife Kiri Mangu Totorewa moved the family to Hawke’s Bay when Tata was very young. She was sent to Queen Victoria College in Auckland to be educated and is very proud of the fact that she, the only Maori student, was top of her class.
With her late husband Wharaki Maere, also a hard working shearing contractor, she went on to raise many children of her own. Right up to ripe old age of 96 years she was an active great great grandmother who lived and breathed family and community life to the fullest. She loved being active and even in her late years rode a motorbike and experienced a jet ski ride!
Tata’s passion for Māori culture was fostered at Queen Victoria College. She recalls auditioning for the school Kapa Haka group and never knowing why she didn’t make the cut. Much later in life Tata judged the inaugural 1980 Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Competitions and asked one of her school Kapa Haka mentors there why she had missed out all those years ago, only to be told that she was considered ‘uncoordinated’.
Much later in life Nanny Tata said that she didn’t take long to get coordinated after her school days and went on to become a very successful professional entertainer in the music industry. Her Te Arohanui Kapa Haka Group performed in Hawaii in 1963 (and again in 1993) and toured the USA where, Tata recounts excitedly, “We even performed at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles” she said with pride. At her old age she still enjoyed music and participated at community events and entertaining in the Old People’s Homes with her ukelele ensemble.
A passionate advocate for Māori cultural awareness and excellence, Tata continued to astound. In 2008 she was part of the 2000 strong powhiri for the inaugural Takitimu Festival in Hawkes Bay and in 2009 she welcomed the Prime Minister to Waipatu Marae during his visit to Kahungunu. She was also a Justice of the Peace; the Kuia for Hawke’s Bay Prison; Hawke’s Bay District Health Board; and Central Health Limited (who employed her right up to her last years); she was loved by her Kahungunu whanau and often attended Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated and Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga events.
In 2010 Aunty Tata was acknowledged at the Te Waka Toi Maori Arts Awards for her huge commitment, her generosity, her lovely talent and for enriching the lives of her community. She received the Nga Tohu a Ta Kingi Ihaka Tohu.
A woman of faith, Aunty Tata was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. She said that her service to her church helped her survive her 96 years of joy. She served full time in a Church mission for 18 months in her early senior years and considers that experience to be the pinnacle of her life’s journey.
(This article was written after an interview with her not long before she turned ill). When I would greet her, she would always say, "I am as fit as a fiddle"...but as of late, she was saying, "He Kuia ahau"
Rest in peace Aunty(Written by Ruth Wong)