Te Kuiti Pā – Where Legends are Woven

Master weaver Dame Rangimarie Hetet DBE - All images supplied

Te Tokanganui-a-Noho, one of the oldest meeting houses in the country, is about to reopen following the completion of the major restoration project at Te Kūiti Pā.

Over the years, a number of notable kaumātua and kuia have been associated with this famous Ngāti Maniapoto marae, including Dame Rangimarie Hetet.

Dame Rangimārie Hetet DBE (née Hursthouse, 24 May 1892 – 14 June 1995) was a master weaver, he tohunga ki te raranga from muka kete to korowai.   

She was born in Oparure, Te Kūiti 24 May 1892.  She was the youngest daughter of Charles Wilson Hursthouse, an Englishman and Mere Te Rongopamamao Aubrey.  

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She grew up amongst her mother’s people Ngāti Kinohaku, a hapū of Ngati Maniapoto so Te Tokanganui-a-Noho was a regular venue in the life of this kuia mareikura.  Throughout her entire life, she attended all of the important events held at the marae.

She married the carpenter Tuheka Taonui Hetet at Oparure.  He was descended from a French whaler. They had two children before he went to fight in World War I, and another three after his return. He was affected by gas poisoning and died suddenly in 1938.

In the 1950s Dame Rangimarie escalated her weaving efforts as a result of encouragement received from the Māori Women's Welfare League.

Earlier she had passed her knowledge as well as the art of weaving to her daughter Diggeress Te Kanawa and eventually they began teaching traditional Māori weaving to women within the community as well as in schools. She wanted to retain the traditional art form, which at that time was in jeopardy, and the league proved an ideal platform for its revival.

In 1982, as a result of the efforts of her family, Ohaki Māori Village and Crafts Centre was opened at Waitomo, partly as a place for Rangimarie and Diggeress to pass on their knowledge of traditional weaving.  Together they taught more than 300 weavers the art form of raranga kete and whatu kākahu.

Mokopuna Aroha Te Kanawa says, “What I admired about my Nan – nurturing, resilient and steadfast in her beliefs.”  

Later her resilience and beliefs were recognised by the government when she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 1973 Queen's Birthday Honours, promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1984 Queen's Birthday Honours, and finally, in the 1992 Queen's Birthday Honours, elevated to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire

In 1993, Hetet was awarded the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal.

Dame Rangimarie Hetet was 103 when she died, leaving behind a legacy that would be forever woven into the history of Te Tokanganui-a-Noho.