Ōmāhu Marae is located in the small settlement of Ōmāhu, 12 km north-west of Hastings. This memorial stands to one side of the marae, next to the Church of St John’s. Erected by the New Zealand government in 1929, it acknowledges the allegiance to the Crown of Rēnata Tama-ki-Hikurangi Kawepō and his followers during the New Zealand Wars.
Kawepō was a leader of Ngāti Te Upokoiri and Ngāti Kahungunu and a missionary. During the New Zealand Wars, he strongly opposed Pai Mārire activity in Hawke’s Bay and actively supported the government against Te Kooti Rikirangi of Rongowhakaata.
Kawepō took part in a number of military campaigns. In October 1866, he joined Colonel George Whitmore’s action against the Hauhau occupation of Ōmarunui pā, 5 km north-east of Napier. Kawepō greatly distinguished himself in this battle.
Kawepo was one of the leaders of the Hawke’s Bay contingent that went to Poverty Bay after Te Kooti attacked the settlement in November 1868. He narrowly escaped death in the subsequent engagement with Te Kooti’s forces at Makaretu. Although they were unwilling to pursue Te Kooti on short rations through wet bush in the Taupō area in June 1869, Kawepō and Henare Tōmoana led a contingent against Te Kooti in the Tokaanu area three months later.
During the battle at Te Pōrere in October 1869, Kawepō’s right eye was gouged out by a young widow as utu for her husband’s death. Kawepō prevented his people from harming her, and the pair later married.
Kawepō was eventually awarded a pension of £100 by the government. It was given as compensation for his injury, and in recognition of his services to the Crown. His contribution to campaigning came at great personal expense; he was forced to sell land to cover costs.
By 1880, Kawepō was considered the senior leader of Hawke’s Bay Māori. He died at Ōmāhu on 14 April 1888, aged around 80. Kawepō’s tangi was attended by some 6000 people. He received a military funeral and was buried in the cemetery of the Church of St John at Ōmāhu.
Two days after Kawepō’s death, Wellington’s Evening Post newspaper published Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas McDonnell’s tribute to a ‘loyal and brave man’. ‘It would be a graceful act now’, concluded McDonnell, ‘to erect a monument to the memory of this brave old chief’. A monument was erected at Ōmāhu the following year.
Nearly 40 years later William Heslop, Secretary of the War Veterans’ Branch in Hastings, asked the Department of Internal Affairs to approve a memorial to those who had served with Rēnata Kawepō, ‘a trusted ally of Donald McLean’. Heslop asked that the memorial be placed in Ōmāhu cemetery even though not all of Kawepō’s followers were buried there.
Heslop’s request was given Cabinet approval in March 1928 and an inscription was decided that November. Work then appears to have stalled until July 1929, when H.M. Campbell, the Member of Parliament for Hawkes Bay, stepped in. Hastings stonemasons Tong & Hoar were awarded the contract later that year. On 1 October 1929, 41 years after the death of Rēnata Kawepō, it was reported that work on the memorial was complete.
He Whakamaharatanga / kia / Renata Kawepo / me tana ope taua i awhina / nei i te Kuini me te Empaea / i te wa o te Hauhautanga / 1860–1872
Anaru Te Wanikau
Winiata Te Whaaro
Te Waata Rakaiwerohia
Amopo Te Mina
Te Muera Rangitaumaha
In memory of / Renata Kawepo / and his faithful followers / during the Hauhau Rebellion / 1860–1872 / For Queen and Country
- ‘Renata Kawepo’, Hawke’s Bay Herald, 16 April 1888
- ‘The Late Renata Kawepo’, Evening Post, 16 April 1888
- ‘The Funeral of Renata Kawepo’, Hawke’s Bay Herald, 21 April 1888
- ‘Page 3 Advertisements Column 2’, Hawke's Bay Herald, 13 April 1889
- Angela Ballara and Patrick Parsons, ‘Kawepo, Renata Tama-ki-Hikurangi (? – 1888)’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007
- Chris Maclean and Jock Phillips, The sorrow and the pride: New Zealand war memorials, GP Books, Wellington, 1990, pp. 38, 40