Hinemihi: The story of a Maori meeting house

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For visitors at Clandon Park today, Hinemihi is a curious looking wooden building on a lawn standing opposite the Palladian-style mansion. Few know about her history or her significance, but we hope to change this in the future. Many tales are told about Hinemihi's past, but here are just some of those stories.

In 1872, the small North Island settlement of Te Wairoa, in a volcanic region known as the Hot Lakes District in New Zealand, was an established tourism centre. Here Victorian tourists could experience native Maori culture, witness performances of the famous ‘posture dance’ known as the ‘haka’ – and in the 1880's could spend the night in one of two wooden hotels.

Hinemihi’s construction began in 1880. She was commissioned and paid for by Chief Aporo Wharekaniwha, head of the Ngati Hinemihi sub-tribe (hapu) of the Te Arawa Maori confederation, working closely with another tribal chief, Wi Kepa Rangipuawhe of the Tuharangi sub-tribe.

Hinemihi was planned as a meeting house for both sub-tribes, a public place where important issues were discussed, genealogies affirmed, relationships confirmed, births and marriages celebrated and the dead mourned. She would also be used to entertain visiting tourists interested in watching cultural performances.

Aporo named his meeting house 'Hinemihi' after a noted female ancestress who lived in the Hot Lakes. Hinemihi was a descendent of Ngatoroirangi, priest of the Te Arawa canoe that brought original members of the tribe to New Zealand (Aotearoa) during the great Pacific migration over 1,000 years before.

Few meeting houses bear female names, but Hinemihi was an exceptional woman, famous for keeping the company of a giant lizard (taniwha), as both a protector (kaitiaki) and pet (mokai).