Tuini Ngāwai (Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare), born north of Tokomaru Bay which remains her resting place, wrote more than 200 waiata throughout her lifetime. She not only composed waiata and action songs but was also a leader in revitalising Māori culture and identity. Her songwriting involved everything from love, death, war, to informal sing-a-longs written during her time in shearing gangs. Tuini’s waiata are still performed today including popular ditties like ‘Kei Tangi a Big Ben’.
Tuini played an important part in Sir Apirana Ngata’s role as Māori Development Minister, catching his attention with her first written waiata ‘He Nawe Kei Roto’. Tuini formed Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū a performing group whose work assisted Ngata in recruiting for the 28th New Zealand (Māori) Battalion. Tuini wrote many of her finest songs during the war including ‘Arohaina mai e te Kingi Nui’ which was regarded as her masterpiece and became the unnofficial hymn for the Ngāti Porou soldiers.
Tuini was greatly involved in kaupapa around cultural revival and education. In 1943 Ngata appointed her as a teacher specialising in Māori culture, planting her in East Coast schools to teach tamariki about their culture through song and performance. She also involved herself in the Kotahitanga movement with a strong determination to restore Māori pride and identity alongside efforts to achieve greater recognition for the Treaty of Waitangi. As always, she had meaningful messages to convey about these kaupapa through songs such as ‘Te Kotahitanga rā e.’
Her invaluable contributions to kaupapa Māori through waiata and performance formed paths for following generations to continue uplifting the culture through music. Ngoingoi continued her aunt’s legacy, collecting and publishing her compositions and carrying on the indelible cultural revival influenced by Tuini. Ngoi would later publish the book Tuini: her life and her songs (1985).
I whānau mai a Tuini Ngāwai (he uri nō Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare) i te tau 1910 ki Te Akau o Tokomaru. Ehara i te mea i tito noa ia Tuini i te rua rau neke atu rānei o ngā waiata me ngā waiata ā-ringa, engari, ko Tuini tētahi o ngā māreikura i whakarauora i Te Reo Māori, tuakiri Māori me te ahurea Māori. Inā hoki te huhua o ngā kaupapa ukauka ki ōna titonga waiata pēnei i te aroha, te mate, te pakanga me ētahi waiata ngahau ō-paki nei. Kei te waiata tonu ngā waiata a Tuini i ēnei rā. Ko tētahi o āna waiata ōrongonui e kaha pāorooro tonu nei ko ‘Kei Tangi a Big Ben.’
Nā Tuini te kapa o Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū i whakaora. He mea mahitahi ki a Tā Apirana Ngata ki te whakakipakipa i ngā hōia kia piri ki te ope taua o te rua tekau mā waru. Ahakoa te nui o ōna titonga, ko te huhua o ngā titonga rongonui i tito i te wā o te pakanga. Ko tētahi waiata pēnei ia ‘Arohaina mai e te Kingi Nui’ tētahi o aua waiata. He mea waiata nā ngā hoia o Ngāti Porou, o te Kamupene C hei waiata hīmene.
He ūpoko maaro a Tuini ki te hāpai ake i te mana o te iwi Māori. I kuhu atu a Tuini ki te roopu e kiia nei ko Te Kotahitanga kia whai mana te iwi Māori ki raro i Te Tiriti o Waitangi. He maha rawa ngā kura huna kei ōna waiata, me ngā karere hei kawe i ngā kaupapa ki ana waiata pērā i te waiata ‘Te Kotahitanga rā e.’