Vapi Kupenga

Ngāti Porou

Vapi Kupenga was born in Waipiro Bay and was educated Hiruharama Māori Native School and Ngata College. She worked in the Government Public Service in Wellington. In her early 20s she attended Auckland Training College and worked as a teacher in Auckland for a number of years. Vapi became involved in the first Community Law Centre at the Grey Lynn Community Neighbourhood Law Office in the 1977. She studied extramurally at Auckland University and Massey University while raising her three children singlehandedly and working. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Studies and Māori in 1990. Vapi lectured in Social Policy and Social Work at Massey University in Palmerston North. She has written a lot of unpublished work and is the coordinator of the Māori Women’s Writing group in Auckland which comprises some sixty people. At the 1993 Indigenous Conference on Hikurangi Maunga, Vapi produced and directed Two Taniwha which was a play about Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck with local human interest, waiata, haka, and karakia added. Vapi has been part of the Māori team associated with Goldi Exhibition which toured New Zealand with trained Māori guides.

Biographical sources

  • Phone conversation with Vapi Kupenga on 8 Sept 1998.
  • Puna Wairere: Essays by Māori. Wellington, N.Z.: New Zealand Planning Council/Te Kaunihera Whakakaupapa mo Aotearoa, 1990.


  • "Prayers, ‘Stolen Cardigans’ and Fiery Speeches." Broadsheet 51 (1977): 19-20.
  • Written with Ama Rauhihi. A report on the Māori women’s attendance at the United Women’s Convention of 1977.
  • Whaia Te Iti Kahurangi - Māori Women Reclaiming Autonomy. Auckland, N.Z.: New Zealand Planning Council, 1988.
  • See annotation above.
  • "Whaia Te Iti Kahurangi: Māori Women Reclaiming Autonomy." Puna Wairere: Essays by Māori. Wellington, N.Z.: New Zealand Planning Council/Te Kaunihera Whakakaupapa mo Aotearoa, 1990. 8-12. Rpt. as "Whāia te Iti Kahurangi: Māori Women Reclaiming Autonomy." Rpt. in Te Ao Mārama: Regaining Aotearoa: Māori Writers Speak Out. Comp. and ed. Witi Ihimaera. Contributing ed. Haare Williams, Irihapeti Ramsden and D. S. Long. Vol. 2: He Whakaatanga O Te Ao: The Reality. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 1993. 304-309.
  • Co-authors Vapi Kupenga, Rina Rata and Tuki Nepe. In this essay, the authors examine the status of Māori women from the earliest Māori creation stories and female ancestors in Māori mythology. They conclude that Māori women traditionally had an autonomous position. This is further confirmed by the presence of Māori women in the recitations of whakapapa. The authors’ note that in some tribal groups this autonomy is still maintained. They cite Apirana Mahuika’s MA thesis, which discusses the role of women in Ngāti Porou. The writers contend that colonisation and the influx of Pakeha values saw the gradual erosion of the status of Māori women. The authors believe it is time to reclaim Māori women’s autonomy and they assert ‘the right for Māori women to participate in the management of the resources of this country (e.g. land and fish) and the right to develop [their] own corporate (whanau) structures to ensure the welfare of all.’ This essay was adapted from an address given at the Social Policy and Inequality in Australia and New Zealand conference organised by the New Zealand Planning Council and the Social Welfare Research Centre of the University of New South Wales in November 1988.
  • Reviews

  • Te Puea, by Michael King. Broadsheet 55 (1977): 36-37.
  • Whaowhia: Māori Art & Its Artists, by Gilbert Archey. Mana 1.3 (1977): 3.


  • Erai, Michelle, Fuli, Everdina, Irwin, Kathie and Wilcox, Lenaire. Māori Women: An Annotated Bibliography. [Wellington, N.Z.]: Michelle Erai, Everdina Fuli, Kathie Irwin and Lenaire Wilcox, 1991. 16.