Riki Te Mairaki Taiaroa Ellison

Ngāi Tahu

1916 - 1984

Riki Ellison was born in Otakou, the son of Tini Wiwi Taiaroa and Dr Edward Pohau Ellison of Te Atiawa. He was a great-great grandson of chief Te Matenga Taiaroa and great grandson of the Member of Parliament Hori Kerei Taiaroa. When Ellison’s father was assigned to work in the Chatham Islands, Riki was raised by his great-grandmother Tini Te Kae Taiaroa and his uncle Riki Te Mairaki Taiaroa who later legally adopted him and he was brought up at Awhitu House, Taumutu. He remained here all his life apart from his war-time experience overseas. He was educated at Sedgemere School and Southbridge District High School and attended a farm training course at Lincoln Agricultural College. During the Second World War he served with the RNZAF after enlisting in 1942. After his return he carried on with farming at Taumutu. He was a member of many Māori organisations including the New Zealand Māori Council, Te Wai Pounamu Māori District Council, and the South Island Aotearoa Bishopric Council. He also chaired the Canterbury Māori Council Executive. In Taumutu he chaired the Upoko Runanga of Taumutu, was patron of the Māori Women’s Welfare League Taumutu Branch and was a member of the Ellesmere College Board of Governors. Riki was awarded the QSO for community services and was a Justice of the Peace. John Wilson writes in his obituary that "Mr Ellison was widely recognised as one of the South Island’s most prominent authorities on Māori matters, having been steeped in Māori history and lore by the great-grandmother and granduncle who brought him up. He was greatly loved for his humble, unfailingly courteous manners and for his willingness to treat everyone he met with love and respect. He was active in a wide range of Māori and other community organisations and was widely consulted by all parts of the community on matters pertaining to South Island life." He died at the age of sixty-eight in Cromwell.

Biographical sources

  • Interview with Ruku Arahanga 6 Apr. 1993.
  • Wilson, John. "Riki Te Mairaki Ellison: An Unpublished Obituary." Te Karanga: Canterbury Māori Studies Association 4.3 (1988): 35-39.


  • Wilson, John. "Awhitu House at 100 Years." Te Karanga: Canterbury Māori Studies Association 4.3 (1988): 6-10.
  • Wilson states that he wrote this article for publication in The Press with Riki Ellison, Ruku Arahanga, Ruruhira and Jim Williams in 1982. This was the year when the centenary celebrations of Awhitu House were being held. In the article, biographical notes of Ngāi Tahu chief Te Matenga Taiaroa and his son Hori Kerei Taiaroa are provided and Wilson discusses the building of Te Awhitu House, its various inhabitants and its significance in the Taumutu district.
  • "Stories about Taumutu." Te Karanga: Canterbury Māori Studies Association 4.3 (1988): 40-41.
  • Ellison recounts two stories from the Taumutu area. The first story is set in the seventeenth century prior to the Ngāi Tahu migration to the South Island; it concerns the fighting and eventual peace-making between the families of Tuahuriri and Tutekawa after Tutekawa killed Tuahuriri’s two wives, Hinekaitiaki and Tuamawhati. The second story is a description of Tuterakihaunoa, Guardian of Lake Waihora.
  • Other

  • "Kaumatua Rangātira: Riki Te Mairaki Ellison." Te Karaka: The Ngāi Tahu Magazine Ngahuru (1995): 14.
  • An extract of an interview between Riki Ellison and Haare Williams at the 1982 Māori Women’s Welfare League annual hui in which Riki discusses the meaning of Waitaha and details concerning Tahu Potiki.
  • Traditional

  • [He Mihi - no title, Ko Te Wehi Ki Te Atua - First line] Te Karanga: Canterbury Māori Studies Association 4.3 (1988): 4-5.
  • In Māori and English. The Te Karanga notes state that this mihi "to the people of Aotearoa was broadcast some years ago by the late Riki Te Mairaki Ellison-Taiaroa to mark the beginning of Māori Language Week."


  • Wilson, John. "Riki Te Mairaki Ellison: An Unpublished Obituary." Te Karanga: Canterbury Māori Studies Association 4.3 (1988): 35-39.
  • This biographical account of the life of Riki Ellison is followed by "A Simplified Family Tree" of the Taiaroa-Ellison family. Wilson states in his introductory notes that he wrote this obituary under the direction and guidance of Ellison’s family and other "high-ranking Ngāi Tahu elders". When he submitted it to The Press he asked that "it not be edited or abbreviated before publication." However, Wilson adds that "[r]egrettably, staff at The Press, not appreciating the stature of the man who had died, printed only a small part of the obituary in an inconspicuous part of the paper." Wilson concludes: "I remember Uncle Joe Karetai, when I expressed to him my anger and distress at what had happened, telling me he hadn’t expected anything better from the Pakeha media and that he had been used to things like that happening for years!"
  • "South Island Loses a Mountain." Tu Tangata 20 (1984): 30-31.
  • A comprehensive biography of the life of Riki Ellison-Taiaroa which also articulates his many contributions to Māoridom.