Waaka was born at Poroporo, the son of Te Wiremu Tamati Waaka and Whakaki Hiki. His mother died while he was a young boy and he was sent as a tamaiti whangai to his father's relatives. In 1931 he moved to his mother's family at Ruatoki.
He was educated as a minister of the Ringatu religion begun by Te Kooti, and was its leader in the Tuhoe district.
He was a master of tribal genealogies and traditional religious practice, and spent many years teaching others and performing the ritual ceremonies necessary in many areas of Maori life. In 1987 he was entrusted with the unique task of organizing the protocol for the opening of the massive Te Maori art exhibition in Auckland, after its return from its international tour. The event was uniquely complex because it was the first time since the settlement of New Zealand by Maori that all the leaders of the tribes descended from the occupants of the Mataatua canoe (which carried the original settlers of the Bay of Plenty region about 1350) were gathered together, and it recognized his supreme mastery of protocol and ceremonial, highly important matters to the Maori people. In recognition of this meeting, a new Mataatua canoe was built in 1990, symbolizing the spiritual reunification of the tribes, and when Waaka died the following year, the giant canoe was transported 20 miles inland in tribute, to his home district for the funeral.
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