Story: Tuhuru Kokare

Page 1: Biography

Tuhuru Kokare

fl. 1800–1847

Poutini Ngai Tahu leader

This biography, written by Maika Mason, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.

Tuhuru Kokare was born probably in the latter part of the eighteenth century: his son, Tarapuhi, was said to be about 70 years of age in 1864. He spent his early life with his parents, Te Ruahuanui and Titohi, at Kaikainui, the pa of his grandfather Waewae. Waewae was a son of Ngai Tahu chief Turakautahi, the builder of the nearby pa of Kaiapoi.

Tuhuru was a chief of Ngati Waewae, a hapu of Ngai Tahu. He reached adulthood during a turbulent period in the Maori history of the South Island. In the eighteenth century Ngai Tahu from Canterbury went to the source of greenstone in the Arahura and Mawhera (Grey) regions of the West Coast, and fought with the local people, Ngati Wairangi. They destroyed Ngati Wairangi's pa at Mawhera (Greymouth) and returned east. Later, several hapu of Ngai Tahu combined to defeat Ngati Wairangi.

Tuhuru was a powerful warrior chief, of huge stature. He and his hapu were involved in the defeat of Ngati Wairangi at Kotuku-whakaoho (Lake Brunner) about the turn of the nineteenth century. From here they commenced the conquest of the West Coast (known as Tai Poutini). The campaign started in the Karamea district. Tuhuru systematically worked his way down the coast, defeating all before him, as far as Makawhio (Jacobs River). Battles were fought at Karamea, Whanganui Inlet, Kawatiri, Mawhera, Taramakau, Arahura, Hokitika, Okarito and Makawhio.

The final defeat of Ngati Wairangi took place in the Paparoa Range, after which a meeting of Tuhuru and his party was held at Runanga. They discussed whether to return to Kaikainui or stay on the West Coast. No decision was reached. The party crossed the Mawhera River to Omotumotu (Omoto), where a decision was made to stay. Tuhuru and his people established a new pa at Mawhera and settled there. They were known as Poutini Ngai Tahu, the Ngai Tahu people of the West Coast.

Tuhuru was now faced with the defence of his territory and was successful against Ngati Tumatakokiri from the northern part of the South Island, who came to take greenstone by force rather than trade. However, a flourishing trade in greenstone through Kaiapoi developed during this period. In 1827 or 1828 Niho, the chief of Ngati Rarua at Paturau, near Whanganui Inlet, led a war party, armed with guns, to raid the greenstone country. When peace was made, Niho and some of his people settled at Mawhera. Ngati Waewae also engaged in sporadic fighting against Ngati Tumatakokiri in the Kawatiri (Buller) region over land and hunting rights. By early 1837 Te Puoho-o-te-rangi of Ngati Tama had been defeated by southern Ngai Tahu, and Niho and other Ngati Toa allies left the West Coast.

On 21 May 1846 the explorers Thomas Brunner and Charles Heaphy reached Mawhera from Nelson. They found few people at the pa, but were welcomed cordially by Ngati Waewae. Brunner was again at Mawhera on 1 July 1847, where he found Tuhuru and a larger population than on his previous visit, and on Christmas Day, when there were four religious services and much feasting. Ngati Waewae had been influenced by Christianity through contact with Wesleyan and Anglican converts from the north and east of the South Island.

Tuhuru and his wife, Papakura, had six children: Hinekino, Tarapuhi Te Kaukihi, Wereta Tainui, Nihorere, Tawhao and Te Hiakai. Tuhuru may have died by 1848, as his name does not appear in that year's census of Ngai Tahu. One source states that in 1854 his body was placed in a burial cave above the Mawhera pa. His son, Tarapuhi, succeeded him as leader of Ngati Waewae. When Tarapuhi died in 1864 his brother, Wereta Tainui, became chief.

How to cite this page:

Maika Mason. 'Tuhuru Kokare', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 8 July 2020)