Te Peeti Te Aweawe was born about 1820, the son of Wiremu Kīngi Te Aweawe and his first wife, Hinetārake. His hapū was Ngāti Hineaute, who trace their descent from Rangitāne and Whātonga. One of several Rangitāne leaders who helped guide their people through the uncertainties of musket warfare and colonisation, Te Peeti had to exercise both traditional skills and an ability to adapt to new methods, new laws and new alliances. His ancestors had been notable warriors and in that tradition he too emerged as a leader.
Te Peeti had been profoundly affected by the death of his grandfather, Tokipoto, and his uncle, Mahuri, during the violent intertribal conflicts of the 1820s and 1830s, when Manawatū was invaded by groups from Waikato and northern Taranaki. He was particularly incensed by the attitudes of the newcomers, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Kauwhata, in relation to land formerly possessed by his own Rangitāne hapū, Ngāti Hineaute and Ngāi Tamawahine. In 1863, along with neighbouring Ngāti Apa, he lodged a claim to 240,000 acres of the Rangitīkei–Manawatū block, and was supported by the government (who subsequently negotiated a purchase). In 1865 he played a major role in selling the 250,000 acre Ahu-ā-Tūranga block (Palmerston North district) to the Crown and encouraged European settlement there.
The alliance between Te Peeti and the Crown was further cemented when he joined the Native Contingent in 1866; he served with Major General Trevor Chute in the Taranaki campaign, and in the 1868–69 campaign against Tītokowaru. For his efforts he received a sword of honour and a tribal flag (still in the possession of the Te Aweawe family). He was also able to retain a number of rifles, and used these in challenging the land rights of Ngāti Raukawa at Tūwhakatupua in 1868. Open warfare was averted by the mediation of three Anglican lay readers – Hēnare Te Herekau, Pineaha Te Mahauariki and Hoani Meihana Te Rangiotū. Subsequently Te Peeti turned to the Native Land Court to seek justice and the return of tribal land. He was instrumental in having several thousand acres along the banks of the Ōroua and Manawatū rivers (the Aorangi and Tūwhakatupua blocks) returned to Rangitāne. In 1871–72 he supported the claim of Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (with whom he had fought during the Taranaki campaign) and Muaūpoko to the ownership of the Horowhenua district. For Te Peeti it was an opportunity to press his own claims against Ngāti Raukawa.
Te Peeti and others who fought alongside the Crown did not always earn the admiration of Māori people; even their own tribes sometimes withheld support. Their actions, however, need to be considered in the context of tribal reorganisation, a process in which the Crown was often used to gain an advantage. Te Peeti's actions were frequently misconstrued as unquestioning loyalty to a colonial government, but he was much more concerned with loyalty to his own tribe. He did not hesitate to use a variety of means and agents to effect restitution from Ngāti Raukawa. His mission was influenced as much by a traditional desire for utu as by the legalities and natural justice of the case.
His willingness to oppose the colonial government is demonstrated by a dispute which arose in 1875, when the postal authorities were erecting a telegraph line between Foxton and Palmerston North. Te Peeti refused to permit any telegraph poles to be erected across a block of Rangitāne land east of the Ōroua River, until suitable payments had been received. This action delayed the project for eight months and created considerable ill will among local settlers.
During the closing years of his life Te Peeti recognised the need for greater Māori unity. He demonstrated his support for the King movement by hosting the Māori King, Tāwhiao, during his first visit to Manawatū in 1883. He also urged Rangitāne to hold fast to their remaining lands and to retain their identity in the face of increasing pressures from settlement.
Te Peeti Te Aweawe died at Awapuni, near Palmerston North, on 30 June 1884 and was buried at Puketōtara, near Rangiotū. He was survived by a son from his marriage to Huhana, Peeti Rakiwhata, whose descendants retain strong connections with Rangitāne, particularly in the Dannevirke area.
A marble statue of Te Peeti was erected in The Square, Palmerston North, in 1907, to commemorate his loyalty to the Crown and his friendship to the early settlers of the district.