Story: Te Purewa

Page 1: Biography

Te Purewa


Tuhoe leader, war leader, peacemaker

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

Te Purewa was born at Whaitiripapa, in the valley of Ruatoki. His date of birth is unknown. When he was young he was also known as Te Oripa, but this name is rarely used. Te Purewa had links with many hapu of Tuhoe: Nga Potiki, Ngati Huri (Tamakaimoana), Ngai Tamatea, Ngati Rongo and Te Mahurehure. Through his mother, Kokamutu, he had connections with Ngati Whakaue of Te Arawa, and through his father, Tihi, with Ngati Kahungunu. Te Purewa had five wives: the first was Hinekura, of Ngati Rongo. They had three children: Te Ahuru, Te Whakatangihau and Horohoro. Te Ahuru later inherited his father's mana and authority. Hinekura was taken prisoner by Te Whakatohea of Opotiki after a raid on the settlement of Otairoa in Ruatoki. She was later released. Te Purewa's second wife was Rangitahu. Their child had the same name as his first wife, Hinekura. Te Purewa also married Taia and Rangitikawea. After the death of his elder brother, Tamahore, he married one of Tamahore's widows, Hinekiri.

Te Purewa was the third of four sons. Te Oata, the eldest, is only remembered because of his seniority. Tamahore, Te Purewa and Tumatawhero were held in higher regard. They were referred to as Te Tokotoru-a-Kokamutu (the triad of Kokamutu). In retelling the adventures of Te Purewa, Tamahore and Tumatawhero should not be omitted as all three travelled and waged war together. It was not until after Tamahore's death that Te Purewa ventured out alone and became well known on his own account.

Te Tokotoru-a-Kokamutu came into prominence during the early 1800s when Tuhoe began to mobilise its forces either to repel intruders or to assist neighbours in settling feuds. Te Tokotoru-a-Kokamutu were present at the battles which devastated Te Whaiti during the expulsion of Ngati Whare and Ngati Manawa hapu. The vacant lands of Te Whaiti were later settled by Ngati Pukeko of Whakatane. The presence of Ngati Pukeko kept Ngati Whare and Ngati Manawa in check; Tuhoe and Ngati Pukeko conducted joint campaigns against them. During one of these campaigns, at Okarea pa about 1818, Te Purewa's son, Te Ahuru, was wounded.

The peace between the two tribes was ended by Te Kihi of Ngati Pukeko when he attacked Ngati Tawhaki at Papueru in Ruatahuna. Te Tokotoru-a-Kokamutu were among the Tuhoe forces which expelled Ngati Pukeko; Tuhoe became the sole occupants of Te Whaiti. As a result, Tuhoe became embroiled with Tuhourangi and Ngati Rangitihi sections of Te Arawa. Between about 1814 and 1821 a series of confrontations took place. Te Tokotoru-a-Kokamutu played a prominent role in the last of these, at Pukekaikahu near Lake Rerewhakaaitu.

Before this battle, a challenge to a duel was issued by Tionga of Te Arawa. Tamahore was ready to accept it for Tuhoe but Te Purewa stopped him from doing so, reminding him that he carried the responsibilities of chieftainship and it was wiser that he, Te Purewa, should maintain the role of 'the strong shoulder'. Tamahore agreed. The duel was fought with taiaha. Eventually the fighters simultaneously lunged with the blades of their taiaha towards each other's head. Te Purewa struck home first, instantly killing Tionga, but the momentum of Tionga's taiaha still had enough force to daze Te Purewa so that he sank on to one knee. Te Waha-kai-kapua, Tionga's second, darted forward to attack Te Purewa. Te Waha-kai-kapua came too close and Te Purewa thrust up with his mere and killed his second opponent. He said: 'Lie there, the double victims of the one born of Kokamutu.' The expression is still uttered in formal farewells to two persons whose deaths are fairly close. After the battle at Pukekaikahu, Te Arawa came to Ruatahuna to seek the return of the bones of their dead. Peace was there established by Te Purewa on behalf of Tuhoe and by Mokonui-a-rangi for Te Arawa.

Soon after this event, Te Purewa featured again in an epic duel, this time with Peehi Tukorehu of Ngati Maniapoto, who was leading a force through Te Whaiti. The two leaders agreed to a duel; free passage would be granted to Tukorehu if he triumphed. The duel ended when neither could defeat the other. Peace was made with an embrace and exchange of mere, and a declaration of undying friendship. This peacemaking had far-reaching effects; it was a major reason for Tuhoe's assisting the people of Tukorehu and Rewi Maniapoto at Orakau in 1864.

Te Tokotoru-a-Kokamutu also waged war against Ngati Tuwharetoa of Taupo. A chief of that tribe, Taihakoa, was killed at Te Arikirau in Ruatahuna; this episode is known as 'Te Kanohi kitea o Taihakoa' (the seen face of Taihakoa). The name indicates that Tuhoe believed that Ngati Tuwharetoa had assisted Ngati Whare to wage war against them. Under the chiefs Te Umuariki, Taiturakina, Tuiringa, Te Purewa and Tamahore, and their war god, Te Rehu-o-Tainui, who had been invoked at Pukekaikahu by the priest Te Uhia, Tuhoe marched to Taupo. The battle that followed was the last between Tuhoe and Ngati Tuwharetoa; Te Purewa concluded peace with Herea Te Heuheu Tukino I. As well, it was the final battle in which Te Tokotoru-a-Kokamutu fought as a unit.

After Taupo, Tamahore joined a Tuhoe party on a peaceful visit to Te Kihi of Ngati Pukeko at Whakatane. The party was involved in a fight with a Te Whakatohea war party and Tamahore was killed. He had been a leader in many of Tuhoe's undertakings, and was regarded as an outstanding orator.

Tamahore had married Hinetemoa of Ngati Rongo, who was a composer. When she was nursing her new-born son, Tamahore began an affair with her sister, Hinekiri. Hinetemoa ran off into the bush with her son, Te Pahi. After Tamahore had failed to find her, he went to live at Ohaua-te-rangi, north of Ruatahuna. There he confessed his sins to his people. During his confession, he slipped and lacerated himself until he bled. To shame himself further, he rolled in a bed of embers and ash; at Ohaua-te-rangi there is a red rock called 'Nga toto o Tamahore' (Tamahore's blood). Some years later, while Tamahore was hunting for pigeon, his party heard the voice of a lone woman singing. On listening to the words, Tamahore knew that it was Hinetemoa. She came out from hiding with Te Pahi, now grown-up, standing by her side. To celebrate this reunion with his wife and son, Tamahore sang a song for the occasion:

Ka mea Tawera e
Me kawe rawa ia ki te wai
Kia wetewetekia to kiri e
Ki te wetewete a Kahukura i te ati e.
(Tamahore, using the name Tawera, asks that his son be taken to the water to be cleansed and dedicated to the life of a warrior under the deity, Kahukura, to ensure success in all he does. This waiata remains one of those most often sung by Tuhoe.)

But Te Purewa, not Te Pahi, set out to avenge the death of Tamahore. After raising a force to take revenge on his brother's killers, Te Purewa departed on his own. He immediately attacked Ngati Pukeko, who lived north of Taneatua, at Te Hurepo where his brother had been killed. Only after he had killed a number of them did he discover his mistake; Ngati Pukeko told him that Te Whakatohea were responsible. Te Purewa headed for Waioeka, where he came across Te Whakatohea at Whitiwhiti, in the Ohiwa district. He felled 15 of them before his force arrived. The rest were overtaken at Te Papa on the Waioeka River. On his return, Te Purewa decided to establish a permanent hold over the lands of Waiotahe Valley by attacking Upokorehe and Te Whakatohea at Te Kahikatea.

From that time, Te Purewa often ventured alone, even when the odds against him were great. After Te Kahikatea, he fought at Waikaremoana against Ngati Ruapani and Ngati Kahungunu, for some five years from 1823 to 1827. Tuhoe victories were followed by peacemaking. At the peacemaking with Hipara of Ngati Kahungunu about 1827 at Waikaremoana, Tuhoe were represented by Te Purewa's son, Te Ahuru; the two mountains, Kahutarewa of Ngati Kahungunu and Turi-o-Kahu of Tuhoe, were symbolically joined in marriage, an enduring reminder to the tribes to respect and maintain the terms of peace.

But Te Purewa's battles were not yet over. To the north, Opouriao and Ruatoki had to be cleared of Ngati Awa and Ngati Pukeko settlers occupying the lands where they had taken refuge from Nga Puhi, under Pomare I. The battles between these tribes and Tuhoe spanned some 17 years, until in the mid 1830s, Ngati Awa and Tuhoe held a series of peacemaking meetings. Two such meetings had already been completed when Te Purewa visited Ngati Awa at Te Kupenga, at Te Teko, to make peace. Some sources suggest that Te Purewa sent his son as he was getting too old. But old age did not stop him from conducting his own brand of diplomacy. While he sent Te Ahuru, Paraone and Petera Koikoi to Pupuaruhe in Whakatane to conclude peace negotiations with Ngati Awa and Ngati Pukeko, Te Purewa himself arranged peace with Taupiri and Tama-i-arohi of Ngati Pukeko at Te Awahou, near Taneatua; he gave them the right to use the lands between Te Hurepo and Te Awahou.

Te Purewa assumed the task of upholding Tuhoe's mana over lands from Waimana north to Waiotahe Valley, and from Te Hurepo south to Ruatoki, including Opouriao and the Owhakatoro Valley. His brother, Tumatawhero, stayed at Maunga Taniwha and Ruatahuna, to guard against invasion there. Not satisfied with these holdings, Te Purewa included the lands of Waiohau under his mana as well. At Te Karangi, in Waiohau, he removed the rights of Te Rangitukehu (a Ngati Awa chief with whom he had concluded peace at Te Kupenga) by killing the pigs the latter was keeping there. He occupied the lands, waiting for Te Rangitukehu's challenge. None came. Te Purewa established a settlement and cultivation, which he left his nephews Taurua and Roihi to guard.

Te Purewa was constantly on the move, travelling and overseeing settlements and lands under his mana. It was he who introduced the cultivation of potatoes to Ruatoki. His son, Te Ahuru, planted the first peach tree in Ruatoki, at Waikirikiri, having obtained it from the CMS missionary S. M. Spencer. Within the blocks of lands he held, Te Purewa set up signs of his occupation. Overlooking Waimana and Opouriao he built a pa at Te Tawhero, where he constructed two houses, Pukahu for himself, and Tahitikahu for Te Ahuru. When Te Ahuru died he was buried at Te Tawhero. A dog, which had been seen burrowing into the grave, was chased and shot while swimming across the river of Hinemataroa (Whakatane). That river became tapu and remained so for many years, until the tapu was removed by Tamahore's great-grandson Kereru Te Pukenui.

In August 1836 Te Purewa went to Te Arawa to assist his mother's people, Ngati Whakaue, against Ngati Haua. When he arrived, he was asked where the rest of Tuhoe were. He said that he had come alone. Te Arawa replied that a single flick of Ngati Haua's finger would sweep him aside; success against Ngati Haua seemed impossible. But under Te Purewa's guidance, Te Arawa lured Ngati Haua from their pa with jeers and insults. When they came out Te Arawa withdrew, and enticed Ngati Haua to pursue them. Te Purewa hid and attacked the pursuers from behind. When he was seen striking down the pursuers, Te Arawa turned and overcame them. This battle was known as Te Matai Puku and appeared to be Te Purewa's last battle before his death six years later at Tauanui, near Ngamahanga, south of Ruatoki, possibly in 1842.

In the last 30 years of his life Te Purewa had firmly established himself as a great leader. Throughout the lands of Tuhoe there are many physical reminders of him. One of the pillars in the meeting house, Te Rangimoaho, at Te Rewarewa marae, Ruatoki, represents Te Purewa. A proverb of Te Mahurehure hapu of Te Rewarewa marae acknowledges Te Purewa as its founding ancestor. On the mountain range of Taiarahia, overlooking the marae, are Te Purewa's pa Te Tawhero and Taumata-o-te-Puia. At the town of Taneatua there is the stream Awahou where Te Purewa concluded a peace settlement with Ngati Pukeko. In the valley of Owhakatoro there is a hill called Te Taumata-o-Te Purewa; below this hill is a grove of trees named after his wife, Hinekura. The stream Ruangarara close by was named after Te Purewa's tutu (a tree used for spearing birds), for at the root of the tree was a hollow occupied by a lizard (ngarara). At Waiohau there is 'Te putaewa a Te Purewa' (Te Purewa's potato heap), indicating that the people there lived under his authority and protection and anyone attacking them would answer with their lives. His village, Aropaki, is at Ohaua-te-rangi. The site of the pa, Whakaari, which he built during the wars against Ngati Kahungunu, is at Waikaremoana. Another landmark at Waikaremoana is called 'Nga hina o Te Purewa' (Te Purewa's white hair), so named to acknowledge him in his later years.

Te Purewa achieved a reputation for fighting and warfare, and for ending all human slaughter and cannibalism among his own people. It was Te Purewa who established peace at Taupo with Ngati Tuwharetoa; at Ruatahuna with Te Arawa; at Waikaremoana with Ngati Kahungunu; at Te Teko with Ngati Awa; and at Te Awahou with Ngati Pukeko. He held mana over the lands and people of Waimana, Ruatoki, Opouriao, Owhakatoro and Waiohau. In his time he was the most powerful warrior among Tuhoe. Some saw him as 'atua whakahaehae' (a terrifying demon). He had a forceful character and it was most unwise to offend him. He richly deserved the title 'Pakihiwi kaha o te huatahi a Kokamutu' (the strong shoulders of the lone son of Kokamutu).

How to cite this page:

Hirini Melbourne. 'Te Purewa', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 April 2020)