Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere was born on 11 April 1871 at Orutua, Horoera, near East Cape. He was the first of five children of Hone Hiki Kōhere and Henarata Peretō, the daughter of Umutahi, who belonged to Te Whanau-a-Tarahauiti of Ngāti Porou, and David Bristow, a whaler and coastal trader. As the eldest grandchild of Ngāti Porou leader Mōkena Kōhere and his wife, Mārara Hinekukurangi, Rēweti had affiliations with Ngāti Piritai of Te Whānau-a-Tūwhakairiora and Ngāi Tūitimatua.
Rēweti Kōhere's earliest years were spent at Horoera before the family moved to Te Araroa. There Hone Hiki opened a store and established a hotel, the first in the district. At the meeting house, Hinerupe, daily morning and evening prayers were read and on Sunday evenings a Bible class was held. Rēweti maintained strong religious beliefs throughout his life.
Rēweti attended a school which opened at Te Araroa about 1878; it closed soon after because of low attendance. Hone Hiki arranged for Rēweti to live at Te Horo, in the Waiapu valley, so that he could continue his schooling at Waiomatatini Native School. He became so homesick there that his father finally had to take him home.
In 1885 Rēweti travelled to Pukehou in Hawke's Bay with his father, who intended to enrol him at Te Aute College. The prospect greatly excited Rēweti, but his lack of schooling and the fact that he could not speak English, the language of instruction at Te Aute, resulted in his application being declined. Hone Hiki then enrolled him at Gisborne School and arranged for him to live with the chief Paora Parau, a close relative. Rēweti attended the school for a year and a half and in 1887, now aged 16, he successfully enrolled at Te Aute. During his five years as a student there, Rēweti was consistently head of his class and in his final year he was dux of the college and passed his matriculation examination.
In 1889 Rēweti and two fellow students, Timutimu Tāwhai of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Māui Pōmare of Te Ati Awa, undertook a walking expedition to the principal Māori centres in Hawke's Bay, advocating the benefits of social reform. They were greatly concerned at the serious decline in the health, welfare and population level of their people and hoped to raise awareness of the situation. Rēweti noted that they were hospitably received and, at Mōteo, were guests of the chief Pāora Kurupō who was in full sympathy with their mission despite their youth.
To continue their work, Rēweti and his colleagues formed the Association for the Amelioration of the Māori Race, which emphasised social development and the Gospel. Its existence was transitory, but its ideals were to motivate Rēweti throughout his career. Subsequently, in 1896–97, experience gained from the failed association influenced the establishment of the more effective Te Aute College Students' Association. Rēweti served on various subcommittees and contributed papers to conferences of the new association. He served as a vice president when the association became the southern division of the Young Māori Party in April 1909.
In 1891 Rēweti accepted an invitation from Te Aute's headmaster, John Thornton, to join the college's teaching staff. He enjoyed this work and made good progress with his classes. However, his desire to continue his own education led him, in 1895, to enrol at Canterbury College. Rēweti spent three years there but did not complete his BA; although he had been successful in all his other subjects he found the compulsory mathematics too difficult. He left to take up a tutoring position at Te Rau Theological College in Gisborne.
There he studied for the grade examinations of the Board of Theological Studies and in 1911 was awarded the Licentiate in Theology. He was assistant tutor to the principal, Archdeacon H. W. Williams, and also conducted country church services at weekends. Many Māori clergymen were tutored by Rēweti and, years later, when there was a move to appoint a Māori bishop, the Māori clergy of the Auckland diocese unanimously nominated him for the position. He declined the nomination.
While at Te Rau Theological College, Rēweti began a journalistic career. In 1899 he was appointed editor of the Anglican paper Te Pīpīwharauroa. Previously printed in Nelson, it now moved to Gisborne, and Rēweti broadened its focus. Te Pīpīwharauroa was published in Māori and became an important vehicle for Māori comment and debate on social, political and religious issues as well as notifying and recording events of significance to Māori. Rēweti was himself a major contributor of articles and letters. He was often deliberately provocative in his writings, seeking to engender debate on subjects such as health reform, liquor control, administration of Māori land and the encouragement of Māori education.
Controversy and debate marked Rēweti's journalistic career. In 1906 he powerfully opposed the exclusion of Māori language from both native and education board schools. He also opposed the practices and activities of tohunga and supported Māui Pōmare when he promoted the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907. In 1908 he condemned racism in the Anglican church, and in 1919 stated his view that Māori soldiers in the First World War had not received enough decorations compared to Pākehā. He campaigned against T. W. Rātana in 1921–22, comparing his teachings to those used in tohungaism; he was occasionally criticised for what some regarded as his derogation of Māori spiritual beliefs.
In articles published in Te Pīpīwharauroa, Rēweti was critical of the curriculum adopted by Te Aute College. He contended that Māori needed to work to retain what land they still held and so needed to learn farming as well as academic skills. In 1906 a Royal Commission on the Te Aute and Wanganui School Trusts was established to consider whether the college should change from its academic curriculum to one of a technical or manual nature. At the request of Apirana Ngata, a commission member, Rēweti gave evidence at the Napier sitting. He suggested that the curriculum should cater for students who would not go on to university study, but could make a positive contribution to land and economic development. However, he also opposed the suggestion of George Hogben, inspector general of schools, that the matriculation examination should be withdrawn completely from Te Aute.
On 14 December 1904 at Gisborne Rēweti had married Keita Kaikiri Paratene, daughter of Paratene Tatae and Hera Halbert. Keita belonged to Ngāti Maru hapū of Rongowhakaata, and to Ngāti Kahungunu and Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki. Rēweti continued to edit Te Pīpīwharauroa until 1908, when he was appointed to the Kawakawa pastorate. He left Te Rau Theological College and the couple returned to live on family land at Rangiata station, East Cape, at the extreme eastern end of the parish. Rēweti's pastoral duties involved many hours of hard horseback riding. From this isolated spot he continued to contribute articles to the paper and its successors, Te Kōpara and Te Toa Takitini. Rēweti wrote much in both Māori and English, for over 50 years contributing to the Poverty Bay Herald (later the Gisborne Herald ) and Te Ao Hou.
For the next 10 years Rēweti combined his pastoral duties with farming. Utilising a flock of 500 ewes, which he had purchased in 1899 to help his mother and sister maintain a living on the land, he worked with his brothers, Hēnare and Tāwhai, to develop the family's farm. He set about constructing a large house, the framing and weatherboards of which came from logs felled and pit-sawn on the property. The return of Tāwhai from the First World War and the building of a new church and vicarage enabled Rēweti to move his family to Te Araroa, where his children could attend school and he could be more centrally placed to cover his pastorate. By 1921, however, Rēweti was unable to support his large family on a stipend of £75. There were eight children: Hinekukurangi, Paratene, Kakatarau, Oha, Rewanga, Hēni, Oranoa and Tūrāhiri. He resigned his ministry, and he and his family returned to Rangiata. There Rēweti engaged in farming, although he continued to take services, and to conduct christenings, marriages and funerals without remuneration.
Rēweti's opposition to government land policies was inspired by his grandfather, Mōkena Kōhere, and his efforts in the Legislative Council to end the questionable practices used by officials in the purchase of Māori land. He protested against the Māori Land Settlement Act introduced by the Liberal government in 1905 on the grounds that it empowered the government to settle, lease or sell Māori land. With the recommendation of the Stout–Ngata commission in 1907–8 that surplus Māori land should be sold, Rēweti's writings became even more impassioned. 'I have been anxious and trembling lest the Pākehā influence is so strong that it would deprive the Māoris of their land…and thus prevent them using it now and in generations to come.'
In 1913, when the Native Land Court began hearing claims to the Marangairoa 1D block at Rangitukia, Rēweti, with support from his elders Mohi Tūrei, Keeti Ngātai and others, put in a claim on behalf of Te Whānau-a-Rerewā (known latterly as Ngāti Hokopū). This land was part of a territory that Mōkena Kōhere and other chiefs had set aside in 1874 to be retained under customary communal title. Rēweti had already secured title to the land of his mother's people at Te Pākihi, East Cape, and now sought title to this paternal land, Te Kautuku.
Rēweti's claim was based on the long and continuous occupation of the land by his people. He was unsuccessful, the court ruling in favour of competing claims based on descent from ancestors who, it was said, had rights to the land. Rēweti appealed the decision, placing before the court the extensive evidence of occupation – settlements, cultivations, burial grounds, the exercise of mana – by his people over centuries. He asserted that descent alone was insufficient to establish rights to land and that his opponents had not shown that their ancestors had occupied the lands. The judge, R. N. Jones, ruled against Rēweti and his people, and he commenced litigation that continued throughout his lifetime. His three petitions to Parliament for a rehearing were granted, but with each hearing in the Native Land Court he made no significant advance. Finally, in 1953, a special commission not only upheld the original decision, but, except for a few small parcels of land together with the ancient cemetery, Aratia, also wiped out all shares gained by his whānau over 40 years of litigation.
In 1938 Rēweti agreed to a request by the New Zealand Labour Party to stand as its candidate for the Eastern Māori seat. He advocated political empowerment, social equity, economic advancement, and cultural enhancement based on the united effort of the people: 'The Māori people are not going to be saved by a few doctors, lawyers, and professional men and women; it is going to be saved by the whole mass of the people moving upwards.' Despite a late start to his campaign, Rēweti made a very creditable showing, coming second to Apirana Ngata and ahead of Tiaki Ōmana, the Rātana candidate. It was his only attempt to enter Parliament.
Rēweti took an active part in community affairs. He was a long-serving member of the Te Araroa Tribal Committee and a trustee of the Hinerupe marae. From its inauguration in 1920, Rēweti represented the Whangaōkena district on the Matakaoa County Council for 30 years and he sat on the Hicks Bay Harbour Board. He was chairman of both the East Cape School Committee and the Te Araroa High School Advisory Committee for many years. He continued to place a high priority on education, sending his children to Te Aute College, Hukarere Native Girls' School and Turakina Māori Girls' School.
A holder of a first-grade interpreter's licence, Rēweti was also one of the foremost writers and speakers of the Māori language. He thought that it should be taught in all Māori schools. Perceiving the importance of language to the survival of Māori culture, Rēweti compiled a collection of the best of his own and other contributions to Māori newspapers. (These were published in 1995 as Nga kōrero a Rēweti Kōhere mā.) In 1949, with the aid of the New Zealand Literary Fund, he published The story of a Māori chief, a biography of Mōkena Kōhere; and, in 1951, his own story, The autobiography of a Māori. These books, written in English, were followed by He konae aronui, a collection of Māori proverbs. He found it ironic and a source of contention that it was easier to publish in English than in Māori. He continued writing and publishing material such as song-poetry (waiata-moteatea) and accounts of tradition up to the time of his death. He condemned the use of transliterations in place of existing Māori words but, in the interests of good communication, advocated their use when there was no equivalent word in Māori.
Reading and reciting classical English poetry was also a favourite pastime, and one which he passed on to his family. A special interest was the translation of his favourite verses from English into Māori. He made his own translations of many passages from Shakespeare and other writers, as well as from the Bible.
Throughout his life, Rēweti endeavoured to assist the advancement of Māori. His religous beliefs underpinned everything that he did, for, as he put it, 'the Christian cannot divide his life into two sections, religious and secular, for every act of a Christian must be Christian.' He believed that by conducting his life in this way he could set an example to others.
Rēweti enjoyed a long and fulfilling life with his wife, Keita, the 'sharer in all my joys and sorrows, in all my triumphs and setbacks'. He died on 9 August 1954, survived by Keita, seven children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was buried next to his mother at Rangiata.