Te Iki-o-te-rangi Pouwhare, regarded as a paramount chief in later life, was an authority on Tuhoe history and traditions, and widely respected as a wise and kindly leader. He was born at Te Houhi in the Rangitaiki River valley, 30 miles south of Whakatane, probably sometime between 1880 and 1883, the son of Te Pouwhare Te Roau and his wife, Whitiaira Ngahooro. Brought up in the Ruatoki region, he came under the influence of Numia Kereru Te Ruakariata, then a leading chief of Tuhoe. He had links with the hapu Ngati Rongo and Ngati Haka. As well as learning to read and write, he was taught by elders and became an expert on whakapapa and tribal history. He traced his own ancestry back 20 generations to the ancestor of the Bay of Plenty, Toi-kai-rakau. His meeting house at Waiohau was named after another illustrious ancestor in his whakapapa, Tama-ki-Hikurangi.
As a young man Te Iki Pouwhare lived at Rangitahi marae near Murupara; in the late 1920s he moved back to Waiohau where he was employed by the Native Department (later the Department of Maori Affairs) as a resident foreman. His knowledge of whakapapa proved important in assisting attempts to resolve conflict over the ownership of Tuhoe land. He and other Tuhoe leaders remained incensed at the injustice of government land confiscations in the 1860s, and continued to petition government for the return of those lands. As he accumulated mana, Te Iki took a lead in legal battles. In 1920 he taxed every working member of his whanau and hapu 2s. 6d. to assist in paying expenses to take a case regarding land at Te Houhi, known as the Waiohau Fraud, to court. Four years later he collected £1 each from local adult members of Tuhoe to assist in a petition for an investigation of the Crown purchase of the Kaingaroa block, and subsequently he was part of a delegation that presented the petition to government in Wellington. After compensation had been obtained in 1957 for some of the Tuhoe claims, he became a member of the Tuhoe Maori Trust Board and also sat on the Tuhoe Maori Land Advisory Committee.
Among his various official positions, Te Iki served on the marae committee of Rangitahi from 1921, was chairman of the Waiohau School Committee, a member of the Waiohau Tribal Committee, and chairman of the executive in the Tuhoe area (which incorporated Murupara and Te Whaiti). He also sat on the Mataatua Maori Council from 1936. He held high office in the Ringatu church and was patron and supporter of many sporting organisations.
Te Iki Pouwhare was renowned for insisting on the use of Maori language and protocol at meetings of tribal significance. When dignitaries visited he would speak in Maori and insist on the presence of an interpreter, his favourite being John Rangihau. His concern to preserve the language led him to forbid his grandchildren to speak English in his presence, or in his house. Yet at the same time he had a strong commitment to Pakeha education, organising gala days to raise funds for Tuhoe students to attend university. When the Maori Education Foundation was established he sent £400 to Wellington to help educate Tuhoe students.
Te Iki was a prolific writer in Maori. He wrote an article for the Journal of the Polynesian Society on Tuhoe genealogies, and among his contributions to the magazine Te Ao Hou, an eloquent tribute in 1959 to the Tuhoe leader Takurua Tamarau following his death reflected his debt to an influential mentor. His many unpublished manuscripts constitute a formidable repository of ancient knowledge.
He continued to pass on much of this information verbally. On many occasions he was consulted by Sir Apirana Ngata, Colonel Arapeta Awatere and other tribal leaders for his understanding of spiritual matters. He was an expert on such issues as prohibitions on taking food from the forest and the rivers; rituals for the hunting and preservation of kereru (native wood pigeon); building and preparation of whare wananga (schools of learning); and rituals for the opening of meeting houses.
Te Iki Pouwhare married twice. He had three children with his first wife, Whata of Ngati Rongo, of Tuhoe. He later married Te Awhimate Marunui of Ngati Manawa, with whom he had 10 children. Both wives predeceased him. He died at the Whakatane public hospital on 30 March 1963, and was buried at Waiohau. Many descendants still live in the Ruatoki, Waiohau and Murupara areas.