Story: Tāhiwi, Pirimi Pererika

Page 1: Biography

All images & media in this story

Tāhiwi, Pirimi Pererika

1890–1969

Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Whakaue; schoolteacher, rugby player, soldier, musician, community leader

This biography, written by Rupene M. T. Waaka,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Pirimi Pererika Tāhiwi was born on 16 September 1890 at Ōtaki. His father, Rāwiri Rota Tāhiwi, a Native Land Court assessor, was of Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Maiōtaki. His mother, Keita Koa, who was also known as Kapu Meaha and Keita Pera, was of Te Arawa, with links to Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pūkākī, Ngāti Tahu and Ngāti Whaoa. Pirimi was one of the children from his father's second marriage and had an elder half-sister. One of his elder brothers was Kīngi Te Ahoaho Tāhiwi, who achieved prominence as an interpreter, translator and musician.

Pirimi Tāhiwi was educated at the Ōtaki state school, Te Aute College and the Ōtaki Native College. After attending the Teachers' Training College, Wellington, he returned to Ōtaki Native College as a teacher and resident master. A keen sportsman, he represented the Horowhenua Rugby Football Union between 1901 and 1912, and in 1913 became a Māori All Black. He also played tennis and golf.

In May 1911 Tāhiwi joined the Territorial Force as a private in the 7th (Wellington West Coast) Regiment. He was promoted to sergeant in August 1914 and became a second lieutenant the following month. On the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted in the Māori Contingent of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The contingent arrived in Malta in February 1915 for garrison duties, and in April Tāhiwi was promoted to captain.

In June 1915 the Māori Contingent sailed for Gallipoli. On 6 August Captain Roger Dansey and Tāhiwi led A Company in the battle of Sari Bair. They adopted Te Rauparaha's haka, 'Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora', as their war cry and set about clearing the Turkish trenches. The following day Tāhiwi was seriously wounded in the neck and evacuated to hospital in England. While he was convalescing, the New Zealand high commissioner invited him and other wounded servicemen to convey New Zealand's greetings to Princess Mary on her birthday. He also led New Zealand troops in the first Anzac Day parade in London in April 1916.

In November 1916 Tāhiwi left for New Zealand to assist in the training of Māori reinforcements. He embarked again in July 1917 with the 20th Reinforcements, Māori Contingent, arriving in England in September, and the following month he joined the New Zealand Māori (Pioneer) Battalion in France. From March to September 1918 Tāhiwi was officer in charge of the Māori (Pioneer) Details at the New Zealand Engineer Reserve Depot in Dorset, England. He then returned to the Māori Battalion in France and in December assumed command of D Company.

The Māori Battalion returned to New Zealand in April 1919, and Tāhiwi was discharged the following month. He continued to take an active role in the Territorial Force and in 1929 was awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers' Decoration. He resumed his teaching career at Ōtaki Native College, and also took up rugby again, representing Manawatu–Horowhenua in 1924. In 1927 he became an inaugural committee member of the Ōtaki Surf Lifesaving Club.

Another of Tāhiwi's interests was music. In 1915 a Māori Contingent band had been formed under his direction, and his brother, Corporal Henare Tāhiwi, had been the contingent's bugler. Pirimi was a member of the Ōtaki Choral Society from 1921 to 1924 and in 1923 was a committee member, and musician, in the Ōtaki Māori Brass Band. He was an accomplished cellist, and composed two verses of the waiata 'E noho e Korokī'. In 1927 his brother Hēnare and sisters Ria and Weno travelled to Australia, where they produced nine records.

In January 1920 Tāhiwi became a licensed interpreter first grade, and in July 1928 he was appointed to the Raukawa Māori Council, on which he was to serve for much of the next two decades. In 1936 he became one of the Raukawa Marae Trustees representing Ngāti MaiŌtaki. He retired from teaching when the Ōtaki Māori College was closed at the end of 1939, and received a retiring allowance from the Porirua College Trust Board.

When the Second World War broke out Tāhiwi again volunteered for military service. He entered Trentham Military Camp in November 1939 and became adjutant to the 28th (Māori) Battalion. In May 1940 he was appointed to the New Zealand Temporary Staff with the rank of captain, and became a company commander in the Training Battalion at Papakura Military Camp. In August 1943 he was posted to the retired list.

On 19 June 1943, at Rangiatea Church, Ōtaki, Pirimi Tāhiwi married Mairatea Pitt-Pōrutu of Te Āti Awa. Their wedding breakfast was held on the Raukawa marae. They settled in Wellington, where Tāhiwi was employed at Wellington Hospital's head office until his retirement in 1958. In these years he was active in many community organisations: he became chairman of the Ngāti Pōneke Tribal Committee, was a member of the Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club, held most of the executive positions of the Wellington Māori Anglican mission, and was secretary of the local branch of the New Zealand National Party. He served as an honorary Māori welfare officer, and in March 1957 became a justice of the peace. Tāhiwi also taught Māori language and custom, and in November 1958 became chairman of the WEA's Māori Club. His wife, Mairatea, became a prominent figure in the Māori Women's Welfare League.

In 1965 the New Zealand Returned Services' Association and its Australian counterpart organised a 50th jubilee commemoration of the Gallipoli landings. Tāhiwi was the sole surviving officer of the Māori Contingent, and he and his wife travelled to Gallipoli, where he laid a mere from the Dominion Museum on the memorial at Chunuk Bair. He died at Wellington on 30 July 1969, survived by his wife; they did not have any children. After a service at St Paul's Cathedral, the cortège travelled north to the Raukawa marae. Pirimi Tāhiwi is buried in the Rangiātea Church cemetery, Ōtaki.

How to cite this page:

Rupene M. T. Waaka. 'Tāhiwi, Pirimi Pererika', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4t1/tahiwi-pirimi-pererika (accessed 9 May 2021)