Dictionary of New Zealand Bography logo

Story: Paipai, Kāwana Pitiroi

Page 1: Biography

Paipai, Kāwana Pitiroi


Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi tohunga, military leader, assessor

This biography, written by Steven Oliver, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was updated in June, 1990. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

Paipai, also known as Kāwana Pitiroi Paipai, was born near the end of the eighteenth century. He had connections with Ngāti Ruaka and other hapū of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi. His father, who died in 1847, was Tawhitiōrangi, the son of Te Raetaranaki (Raikaranaki). His mother's name was Haukōpata (Te Hau Kōpatu). Paipai is known to have had three wives. Kohe was the mother of Hōri Kerei, who was born about 1826. On 4 March 1844, at Pūtiki Wharanui, near the mouth of the Wanganui River, Paipai married Wairere. She died three years later, in December 1847. On 22 April 1850, also at Pūtiki, he married Roka Kuao, the widow of Turakina.

Paipai was a tohunga, reputed to have power to regulate the winds. He is said to have become a Christian, but there is no record of his baptism. He was well versed in tribal history and renowned as a storyteller. Little is known of his early life. As a warrior he would have fought with his cousin, Te Ānaua, in the tribal wars of the 1820s and 1830s. He supported European settlement at Wanganui in the 1840s, and was one of the captors of the group of young Māori who killed the family of settler J. A. Gilfillan in April 1847.

Paipai fought against upper Wanganui Hauhau forces at Moutoa, an island in the Wanganui River, on 14 May 1864, and at Ōhoutahi in February 1865. After Ōhoutahi he assisted in capturing the Wanganui Hauhau leaders Tahana Tūroa, Tōpia Tūroa and Te Peehi Pākoro Tūroa. He was present at the fall of Weraroa, a Hauhau pā on the Waitōtara River, and later took part in the campaigns against Hauhau in Taranaki in 1866. He also fought on the East Coast. He led Māori troops for four years, and in 1870 insisted that the Wanganui Māori contingent continue the pursuit of Te Kooti into the Bay of Plenty. At the time of these campaigns Paipai was advanced in years, possibly in his 70s, and was one of the last fully tattooed warriors in the Wanganui area. He was awarded the New Zealand War Medal in 1874. In his later years he was known by the name Puku-tohe-ki-te-riri, in recognition of his bellicose nature.

In 1866 Paipai gave Governor George Grey, with whom he travelled on several occasions, an account of moa hunting in his youth on the Waimate Plain. He showed Grey and military commander Thomas McDonnell a place near the mouth of the Waingongoro River, called Ōhāwe, where moa had been cooked and eaten. Excavation of the site produced moa skulls and huge thigh-bones that had been broken open to extract the marrow. Paipai described how the moa were pursued by relays of Māori until exhausted and brought to bay, when they were easily killed by clubbing.

Paipai took a strong interest in the political affairs of his people. In 1860 he attended the Kohimarama conference of Māori leaders which affirmed loyalty to the Queen, and in June 1865 was appointed an assessor, probably to the Native Land Court. In 1869 he accompanied Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui to Auckland to be presented to the Duke of Edinburgh. In 1881, at Waitangi, he accompanied Mete Kīngi Te Rangi Paetahi at a meeting of northern tribes called to discuss the Treaty of Waitangi.

Paipai held land at Pūtiki, a reserve set aside from the Wanganui purchase. In 1871 he took a claim for part of the reserve to the Native Land Court at Wanganui. There were no other claimants and he was awarded ownership of the Ngongohau No 1 block. He was thought to be over 90 years of age when he died, at Pūtiki, on 11 June 1884.

How to cite this page:

Steven Oliver. 'Paipai, Kāwana Pitiroi', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated June, 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1p1/paipai-kawana-pitiroi (accessed 27 June 2022)