Tohi Te Ururangi was a renowned warrior and leader of Ngāti Whakaue section of Te Arawa. He was born probably in the early nineteenth century. Through his father, Te Piere II, he was descended from Whakaue, through Tūteaiti. His mother, Hinepapa, had connections with Ngāti Pikiao and other sections of Te Arawa. Tohi and his first wife, Haukau, had two children: a son, Ngāki, and a daughter, Ngātai. Ngātai married Retireti Tapsell, the eldest son of the Maketū trader Phillip Tapsell and Hine-i-tūrama (Hineatūrama) Ngātiki of Ngāti Whakaue. The second wife of Tohi was Ngāpī; there were no children of this union.
Tohi Te Ururangi was regarded by both Māori and Pākehā as a man of great mana. He was described by Mary Martin, who met him in the 1840s, as 'a thickset, short man, with a keen, strong-willed expression, the eyes bloodshot and fierce, but the whole expression was rather thoughtful and intelligent than savage.'
After the killing of Te Hunga of Ngāti Hauā probably by Haerehuka of Ngāti Whakaue, at Parahaki in December 1835, Te Arawa's pā at Maketū was raided in a combined attack by Waikato and Ngāi Te Rangi, led by Te Waharoa of Ngāti Hauā, in March 1836. In August, at the battle of Mātaipuku, near Ōhinemutu, Tohi Te Ururangi rallied his men, who were being pursued across the Utuhina Stream. Tohi turned and faced the pursuers. One Ngāti Hauā leader, Raerae, was wounded by a shot fired by Te Arawa. Without hesitation Tohi sprang back across the creek and put Raerae to death with his tomahawk. This caused Ngāti Hauā to pause in their pursuit long enough for many Te Arawa survivors to escape to the safety of their pā. In the battle of Te Whare-uru-rua in February 1839 Tohi Te Ururangi also took a prominent part. Standing near the Irohanga gate to the Maketū pā, he shot and killed one of the attackers.
In November 1842 Ngāki, the 11- or 12-year-old son of Tohi Te Ururangi, was captured at Katikati by Ngāi Te Rangi when the trading cutter Nimble, on which he was a passenger, put ashore there. When Tohi heard of the loss of his son, his sorrow and anger led him to seek revenge. With a small raiding party he sailed to Tūhua (Mayor Island) and attacked the Ngāi Te Rangi people of Te Whānau-a-Tauwhao. Some of the casualties were later eaten. Hōri Tūpaea of Ngāi Te Rangi was eager to retaliate, and extensive warfare was only narrowly averted.
In 1845, when it was confirmed that his son had been killed and eaten by Ngāi Te Rangi, Tohi threatened to attack Tauranga and destroy his enemies. He gave up this intention after talking with Governor Robert FitzRoy in Auckland in June, and attending a service at St Stephen's Chapel there. About this time he was converted to Christianity and baptised.
In 1852 a dispute arose between Tohi Te Ururangi and Te Amohau of Maketū over the ownership of stones to be used to build a new chapel at Maketū. Tohi showed his displeasure by leading an expedition to Mōtītī Island where the graves of ancestors of Te Amohau were desecrated by his party. Te Amohau appealed to Hōri Tūpaea at Ōtūmoetai for support, and war seemed imminent. A tense peace was, however, maintained through the interventions of Archdeacon A. N. Brown, the Anglican missionary T. Chapman, and T. H. Smith, resident magistrate at Maketū. By 1856 Tohi had withdrawn from Mōtītī and made his peace with Tupaea.
Because of the authority and respect that Tohi commanded, about 1858 he was appointed an unofficial magistrate, on the recommendation of T. H. Smith. His headquarters were at Maketū. From there he travelled both on the coast and inland, attempting to settle disputes, and often succeeding. He lessened the conflict between Ngāti Awa of Whakatāne and Te Whakatōhea of Ōpōtiki, and partially settled the conflict over a land dispute at Lake Tarawera. He also went to Matatā and persuaded local Māori to pay their debts to a local Pākehā trader. Initially this work was unpaid, causing Tohi some hardship when his wife was ill for a period in 1858: his work left him no time to cultivate his own garden. Tohi continued in this work for two or three years. He became known as Pēkamu Winiata (Beckham Wynyard) or Pēkamu Tohi, and attended the Kohimarama conference in Auckland in 1860. In January 1862 he was appointed a court assessor in Maketū at a salary of £10 a year. He remained in this position until his death, working with T. H. Smith, and H. T. Clarke, the resident magistrate at Tauranga.
Tohi Te Ururangi supported the government during the wars of the 1860s. During 1863 many tribes from Matatā to Wairoa pledged their support to the Māori King. Tohi talked of going to Auckland for troops and ammunition to fight them. In February 1864 a large party of 700 or 800 tried to pass through Te Arawa territory on their way to Waikato. Tohi was one of the leaders who led the attack against them, when they assembled near Maketū. On 28 April 1864 the King's supporters made their final stand at Te Kaokaoroa, near Matatā. During the battle Tohi, standing on a low sandhill to direct his men, was mortally wounded by a burst of gunfire. He was carried back by his people to the Puakōwhai Stream, where he died that evening. His wife, Ngāpī, took utu by immediately shooting Te Whakatōhea leader Te Āporotanga, who had been taken prisoner.
The death of Tohi Te Ururangi was a great loss to Te Arawa and to Pākehā who had worked with him. T. H. Smith wrote that, 'Maketū will not be the same place without him'. Tohi Te Ururangi is buried at Ōhinemutu. In 1876 a stone memorial to him was erected at the government's expense in the enclosure surrounding St Thomas's Church at Maketū.