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Story: Tūhuru Kōkare

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Tūhuru Kōkare

fl. 1800–1847

Poutini Ngāi Tahu leader

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

Tūhuru Kōkare was born probably in the latter part of the eighteenth century: his son, Tarapuhi, was said to be about 70 years of age in 1864. He spent his early life with his parents, Te Ruahuanui and Tītohi, at Kaikainui, the pā of his grandfather Waewae. Waewae was a son of Ngāi Tahu chief Tūrākautahi, the builder of the nearby pā of Kaiapoi.

Tūhuru was a chief of Ngāti Waewae, a hapū of Ngāi Tahu. He reached adulthood during a turbulent period in the Maori history of the South Island. In the eighteenth century Ngāi Tahu from Canterbury went to the source of greenstone in the Arahura and Māwhera (Grey) regions of the West Coast, and fought with the local people, Ngāti Wairangi. They destroyed Ngāti Wairangi's pā at Māwhera (Greymouth) and returned east. Later, several hapū of Ngāi Tahu combined to defeat Ngāti Wairangi.

Tūhuru was a powerful warrior chief, of huge stature. He and his hapū were involved in the defeat of Ngāti Wairangi at Kōtuku-whakaoho (Lake Brunner) about the turn of the nineteenth century. From here they commenced the conquest of the West Coast (known as Tai Poutini). The campaign started in the Karamea district. Tūhuru systematically worked his way down the coast, defeating all before him, as far as Makawhio (Jacobs River). Battles were fought at Karamea, Whanganui Inlet, Kawatiri, Māwhera, Taramakau, Arahura, Hokitika, Ōkarito and Makawhio.

The final defeat of Ngāti Wairangi took place in the Paparoa Range, after which a meeting of Tūhuru and his party was held at Rūnanga. They discussed whether to return to Kaikainui or stay on the West Coast. No decision was reached. The party crossed the Māwhera River to Ōmotumotu (Omoto), where a decision was made to stay. Tūhuru and his people established a new pā at Māwhera and settled there. They were known as Poutini Ngāi Tahu, the Ngāi Tahu people of the West Coast.

Tūhuru was now faced with the defence of his territory and was successful against Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri from the northern part of the South Island, who came to take greenstone by force rather than trade. However, a flourishing trade in greenstone through Kaiapoi developed during this period. In 1827 or 1828 Niho, the chief of Ngāti Rārua at Paturau, near Whanganui Inlet, led a war party, armed with guns, to raid the greenstone country. When peace was made, Niho and some of his people settled at Māwhera. Ngāti Waewae also engaged in sporadic fighting against Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri in the Kawatiri (Buller) region over land and hunting rights. By early 1837 Te Pūoho-o-te-rangi of Ngāti Tama had been defeated by southern Ngāi Tahu, and Niho and other Ngāti Toa allies left the West Coast.

On 21 May 1846 the explorers Thomas Brunner and Charles Heaphy reached Māwhera from Nelson. They found few people at the pā, but were welcomed cordially by Ngāti Waewae. Brunner was again at Māwhera on 1 July 1847, where he found Tūhuru and a larger population than on his previous visit, and on Christmas Day, when there were four religious services and much feasting. Ngāti Waewae had been influenced by Christianity through contact with Wesleyan and Anglican converts from the north and east of the South Island.

Tūhuru and his wife, Papakura, had six children: Hinekino, Tarapuhi Te Kaukihi, Weretā Tainui, Nihorere, Tāwhao and Te Hiakai. Tūhuru may have died by 1848, as his name does not appear in that year's census of Ngāi Tahu. One source states that in 1854 his body was placed in a burial cave above the Māwhera pā. His son, Tarapuhi, succeeded him as leader of Ngāti Waewae. When Tarapuhi died in 1864 his brother, Weretā Tainui, became chief.

How to cite this page:

Maika Mason. 'Tūhuru Kōkare', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t111/tuhuru-kokare (accessed 31 January 2023)