Ihaia Te Kirikumara was a chief of the Otaraua hapu of Te Ati Awa. He was born in Taranaki; his father was Piriraukura. During his early life Te Kirikumara took part in many of the intertribal wars involving his people. Otaraua fought against a northern war expedition in November 1821 or early 1822, when the Taranaki tribes helped Te Rauparaha to defeat the Waikato tribes at Motunui. Retaliation came in 1831 when the Waikato tribes invaded Taranaki and captured Pukerangiora pa, on the Waitara River. Te Kirikumara escaped from Pukerangiora. He took part in a revenge attack against the Ngati Maniapoto pa of Motu-taua at Mokau in March 1832. Waikato again invaded Taranaki and Te Kirikumara was among those who were besieged at Miko-tahi, an island pa near present day New Plymouth, in 1833. Under the terms of the truce Te Kirikumara and other Te Ati Awa went to Waikato as captives. There he was probably baptised, and took the name Ihaia (Isaiah).
After 1840, when some of the Waikato and Ngati Maniapoto leaders came under the influence of Christianity, Ihaia was allowed to return home. Te Awa-i-taia, of Waikato, states that Ihaia went to Kapiti and thence to Waikanae with a delegation which invited Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake to return to Waitara, where Ihaia himself was to live. In 1844 Ihaia first offered to sell land at Waitara to the government, but because his claim was disputed by Te Rangitake, the offer was not accepted. He renewed the offer in 1847 and in 1850 (on the latter occasion to Governor George Grey in person) but it was again declined.
In 1854 an event took place which was to influence, both directly and indirectly, the course of Ihaia's life. Taranaki tribes met at Manawapou, in Ngati Ruanui territory, in May and pledged themselves to retain all land between Okurukuru and Kai Iwi. This agreement was referred to by Pakeha as a 'land league'. About the same time as the Manawapou meeting, Rawiri Waiaua, the leader of the Puketapu section of Te Ati Awa, sold the Hua block and then offered for sale land previously excluded from it which had been claimed by Te Waitere Katatore. The land was accepted by the land purchase commissioner. Rawiri and his men went to cut the boundaries of the block although they had been warned not to by Katatore. In a confrontation on 3 August 1854 Rawiri and five of his followers were killed. Taranaki settlers jumped to the conclusion that Katatore was carrying out the policy of the so-called land league.
Some months after this Ihaia had a Ngati Ruanui man named Rimene killed for committing adultery with his wife, Hariata. A Ngati Ruanui war party of 300 warriors subsequently attacked Ihaia's pa at Manaku in December and stormed it. Ihaia and his people were only able to escape because their retreat was covered by the followers of Rawiri. In May the following year Rawiri's people, who had rallied under the leadership of Arama Karaka, a relative of Rawiri, were besieged at Ninia pa by Katatore and Te Rangitake with their Te Ati Awa followers and Ngati Ruanui allies. As it was a desperate situation, Arama Karaka sought aid from Ihaia. Ihaia agreed on condition that he was given land at Ikamoana, near New Plymouth. His terms were accepted and he built a pa there. Ngati Ruanui later attacked the pa but were driven off and returned to their homes. Fighting among Te Ati Awa continued until late 1856; peace was made early in 1857. By the terms of the peace Katatore gave up the land on which Rawiri was killed and he and Te Rangitake were no longer to prevent the sale of land to which they did not have a personal claim.
The peace lasted until early January 1858 when Katatore was ambushed and killed by Ihaia's brother Tamati Tiraurau and five other men. Ihaia admitted to Robert Parris, the district land purchase commissioner, that he had planned the murder. He may have lured Katatore to New Plymouth with offers of friendship. After the murder, fighting between Maori war parties took place on the farms of the New Plymouth settlers.
Ihaia left his pa at Ikamoana and returned to Otaraua territory in Waitara, which became the scene of further conflict. He built a pa, Te Karaka, on the Waitara River and was besieged there in March 1858 by his Te Ati Awa enemies. After some weeks his followers were starving. The government offered a peace settlement whereby Ihaia would be deported to live with his relatives in the Chatham Islands. He rejected this and requested aid from allies in Wanganui and Waikato. Robert Parris and the Reverend John Whiteley acted as intermediaries and arranged a settlement with Te Rangitake by which the pa would be abandoned and then burnt by Te Rangitake's followers. Before this was carried out an upper Wanganui chief named Wiremu Te Korowhiti arrived with reinforcements. Ihaia evacuated the pa but left armed men in trenches lying in wait for Te Rangitake. Parris discovered this in time to warn Te Rangitake and the ambush failed. Ihaia and his followers left the Waitara district and, moving north, settled near the Mimi River, where they built a strong pa.
Ihaia continued to oppose Te Rangitake for reasons of his own. Demonstrating political astuteness, he wrote letters to newspapers with the intention of rousing settler opposition to Te Rangitake. He supported Te Teira's sale of Waitara land to the government and when war began in March 1860 he assisted the government. On 27 June 1860 he guided British troops into position before the attack on Puke-ta-kauere pa. Although the British were severely defeated, Ihaia was praised for his part in the operation. In 1869 he helped raise Maori troops to fight Titokowaru and advised the government on Maori matters.
Ihaia Te Kirikumara is said to have died on 9 July 1873, at Wakatere pa on the Waitara River, from consumption. He was interred at the burial ground of his people at Te Karaka.