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Story: Pio, Hāmiora Tumutara Te Tihi-o-te-whenua

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Pio, Hāmiora Tumutara Te Tihi-o-te-whenua


Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa tohunga, historian

This biography, written by Hirini Mead, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.

The name of Hāmiora Tumutara Pio of Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa appears in the written record largely through the efforts of John White and Elsdon Best. Hāmiora Tumutara wrote down ethnographical data for them, not out of an altruistic interest in recording the history and traditions of his people, but because writing for the anthropologists was a way of earning money. He filled over 30 notebooks with legends, history, proverbs, incantations and genealogies. Much of the information is repetitive, because he was paid by the book. Today the repetitions are valuable as a means of checking for consistency as well as teasing out important elements of a story.

He was born Tumutara in the year 1814, according to his own account, although Elsdon Best claims he was born in 1823. His father was Paeaka, and his mother, Tapuika. When he was baptised he was given the biblical name Hāmiora (Samuel). He married Te Whakahoro, also known as Maria Taka, of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Kahungunu. Family sources state that they had four children: Tangiwai (also known as Huhana Hōriana), Hoani Pāpita Te Whārangi, Eru and Hōri Te Karekare. (Eru Tumutara became one of the first bishops, or presidents, of the Ringatū church.)

Hāmiora Tumutara lived uncomfortably between the Christian world of the missionaries and the traditional world of his ancestors. Before the land wars he was active in the affairs of the Catholic church as a travelling teacher. During the wars he lived at Lake Taupō until 1869, and took the name Pio Tuaiwa (Pius IX). From the 1880s he turned increasingly to his own culture. When a priest asked him to return to the church he replied: 'I have an ancestor of my own. You keep to your ancestor and I will keep to mine.…Rangi is my ancestor, the origin of the Māori people. Your ancestor is money.'

In the 1880s in the Native Land Court at Whakatāne Tumutara was able to put his considerable knowledge of the traditions and history of his people to use; his oral submissions are now a valuable part of the traditions of Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa of Kawerau. He very clearly represented Ngāti Awa interests in opposition to those of Te Arawa, who were more often than not rival claimants to land he contested. Hāmiora Tumutara gave evidence regarding various blocks of land including Pūtauaki, Matahina, Pōkohu, Kaingaroa and Te Haehaenga. Because he fought so many battles in the court house over land he added the title Te Tihi-o-te-whenua (the summit of the land) to his name. There is little doubt that the hapu he represented supported his own assessment of his ability. He was one of the best advocates of Ngāti Awa interests at the time.

Tumutara is also well known for his activity as a traditional tohunga. He was one of the tohunga invited to open the carved house, Rauru, at Whakarewarewa. Rauru began as a traditional meeting house but in 1897 the chief Te Waru of Ngāti Whaoa sold it to Charles Nelson, representing L. D. Nathan and Company. Nelson hired the famous Ngāti Tarāwhai carvers Ānaha Kepa Te Rāhui, Neke Kapua and Tene Waitere to finish the carvings for him. He had the house opened ceremonially, twice for good measure, and then sold most of its carvings overseas where they remain to this day.

In March 1900 two well-known tohunga in the Waiariki district opened the house. One was Te Rangitāhau of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and the other was Hāmiora Tumutara Pio. One of the carvers, Tene Waitere, had Ngāti Awa connections, and invited Tumutara to open the house first. Tumutara used a branch of rata, Mataatua's sacred tree, as his ritual rod to carry out the ceremony. By preceding him he gained the upper hand over Te Rangitāhau, who used a kawakawa branch in his incantations. As they were working in competition with each other the proceedings were not in accordance with Māori custom. Tumutara Pio was there with a large delegation from Ngāti Awa and Te Rangitāhau had come with supporters from Te Arawa. Each saw the other as trampling on his mana and forecast a bad end for the other. Both sides would insist that the prediction came to pass.

Tumutara's descendants have since become famous in the Mātaatua area as tohunga of the Ringatū church. But Hāmiora Tumutara was a tohunga in the traditional Māori sense: he performed the rituals of opening carved houses, launching canoes, setting aside kūmara gardens, and rendering dangerous and life-threatening forces harmless. He attended to the business of life and death in ceremonies of birth, naming a child, burying the dead, and dealing with all the dangerous influences associated with death in traditional Māori belief. That part of the traditional tohunga's life was almost lost, and it is only now that Tumutara is acknowledged as a remarkable man whose writings repay careful study. Ngāti Awa's possession of powerful rituals, as recorded by Tumutara, provides part of the reason why so many prominent ancestors, such as Tūhoe, Tangiharuru, Apa-hāpai-taketake, Tūhourangi and Tūwharetoa, are associated with Ngāti Awa, and especially with the region between Mt Edgecumbe and Matatā. Tumutara has left clues for today's scholars to pursue. Thus his is an important contribution to the reclamation of traditional knowledge.

Tumutara died at Te Teko on 12 August 1901, according to Best. Different dates have arisen from the romance of the opening of Rauru and the predictions of the two tohunga. It has been claimed that Tumutara died the day after the opening of Rauru, as soon as he got home to Te Teko; or that he died on the very day that Te Rangitāhau was buried, soon after the opening. Descendants in the Kawerau and Whakatāne region today keep the name of Tumutara Pio alive.

How to cite this page:

Hirini Mead. 'Pio, Hāmiora Tumutara Te Tihi-o-te-whenua', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2p18/pio-hamiora-tumutara-te-tihi-o-te-whenua (accessed 17 May 2022)