Page 1: Biography
Karika, Pa George
Rarotongan leader, clerk, soldier, farmer
This biography, written by Denis Fairfax, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996. It was translated into te reo Māori by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography team.
Pā George was born on 1 August 1893 at Avarua, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. His father's identity is unknown; his mother was Takau Tuaraūpoko Mokoroa ki Aitū (she later took the title Makea Karika Ariki). Pā George was educated at the local London Missionary Society school. On 14 July 1915, at Avarua, he married Ngāpoko (also known as Ngāūpoko) Ariki o Tangiia. Ngāpoko was said to be the daughter of a sea captain by the name of Wilson; she was also a descendant of the Piltz family of Kiel, Germany, and was in her own right a Kamoe Matiapo, a high-ranking title under Makea Nui. There were to be 13 children of the marriage.
In 1916, while employed as a tally clerk in the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand's office in Avarua, Pā George volunteered for the second Rarotongan draft of the Māori Reinforcements. He enlisted as a private on 1 July under the name Pā George Karika; it was noted that he could speak English, had some control over the Rarotongan corps and could drill a squad. He was later promoted to lance corporal.
One of 500 Cook Islanders who left to join the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Karika was posted to the New Zealand Rarotongan Company based at El Qantara, Egypt, with the Eastern Force Ammunition Column. From October 1917 onwards they were heavily involved in the British advance through Sinai and Palestine which culminated in the capture of Jerusalem from the Turks in December 1917. The Rarotongans were attached to No 97 Heavy Battery, Royal Regiment of Artillery, as ammunition handlers, impressing British observers by their stamina and capability in handling heavy shells. They were commended for their 'steadiness and contempt for danger', and constant cheerfulness. Karika's leadership had been recognised by his promotion to sergeant in early 1917, and in February 1918 he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal 'for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while in command of a platoon'.
Karika was discharged from the NZEF at Wellington on 20 March 1919 suffering from tuberculosis in the left lung. On his return to Rarotonga he did not resume his employment with the Union Steam Ship Company, preferring to farm the family land. He was recommended for a pension as his tuberculosis had been contracted on active service, but in common with other Cook Islands soldiers he did not receive one.
It is presumed that the illness healed early as it did not impair a vigorous and fulfilling life. Pā George became an enthusiastic member of the London Missionary Society church (now Cook Islands Christian Church) and an outstanding cricket and tennis player. He was prominent in farming, church and sporting organisations. Between the wars he sometimes visited New Zealand as his mother's representative or companion; the most important of these visits was early in 1934 when a group of 30 prominent Rarotongans, including Pā George and his mother, were escorted by Apirana Ngata around the North Island. They visited many marae, notably those at Tokomaru Bay, Waitangi and Ngaruawahia.
During the Second World War Pā George was a member of the Cook Islands Local Defence Force. In 1942 he inherited the paramount chieftaincy of Te Au o Tonga, a district of Rarotonga, from his mother. As Makea Karika Ariki, Pā George was appointed to the Rarotonga Island Council, holding office until 1949. He appears to have remained aloof from the Cook Islands Progressive Association, which was led by junior chiefs and became the focus of agitation for self-determination from the 1940s onwards. He died in Rarotonga on 5 May 1949 survived by his wife and 11 children.
Perhaps the only Cook Islander to be decorated for gallantry in the First World War, Pā George Karika enjoyed the two-fold mana of his ariki status and the distinction of being one of the comparative few of his countrymen to undertake war service thousands of miles from their home.