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Story: Pinepine Te Rika

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Pinepine Te Rika


Tūhoe woman of mana

This biography, written by Pou Temara, 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.

Pinepine Te Rika was born probably in 1857 or 1858 at Rāhitiroa, an old settlement of Ngāti Kuri just east of Te Waiiti, in the Bay of Plenty. Her father was Te Rika Te Wheura (sometimes known as Te Mīkaera Te Rika or Te Wharenui), a leader of Ngāti Kuri of Ruatāhuna and Tamakaimoana of Maungapōhatu, both of Tūhoe. He had fought for Te Kooti Arikirangi during the wars of 1868–72 in the Urewera. Her mother was Tuhiwai Tāheke of Ngāti Raka of the lower Waimana valley. Pinepine had three brothers: Pari Te Āhuru, Te Kahuōrangi (later known as Pita Te Tāite) and Te Kaawa; and a sister, Kumeroa. Pari Te Āhuru and Pita Te Taite would later become important in the Iharaira (Israelite) church, an offshoot of the Ringatū church and founded by Rua Kēnana in the early twentieth century. They became leading Rīwaiti (Levites). Through her father and mother, Pinepine became a major shareholder in Tūhoe land blocks in Ruatāhuna, Maungapōhatu and Waimana.

After the wars in the Urewera, a section of Ngāti Kuri under Te Rika moved to Uwhiārae in Ruatāhuna and established a settlement. Here the young Pinepine became influenced by the Ringatū church, which permeated Tūhoe life at that period. She was betrothed to Rua Kēnana of Tamakaimoana and they were married in the 1880s. After living at various places on the East Coast and the Bay of Plenty, where Rua worked as a farmhand and later as a farmer, they established their home at Maungapōhatu. It is said that they eventually had 17 children.

In 1904, while farming at Waimana, Rua experienced a divine call and was charged with the sacred mission of prophet. As a result of another revelation, he and Pinepine climbed the sacred Tūhoe mountain where they met Whaitiri, a celestial ancestress of Tūhoe. She took Pinepine and Rua to the top of Maungapōhatu. There they met Christ who guided Rua to the mountain swamp and revealed to him the hidden diamond that the former prophet Te Kooti had left there. This established Rua's right to carry on Te Kooti's work. Rua fetched Pinepine and together they witnessed what lay beneath the protective layer of the swamp. Pinepine was said to have been the first woman to climb the sacred mountain and to see the diamond of Te Kooti. This was to have a profound effect on her life, as Rua now considered her to be tapu.

When Rua gained prominence as a prophet and leader, Maungapōhatu was designated the New Jerusalem and the converted flocked there in 1907. Those who were of two minds followed when Rua prophesied floods and earthquakes in the Bay of Plenty seaboard. In 1908 Maungapōhatu was a thriving community. By April, probably influenced by Scripture, he had taken six further wives from the different subtribes of Tūhoe and Ngāti Awa – a politically astute move to ensure unity within his following. However, Pinepine continued to fulfil her calling as a sacred wife, and it was to her that Rua turned for the spiritual direction of the community.

Being tapu, she was separated from the community in a house built for her in the sacred enclosure, while Rua and his other wives lived in his home, Hiruharama Hou (New Jerusalem). This segregation was influenced by Scripture, where Pharaoh's daughter, King Solomon's wife, was set apart. Ordinary people could not visit Pinepine without going through an elaborate ritual of purification by water. Before entering her house they were required to remove their outer garments and leave them at the door. They then sprinkled themselves with water so that Pinepine would not be rendered profane by their worldliness, and they in turn were protected from her personal tapu. When they left, their clothes and bodies were sprinkled again.

She could not prepare or touch food or go near the kitchens; this was the task of her long-time servant and companion, Marumaru. She fed Pinepine in the manner of the sacred tohunga of an earlier period, with food offered to her mouth at the end of a stick. As a mark of her tapu and rising mana Pinepine became the keeper of the sacred covenant, a large embossed English-language Bible which had been given to Rua by Tūhourangi of Te Arawa. This was kept in a special covenant house in the sacred enclosure next to Pinepine's house, which only she could enter. When the community completed their meeting house, Tānenui-a-rangi, in 1914, she could not enter it. Sometimes she could be seen peeping inquisitively through the rear windows at night.

On 2 April 1916 a long-running legal dispute culminated in a large police party, headed by Commissioner of Police John Cullen, arriving at Maungapōhatu to arrest Rua Kēnana. A shot was fired, causing panic among the Maungapōhatu people who were sitting peacefully and unarmed on the marae. In the ensuing confusion scuffles erupted, and further shots were fired by both sides. When the fight was over two Maungapōhatu men were dead – Te Maipi Te Whiu and Toko, Pinepine's second son. They had died within the sacred enclosure, and the watching Pinepine had gone to her son's assistance before returning to the protection of her house. She had also tried to stop the fighting by carrying the covenant in front of her for all to see.

The bodies of Toko and Te Maipi were kept by the police in the covenant house for some time before burial. Her eldest son, Whatu, was arrested together with Rua and four other men and taken to Mount Eden prison. During Rua's two-year absence, Pinepine remained at Maungapōhatu except for the occasions when she attended the trials of her husband and son. She could barely afford the trip to Auckland as the police had stolen her savings when they searched her house after the affray. At this time the Rīwaiti (Levites) were responsible for the spiritual life of Maungapōhatu. However, without Rua spirituality was not enough to keep the people together. By April 1918, when he was released, the population of Maungapōhatu had dwindled and a new Presbyterian mission headed by the Reverend John Laughton threatened to undermine the Iharaira church. Rua compromised by allowing children to join the Presbyterian mission; the parents and the elderly remained Iharaira. Laughton opened a school at Maungapōhatu in July and Pinepine's younger children were among its first pupils.

Rua Kēnana moved his immediate family to Maai, because of the blood that had contaminated the sacred enclosure at Maungapōhatu. Pinepine remained at the main community while he and his wives lived together in one house. She still maintained her sacred position and a new, separate house was built for her. In 1919, after the influenza epidemic, Rua moved his family to Waimana. Subsequently, he moved each year to Waimana or Matahī and then returned to Maungapōhatu when the weather was kinder. Presumably Pinepine remained at Maungapōhatu until Rua freed her from the tapu late in her life. She was then able to move about and attend to ordinary activities, but because of her years of separateness, she invariably burnt her cooking and had difficulty coping without the assistance of her friend Marumaru. Eventually she left Maungapōhatu and lived at Matahī where Rua had established permanent residence.

Her son Whatu died in 1936 as a result of an accident while shearing in Gisborne. Rua died a year later, and was buried in a tomb by his house at Tuapou, Matahī. Pinepine continued to live there until she died on 9 August 1954 aged 96. She was buried at Matahī on 12 August.

How to cite this page:

Pou Temara. 'Pinepine Te Rika', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3p27/pinepine-te-rika (accessed 6 July 2022)