Hariata Whakatau Pitini-Morera was the most important leader of Ngati Kuri, a founding hapu of Ngai Tahu in the South Island. She was born at Little River, Banks Peninsula, probably in 1871 or 1872, the daughter of Hariata Whakatau and her husband, John Hampstead, a farmer. She absorbed her traditional knowledge of Ngati Kuri from her mother, the daughter of the tribal leader Kaikoura Whakatau.
Hariata married Hoani Pitini-Morera (John Beaton-Morel) at Little River about 1890; he was of Ngati Rongomai-wahine and French descent. They moved to Oaro, near Kaikoura, where Hoani took up a farm won in a Crown ballot, integrating it with Hariata's own land. They had three sons and three daughters. Here, Hariata continued the custom established by her grandfather, Kaikoura Whakatau, of caring for traditional sites, particularly the burial area of those killed in Ngati Toa raids on the Kaikoura coast in the 1820s and 1830s. Hoani assisted her in discovering and recording the whakapapa and legends of the Kaikoura district.
During the development of the main trunk railway and the highway along the Kaikoura coast in the early twentieth century, there was much interference with burial sites and important food-gathering areas. Hariata and Hoani Pitini-Morera negotiated with the authorities on these issues. Hariata was responsible for the disinterment and relocation of human remains; the recording and protection of burial sites became a major preoccupation. The taking of land for the railway effectively prevented access to rich coastal food resources, and Hoani was an enthusiastic advocate of their protection. He took several cases to the Native Land Court, securing both compensation and easements over virtually the whole length of the Kaikoura coast.
Hariata also negotiated the reservation of many specific locations. She was a keen supporter of the development of scenic protection areas in the region and sought to use this strategy to restrain further disturbance of traditional sites. In doing so, however, she unwittingly laid the ground for the transfer of many sacred places from local control into Crown ownership as, increasingly, statutory protection was given to areas conserved for scenic purposes.
An enthusiastic traditional weaver, Hariata was highly regarded for her knowledge, although relatively few examples of her craft have survived. She made strenuous efforts to protect areas in which harakeke (New Zealand flax) and other plants could be cultivated. In particular, she sought to influence general land-use policy so as to protect culturally valuable plant species. She was able to preserve the harakeke and kiekie Freynetia banksii in the Blue Duck Valley and the famous scented tikumu grasses of Kairuru, near the Clarence River. Otherwise, she had only limited success.
From the early 1920s Hariata developed extensive areas of gardens at Mikonui, south of Oaro, around the site of the ancient kumara gardens of Ngati Kuri. She grew a large range of produce, fruit and traditional foods, whose sale to the labourers engaged in railway construction was a significant source of family income. Her continual experimentation with kumara-growing attracted attention and served, in part, to renew interest by scholars in the traditional Maori use of microclimates in the southern regions. Hoani's efforts to reserve the coastline from Oaro southwards to Haumuri Bluff as mahinga kai (food-gathering areas) for Ngati Kuri were, however, unsuccessful.
Hariata and Hoani Pitini-Morera were much concerned with the protection and recording of traditional Ngai Tahu placenames. They continually lobbied both local authorities and central government, but were only partially successful in securing official recognition of such names; many major traditional geographic features had Pakeha names imposed on them. However, their work laid the foundation for the recorded Maori geographic knowledge of the area.
In their home at Oaro, Hariata and Hoani hosted many conferences on Ngai Tahu tribal history and, in particular, that of Ngati Kuri and their Ngati Kahungunu kin. Accounts of tribal origins and of Ngai Tahu migrations into the northern South Island were systematically recorded. They were indefatigable in this work. When Hariata was in hospital in Kaikoura in 1930, thinking she was going to die and desperate not to have her knowledge lost, she produced a vast amount of elegantly written traditional history. Her family worked with her at her bedside. One manuscript stops abruptly in midsentence, reportedly because she had been told by the doctors that she was going to live.
As well as recording whakapapa and traditions, Hariata was a noted storyteller and excelled in the traditional oral arts. She was a major source of information to scholars such as W. J. Elvy, A. H. Carrington and W. A. Taylor, and a frequent adviser to the Native Land Court. As the leader of Ngati Kuri, Hariata took an active role in pursuing Ngai Tahu's claim for compensation for the loss of land arising from Kemp's Purchase in 1848. She travelled widely to the major hui and negotiations. Her expertise in tribal history was widely respected and she played a significant part in helping the court to compile the base list of whakapapa of all those Ngai Tahu living in 1848.
Hariata Pitini-Morera died at Kaikoura on 2 April 1938, survived by two daughters and two sons. Hoani had died in 1929. For almost 50 years she had worked assiduously to preserve sites of importance to Ngati Kuri, and to ensure that knowledge of their whakapapa and traditions was not lost.