Hori Pukehika, a leader of Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi of the lower Whanganui River, was a noted carver and one of the last of his people skilled in the old traditions. In later years he was particularly associated with Ngati Tuera hapu, kin to Ngati Rangatahi.
Many of the details of his life are uncertain. He was born, probably in the late 1840s or early 1850s, at either Pipiriki or Hiruharama (Jerusalem); 'Pukehika' may have been a nickname. His father was Te Wikirini Te Tua, also known as Wikirini Tetua and Wihirini Warihi, of Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi; his mother was Peti Te Oiroa, also known as Peti Tetua, of Ngati Pamoana. Pukehika was a relative of Hori Kingi Te Anaua, a leader of Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi. As a youth he was present at the battle of Moutoa Island in 1864, and he subsequently served with Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui's force in the central North Island campaign against Te Kooti.
Hori Pukehika was best known as a carver. He learnt his carving skills from assisting Kawana Moraro and his son, Utiku Mohuia, with the carvings for Te Paku meeting house at Putiki in the 1870s, and assisted with the work on the Poutama meeting house erected at Hikurangi, near Koriniti, in 1888. He also carved panels for the Tawhitinui house opposite Moutoa Island on the bank of the Whanganui River; they are now in the Wanganui Regional Museum along with one of his carved mantelpieces. In 1905, after floods the previous year had destroyed the meeting house at Pungarehu, he and Te Urumingi led a group of carvers in the erection of Maranganui II for the Ngati Tuera hapu.
Hori Pukehika's most celebrated work was the main entrance of the model pa erected for the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch in 1906–7. This was, according to James Cowan, 'a fine bit of carving and…fort-building work' constructed after the ancient patterns of kuwaha (mouths of stockaded villages). It was flanked by large figures and carved posts and was complete with drawbridge.
The exhibition's Maori village covered three acres and housed several hundred visiting performers from the Whanganui district, Wairarapa, Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty. Hori Pukehika and Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) were in charge of the sanitary arrangements, which were planned to set the standards for participants to take back to their tribal areas. The opportunity was taken to revive crafts which were in danger of disappearing. Pukehika's team erected a circular house in the old Polynesian style. Tiria Hori, a young woman of Ngati Tuera, demonstrated the making of fine feather cloaks with ornamental borders (taniko), and Pukehika explained to Buck the rituals, styles and methods used in weaving cloaks, capes and kilts. His skills were again drawn upon in 1921 when the meeting house Te Wai-herehere was restored at Koriniti.
Pukehika, a noted orator, made a speech of welcome to the governor general, Lord Plunket, and his wife at the opening of the exhibition. He referred to 'the works of our ancestors [that had] been gone from us so long. But they stand again.' In 1930 he was chosen to give a farewell speech to the vice regal couple, Sir Charles and Lady Fergusson.
Hori Pukehika played a leading role in the life of the hapu of the lower Whanganui River. In February 1886 he piloted the pioneer river steamer Tuhua to Ranana, and he assisted the riverboat proprietors to establish regular services. He was a member of the committee that set up the bilingual newspaper The Jubilee. Te Tiupiri in 1898. He was appointed a health inspector under the Maori Councils Act 1900 with the task of persuading his people to erect modern houses and lavatories for healthier living. Because of his assistance to the Wanganui Public Museum he was elected a life member of its board of trustees.
At some time Hori Pukehika became the guardian of a suit of armour originally given by King William IV to Titore of Nga Puhi in 1835. This had descended to Te Anaua and was housed at the old hilltop pa, Pukehika, opposite Hiruharama. Fearing that Pakeha planned to carry the armour off, Hori Pukehika buried it nearby sometime in the 1870s. About 20 years later, at the request of Wiremu Hipango, he recovered it, and in 1908 he and Maui Pomare placed it in the Dominion Museum.
Hori Pukehika was married to Pongo or Pango Ngakaari at Ranana on 1 March 1868 by the Reverend Basil Taylor; they had one son, who died in his youth. He later married Tira Ratana (also known as Erita); they were to have seven children. A daughter, Rawinia Hipango, was born on 17 March 1902. Another daughter, Nga Kuari Tukia, won a baby contest at Christchurch during the 1906–7 exhibition. Hori Pukehika died at Pungarehu on 30 May 1932, said to be aged 85, and was survived by his second wife, three daughters and two sons. His obituary referred to him as the last of a once famous school of wood-carvers.