Himiona Tūpākihi Kāmira, sometimes known as Tākou, was born in 1880 at Reena in north-western Hokianga. He was to live there, or at Mātihetihe, on the coast south of Mitimiti, most of his life. His father, Tūpākihi Kāmira, also known as Raukohe, was the son of Kāmira Haka and his wife, Huriana Pāpārangi; his mother, Maata Himione, also known as Ngāreta or Reta, was Tūpākihi’s third wife. Himiona was the only son of this marriage, though he had five elder half-brothers and -sisters. His principal hapū were Ngāti Ruanui, Te Taomaui and Te Hokokeha, all associated with Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa, but he also had links with Ngāti Kahu, Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whātua.
Kāmira was raised as a Catholic and may have been taught by the Mill Hill fathers and their catechists. He received a thorough training in tribal knowledge from his father and paternal grandfather, who handed down to him a vast amount of material; much of it was contained in volumes written in 1856, 1860, 1872 and 1884. These provided the names of ancestral meeting houses, houses of mourning, and Te Aupōuri and Ngāti Kurī pā and burial sites around Whāngāpē. They recorded the people of the area and their many battles over 10 generations, and included accounts of meetings – at Mātihetihe in March 1893 and Auckland the following April – in support of the Kotahitanga movement. Ngākuru Pene Haare of Mātihetihe, an elder and chief of great learning, was also an important influence on the young Himiona.
On 24 April 1899, at Mātihetihe, Himiona Kāmira married Mereana Harekuku (also known as Te Ruru) of Ōrira. Father John Baptist Becker, known to Hokianga Māori as Pā Hoane, performed the ceremony. The couple were to have two children: a daughter, Ākata Monika, and a son, Pētera.
Kāmira was a prolific writer throughout his adult life. In 1902, when still a young man, he began recording the life and work of his community in minute detail: the vicissitudes of the weather, which delayed the planting of kūmara; the birth of a foal; the days and even hours of his children’s births and baptisms. His writings also included instructions for planting, weeding and fishing according to the Māori māramataka (almanac).
By 1908 Himiona Kāmira had become involved in a co-operative venture, Te Kamupene Para ('the Clearing Company’), preparing land for farming at Wairoa, Moetangi, Taikarawa and Waikare. By 1911 he had been appointed supervisor by the company’s committee. The following year he was a member of a council nominated by the marae committees of north and south Hokianga. He recorded details of their responsibilities, including the building and renovation of houses, issuing licences for trout fishing and billiards, policing dog taxes, and providing conveniences for Māori attending Native Land Court sessions at Rawene.
In 1913, when the shareholders of the Waireia district were decided in the Native Land Court, Kāmira, drawing on his tribal knowledge, was an important witness. He was able to establish his claim to Te Peke block by descent from his ancestor Ihengaiti, through his grandmother, Huriana Pāpārangi. He received shares in other blocks through links to other claimants, partly because of their respect for his status.
Perhaps Himiona Kāmira’s greatest contribution to his people was his compilation of tribal lore, a task he began at Reena in January 1936. He wrote 12 volumes, rearranging and explaining the material he had received from his father. He had separate volumes for whakapapa, canoe voyages from Hawaiki, and accounts of battles. He provided details of the rituals of tohunga, and the calling and training of their tauira (students); he also described the construction and opening of whare wānanga (schools of learning), and the teaching given, including the karakia to Io.
Kāmira himself composed or collected from elders 77 paopao (derisive songs) and other waiata, and recorded explanations of the songs whenever possible. One was a lament for an early ancestor, Nukutawhiti, but more contemporary songs included a lament by Ngāpuhi leader Te Ruki Kawiti for the loss of Māori sovereignty to the British, a song about the Kīngitanga, and a lament for Wiremu Rikihana, a Te Rarawa chief and member of the Legislative Council who died in 1933. One 20-verse paopao expressed fears that Ngāpuhi would disappear like their land; five of its verses commended the work of Apirana Ngata, then native minister.
Kāmira carefully preserved the extensive knowledge left to him, not just for Hokianga but for the whole of Northland. He collected the main descent lines of all the major northern peoples, and was able to trace descent and intermarriage between the various iwi, hapū and whānau. He was an important contributor at a series of Northland hui wānanga, sessions at which genealogies were debated and recorded. These were generally held over three days and attended by about 18 elders, known collectively as Te Rōpū Wānanga.
The hui wananga carried on a tradition, dating from 1879, of discussing canoe voyages, especially those relating to the origins of the northern tribes. At hui in 1907 and 1924 the number of canoes important to Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu and associated peoples was agreed to be eight: Ngā-toki-mata-whao-rua, Māmari, Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi, Tinana, Mātaatua, Mamaru, Ruakaramea and Kurahaupō. At a hui at Tāpui-rangatira, Wairoa, in November 1924, Kāmira assisted Karipa Wī Pātene to give the genealogy of Ngāti Waiora and Ngāti Kurī of Te Aupōuri. Kāmira was the major contributor of genealogical knowledge at further hui held in November 1932, and January and March 1933 at Rōma, Ahipara; in July 1940 at Te Huahua, Motukaraka; in August 1940 and January 1949 at Mangamuka; in January 1941 at Rotokākahi; and in February 1949 at Tauwhare, Wairoa.
On the second day of a hui at Mangamuka in January 1949, Toki Pangari of Ōrira asked Kāmira to bring an end to the series of hui. At the time all agreed, and the whakapapa books were signed as complete by those present. Further wananga were held, however, led by Kāmira, including one at Mātaitaua, Utakura, in November that year, when Himiona recounted traditions concerning Kupe and Nukutawhiti, and spoke of the origins of Ngāpuhi; at Mangamuka in January 1950; at Ōmanaia, in south Hokianga, in September that year; and at Mangamuka again in January 1951.
In February 1951 another wananga was held in Auckland at the home of Ruka Herewini. Again the Kupe story, the Ngā-toki-mata-whao-rua canoe, and the origin of the name, Ngāpuhi, were debated; Himiona Kāmira was one of the two principal speakers. A committee (Te Komiti Waka o Taitokerau—Akarana) was established, and those present agreed to organise a hui commemorating Ngāpuhi’s canoes. Eventually it was decided to build a monument to the canoes on Maungataniwha, near Mangamuka. After Kāmira’s death, Bruce Biggs published some of his work on Kupe in the Journal of the Polynesian Society.
Despite the depth and richness of his traditional training, Himiona Kāmira was strongly committed to Catholicism. He was a catechist, teaching the faith and leading prayers at Mātihetihe and elsewhere. He held other positions of responsibility, including the chairmanship of the Mitimiti branch of the Māori War Effort Organisation during the Second World War. He was also a strong supporter of the Māori welfare officers appointed by the Native Department (later the Department of Māori Affairs) in the 1940s, and became a warden under the Māori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945. His closest friend in the last two years of his life was Pā Teo (Father Theo Wanders), who was stationed at Panguru, but who often visited him and stayed overnight. Himiona Kāmira died at Mitimiti on 28 August 1953, and was buried on Hīone, Mātihetihe, three days later. He was survived by his wife and children. The Northland Times mourned the passing of one of the 'living storehouses of ancient lore’.