Story: Tahiwi, Pirimi Pererika

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Tahiwi, Pirimi Pererika


Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Whakaue; schoolteacher, rugby player, soldier, musician, community leader

This biography, written by Rupene M. T. Waaka, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Pirimi Pererika Tahiwi was born on 16 September 1890 at Otaki. His father, Rawiri Rota Tahiwi, a Native Land Court assessor, was of Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Maiotaki. His mother, Keita Koa, who was also known as Kapu Meaha and Keita Pera, was of Te Arawa, with links to Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Pukaki, Ngati Tahu and Ngati Whaoa. Pirimi was one of the children from his father's second marriage and had an elder half-sister. One of his elder brothers was Kingi Te Ahoaho Tahiwi, who achieved prominence as an interpreter, translator and musician.

Pirimi Tahiwi was educated at the Otaki state school, Te Aute College and the Otaki Native College. After attending the Teachers' Training College, Wellington, he returned to Otaki Native College as a teacher and resident master. A keen sportsman, he represented the Horowhenua Rugby Football Union between 1901 and 1912, and in 1913 became a Maori All Black. He also played tennis and golf.

In May 1911 Tahiwi joined the Territorial Force as a private in the 7th (Wellington West Coast) Regiment. He was promoted to sergeant in August 1914 and became a second lieutenant the following month. On the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted in the Maori Contingent of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The contingent arrived in Malta in February 1915 for garrison duties, and in April Tahiwi was promoted to captain.

In June 1915 the Maori Contingent sailed for Gallipoli. On 6 August Captain Roger Dansey and Tahiwi led A Company in the battle of Sari Bair. They adopted Te Rauparaha's haka, 'Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora', as their war cry and set about clearing the Turkish trenches. The following day Tahiwi was seriously wounded in the neck and evacuated to hospital in England. While he was convalescing, the New Zealand high commissioner invited him and other wounded servicemen to convey New Zealand's greetings to Princess Mary on her birthday. He also led New Zealand troops in the first Anzac Day parade in London in April 1916.

In November 1916 Tahiwi left for New Zealand to assist in the training of Maori reinforcements. He embarked again in July 1917 with the 20th Reinforcements, Maori Contingent, arriving in England in September, and the following month he joined the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion in France. From March to September 1918 Tahiwi was officer in charge of the Maori (Pioneer) Details at the New Zealand Engineer Reserve Depot in Dorset, England. He then returned to the Maori Battalion in France and in December assumed command of D Company.

The Maori Battalion returned to New Zealand in April 1919, and Tahiwi was discharged the following month. He continued to take an active role in the Territorial Force and in 1929 was awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers' Decoration. He resumed his teaching career at Otaki Native College, and also took up rugby again, representing Manawatu–Horowhenua in 1924. In 1927 he became an inaugural committee member of the Otaki Surf Lifesaving Club.

Another of Tahiwi's interests was music. In 1915 a Maori Contingent band had been formed under his direction, and his brother, Corporal Henare Tahiwi, had been the contingent's bugler. Pirimi was a member of the Otaki Choral Society from 1921 to 1924 and in 1923 was a committee member, and musician, in the Otaki Maori Brass Band. He was an accomplished cellist, and composed two verses of the waiata 'E noho e Koroki'. In 1927 his brother Henare and sisters Ria and Weno travelled to Australia, where they produced nine records.

In January 1920 Tahiwi became a licensed interpreter first grade, and in July 1928 he was appointed to the Raukawa Maori Council, on which he was to serve for much of the next two decades. In 1936 he became one of the Raukawa Marae Trustees representing Ngati Maiotaki. He retired from teaching when the Otaki Maori College was closed at the end of 1939, and received a retiring allowance from the Porirua College Trust Board.

When the Second World War broke out Tahiwi again volunteered for military service. He entered Trentham Military Camp in November 1939 and became adjutant to the 28th (Maori) Battalion. In May 1940 he was appointed to the New Zealand Temporary Staff with the rank of captain, and became a company commander in the Training Battalion at Papakura Military Camp. In August 1943 he was posted to the retired list.

On 19 June 1943, at Rangiatea Church, Otaki, Pirimi Tahiwi married Mairatea Pitt-Porutu of Te Ati Awa. Their wedding breakfast was held on the Raukawa marae. They settled in Wellington, where Tahiwi was employed at Wellington Hospital's head office until his retirement in 1958. In these years he was active in many community organisations: he became chairman of the Ngati Poneke Tribal Committee, was a member of the Ngati Poneke Young Maori Club, held most of the executive positions of the Wellington Maori Anglican mission, and was secretary of the local branch of the New Zealand National Party. He served as an honorary Maori welfare officer, and in March 1957 became a justice of the peace. Tahiwi also taught Maori language and custom, and in November 1958 became chairman of the WEA's Maori Club. His wife, Mairatea, became a prominent figure in the Maori Women's Welfare League.

In 1965 the New Zealand Returned Services' Association and its Australian counterpart organised a 50th jubilee commemoration of the Gallipoli landings. Tahiwi was the sole surviving officer of the Maori Contingent, and he and his wife travelled to Gallipoli, where he laid a mere from the Dominion Museum on the memorial at Chunuk Bair. He died at Wellington on 30 July 1969, survived by his wife; they did not have any children. After a service at St Paul's Cathedral, the cortège travelled north to the Raukawa marae. Pirimi Tahiwi is buried in the Rangiatea Church cemetery, Otaki.

How to cite this page:

Rupene M. T. Waaka. 'Tahiwi, Pirimi Pererika', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 August 2020)