Takurua Tamarau, who sometimes used the name Takurua Mākarini, was born probably in 1871 or 1872 at Kohimarama in the Ruatāhuna district, shortly after the cessation of hostilities between the Tūhoe people and government forces. He was a son of Tamarau Waiari, also known as Te Mākarini Te Wharehuia or Te Mākarini Kaikino, a prominent leader of Tūhoe in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and his third wife, Roka. He belonged to Ngāti Koura and Ngāi Te Riu through his father, and had links with Ngāti Hinekura and Te Urewera through his mother. Takurua had two sisters and six half-siblings. Designated his father’s successor from an early age, he was raised with close male relatives of senior lines of descent at Tātāhoata marae in the Ruatāhuna district, and the marae of Ōtenuku and Te Tōtara in Rūātoki. During his youth he learned about matters of importance to the Tūhoe people by listening to speeches and discussions at tribal gatherings.
The most important issue concerning Tūhoe was land; in 1898 the Urewera Commission was established to subdivide land in the Urewera District Native Reserve and define land titles. A related issue was whether to establish a network of roads within the district. Takurua became one of his father’s assistants in organising surveys, first dealing with objections from within the tribe and promoting those factions which supported the idea. Though protocol prevented him from contributing ideas publicly because his father was still alive, he was able to observe how the elders conducted tribal politics.
When he was in his 20s, Takurua, together with other young men of Tūhoe, travelled to the East Coast to work as a shearer, and played rugby for the Tolaga Bay Club. His father died around 1904; Takurua then returned to Rūātoki permanently and took up dairy farming.
After Tamarau Waiari’s death the traditional constraints on Takurua’s public activities were removed. He was confirmed in the leadership when in 1908 he took a contingent of Tūhoe to a meeting called by Te Kauhanganui (the parliament of the King movement), which was held at Maungākawa in Waikato. The minutes of that meeting record that Takurua and his companions – Āpihai Hauraki, Te Ihi Hāwiki and Tuhitaare Hēmi – represented Tūhoe in the discussion of land issues, and sought to present Tūhoe grievances before the government.
In October 1918 at Ōmāhu, near Hastings, Takurua and Erueti Peene (Biddle) were chosen as Mātaatua district representatives at a meeting of the Māori Soldiers’ Fund Organising Committee. At a subsequent meeting, in 1919, Takurua was described as a ‘whetū hou’ (rising star). In July 1921 he became chairman of the Ōtenuku marae committee, a position he held until 1925, and again in 1941. He was also a member of the Mātaatua Māori Council at various times from 1924 until the council was disbanded in 1952. For 30 years he chaired the Rūātoki Native School Committee and he was the patron of the Rūātoki rugby club for the same period. After 1945 he was a member of the Western Tūhoe Tribal Executive and from 1947 to 1953 he was chairman of the Ōtenuku Tribal Committee. During the Second World War he chaired the Rūātoki branch of the Māori War Effort Organisation and the Rūātoki Patriotic Committee. Throughout these years his influence extended to the full boundaries of the Tūhoe people.
In the 1920s Takurua became one of the key advocates of the consolidation of Māori and Crown lands within the Tūhoe district, and consequently became associated with Apirana Ngata. In 1929 Ngata’s concept of farm development was adopted in the Tūhoe district and Takurua was chosen as a member of his advisory committee for the Māori farm development scheme. The consolidation of Rūātoki titles was completed in 1933.
Also during the 1920s Takurua took up the broad issue of land grievances in the Tūhoe district. He was particularly concerned that land had been given as payment for road construction, but that the roads had not been completed (or even begun in some cases). The Native Land Confiscation Commission’s decision of 1927 gave little satisfaction to Tūhoe. Nevertheless, Takurua continued to chair the Raupatu committee of Tūhoe until the late 1950s. In 1957 the government decided to compensate Tūhoe for those lands taken for roading purposes, and legislation to enact this was passed in 1958. The Tūhoe Māori Trust Board (now known as the Tūhoe–Waikaremoana Māori Trust Board) was established to manage compensation moneys. Takurua’s influence had begun to wane by this time and he was not elected to the board.
From his youth, despite arguments and difficulties that arose between his father and Te Kooti, Takurua was a member of the Ringatū church and was very determined that none of its covenants would be compromised. In his view, the spiritual, cultural and social dictates of Tūhoe, which as a chief of supreme rank he was bound to uphold, were synonymous with those of the Ringatū church. For 10 years from 1928 he acted as a religious leader of the church. Takurua was also appointed as one of the trustees of the land set aside by the government at Te Wainui, Ōhiwa, for Ringatū church purposes.
Despite this, he never refused other churches their place among the people and permitted the Commonwealth Covenant Church to build a church house on his land adjacent to Ōtenuku marae. On Takurua’s death that church built a memorial gate at the entrance to his marae, in recognition of his generosity, and later decided to return the land and the church house to his descendents when its membership waned.
Takurua Tamarau established a vast network of contacts among Pākehā: ministers of the Crown, officers of government departments, agencies and local bodies, police and medical professionals all sought his assistance in resolving varied issues. Because of his profound knowledge of traditions and history he was appointed a member of the Whakatāne and District Historical Society. With his support a large proportion of the lands of Tūhoe were included in the Urewera National Park. He received the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935 and in 1953 he was appointed an MBE for service to his people and the general public.
Takurua was married five times. All his wives were chosen by his people from hapū within the Tūhoe district in order to create social, economic and political alliances. His first wife was Kiha, a daughter of Tūroa Pekatū, a prominent leader from Te Māhurehure hapū. They had no children. Takurua then married Kumeroa Whakamoe of Te Whānau Pani hapū of Waikaremoana, who was also linked to Te Urewera hapū in Ruatāhuna and Rūātoki. There were four daughters and three sons from this union; these were his only children. Kumeroa died during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Takurua’s next wife was Te Hererīpine Peene (Biddle), a woman of rank of Te Māhurehure hapū in Rūātoki and Te Whakatāne hapū in Waimana. She was his constant companion from the early 1920s until 1940, the year of her death. A further marriage was arranged for him with Te Urikore (otherwise known as Te Taupoki), a woman with extensive knowledge of Tūhoe traditions and a considerable reputation in the art of weaving. When Te Urikore died he was married to Te Onewhero Tangi Hineariki of Ūpokorehe hapū of Te Whakatōhea in the Ōhiwa district. She was well versed in traditions, songs, and customs as befitted women of noble rank. She and four of Takurua’s children survived him.
Takurua always gave special attention to his youngest son, Hōri (George) Takurua, whom he trained in all aspects of the Ringatū religion. Hōri became a Ringatū minister for Tūhoe soldiers during the Second World War, but was killed in battle in 1944. In memory of relatives who had been killed in action, and in particular his son, Takurua composed his waiata-tangi ‘E Hōri e’. The manuscript of this song is held in the archives of the Commonwealth Covenant Church.
Takurua Tamarau died on 17 November 1958 at Rūātoki and lay in state on his marae for six days before being buried on the marae land. As a consequence of his burial there, the land was set aside as a cemetery for the hapū of Ngāti Koura. Te Iki Pouwhare, a younger Tūhoe leader, wrote a heartfelt oration and waiata in commemoration of him, published in Te Ao Hou in December 1959.