Page 1: Biography
Puketapu, Ihaia Porutu
Te Ati Awa leader, butcher, roading contractor, labourer
This biography, written by Te Rira Puketapu, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 5, 2000.
Ihaia Porutu Puketapu was a prominent leader of Te Ati Awa of the Wellington and Hutt Valley districts. He was born at Waiwhetu in the Hutt Valley on 7 February 1887, the eldest of four brothers and one sister. His father, Hapi Tutua Puketapu, and mother, Mihi Korama Woodgate, both belonged to Te Matehou, Hamua, and Puketapu hapu of Te Ati Awa. Ihaia’s mother was also of English lineage, being a grand-daughter of James ‘Worser’ Heberley, a well-known identity during the early European settlement of Wellington. One of Ihaia’s paternal great-grandfathers was Te Rira Porutu of Te Matehou, a principal leader at Pipitea pa and a signatory to the Treaty of Waitangi. His wife, Te Awa, was closely related to the Taranaki prophet Te Whiti-o-Rongomai.
As a young man of 18 or 19, Ihaia was taken to Te Whiti and other elders of Parihaka in Taranaki to learn the ancient teachings and philosophies of his people. This period was to have a strong influence on the rest of his life because of a prophecy given to him by Te Whiti which he took to mean that he was to carry out Te Whiti’s mission of creating goodwill and co-operation between the Maori and Pakeha of Wellington. Fulfilment of this sacred trust was his dream for 50 years.
Much of Puketapu’s working life was spent as a freezing-works butcher, roading contractor and, in later years, a building labourer. He was associated with the New Zealand Labour Party in its formative years and was to develop close friendships with Maori MPs and leaders such as Peter Fraser and Walter Nash. As a member of the first Labour government’s Maori advisory committee, his influence was felt among parliamentarians and government officials. He was involved in the push for recognition of Maori rights that resulted in the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945.
In 1937 the government proposed taking Te Ati Awa’s land at Waiwhetu to subdivide for state housing. The proposal was abandoned when Puketapu was able to prove that the land was one of the blocks set aside for Maori at the time of the New Zealand Company’s purchase of the Hutt Valley. The land was subsequently taken under the Public Works Act 1928 in 1942–43. Puketapu then entered into negotiations with the government, which agreed to build state houses for Maori living on it. Puketapu firmly resisted plans to scatter these houses among the Pakeha community and insisted that his people be kept together. He won his point, and 24 houses were constructed.
In the late 1940s many young Maori began to move into the Hutt Valley in search of employment. The Te Aroha (Hutt Valley) Maori Association was founded to organise sporting and cultural activities for them. This led to a vigorous revival of inter-tribal relationships in the Wellington area. Puketapu saw that the growing community needed a focal point, and the association began raising funds to build a meeting house. The Te Aroha Maori Concert Party held fund-raising concerts and help was enlisted from the local MP, Walter Nash, and from service clubs. The framework of the building was completed in May 1959, and the work of providing carvings and tukutuku panels began. Some of these came from the house built for the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in 1940, but many new ones were provided by a team of carvers headed by Hone Taiapa of Ngati Porou and by tukutuku and whariki (mat) weavers supervised by Ngaroahiahi Waiwai of Tuhoe and Roa Wharepouri, a step-daughter of Apirana Ngata.
The house, named Arohanui ki te Tangata, was the fulfilment of the prophecy given to Puketapu by Te Whiti half a century earlier. The carved figures around the fence represented the principal migration canoes, making it a house for all Maori; the contributions to its building made by the Pakeha community meant that it was also a house for both races. Its interior included free-standing carvings representing Te Whiti and his fellow prophet, Tohu Kakahi. The house was officially opened in September 1960, the year in which Puketapu was made an OBE for his service to the Maori people.
Ihaia Puketapu married twice. His first wife, Amiria Ake Ake, whom he had married at Hawera about 1907, died in 1916. On 15 March 1930, at Wellington, he married Vera May Yeates. Puketapu died at Lower Hutt on 1 July 1971. He was survived by his second wife, six of seven daughters and three sons.