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Pirimi Tahiwi at the back in a photo of staff at the Ōtaki Māori College. In front, from left, are Weno Tahiwi, Bishop Frederick Bennett and Mr Willis (first name unknown). – Photo: Ōtaki Museum.

Pirimi as an officer of the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion in 1919.

Many local service people are buried in Ōtaki. Each has a story to tell, none more so than Pirimi Tahiwi. The following biography was written by Rupene Waaka and appears in Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Pirimi Pererika Tahiwi was born on September 16, 1890, at Otaki. His father, Rawiri Rota Tahiwi, a Native Land Court assessor, was of Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Maiotaki. His mother, Keita Koa, who was also known as Kapu Meaha and Keita Pera, was of Te Arawa, with links to Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pukaki, Ngāti Tahu and Ngāti 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 was prominent as an interpreter, translator and musician.

Pirimi was educated at Ōtaki School, Te Aute College and the Ōtaki Native College. After attending Teachers Training College in  Wellington, he returned to Ōtaki Native College as a teacher and resident master. A keen sportsman, he represented Horowhenua in rugby from 1901-1912, and in 1913 became a Māori All Black. He also played tennis and golf.

In May 1911, Pirimi 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. When the First World War started he enlisted in the Māori Contingent of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The contingent arrived in Malta in February 1915 for garrison duties, and in April Pirimi was promoted to captain.

In June 1915 the Māori Contingent sailed for Gallipoli. On August 6, Captain Roger Dansey and Pirimi 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 Pirimi was seriously wounded in the neck and sent to hospital in England. He led New Zealand troops in the first Anzac Day parade in London in April 1916.

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

The Māori Battalion returned to New Zealand in April 1919, and Pirimi 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 Ōtaki Native College, and also took up rugby again, representing Manawatu–Horowhenua in 1924. In 1927 he became an inaugural committee member of the Ōtaki Surf Life Saving Club.

Another of Tahiwi’s interests was music. In 1915 a Māori 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 Ōtaki Choral Society from 1921-1924 and was a committee member and musician in the Ōtaki Māori Brass Band. He was an accomplished cellist, and composed two verses of the waiata E noho e Koroki. In 1927, brother Henare and sisters Ria and Weno, produced nine records in Australia

In January 1920 Pirimi became an interpreter and in July 1928 he was appointed to the Raukawa Māori 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 Ngāti Maiotaki. He retired from teaching when the Ōtaki Māori College was closed in 1939.

When the Second World War began, Pirimi entered Trentham Military Camp and became adjutant to the 28th (Māori) Battalion. In May 1940 he was appointed to the NZ 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 June 19, 1943, at Rangiātea Church, Pirimi married Mairatea Pitt-Porutu of Te Ati Awa. They settled in Wellington. Pirimi worked at Wellington Hospital’s head office until retiring in 1958. In these years he was active in many community organisations, including as chair of the Ngāti Poneke Tribal Committee, holding most of the executive positions of the Wellington Māori Anglican mission, and secretary of the local branch of the National Party. Mairatea became a prominent figure in the Māori Women’s Welfare League.

For the 50th jubilee commemoration of the Gallipoli landings in 1965, Pirimi was the sole surviving officer of the Māori Contingent. He and Mairatea travelled to Gallipoli, where he laid a mere on the Chunuk Bair memorial.

Pirimi died at Wellington on July 30, 1969. He is buried in the Rangiātea Church cemetery in Ōtaki.

Rupene Waaka. ‘Tahiwi, Pirimi Pererika’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 June 2019).

Pirimi Tahiwi had a life of dedicated service



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