memorial panels

The panels from the Tamahau Mahupuku memorial, damaged in the 1942 earthquake, were restored in the 1980s.


Tekoteko, carved figures of ancestors, stand guard on the perimeter of the Papawai marae, overlooking the marble monument to Tamahau Mahupuku.

Papawai meeting house

The meeting house complex at Papawai, later to be badly damaged in the 1934 gale, and demolished shortly afterwards.

Tamahau Mahupuku and wife Areta

Tamahau Mahupuku, shown here with his wife Areta, was the leader at Papawai during the time of the Maori Parliament meetings held on the marae.

click images to enlarge


PAPAWAI - the centre of the Maori Parliament

In the last years of the nineteenth century, and the first years of the twentieth, Papawai marae, near Greytown, became the focus of Kotahitanga, the Maori Parliament movement, and hosted many important meetings to discuss issues of importance to Maori. The genesis of Papawai lay in the Government purchase of the large Tauherenikau block in the early 1850s. An area of land from the sale was specifically set aside for the creation of a church village in the bush just south of the Waiohine River, and to the east of the Kuratawhiti clearing. The land set aside adjoined the land granted to the Small Farm Association for their settlement of Greytown, and the two townships developed together from 1854.

Three main groups came to live at Papawai at that time, groups led by Te Manihera Te Rangitakaiwaho, Ngatuere Tawhao and Wi Kingi Tu-te-pakihi-rangi. Times were difficult, however, with tensions between the various groups, and before long the latter two chiefs had lead their people away from Papawai again.

The Government had promised local Maori that they would build a flour mill for their use, and the mill was constructed at Papawai but it too became a cause of conflict with Manihera maintaining that the mill was his alone and refusing to allow others to grind their wheat. The Church of England constructed a school at Papawai, drawing on monies from lands donated by local Maori at Papawai and Kaikokirikiri near Masterton. The school, called St Thomas' was opened in December 1860, but niggardly support from the Government meant the school never thrived, and it closed in the mid-1860's after local Maori refused to send their children to the school.

The town itself, sometimes called Manihera Town, was also struggling at that time. The missionary William Ronaldson described it as a "small place, not a mile square, surrounded by dense bush, and scarcely fit even for pasture" and said the two-mile road from Greytown often took an hour to travel.

Papawai was in a long decline during the 1860s and 1870s, but by the 1880's it was starting to assume a more dominant role in Maori society, perhaps reflecting a shift in power among the chiefs.

Manihera had been the main chief of the township during its establishment years. His date of birth is not known but he was a young married man when the Wairarapa Maori returned home from Nukutaurua in the early 1840's. He was the son of Rangitakaiwaho, and, although descended from both Rangitane and Ngati Kahungunu, was primarily thought of as of the Ngati Moe hapu.

He was a keen supporter of leasing land to sheep owners, and is recorded on many of the first leases. His enthusiasm for leasing was not always appreciated, and he was inclined to ignore the rights of other owners, leading to a number of arguments. On one occasion he was forced to flee into the Tararuas to avoid his own relatives, who were said to be so upset they were talking of killing him. Over the years he became one of the most frequent witnesses at the Maori Land Court, arguing for the land rights of his people. As he aged he looked for a successor to take over the leadership at Papawai, and to develop his vision of the township assuming leadership for Wairarapa Maori.

He chose Tamahau Mahupuku to deal with issues relating to the people, and selected the scribe Hoani Te Whatahoro Jury to take care of land matters and negotiations with the Government.

Tamahau Mahupuku was of Ngati Moe and Ngati Hikawera descent, and is said to have been born about 1840. He was regarded as a handsome but rather wild young man. He married three times, but it was his second marriage, to the widow of the chief Matini Te Ore , that secured his place at Papawai. His appointment by Manihera, and the wealth generated by the hapu's extensive land holdings, led to his mana increasing, and when Manihera died in June 1885 Mahupuku was his natural successor.

Under Tamahau's leadership an extensive building programme was undertaken at Papawai. The house Hikurangi was opened in 1888, and three others quickly followed - Waipounamu, named for the people of the South Island; Aotea, for the Taranaki people, and Potaka, after a famed Wairarapa marae.

In 1897 the programme was extended further, with new buildings to accommodate the meetings of the Maori Parliament. The Maori newspaper Te Puke ki Hikurangi was also first published at Papawai in 1897. Although originally intended to publicise the work of the Kotahitanga movement it was also used to deliver a wide range of news, including the publication of tribal history. It was published until 1913.

The Maori Parliament was hosted at Papawai in two separate sessions during 1897. These meetings resolved to support Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui's petition to the Queen that all remaining Maori land should be reserved absolutely for Maori, and submissions were made to Government on the issue.

In 1898 Prime Minister Richard Seddon drew up a bill for the administration of Maori land that caused a storm of protest in Maori circles, as it was thought of as being very paternalistic. Tamahau held large hui at Papawai to discuss the issue, which had split the Kotahitanga movement. He found himself at odds with many members over his support of Seddon and the Government. He also supported Seddon's 1900 Maori Lands Adminstration Act and the Maori Councils Act, both of which seemed to deliver a degree of self-government to Maori.

Tamahau Mahupuku is said to have spent more than £40,000 on various projects and hui between 1894 and 1904, and Papawai hosted most of the leaders of the country, Maori and pakeha. He supported a brass band that played to the thousands that visited Papawai, and was noted as a generous host. Under his guidance many special meetings were held to record the history, whakapapa and customs of the Maori. These meetings were the source of much of our knowledge about Maori life and beliefs.

Tamahau died in 1904. One of his last projects had been the palisading of the marae at Papawai. A number of large totara logs were also gathered, and after his death these were carved into eighteen large tekoteko, carved figures, representing important ancestors. Uniquely, the tekoteko face into the marae to represent peace, rather than facing outwards to confront enemies. The Government financed a large marble monument that was erected at Papawai, commemorating his role in bring the two races together. Tamahau's death lead to the role of Papawai becoming diminished. No-one could afford the lavish hospitality of the past, and although other leaders arose, none had his financial strength.

The elements played their part in the diminution of Papawai too. The hurricane force winds of October 1934 destroyed the Aotea-Waipounamu complex and the 1942 earthquake destroyed the marble monument to Tamahau. Even the tekoteko suffered from dry rot.

Papawai has undergone a restoration. Tamahau's monument has been re-erected and a project was initiated in the early 1990s to preserve the few tekoteko that remained. Today there are still Wairarapa ancestors standing watch over Papawai, the seat of the Maori Parliament.

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  Joseph Masters and Retimana Te Korou   Doctor William Hosking, medical pioneer
  The establishment of the Small Farms Association   Wairarapa's Pioneer balloonists
  The Masterton stockade - Major Smith's Folly   The Maori Peace Statue
  Papawai - the centre of the Maori Parliament   Russian Jack - the last of the swaggers
  The Fell Engine and the Rimutaka Incline   A night of terror - the 1942 earthquake
  Dear Sister - Oates Family   Flying in the Wairarapa
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  Samuel Oates   Taking a dip
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