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A man ahead of his time

By Trudy Meredith

A man ahead of his time

It is now 100 years since the Wi Pere Memorial monument on Gisborne’s Reads Quay was unveiled, on the return of the Maori Pioneer Battalion from World War 1. Both events will be commemorated next Saturday. The Wi Pere Trust shares an insight into the life of their ancestor and celebrated Maori leader.

A rangatira, tohunga, soldier, politician, Maori Land Court conductor, legislator, historian and entrepreneurial businessman — Wi Pere has been described as “a man ahead of his time”.

Of Te Whanau a Kai and Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki descent, Wi Pere was a pivotal figure in the mid-late 1800s and early 1900s, including having a lead role in recruiting Maori from the East Coast for military service in 1914.

He passed away the following year in 1915, and a monument in his memory was unveiled on April 9, 1919 — the year that the Maori Pioneer Battalion returned home from World War 1.

The Wi Pere Memorial stands on Reads Quay in Gisborne city. It was unveiled by fellow Maori leader and MP Sir James Carroll in front of a crowd that included the returned soldiers.
Wi Pere had named the contingent Te Hokowhitu-a-Tu.

Next Saturday, the unveiling of Wi Pere’s monument and the 100th anniversary of their return, known as the Hui Aroha, will be commemorated.

An honour guard of 100 men, dressed in WWI replica uniforms, will march through the town to mark a century since the Hui Aroha was held.

The original intent of the hui was to promote a Maori Soldiers’ Fund for returning soldiers, and to unveil the memorial for Wi Pere.

Planning for the Hui Aroha began in mid-1918, but then the war ended so it doubled as a welcome home to the battalion. These kaupapa are acknowledged and engraved on the monument.

As reported in The Poverty Bay Herald, April 10, 1919, Sir James Carroll said during the unveiling that it was fitting for Wi Pere’s monument to be unveiled on the occasion of when “the boys whom he sent to the front had arrived home”.

Sir James’s wife Lady Carroll said the soldiers were present to honour the memory of Wi Pere.


Wi Pere’s mother Riria Mauaranui was the daughter of Ngarangi Kapiere and a direct descendant of Kahungungu, Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki and Te Whanau a Kai tribal lineage.

She was a chieftainess of great influence in these tribes and from a union with the trader Thomas Halbert, Wi Pere came forth.

Born at Toanga on March 7, 1837, during a time of upheaval, Riria realised he would need to be educated in both worlds.

Being the apple of his mother’s eye, he was educated by his nannies, at a whare wananga at Maraehinahina, and the Mission School at Waerenga-a-Hika.
A chief and a champion for his people

Riria was a woman of mana born into a circle of privileges for both her and her son. Wi was baptised at Umukapua Pa by Reverend William Williams at the time of his parents’ marriage.

In 1857 Wi married Arapera Tautuhioterangi (the daughter of Matenga Toti and Mere Tiwata) at Whaitiri.

The union resulted in Te Pakaru 1854, Hetekia Te Kani 1858, Mere Tahatu 1863 and Moanaroa 1865.

Wi was a combination of Tauiwi (European) and Maori characteristics. According to family he was blue eyed and fair skinned, with thick bushy hair, and was often mistaken for a European.

He tells of occasions where Maori travellers were sitting next to him, and chatting about him.
At the end of their conversation he spoke in Maori, much to their surprise. He preferred te reo as his first language.

His life was busy, performing the duties of a chief and champion for his tribal relatives.

As a rangatira, soldier, politician, land court conductor, historian, farmer, father and husband, his wife and children travelled everywhere with him. Then, later, so did his grandchildren.

Relatives were not able to pay him in cash for his help, but they gave him and his family shares in lands.


As a politician his actions were reactionary to hastily-written laws by the government of the day.
Maori could not procure mortgages to finance their farming operations, but Europeans could. And Maori could not vote unless they possessed land under individual title rather than communally.

Only 10 people could become tenants in common, with no rights of succession after the last person’s death. Many lost rights to their ancestral lands.

The only buyer of Maori land was the government, which bought it at really cheap prices, then resold to settlers at 10 times or more than the purchase price.

Whisky could only be sold by Europeans to Maori, not vice-versa, and was used as payment for land along with tobacco, axes and blankets etc.

In 1867 the Maori Representation Act started. Wi saw that the tide of settlers couldn’t be stopped, so he devised plans to soften the impacts on his people.

New Zealand wasn’t won by battle but by the pen in government.

Most Europeans were not fond of Wi Pere because he was against the sale of Maori land.

Where there was rebellion against government wishes, lands were confiscated, often from people who weren’t involved.
All the best land was “eyed” and Maori were left with the useless steep lands to feed their families. Innocent people suffered starvation as the tracts of forested lands were logged and burnt to make way for sheep. These practices destroyed the environment forever.

As an MP, Wi Pere travelled to marae speaking and promoting ways for his people to survive, much to the chagrin of Europeans.

However, in whaikorero (speech) he stood above others of his time. One listener recalled his korero as delicious and his humour reka (sweet).

In 1900 Hiki Hamana said: “I have heard them all speak on the marae (Sir James Carroll, Peter Buck, Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Maui Pomare) but none can compete with the mana of Wi Pere . . . a man of one hat, who stayed alongside his people and never deserted them . . . he always consulted them for guidance.”

Education was important for survival. It would please Wi Pere to see the phoenix rising from the ashes today — the Ahuwhenua Farming Awards, te reo Maori and marae revitalisation.
Wi tried different ideas, some succeeding, others not because of third-party obstacles.

In Turanga he was one of several members of Te Whanau a Iwi to offer land for the city to be built. He was also responsible for the first Whataupoko Bridge.

“The Whataupoko Bridge across the Taruheru was built and paid for by Wi Pere. The bridge cost the public nothing. This opened up new areas for settlement” — The Poverty Bay Herald, May 19, 1894.

It was also known as Taruheru Bridge, then later as William Petty Bridge after the former Mayor, and then Peel Street Bridge.

He also championed and campaigned for a native school at Tolaga Bay.
Wi was a member of Eastern Maori in 1884 and 1893-1904, on the Legislative Assembly from 1907-1911, and was then dismissed on a technicality.

On Wi’s passing on December 9, 1915, condolences to his son Kani included: “Think of what your late father has done for the good of both races. He had a large heart for the large and small.”


Some people within the tribes of Te Whanau a Kai and Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki had been followers of Maori leader Te Kooti and his faith, the Ringatu church.

In the 1880s Moanaroa, the youngest son of Wi Pere, asked his father if he would build a meeting house to hold a ra (meeting) for the Ringatu faith.
Eight “riders”, which included Wi Pere, Moanaroa Pere, Tawiri Peneha, Patoromu Ruru, Wi Haronga and Oriwia

Tuterangiwhaitiri (the only woman) were told by Te Kooti to build and spread the gospel with peace and charity. This was interpreted as:
- Whakahau (to build), which became the meeting house established by Wi Haronga whanau at Rangatira, Te Karaka.
- Rongopai (the Gospel), the meeting house established by Wi and Moanaroa Pere on Repongaere.
- Te Aroha (love-peace), the meeting house established by Oriwia Tu at Tapuihikitia, Puha.
- Ngawari (charity), the meeting house established by Tawiri Peneha at Mangatu.

The building of Rongopai started in February 1887 at Waituhi and was completed later that year in October.
“The locality of the proposed meeting is on the bank of the Waipaoa River not far from Mr Chamber’s homestead . . . (at Repongaere — later Henry Dodds’ homestead) . . . the meeting house is already built, and the food is being collected for the entertainment of Te Kooti and his companions . . .” — Poverty Bay Herald, Monday, October 24, 1887.

Patoromu Ruru was the supervisor of the building.

In Rongopai, the artists had painted the whole interior of the house. A garden of trees, birds, ladies in bustles, a blonde mermaid, ancestors in human form with kilts, swirling branches of exotic leaves, the eyes of Tama-ki-uta and Tama-ki-tai peeping out through the tukutuku wall, were among the images painted in the house.

Te Kooti wanted to lessen the tapu by using more colours like yellow, green and blue.

Wi Pere is pictured on the inside wall of the front porch with spurs, a chair representing his seat in Parliament, and his mother seated on his right shoulder.

Several renovations have taken place since, and restoration is still in progress.
Rongopai is unique, being the first example of Maori folk art.


Wi Pere used his influence as a member of Parliament to constitute the Wi Pere Trust on April 14, 1899.
The Wi Pere Trust emerged during a time of great turmoil and transition in the history of this country. It was only due to the united focus and determination of Wi and his whanau to preserve the ancestral lands they owned that his descendants are fortunate to still own them today.

The five current trustees — Alan Haronga (chairman), Hector Pere, Jason Lardelli, Kingi Smiler and Trudy Meredith — represent the passion and determination that Wi and his whanau had for their ancestral lands. Wi Pere is their great, great-grandfather.

Wi Pere’s legacy is reflected in the trust’s logo, in particular the “pu kanohi” or circular eye. It sums up the man perfectly: “With an eye on the past, linking the present to secure our future.”

Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and sustainability reflect the founding legacy of the ancestral lands that their tipuna Wi Pere left to future generations, to retain, protect, build and grow them for the benefit of his whanau.

By Trudy Meredith

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