Story: Barrett, Huiatahi
Ngati Maniapoto leader
This biography was written by Tutahanga Douglas and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998
Huiatahi Barrett was born at Waiharakeke, Kawhia, probably in 1873 or 1874. His grandfather was an Englishman, Nathaniel Barrett, who arrived in New Zealand in the 1840s. He worked as a teacher in the Kawhia district, later supplementing his income with small-scale farming. In 1849 he married Caroline Te Maawe Newha of Ngati Maniapoto; Huiatahi's father, Thomas Te Murunga Barrett, was born in 1852. He and his six siblings were raised in their mother's extended family at Waiharakeke. On reaching adolescence, Thomas went to Taranaki to avoid the hostilities in the Waikato district and to work as a farm labourer and farrier. He returned to his home in his early 20s. According to family accounts, he reappeared as a penniless itinerant. Despite this, he was successful in wooing and marrying Parearohi Wiriwiri, daughter of Tutunui Te Kanawa (also known as Tangi Te Hau) of Ngati Uekaha. Huiatahi, also known as Te Pioi Parearohi, was their only child. Thomas had two other wives: Erena, with whom he had a daughter, Okioki, and Te Mamae Whakamau Wilson.
Huiatahi grew up immersed in the language and culture of Ngati Uekaha and Ngati Maniapoto. His maternal grandfather, Tutunui Te Kanawa, had played a prominent role in setting up Potatau Te Wherowhero as the first Maori King. His mother was an adherent of the Pai Marire faith. She was also a tohunga of note, one of the few women permitted to speak on the marae. Huiatahi was to inherit her leadership responsibilities. As a child he was regularly sent back from his home at Waitomo to Taranaki and Waiharakeke to spend time with relatives of his father.
Huiatahi grew up at a time when Ngati Maniapoto were reaching a tentative accommodation with the Pakeha world. They retained strong links to the King movement, and were wary of a government that had confiscated the lands of their Waikato neighbours. Nevertheless, in 1883 they negotiated a pact to allow the main trunk railway line to pass through the King Country and agreed to milling of their extensive timber stocks. As a young man Huiatahi worked on the family farm, supplementing his income by work as a farm and mill labourer and farrier. He became an accomplished boxer in his youth and an expert in mau taiaha (the traditional martial arts). In later years he was to become known as a boxing trainer and a master tutor in the use of the taiaha for the young men of Ngati Maniapoto.
As an only child Huiatahi was expected to develop expertise in a wide range of Maori and Pakeha activities. He was an expert genealogist and tribal historian and became a major figure in the Pai Marire church, upholding their traditions and encouraging daily participation in prayers and Bible study. Huiatahi served on the Pohatuiri and Otorohanga village committees and on the Maniapoto District Maori Council. He was a strong supporter of Maori adult education, tutoring classes in waiata. Huiatahi’s first wife was Raumiria; they had a daughter, Rangimamae.
He later married Huihana Parehuiroro Tana (Turner) of Ngati Kinohaku and Ngati Rora; they lived at Pohatuiri, near Waitomo Caves, where they raised their 12 children, and a child of Huiatahi's from an earlier relationship. As their children reached adulthood and had families of their own, Huiatahi and Huihana were recognised as the kakoro (patriarch) and kuikui (matriarch) of Waitomo.
When aged about 50 Huiatahi was blinded in an accident. Although he was unable to do further paid labour, he and his wife continued with their daily and seasonal routine of planting, tending and harvesting their gardens. He remained the leader of Ngati Uekaha and a spokesman for Ngati Maniapoto. He was an active member of the Ratana church, and was ordained as a minister in 1925.
Huiatahi Barrett died at Waitomo on 27 October 1952, survived by his wife, four sons and three daughters. He had embodied all the qualities of a community leader. He was loved by his hapu and highly respected by other community leaders. A fine orator, he was a veritable treasure house of Maniapoto whakapapa and history.