Kirihi Te Riri Kawiti was born at Waiomio, Kawakawa, a grandson of the famous Nga Puhi chief Te Ruki Kawiti, and son of Maihi Paraone Kawiti and Heningarino. He went to school at Karetu Native School and Poroti Native School, and after his father’s death in 1889, returned to Waiomio and eventually assumed leadership of his hapu, Ngāti Hine. In 1896 he married Marara Mahanga and they had two children, Ngaone and Te Tawai. After Marara’s death, he married Hana Te Ahuahu and they had one daughter, Te Ringi Taimana. After the death of Hana, Kawiti married Totorewa Hoterene.
Kawiti worked as a farmer and also assumed many positions of responsibility in the region. He chaired the committee investigating Māori land titles in Kaikohe, was a member of the Pewhairangi Māori Council and was chair of the Waiomio Village Committee. He was a former member of the first Ruapekapeka Pa Scenic Reserve Board. He was very involved in local education and successfully pushed for new schools at Waiomio and Orauta. Kawiti chaired the Waitangi centennial celebration committee and made sure the celebrations took place prior to the departure of the troops. Although in both world wars, he opposed Nga Puhi conscription, from 1941-45, Kawiti chaired the local Māori patriotic committee and was awarded an OBE for patriotic services in 1949. He was appointed as a justice of the peace in 1956.
He assisted in the restoration of the Waitangi Treaty House and the building of the Tumatauenga meeting house. In 1940 he retired from farming after sustaining an injury. It was at this point that he began to focus on writing. For over 60 years he maintained a diary of the Kawiti family and wrote a tribal history. When he was 74 he wrote an article entitled “The Storming of Hone Heke’s Pa” for the Journal of the Polynesian Society.
Kawiti was greatly respected for his knowledge of Māori whakapapa and history and was recognised as an important leader of Nga Puhi. He was a foundation member of the Waitangi National Trust Board, and was very active in both the Methodist and Anglican churches.
- Phone conversation and correspondence from Reg Kawiti on 3 and 17 June 2004.
- Martin, Kene Hine Te Uira. "Kawiti, Kirihi Te Riri Maihi 1877-1964." The Dictionary of the New Zealand Biography. Vol. 4. 1921-1940. Auckland
- Wellington, N.Z.: Auckland UP
- Dept. of Internal Affairs, 1998. 265-266.
- Journal of the Polynesian Society 62 (1953): 85-87.
- Te Ao Hou 47 (1964): 62.
- "The Storming of Hone Heke’s Pa." Journal of the Polynesian Society 62 (1953): 85-87.
- Kawiti writes to clarify what he sees as misleading statements in a N.Z Herald article and a radio broadcast of 1951 concerning the assertion that Ruapekapeka pa was Hone Heke’s pa. Kawiti argues that it was not Heke’s pa but it was a pa built by Kawiti’s grandfather Kawiti after the battle of Ohaeawai when Kawiti ‘ever jealous of his own "mana," decided that if there was to be further fighting it must be on his own land.’
- "Heke’s Wars in the North." Te Ao Hou 16 (1956): 38-46.
- Told to Tawai Kawiti by Riri Maihi Kawiti. This account of Hone Heke, Kawiti, and the wars of 1845-6 was told to Tawai by his father, the Ngāti Hine Chief Riri Maihi Kawiti. Tawai discusses the sacking of Kororareka, the siege of Okaihau, the storming of Ohaeawai and the battle of Ruapekapeka. Kawiti, disappointed that no pakeha chief had been killed at this last battle, composed a chant. This is included in the text with an English translation. The article concludes with ‘Thoughts about the Wars’ and the re-erecting of the flagpole by Kawiti’s son, Maihi Kawiti.
- "Haere Ki O Koutou Tipuna." Te Ao Hou 47 (1964): 62.
- Taylor, C. R. H. A Bibliography of Publications on the New Zealand Māori and the Moriori of the Chatham Islands. Oxford: Clarendon, Oxford UP, 1972. 96.