Purakau Maika was the son of Maika Purakau, a pro-King movement chief of Hurunuiorangi pa at the junction of the Tauheru and Ruamahanga rivers. His father was of Ngati Hikarahui hapu, which combined lines of descent from Ngati Kahungunu, Te Aitanga-a-Whata, Rangitane and Ngai Tahu of southern Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa. Maika Purakau was the elder brother of Kaipaoe III, the mother of the half-brothers Hoani Paraone Tunuiarangi and Taiawhio Te Tau. Purakau Maika’s mother was Makuhea, also known as Hoana, a daughter of Poihipi and Taukuta of Ngati Tangatakau. Purakau Maika was also of Ngati Rakairangi.
Purukau Maika’s date of birth is likely to have been before 1870. He had at least two sisters, Hiria and Pane. No details of his upbringing and education are recorded, save that he did not attend secondary school. He was married to Terina Purakau Maika.
Although a man of rank and connections, Purakau Maika held no great authority in Wairarapa in his early life. In 1891, with other Ngati Rakairangi chiefs, including Piripi Te Maari-o-te-rangi and Tunuiarangi, he was listed as owning a part of the Wairarapa lakes. In 1894 he became associated with Tamahau Mahupuku’s grand and successful plan to bring Te Kotahitanga, the movement for a separate Maori parliament, to Papawai. Purakau was in overall charge of a group of young men, 32 of whom were training to play in Tamahau’s band, while another group of 10 were being trained as carpenters to erect the buildings and accommodation needed for the Kotahitanga parliament. Purakau was their elder, responsible for their general welfare.
Tamahau Mahupuku also conceived the idea of a Wairarapa Maori newspaper to be the vehicle of Te Kotahitanga. The idea was presented in 1894 to the parliamentary session of Te Kotahitanga at Pakirikiri, near Gisborne, by Tunuiarangi, Te Whatahoro Jury and Te Teira Tiakitai. Little but verbal support resulted, and the Wairarapa leaders realised they would have to achieve their ambition on their own. In 1895 Te Whatahoro took Kiingi Tuahine Mate Rangi-taka-i-waho, who had been educated at Te Aute College, to Wellington and found him work with an English-language newspaper. Despite falling ill, Kiingi worked there for nearly six months, and when the Wairarapa leaders bought a printing press in Wellington in 1896, he had sufficient skills to teach others. The press was set up at Papawai, and Purakau Maika was put in charge of the young men training to be its staff.
When their training was complete, Purakau Maika moved his staff and the printing press to a site near the Greytown North Post Office. The first issue of Te Puke ki Hikurangi was published on 21 December 1897. Purakau Maika was its editor, heading a team of seven: Kiingi Rangi-taka-i-waho was sub-editor and translator; Tawhiro Renata, who was to stay with the paper until 1906, was foreman; and there was a manager, three compositors and a mechanic, dignified with the title of chief engineer. All worked without wages; the money from subscriptions paid for paper, dies and machine maintenance.
For the first three years Purakau played a prominent role as editor. His name studded every edition as correspondents addressed him personally through the paper’s columns, and replies were signed with his name. Purakau probably did a fair amount of his own reporting; accounts of hui and tangihanga read as though he himself were present. The first issues of the paper showed the lack of expertise of its staff in layout and composition, but as time went on they gained in professionalism. The issues of 1898 were devoted entirely to the Kotahitanga parliament, which Purakau attended. He printed an English version of its amendments to Premier Richard Seddon’s proposed 1898 native lands legislation.
After the 1898 session the printing press and the staff of Te Puke ki Hikurangi were brought back to Papawai marae, and kept more closely under the control of Tamahau Mahupuku. From October 1898 the paper was published by Tawhiro Renata. A change of editorial policy became apparent from 1899: Purakau Maika no longer signed letters personally, correspondence was addressed to and answered by ‘the editor’ or ‘Te Puke’, and his name disappeared from the paper’s official address. No issues were published in 1900, and it is not known if Purakau continued to edit the paper between 1901 and 1906. At least some articles signed ‘Te Puke ki Hikurangi’ during this period were written by Tamahau’s niece, Niniwa-i-te-rangi, effectively the paper’s proprietor for two years after Tamahau Mahupuku’s death in 1904.
From 1906 Te Puke ki Hikurangi ceased publication until July 1911 when it was resurrected. This time Purakau Maika was firmly in the saddle, although he published a photo of Tamahau Mahupuku, his mentor, in every issue from 16 October. The paper was printed and published by H. Tuhoukairangi, one of Purakau’s young kinsmen, at their registered office in Carterton; Purakau was the proprietor and editor. Although he asked correspondents to address their letters for publication to him personally, after the first issue he adopted the convention of the anonymous editor.
The paper provided a picture of the political and religious life of Maori, not only in Wairarapa but also nationally, available in few other sources. Six months after the revival of Te Puke ki Hikurangi, Purakau, together with James Carroll, Te Whatahoro Jury, his younger brother Taare (Charles) Jury and Iraia Te Whaiti, became a director of the company producing Te Mareikura, another Wairarapa Maori-language newspaper. Edited by Whenua H. Manihera, its first issue had appeared in August 1911. Although Purakau assured his readers that he had not abandoned Te Puke ki Hikurangi, two competing newspapers were too much for the market. Both papers failed in 1913, the older paper surviving the newcomer by six months.
Outside his newspaper activities, Purakau had been gaining prominence as a Wairarapa leader. During the 1897 session of the Kotahitanga parliament at Papawai he was elected to a committee of seven chosen to discuss issues raised by Hone Heke Ngapua, MHR for Northern Maori. He was also present during the 1898 session and took part in a lengthy debate with Paratene Ngata over the question of Maori mana as affected by native land legislation. Between 1 and 9 April 1898 Purakau organised one of a series of annual hui between the different Christian sects sponsored by the Mormon church. Anglicans, Catholics, Mormons and Ringatu met together at a Wairarapa Mormon church. They were visited by Hirini Whaanga and seven missionaries from Utah, USA. In July 1899 Purakau was chosen to escort the young Apirana Ngata around Wairarapa, on his mission as travelling secretary of the Te Aute College Students’ Association.
Purakau was on the committee of the Wairarapa Mounted Rifle Volunteers, and in 1902 he was secretary of Wi Pere’s electoral campaign in Wairarapa. In 1903 he was appointed by the Rongokako Maori Council to the post of chairman of the Hurunuiorangi marae committee. Occasionally he represented Wairarapa at Maori events in other parts of the country, and his name appeared in lists of invited guests at many hui and tangihanga.
It is probable that Purukau’s influence waned after the failure of the newspapers. At least from 1912 he was a member of the Rongokako Maori Council and the Tane-nui-a-rangi Committee, responsible for the organisation of hui whakapapa (grand meetings to discuss and record genealogies). One was held at his home marae, Te Puanani, in Carterton, in 1913. But his name fades from the public record. He was last mentioned in Te Kopara, another Maori newspaper, in 1917, as one of the Wairarapa leaders inviting guests to Te Puanani to the opening of the house, Nukutaimemeha, which was to take place in March 1918. The date and place of his death have not been found, but Terina died at Gladstone on 14 May 1944. At that time there were no surviving children.