Pitau was the son of an English trader, Thomas Halbert, and a Maori woman named Pirihira Konekone. They separated before he was born, and his mother became part of the household of the Ngati Kaipoho chief Tamati Waka Mangere. When the boy was born he was adopted by Mangere's brother, Raharuhi Rukupo, who became chief when Mangere died.
When Rukupo died in 1873 he was succeeded by another brother, Paora Kate, but in 1880 the succession came to Pitau. He was one of the two paramount Maori chiefs of the Gisborne area. Under his chieftanship the tribe began its renewal, symbolized by the erection of new whare nui (meeting houses). He also helped in the revival of the Anglican church in the district, and was on the native church board for the Waiapu diocese. He was the host for the month-long Kotahitanga (Maori parliament) meeting in 1894 at Pakirikiri.