Puutapu was born to Pouaka Winikerei and Rangitaau Paraki and adopted as a baby (see Tamaiti whangai) by Princess Te Puea Herangi, the most powerful Maori woman of the early 20th century, and brought up by her in the Maori revivalist religion Pai Marire.
He helped her establish the great King Movement headquarters marae at Turangawaewae in 1921. She then sent him to the Ohinemutu carving school for three years where he became one of the finest modern-day carvers of whare nui (meeting houses) and waka (canoes) of modern times. Returning to Turangawaewae he became one of Te Puea's most trusted assistants and established the carving school there. His most famous pupil was Inia Te Wiata, the opera singer.
Unlike some other modern carvers, Poutapu adhered to the old methods and religious restrictions surrounding the art, and taught them to his students. In 1942 he quarelled with Te Puea and left Turangawaewae, not returning until after her death in 1952, but he became a member of the Council of Twelve under the current Maori Queen Te Atairangihkaahu.
He received the MBE in 1974.
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