Ngāi Tahu - Kaikōura History - Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Ngāi Tahu – Kaikōura History

Ngāi Tahu before the Treaty

From the Ngāi Tahu Land Report

The descendants of Tahupotiki

Ngāi Tahu take their name from Tahupotiki, a descendant of Paikea and a close relation of Porourangi, the ancestor from whom Ngati Porou has descended. Tahupotiki lived his life in the North Island on the east coast around the area now known as Poverty Bay-Hawkes Bay. Sometime in the seventeenth century his descendants gradually migrated south, travelling first to the Wellington coast and then crossing Raukawamoana (Cook Strait) in several waves to Te Wai Pounamu. Over a number of generations they spread over the large expanse of the island and on to Rakiura (Stewart Island). These heke occurred in comparatively recent times, but by intermarriage with those peoples who already inhabited the islands Ngāi Tahu were able to forge links with the islands’ more ancient history and resources. As Ngāi Tahu moved south they sometimes fought and defeated, and sometimes intermingled with other tribes. In doing so they absorbed these peoples’ older knowledge and experience of the land and its resources. This process of fusing Ngāi Tahu with earlier communities was still continuing when Europeans first arrived on the islands in the eighteenth century.

Ngati Mamoe

While Ngāi Tahu occupied Wairau and Kaikōura, interaction linked Ngāi Tahu by whakapapa to many of the tribes which still inhabit the northern South Island, including Rangitane. However, Ngāi Tahu’s strongest rivals for control of the island’s resources as a whole were Ngati Mamoe. Like Ngāi Tahu, Ngati Mamoe were recent immigrants from the east coast of the North Island. A century before Ngāi Tahu’s arrival they had moved south, gradually shifting from their bases on the south coast of the North Island to Wairau and then further south. When Ngāi Tahu arrived Ngati Mamoe were strong in the Kaikōura area. For a time there was peaceful coexistence. Then followed a series of clashes which resulted in Ngati Mamoe being driven further south and Ngāi Tahu replacing them as the dominant tribe on the northern east coast of the South Island. Over the next century this process continued down the island. Ngāi Tahu married Ngati Mamoe but the rivalries continued. By the time Europeans arrived Ngāi Tahu had clearly established their dominance on the east coast while at the same time being heavily interlinked with Ngati Mamoe by whakapapa. In the far south of the island there were still those who regarded themselves as Ngati Mamoe first and as the tribunal moved around the island it was clear that southern Maori still think of themselves as Ngāi Tahu-Ngati Mamoe, a synthesis of the two tribal groups.


Older iwi still occupied the island before the southern migrations of Ngāi Tahu and Ngati Mamoe. These people are collectively known to Ngāi Tahu as Waitaha. Like Ngati Mamoe, their whakapapa and their traditions are linked with the history of Ngāi Tahu. Waitaha were both a people and a collection of peoples. The name refers to all those who were there prior to the Ngati Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu migrations. These peoples recorded their long and eventful occupation of the island in its most ancient names, names which were readily inherited by Ngāi Tahu. Known by European scholars as Moa Hunters, the culture associated with the hunting of the moa had already gone with the passing of these flightless birds when Ngāi Tahu first crossed Cook Strait. Although the collective name for a group of people, Waitaha also describes a people who traced their history back to Rakaihautu and his son Rokohuia who first landed the Uruao waka on the island many centuries ago. In Ngai Tau tradition it was Rakaihautu who travelled down the island beating the land with his ko and leaving the inland lakes. Ngāi Tahu also have their own creation stories about the formation of the island looking to the Southern Alps as Te Waka a Aoraki, the canoe of Aoraki, with its paddlers making up the main peaks of the Southern Alps.

Mr Tipene O’Regan has outlined something of this history in Waitangi: Maori and Pakeha Perspectives of the Treaty of Waitangi from which the following excerpt is taken:

It is hard to put a date on the Waitaha arrivals. The whakapapa (genealogy) takes root from the voyaging ancestor Rakaihautu, his son Rokohuia, and their canoe Uruao. Rakaihautu is present in traditions of Taitokerau (northern North Island of New Zealand), and in those of Rarotonga in Eastern Polynesia. The name of his canoe is also that of a star constellation and one of the ancient `star pathways’ of Polynesian navigation. The names and the whakapapa are treasures of our antiquity to be lovingly recalled in debate and speculated on and intermeshed with archaeology and anthropology when it suits. What is important to our people is that Waitaha are the first people in our island and that, in his travels, Rakaihautu and his tribe named the land and the coast which borders it. These are the names we associate with the earliest archaeological evidence.

While these ancient Waitaha tribes were establishing their southern world, other tribes were building similar worlds in the north. There it was warmer and they were more numerous. Their kumara, yam, and taro were sustained with less difficulty and they could grow hue (gourds) for containers. While their numbers were increasing and they were beginning to contest the most favoured areas amongst themselves, the southerners were still expanding into more open and less contested land and resources. On the eastern North Island coasts, a tribal group grew up around the ancestor Whatua Mamoe and established substantial fortifiied pa in the region of the modern city of Napier. Just to the north, in what is now the Gisborne area, other groups formed which shared descent from the Cook Island ancestor Paikea and his brother Irakaiputahi. Roughly half-way between Gisborne and Napier lies the Mahia Peninsula; here a third group associated with the Kurahaupo canoe was forming. By the early sixteenth century elements of these tribes were establishing themselves down the eastern North Island coast, to the edges of Raukawamoana (Cook Strait).

The descendants of Whatua Mamoe from the Heretaunga (Napier) region became known as Ngati Mamoe. In the mid-sixteenth century a small section of them settled on the Cook Strait coast near Wellington and shortly afterwards crossed the strait and imposed themselves on the Waitaha communities living in the Wairau district near modern Blenheim. According to our traditions, the Ngati Mamoe were drawn south by the abundant bird, eel, and fish resources of the Wairau estuaries and lagoons. Over time they came to dominate Waitaha, more by strategic marriages than by war, and the old southern tribal communities began to be known by their name, Ngati Mamoe, over the length of Te Waipounamu.

Meanwhile, back in the eastern North Island another more substantial tide of tribal movement was building. The mosaic of tribes was shifting southwards after a round of retributive fighting, sparked by the murder of a child. The movement had far more general causes than the historic incident which sparked it, and there began a steady migration of groups from within the eastern North Island tribes that was to continue into the seventeenth century.

Several of those groups migrated, over a span of about two generations across Cook Strait and into Te Waipounamu. Over time, they formed the principal southern tribe and became known as Ngāi Tahu through their linking ancestry to Tahupotiki of the East Coast, North Island, whence their southwards migration had begun. However, they had a rich mixture of North Island tribal descent flowing in them, and the bonding into a reasonably unitary tribe did not take place until they had been in Te Waipounamu for nearly a century. The story of that century is one of conflict, of peacemaking, and intermarriage, both with the Ngati Mamoe and amongst themselves. It was during that time that ‘classic’ Maori culture was implanted in the South Island, to be modified by the rigours of the colder environment and a very different economy.{FNREF|0-86472-060-2|3.1.4|1}

Te Heke o Ngati Kuri

Ngāi Tahu’s moves south brought the tribe progressively into the various areas occupied by them at the time of the Treaty. The first heke, or migration, was that of Ngati Kuri. Kuri lived several generations after Tahupotiki, and it was his grandson and great-grandson, Puraho and Mako, who first took the tribe across Raukawamoana (Cook Strait), following a battle with Ngati Ira at Puharakeke (near Seaview, Lower Hutt). At Kura te Au (Tory Channel) where they settled, they soon came into conflict with Ngai Tara, whom they successfully defeated. In the Wairau they campaigned against Rangitane, and eventually a Ngati Kuri chief, Maru, moved south to Waipapa, on the Kaikōura coast. Mr Wiremu Solomon, a kaumatua from Kaikōura explained the events that then took place:

Kati Kuri came and lived at Kaikōura and the tribes…living there gave over the Kaikōura lands to Maru… There were many hapu, or clans, living at Kaikōura even Kati Mamoe. These were the ones who wanted to live peacefully, who did not want fighting… Kai Tahu’s battles were not murderous ones, they did not just fight for fighting’s sake. They did not kill without end. It was not like that. They fought their battles and when it was over that was the end of it. They did not chase their enemies all over the country nor did they kill treacherously. Kati Kuri was not like that. Now, at the time that Kaikōura was given over to Maru a poha (food storage container) named ‘Tohu Raumati’ was given also. This poha was fashioned with a bird in front and a human figure on top and the food in it was never eaten by man… although food was preserved in it each year. The first foods of the year were preserved in that poha. It was a sacred poha imbued with the sacred rituals and mana of the Maori. The giving of that poha was symbolic of the giving of the land. (H7:22)

Ngati Mamoe then settled at Pariwhakatau (Conway River) from which they were eventually expelled as far as Murihiku.

Mr O’Regan identified the Irakehu people as the next major heke south, bringing Ngāi Tahu to Horomaka (Banks Peninsula) (A27:9).

Te Heke o Tuhaitara

Another great migration which led to Ngāi Tahu occupation of most of what is now Canterbury is identified as Te Heke o Tuhaitara (J10:7). The heke is associated with Moki and Turakautahi. According to Mr O’Regan, Tuahuriri came into conflict with his brother-in-law Tutekawa who killed two of Tuahuriri’s wives before fleeing to Wairewa (Lake Forsyth). Tuahuriri drowned and it was his two sons, Moki and Turakautahi, who travelled south to Wairewa, where Tutekawa was killed. Moki was himself killed by maketu at Wairewa soon after. From the members of this heke come the major hapu of Canterbury and Banks Peninsula. Mr O’Regan commented that:

The heke divided the new areas between them with Turakautahi coming here to Kaiapohia, Mako to Wairewa, Te Ruahikihiki to Taumutu and Te Rakiwhakaputa to Rapaki and so on. (A27:11)

Mr Rakihia Tau’s account stressed not utu but the value of trade and the richness of the resources of the new territory.

Having mingled with their kinsmen Ngati Kuri, Waitai and some of his kinsmen left their kaianga nohonga near the Wairau River called o Te Kauae. This was on account of Maru their kinsman showing clemency to certain Ngati Mamoe people. These people were also closely related. Waitai and his forces travelled southwards as far as Murihiku or Southland. In time Moki’s brothers-in-law who were with Waitai’s forces desired to return to the Wairau, hence Kaiapu and Te Makino journeyed overland and returned to the Wairau. On their return they reported to Moki and the various chiefs their discoveries, the abundance of mahinga kai within this Island. This was the reason for the building of Kaiapohai [sic] Pa. The importance of the site came from the fact that it was the base for a NETWORK OF KAIANGA NOHONGA throughout the South Island. (J10:8) (emphasis in original)

Further disputes continued with Ngati Mamoe throughout the southern parts of Te Wai Pounamu until a final peace was agreed to at Poupoutunoa (near Clinton). The peace was arranged by Te Hautapuniotu of Ngāi Tahu and Te Rakiihia of Ngati Mamoe. Although at times precarious, Mr O’Regan stated that the “union of the two tribes…has held from that time”. (A27:12)

3.1.8 The last of these Waitaha peoples to be incorporated into Ngāi Tahu were Ngati Wairangi. Ngati Wairangi held control of the west coast including the valuable pounamu of Arahura. They are presumed to have been a pre-Aotea people who originally came from the Taranaki area. Like the other tribes of the South Island they were already connected by marriage to Ngāi Tahu prior to their eventual defeat in the late eighteenth century by Tuhuru at the battle of Lake Mahinapua, south of Hokitika.

Ngāi Tahu’s relationship with other tribes by 1840

We have explained that at the first hearing of the claim certain northern South Island tribes from the Nelson and Marlborough district appeared before the tribunal and claimed interest in the proceedings (1.6.12). The claim lodged by these tribes raised a dispute as to the tribal boundaries of the various iwi which led to a formal hearing before the Maori Appellate Court. The court gave its decision on 15 November 1990. The full text of that decision is appended to this report (appendix 4). Generally the dispute concerned the position of the north eastern and north western boundaries of Ngāi Tahu.

Ngāi Tahu claimed rights on the east coast up to the respective rohe shown in the Kaikōura and Arahura purchase deeds being respectively Parinui o Whiti on the east coast and Kahurangi on the west coast. These rights were challenged by three parties in the Maori Appellate Court representing ten northern tribes. On the eastern boundary Ngati Toa and Rangitane opposed Ngāi Tahu’s claim up to Parinui o Whiti and on the west coast Ngāi Tahu rights were disputed by Ngati Toa, Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama, Rangitane, Te Atiawa, and to a certain extent by Ngati Apa.

We do not propose to review the court’s decision which examined the customary take such as ancestry (take tupuna), conquest (take raupatu), gift (take tuku) and the important question of actual occupation (ahi kaa) which must accompany a take.

On the eastern coast the court rejected claims by Rangitane that prior to the Ngati Toa incursion led by Te Rauparaha in 1828, Rangitane had occupied and held title to the land north of the Waiau Toa (Clarence River).

The court also found that although it was clear Ngati Toa had effectively conquered the east coast as far as Kaiapoi and possibly Akaroa, they did not follow up this military sucess by exercising ahi kaa over any territory south of Parinui o Whiti. The court decided that Ngāi Tahu, in 1840 and in 1859 when the Kaikōura deed was signed, exercised rangatiratanga over the eastern coast up to Parinui o Whiti.

The court in looking at the various claims to the west coast came to the conclusion that Ngāi Tahu held customary title to Tai Poutini lands for a considerable time before 1827 when Ngati Tama and Ngati Rarua arrived with their chiefs Niho and Takerei respectively. However the Maori Appellate Court also found that any rights these two tribes had were extinguished with the defeat of Te Puoho at Tutarau and the retirement of Niho and Takerei north of Kahurangi Point just prior to the Treaty. Claims made by Ngati Toa, Rangitane, Te Atiawa and Ngati Apa were also examined by the court and rejected. The Maori Appellate Court found that rights of ownership of the land comprised in the Arahura deed were vested in Ngāi Tahu.

A little later in this chapter we again look at the invasion of Ngāi Tahu territory by the northern tribes and its effect on the tribe.

The Iwi

By the time of the Treaty then, Ngāi Tahu were in control of a vast territory, but like all iwi they existed in hapu and whanau communities, with different genealogies, often reflecting the mixed origins of the tribe. Mr O’Regan described this in the case of Arowhenua.

Perhaps our Kati Huirapa people centred on Arowhenua best typify the three primary streams of whakapapa that go to make us-they are the centre of our Waitaha tradition, they have significant Mamoe descent and they carry the name of Huirapa, one of our most important founding tupuna from the southeastern North Island roots of Kai Tahu. Our tupuna tied us together in a kupeka, or net, of whakapapa… (A27:12)

Professor Atholl Anderson, himself of Ngāi Tahu descent, presented the relationship between the different parts of the tribe to us in scholarly terms:

If I have understood this matter correctly then it can be inferred that the land and its resources was perceived in three ways: as a tribal territory, that is, the area for which the tribe would fight; as land in common ownership excepting those tenured pieces, or rights of access to resources, which were inherited through hapu and could be located at any point in the tribal territory; and as a series of annual ranges (weakly combined into districts), which were the areas customarily ranged over by the members of the residential communities in the course of their yearly economic activities.

This amounts, in turn, to an economic system in which common ownership was not congruent with management. The tribe owned the land in common but did not manage it economically. Hapu owned property or access rights but did not manage them at hapu level. Communities owned neither land nor resources but, were, nevertheless, the operationally-effective economic managers through their organisation of activity schedules and labour. (H1:73)

Professor Ward also commented on the way Ngāi Tahu may have perceived their rights in line with his experience of other Polynesian cultures.

The question of just which sections of Ngāi Tahu owned or controlled what rights is a matter of some complexity-a complexity that had grown up over many generations of travel and dispersal over and through Te Wai Pounamu. It is clear that some rights, like mutton-birding in the Titi Islands, were exercised far from the group’s residential bases, and that mobility between residences (e.g. Taumutu, Otakou, Ruapuke) gave access to rights in various hinterlands and waters to people who resided from time to time in those settlements. (T1:9)

The Crown’s witness, Mr Bathgate, further developed the same theme, and like Professor Ward, based much of his argument on the work of Professor Crocombe of the University of the South Pacific.

While the Ngāi Tahu tribe was an entity in itself, it was comprised of many hapu which were the major units of social organisation above the whanau or family at the local level. The tribe as a corporate unit was more evident in relation to warfare, when the resources of the vairous [sic] hapu in the South Island under the control of chiefs of differing rank might be combined to take collective action against others, such as Te Rauparaha and his invaders in the 19th Century. (S2:236)

Ref: The Ngāi Tahu Land Report.