Story: First peoples in Māori tradition

Page 7. Toitehuatahi

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Who was Toi?

Toitehuatahi (Toi the lone born) is an important early ancestor of Māori people. In some traditions he comes from Hawaiki, while in others he is indigenous to New Zealand. All, however, speak of his authority and prestige. A tribe known as Te Tini o Toi (Toi’s multitudes) are said to have inhabited the land prior to the arrival of canoes such as Te Arawa, Tainui and Mataatua. Early peoples such as this are often referred to as the tangata whenua – the people of the land. Their tenure and prestige is recognised in the traditions of the later Polynesian peoples.

Stories of Toi

As with many important early ancestors, there are various stories about Toi. Particularly well known is the tale in which Toi, of Hawaiki, eats the dog of Uenuku. Another version has Toi as the consumer of trees or forest food, which is the meaning of his name Toikairākau. Some tribes place Toi on the North Island’s East Coast, while Hauraki peoples say he lived at Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Whakatāne place names

Perhaps the greatest number of traditions about Toi can be found with the Mataatua peoples, particularly Ngāti Awa of the Whakatāne district. Here there are numerous place names and places associated with Toi, the most famous being the called Kaputerangi, the home of Toitehuatahi. Located above the present-day Whakatāne township, the pā affords a magnificent view of Te Moana-a-Toitehuatahi (the sea of Toitehuatahi) in the Bay of Plenty. Another place name is Te Puku-o-te-wheke (the centre of the octopus), just west of Whakatāne. The tentacles of the octopus symbolise the sphere of Toi’s influence, and its centre indicates his home.

Toi and Ngāi Tūhoe

The stories of Toi are used in later traditions about the celebrated Tūhoe, ancestor of the Ngāi Tūhoe people. Tūhoe enjoys mana through being a descendant of Toi and Pōtiki (another early ancestor) and later ancestors of the Mataatua peoples. This is commemorated in the Ngāi Tūhoe saying:

Nā Toi rāua ko Pōtiki te whenua, nā Tūhoe te mana me te rangatiratanga.
The land belongs to Toi and Pōtiki, the prestige and chieftainship belongs to Tūhoe.
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'First peoples in Māori tradition - Toitehuatahi', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 8 Feb 2005