Story: Muaūpoko

The Muaūpoko people – formerly known as Ngāi Tara – were named because they lived at the ūpoko (head) of Te Ika-a-Māui – the fish of Māui, or the North Island. Over time, they lost much of their land. Today, the tribe is working to restore Lake Horowhenua and revive their culture.

Story by Darren Reid
Main image: Replica of the Kurahaupō canoe

Story summary

All images & media in this story

The ancestor Tara

The people of Muaūpoko were originally called Ngāi Tara, after their ancestor Tara. His parents, who lived in Hawke's Bay, were Whātonga, chief of the Kurahaupō canoe, and Hotuwaipara. Just before she gave birth, Hotuwaipara accidentally pricked her finger with the tara (spine) of a fish, so her son was named Tara.

Later the family moved to the Wellington region. Tara’s name was given to the harbour there, which became known as Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara). The Ngāi Tara people eventually took the name Muaūpoko, to indicate that they lived at the head (ūpoko) of Te Ika-a-Māui – the legendary fish of Māui, or the North Island.

Muaūpoko territory

At first Ngāi Tara lived around Wellington Harbour and on the Kāpiti Coast, sharing the land with other tribes. But from the 1820s Ngāti Toa, Te Āti Awa and other tribes moved in from the north. After battling with Ngāti Toa, Muaūpoko were forced to move to Horowhenua and Manawatū.

Loss of land

In 1839 the Te Āti Awa chiefs sold land around Wellington Harbour to the New Zealand Company, who wanted it for the first European settlers. Although Muaūpoko also had interests in this land, they were not consulted. Other tribes challenged Muaūpoko over their land at Horowhenua, and they lost even more. When the settlers arrived, the tribe’s wealth and power dwindled further. Farming and forest clearing spoilt the water and reduced fish numbers in Lake Horowhenua.

Muaūpoko today

The Muaūpoko Tribal Authority, based at Levin in the Horowhenua region, provides health and welfare services. It is also reviving the traditions, history and culture of the tribe. Muaūpoko have formed the Lake Horowhenua Trust, which is working to improve the lake’s water quality and fill it with fish, and to restore the bush on the lake's edges. In the 2013 census, 2,691 people claimed Muaūpoko descent.

How to cite this page:

Darren Reid, 'Muaūpoko', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 May 2024)

Story by Darren Reid, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 February 2015