Story: Muaūpoko

Page 2. Invasion and colonisation

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1800–1840: the occupation of Te Whanganui-a-Tara

By 1800 Ngāi Tara (later Muaūpoko) were sharing their traditional lands around Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) and on the Kāpiti Coast with later arrivals – Ngāti Apa, Rangitāne, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Hāmua and Ngāti Ira. Some areas had been ceded because of warfare; others were shared with associated tribes such as Ngāti Māmoe, who also descended from Toi. Nonetheless Muaūpoko retained and occupied most of their land.

From 1819, northern tribes began to venture south in search of resources. The first large-scale migration to Te Whanganui-a-Tara took place about 1822, when a party of Ngāti Toa, Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama arrived on the Kāpiti Coast.

Initially Muaūpoko welcomed the Ngāti Toa people, but conflict became inevitable after a Muaūpoko woman was killed. Muaūpoko sought revenge by killing several members of Te Rauparaha’s family at Papaitonga. This event led to bitter enmity between Ngāti Toa and Muaūpoko. As Ngāti Toa subsequently established their power at Te Whanganui-a-Tara and in the Kāpiti region, the Muaūpoko population became concentrated in Horowhenua.

Peace offering

He taonga rongonui te aroha ki te tangata.

Goodwill towards others is a precious treasure.

Rongo, a chief of Ngāi Tara, wanted to end warfare with the Rangitāne people. He set an ambush for a raiding party and sat alone in its path. Throwing a leafy branch in front of their leader, he then signalled for his warriors to appear. Next, slaves appeared, carrying baskets of shellfish. Faced with two options, the Rangitāne chief picked up the branch, confirming the choice of peace. After this, Ngāi Tara and Rangitāne became staunch allies and ‘Rongo’ became a synonym for peace.

Interaction with Europeans

In 1839 the New Zealand Company purchased land around Wellington Harbour from the chiefs of various occupying tribes. The people of Muaūpoko were not consulted, and were overlooked in the redistribution of reserve areas for Māori. Land on the Kāpiti Coast occupied by other tribes was also sold without Muaūpoko consent. These events later became the basis for a claim by Muaūpoko to the Waitangi Tribunal.

Muaūpoko were drawn into the wars over land and authority in the 1860s, under the leadership of Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (known to Pākehā as Major Kemp). Te Keepa saw the conflict as an opportunity to exact revenge on tribes that had humiliated Muaūpoko in the past. After the wars he used his influence to regain lands at Horowhenua through the Native Land Court. Some of this territory was sold in the 1880s for railway and settlement land, but subsequent intertribal disputes about its ownership led to protracted court hearings, parliamentary debate and finally a royal commission in 1896. In the process, Muaūpoko lost more land. Some was taken to pay for the commission costs, and Walter Buller, who had acted as Te Keepa’s lawyer, took Lake Papaitonga in Horowhenua as his fee.

Just as with other tribes during the 19th and 20th centuries, loss of land and the impact of European agriculture and settlement had negative effects on Muaūpoko. However, some of the consequences of colonisation are now being addressed and put right.

How to cite this page:

Darren Reid, 'Muaūpoko - Invasion and colonisation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 August 2022)

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