Until recently, Ngā Rauru Kītahi were thought to have descended from the people of the Aotea canoe, whose leader was Turi. It is now believed that they are descended from a tribe which lived in the area around Waitōtara in south Taranaki before the canoe’s arrival. These early people came from the East Coast of the North Island; travelling by sea, they landed at Pātea and Waitōtara. They called themselves Te Kāhui Rere (the flying people). Later, when the Aotea canoe arrived in south Taranaki, Turi’s descendants married members of Te Kāhui Rere, giving rise to the tradition that Ngā Rauru were Aotea people.
The tribe’s name
Ngā Rauru take their name from the ancestor Rauru Kītahi. Rauru was a grandson of the early Polynesian explorer Toitehuatahi, and the first son of Ruarangi and Rongoueroa. It is likely that his birthplace was at Whakatāne. Awanuiarangi, the principal ancestor of Te Āti Awa, was his half-brother.
True to his word
A Ngā Rauru saying goes: ‘Ko Rauru kī tahi, e kore te kupu e whati’ (Rauru of the one word, never would that word be broken).
It refers to the ancestor Rauru Kītahi (Rauru of the one word), who was reputed to be a man of few words, and one who always kept his word. Another saying, ‘Ko Rauru koe’ (you are like Rauru), is a compliment reserved for someone known to be true to his word.
As a young man, Rauru gained a reputation as a warrior and a man of his word. Rauru and his people travelled extensively around New Zealand. As an old man he arrived in south Taranaki, where he settled until the end of his days. The people of south Taranaki later called themselves Ngā Rauru as a tribute to him.
In 1840 the tribal area of Ngā Rauru could be traced from Kaihaukupe (Castlecliff, Whanganui), where there were six settlements, to Kaierau (now St Johns Hill, Whanganui). From there it extended to Tawhitinui (opposite Rānana, on the banks of the Whanganui River) and the Matemateaonga Range, near the source of the Pātea River. There were a number of pā and kāinga along the Pātea River, and from the mouth of the river along the shoreline back to Kaihaukupe.
Interaction with other tribes
From the early 19th century northern tribes, including Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Toa, moved south on expeditions to seek out new territory and resources. In the 1820s Ngāti Toa and some of the northern Taranaki tribes – Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga and Te Āti Awa – began a series of migrations to the Kāpiti and Wellington regions, passing through Ngā Rauru territory. In 1822, Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toa attacked and occupied the principal Ngā Rauru pā, Te Ihupuku. In the 1840s Ngā Rauru came under attack from Ngāti Tuwharetoa, but resisted with the help of other Taranaki tribes.