Until the 19th century Ngāti Apa did not really exist as a distinct tribe. Before then, descendants of Apa-hāpai-taketake lived as part of other tribes and sub-tribes in the Ngā Wairiki and Rangitīkei areas.
Invasion from the north
This situation changed in the 19th century when tribes armed with muskets, wanting to acquire new lands and resources, arrived from the north. From the early 1820s these tribes, which included Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, and Te Āti Awa and others from Taranaki, settled on the Kāpiti Coast. Their arrival altered the balance of power in the lower North Island and led to alliances and warfare among the tribes already living there.
The battle of Kōhurupō pā
An event that was instrumental in shaping Ngāti Apa as a distinct tribe was warfare between the peoples of Ngā Wairiki and Whanganui. Around 1836 Whanganui tribes attacked Kōhurupō pā. The pā was almost sacked, but fortunes changed when a Ngā Wairiki fighter killed a leading Whanganui chief, Takarangi Atua. Because he was such an important leader, members of Ngā Wairiki expected that the Whanganui people and their allies would seek vengeance on a scale that could destroy them. They formed an alliance with the people of Rangitīkei. It was agreed that all the sub-tribes would converge at Parewanui, on the north bank of the Rangitīkei River, to present a united defence against any attack. The alliance was supported by the Ngāti Raukawa tribe, who occupied Te Poutū pā on the opposite side of the river. A third settlement at Te Awahou, seaward of Te Poutū on the south bank of the river, was also fortified. This alliance of Ngā Wairiki and Rangitīkei peoples gave rise to a sense of tribal unity.
European recognition of Ngāti Apa
In May 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was brought to a settlement called Tāwhirihoe, at the mouth of the Rangitīkei River. It was signed by three Rangitīkei leaders, Te Hākeke, Mohi Mahi and Taumaru, who were described by the missionary Henry Williams as belonging to Ngāti Apa. In the 1840s the Anglican missionaries John Mason and Richard Taylor began working among the people of Whanganui and Rangitīkei; their records referred to the people at Parewanui and Te Awahou as Ngāti Apa. Later in the 1840s, when negotiating a major land purchase known as the Rangitīkei–Turakina transaction, the government agent Donald McLean referred to all the people from Ngā Wairiki and Rangitīkei as Ngāti Apa.
Within the space of about 13 years – between the battle of Kōhurupō and the Rangitīkei–Turakina transaction – Ngāti Apa had become a distinct tribe.