Kahungunu (also known as Kahu-hunuhunu) was born at the Tinotino pā in Ōrongotea (later named Kaitāia). His father subsequently moved to the Tauranga area, where Kahungunu grew to adulthood.
Birds before the birth
Kahungunu’s wife Ruareretai was a high-born woman of Tūranga. Just before she gave birth to their daughter, Kahungunu obtained some young tīeke (saddleback birds) as a special delicacy for his wife. When the child was born they named her Ruahereheretīeke (saddlebacks taken in a bunch from their nest).
Tall and handsome, he was renowned for his charismatic leadership. He supervised the planning and building of entire villages, the irrigation and drainage of cultivations, the gathering of food, and the arts of carving, tattooing, weaving and canoe making. His people said of him:
Ko Kahu-hunuhunu he tangata ahuwhenua mōhio ki te haere i ngā mahi o uta me te tai.
Kahu-hunuhunu is an industrious man and one who knows how to manage works both on land and at sea.
In one account of his life, Kahungunu was persuaded to organise the digging of a canal from Awanui to Kaitāia, to enable Ngāti Awa to take their fleet of canoes up to the fertile flats there. But the ambitious task proved too time consuming and wasteful of tools, which were broken on the many obstacles in the swampy ground.
After this Kahungunu decided to head south, leaving behind his first wife Hinetapu and their children, Tamateaiti, Haruatai and Poupoto. Kahungunu stayed a short while with his father Tamatea Ure Haea in Tauranga.
An old man’s darling
When the high-born Pou Wharekura was captured in battle, she was claimed by both the leader Wekanui and Kahungunu’s son Kahukuranui. To prevent an argument, Kahungunu himself took her for his wife. It is said that she chose him, preferring to be doted on by an old man rather than enslaved to a young one.
At nearby Ōtira he seized some fish from a net being drawn up onto the beach. When his half-brother Whaene threw a tāmure (snapper) at him, Kahungunu was pricked on the hand by its fin. Some time later, when his cousin Haumanga had a son, Kahungunu commemorated the incident on the beach by naming the boy Tūtāmure (pierced by a snapper).
Kahungunu next went to Whakatāne, where he married Waiarai. Pō Tirohia was the child of this marriage. Further on at Ōpōtiki Kahungunu stayed with his cousin Haumanga. He took part in the battle known as Te Awhenga, against the people of Rotorua.
Kahungunu’s wives and children
As he continued his long journey southwards, Kahungunu met and married several other women, and had many children.
- In Ōpōtiki he married Te Hautāruke. Their three children were Rākei, Whakatau and Papake.
- In Whāngārā, he had two children with Ruarauhanga: Ruaroa and Rongomaire.
- At the Popoia fortress in the Tūranga area, he married Ruareretai, the daughter of the principal chief, Ruapani. Their daughter was Ruahereheretīeke.
- At Whareongaonga, he married Hinepuariari, with whom he had Pōwhiro (or Te Pōhiro) and one other child. He also married her sister Kahukurawaiaraia, and they had two children, Tuaiti and Pōtirohia.
- Intrigued by a challenging remark made by the beautiful Rongomaiwahine, Kahungunu travelled to her home of Nukutaurua on the Māhia Peninsula. He had heard reports of her beauty as well as of her rank and prestige, and their subsequent courtship and marriage became a legend in Māori history.
Later, in his old age, Kahungunu married a woman of high rank, Pou Wharekura, who was captured at Kaiwhakareireia pā. They had a daughter, Ruatāpui.