Ngāti Maniapoto derive their name from the ancestor Maniapoto. He was descended from the people of the Tainui canoe, who voyaged across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiki to New Zealand.
Ngāti Maniapoto belong to the Tainui confederation of tribes, who particularly claim lineage from the noted Tūrongo. His union with Māhinaarangi brought together both the Tainui and East Coast tribes – something still celebrated today. That line of descent is celebrated in the following chant:
Taku ara rā, ko Tūrongo;
I wawaea ki Te Tai Rāwhiti,
Ko Māhinaarangi! I au e!
Ko te rua rā i moe ai a Raukawa
Nā Raukawa ko Rereahu;
Nā Rereahu ko Maniapoto
He ara tau-tika mai ki ahau.
My pathway is that of Tūrongo;
He proceeded to the land of the sunrise;
None other than Māhinaarangi!
And I applaud: I au e!
For from that exquisite abode,
Came forth the great Raukawa!
Raukawa begat Rereahu;
Rereahu begat Maniapoto,
And here, I boast of this my noble line. 1
Tainui’s mana extended over much of the northern half of the central North Island. Ngāti Maniapoto’s traditional lands encompassed the expansive King Country, much of which was traditionally known as Te Nehe-nehe-nui (the great forest).
The western coastline forms the boundary from south of Kāwhia down to the Mōkau district. It was here that the Tainui canoe landed, and its anchor can still be seen there today.
The northern margins extended to Lake Ngāroto. Around the beginning of the 19th century this was the scene of a major battle known as Hingakākā. It involved several thousand combatants, with Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto tribes successfully resisting their foe, Ngāti Toa.
The eastern side runs along the Rangitoto and Hurakia ranges, with the Tūhua Ranges forming part of the southern boundary. It is said that lightning seen over the Rangitoto Range is a sign of a death.
Settlements were often small and concentrated around the coastal harbours, or along the major waterways and tributaries, such as the Mōkau River and the fertile Waipā River valley. Tradition holds that the tribal monster, Waiwaia, resides in one of his many lairs along the Waipā River. The summits and ridges of the ranges abound with ancient fortifications and many other sacred sites.
One of the principal strongholds of Maniapoto was Hikurangi, north-east of Ōtorohanga. Maniapoto’s sister Te Rongorito and her husband Tamatehura lived nearby at Te Waka, on the eastern side of the Māhaonui swamp. Maniapoto forbade any conflict to take place in the vicinity, giving rise to another famous saying: Kei hewa ki te marae o Hine (Do not desecrate the courtyard of Hine [Te Rongorito]).
At the heart of Ngāti Maniapoto territory is Te Kūiti, an abbreviation for Te Kūititanga (‘the narrowing’). This is not only a reference to the narrow gorge, but also testament that it was an assembly point for Ngāti Maniapoto. Of Te Kūiti it is said:
Te Kūititanga o Ngāti Maniapoto
Te Kūititanga o ngā maunga
Te Kūititanga o ngā whakaaro.
Within the shelter of converging mountains
Where the decisions were discussed and set
In the stronghold of the tribe of Maniapoto. 2
Maniapoto lived in the 17th century, and established numerous powerful tribes. To understand how he came to be the leader of his people involves returning to the time of his father Rereahu’s impending death.
It was the custom for chiefs to select the person who would take on their chiefly mana. Rereahu’s eldest son by his first marriage was Te Ihingaarangi. This son naturally expected that his father’s mana would pass to him. However Rereahu preferred Maniapoto, the eldest son by his marriage to Hineaupounamu. While Te Ihingaarangi was away, Rereahu summoned Maniapoto before him.
The dying chief instructed Maniapoto to bite the crown of his head, which he had anointed with red ochre. This act signified the passing of Rereahu’s chiefly mana to Maniapoto. By the time Te Ihingaarangi had returned, Rereahu was dead. Te Ihingaarangi observed the red stains on Maniapoto’s lips and realised that he himself had been denied the mana of his father.
After attempting to promote himself over his younger brother, Te Ihingaarangi went with his children to settle in the Maungatautari district. Te Ihingaarangi’s people there came to be known as Ngāti Korokī, Ngāti Hape and Ngāti Haua. However, after his death, many of his followers returned to the Ōtorohanga area. They can still be found there today as Ngāti Te Ihingaarangi.
The subsequent history of Ngāti Maniapoto centres around Maniapoto, his younger siblings including Matakore, and their children and grandchildren.
They are the ancestors from whom many of the hapū of today are descended and take their names, such as Ngāti Matakore. Matakore had supported his brother Maniapoto against the challenges of Te Ihingaarangi, and acquired the lands south of the Waipā River and the Rangitoto Ranges. Matakore’s marriage to Waiharapepe connected his tribe to the Te Arawa people.
Maniapoto had three wives, including the great-granddaughter of Te Ihingaarangi, Hinewhatihua. He later married her daughter Paparauwhare, from a former marriage. From that marriage was born Rōrā, ancestor of the Ngāti Rōrā hapū who settled the Te Kūiti district.
The son of Maniapoto’s first marriage to Hinemania was the celebrated Te Kawairirangi, who journeyed north to the great pā Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) in the present-day Auckland district. There he married the twins Mārei and Māroa. He was treacherously killed in Tāmaki, as was his son Rungaterangi in the Mōkau district to the south. From these deaths came the saying: ‘Mōkau ki runga, Tāmaki ki raro’ (Mōkau above, Tāmaki below), as a reminder to Ngāti Maniapoto of these episodes in their history. The saying would later be expanded to signify the boundaries of the entire Tainui confederation of tribes.
In his latter years Maniapoto lived in a cave, Te Ana-uriuri, in the limestone region of Waitomo. When he was close to death he went to Pukeroa at Hangatiki, where he called the people before him. He gave his farewell speech, and instructed the men to perform war dances. His younger brothers and their children then performed under the leadership of Te Kawairirangi. Finally Maniapoto gave his approval, instructing his people:
Kia mau tonu ki tēnā; kia mau ki te kawau mārō. Whanake ake! Whanake ake!
Stick to that, the straight-flying cormorant!
He was referring to a fighting force that, like the cormorant, darts forward in the charge, unyielding. It was adopted by Ngāti Maniapoto as their tribal motto.
For Ngāti Maniapoto, like many other tribes, early European contact was with whalers, traders and missionaries. Early European settlers had the biggest impact on the tribe, taking prominent Maniapoto women as their wives.
Louis Hetet was a settler with an English mother and French father who married a Maniapoto woman. He first visited New Zealand around 1835 on a whaling ship, and returned in 1842 to settle at Paripari (near Te Kūiti). He married Te Rangituatahi, daughter of the influential Maniapoto chief, Taonui Hīkaka. They had four children: George Ngātai, John Taonui, Henry Mate-ngaro, and Mere Te Wai. The three sons proved themselves as businessmen in the early days of the King Country. Their descendants are well-known members of Ngāti Maniapoto. Mere Te Wai married Te Toko Turner, the son of another prominent Pākehā–Māori, William Turner, who gave rise to the large Turner family.
Numerous notable Maniapoto families grew from other mixed marriages – the Searanckes, Barretts, Ormsbys, Bells, Andersons, Emerys, Hughes (Huihi) and others. Their descendants have featured prominently in the affairs of the tribe and the region since.
Louis Hetet managed one of several flour mills which supported the tribe’s thriving endeavours in cultivation and industry up until the 1850s. Wheat, oats and maize were grown, pigs were reared and flax was dressed and sent to the Auckland market and beyond. Ngāti Maniapoto also owned the ships Rere-wiki, Parininihi, Re-wini and Aotearoa.
Concerned about growing European settlement and the increasing demand for land, Ngāti Maniapoto supported the establishment of a Māori king who would oppose any further sale of land.
Maniapoto’s affirmation of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero as the first king was expressed at a meeting at Haurua in 1857, referred to as Te Puna o te Roimata – the wellspring of tears.
Ngāti Maniapoto continued to resist loss of land and of tribal authority. They later supported those fighting the British troops in the Taranaki and Waikato conflicts of the 1860s.
Leading the opposition to the British was Rewi Maniapoto. His name is probably best associated with the defence of Ōrākau in 1864. In the face of overwhelming odds against a numerically superior British force, and despite a call to surrender, the historic reply was given:
E hoa, ka whawhai tonu mātou, Āke! Āke! Āke!
Friend, we will fight on forever, forever and forever!
Nevertheless, lacking food, water and ammunition, Rewi’s forces abandoned the fortification. They retreated across the Pūniu River into Maniapoto territory, along with the now expelled Waikato people and the second Māori king, Tāwhiao.
A boundary was established to bar the entry of any European into the district. The King Country or Rohe Pōtae became a de facto state within a state. It was not until 1883, after successful negotiations between the government and such Maniapoto leaders as Wahanui, Rewi and Taonui, that the King Country was made accessible to Europeans. It was also opened to road surveying and the North Island’s main trunk railway.
It is said that the second Māori king, Tāwhiao, threw his hat over a map of the North Island and declared his rule over the area it landed on. Thus the King Country, or Rohe Pōtae (area of the hat), was named.
One stipulation of this ‘sacred compact’ made by Wahanui and other Maniapoto leaders was the prohibition of alcohol throughout the district, as they had witnessed its detrimental impact on other tribes. Prohibition lasted until 1953.
The leaders were also concerned with curtailing the impact of the Native Land Court and the activity of government land purchase agents in the district. Despite such efforts, Maniapoto’s hold on their traditional lands was quickly weakened by the pressures of increasing European settlement.
With over 35,000 members in 2013, Ngāti Maniapoto is one of the larger tribes.
There are some 42 marae. Te Tokanga-nui-a-noho marae stands at the centre of the tribal domain in Te Kūiti township, and remains a focal point of tribal identity.
The name of Te Tokanga-nui-a-noho marae means ‘the large basket of the home dweller’, and is commemorated in a tribal saying:
He aha koe i haere mai ai i te rourou iti a haere, tē noho atu ai i te tokanganuianoho?
Why did you come with the small basket of the traveller? Better if you had stayed away with the large basket of the home dweller.
This comes from a well-known Tainui story. Parewhete left her husband Wairangi (the legendary grandson of Raukawa) to live with a chief of Ngāti Maru. When Wairangi came with a few men to take her back, she warned him that Ngāti Maru were planning to massacre them. Her much-quoted question means, ‘Why did you come with such a small number of warriors, instead of remaining among your own powerful tribe?’
Ngāti Maniapoto people are dispersed throughout the country and beyond its shores. Like other tribes, they have suffered from the depopulation of traditional tribal settlements through an exodus to the larger towns and cities since the Second World War.
In recent years Ngāti Maniapoto have experienced a renewal of interest in their language and arts. The tribe have been able to draw on the lifetime endeavours of two of their own 20th-century cultural leaders.
Pei Te Hurinui Jones assisted Āpirana Ngata with the publication of Ngā mōteatea, a compilation of traditional songs. This collection remains a rich source of classical Māori language. Pei Te Hurinui Jones also published works on Maniapoto–Tainui history and genealogy.
Rangimārie Hetet developed an international reputation for her skill and knowledge in the art of weaving – this has been passed down through successive generations and shared with a wider Māori audience.
In 1988 the Maniapoto Māori Trust Board was established to ‘preserve and protect the identity, integrity and interests of the Maniapoto Tribe’. 1 The board is advised on matters of cultural, historical and spiritual significance by a council of elders, Te Mauri o Maniapoto.
Every two years the tribe holds a sporting event, Te Kawau Mārō o Maniapoto Festival, in which marae compete in a variety of events. More importantly, it is an occasion for the people to return home and celebrate being Maniapoto.
On 27 September 2010, Ngāti Maniapoto signed a deed with the Crown for co-governance and co-management of the Waipa River. In 2016 the Maniapoto Maori Trust Board was preparing to settle Ngāti Maniapoto’s historic Treaty claims on behalf of the iwi.
In the New Zealand censuses since 1991, residents of Māori descent were asked to indicate the tribe to which they were affiliated.
The figures below show the number who indicated Ngāti Maniapoto (including those who indicated more than one tribe), and the regions where they were found in the greatest numbers in 2013.
The only previous census asking Māori to indicate tribal affiliation – but not of multiple tribes – was in 1901.
Craig, Dick. Land of the Maniapoto. Te Kuiti: King Country Chronicle, 1951.
Jones, Pei Te Hurinui, and Bruce Biggs. Ngā iwi o Tainui. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995.
Jones, Pei Te Hurinui. King Potatau: an account of the life of Potatau Te Wherowhero. Wellington: Polynesian Society, 1959.
Kelly, Leslie G. Tainui: the story of Hoturoa and his descendants. Wellington: Polynesian Society, 1949.
Morgan, B. Historic Maori place names, from the Waipa River to Mokau. Auckland: B. Morgan, 1976.
Phillips, F. L. Landmarks of Tainui/Ngā tohu a Tainui: a geographical record of Tainui traditional history. 2 vols. Ōtorohanga: Tohu, 1989–95.