Story: Ngāti Porou

Page 1. Ancestors

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The Ngāti Porou tribe derive their name from the ancestor Porourangi. According to the Ngāti Porou scholar Sir Apirana Ngata, Porourangi and his brother Tahupōtiki inherited Toikairākau, Uenuku, Kahutiaterangi, Paikea and Ruatapu bloodlines.

Porourangi was born in the crimson red-tipped dawn: his full name is Porou-ariki Mata-tara-a-whare, te tuhimāreikura o Rauru. Tahupōtiki’s birth was in the evening flushed red with the setting sun: his added title is Te tuhi-māreikura-o-Oho, a tama-wahine.

The tribe has taken Porourangi’s name for two main reasons. First, many lines of descent converge on him from ancestors in the Pacific homeland of Hawaiki, and from Toi, one of the earliest voyagers. Secondly, his descendants produced great warriors whose conquests in battle, along with strategic marriage alliances, subdued many of the competing forces in the Gisborne and East Coast regions.


The story of Ngāti Porou lies in mythology, legend, oral tradition and historical record. Fundamental to the tribe’s history is the godlike figure of Māui-tikitiki-a-taranga. Māui is the ancestor who binds Ngāti Porou descendants to the beginnings of human existence. It was he who fished up the North Island from the ocean depths. This fantastic feat is commemorated in the songs and haka of Ngāti Porou. The funeral lament ‘Haere rā e hika’ (Farewell dear one), sung in farewelling the dead, closes with a reference to Māui’s canoe Nukutaimemeha:

Ko te waka i hīia ai te whenua nui nei.
The canoe which fished up this great land.

The deed is also extolled in the haka ‘Whakarongo ake ki te hīrea waha o Māui’ (Hearken to the faint call of the voice of Māui), which celebrates the rising of the sacred mountain Hikurangi from the ocean depth:

Whakaeteete mai ko Hikurangi.
Thrusting upward, is Hikurangi.


The epic character Paikea is a key ancestor who came to New Zealand on the back of a whale. His story is shadowed by treachery in Hawaiki, where a battle took place over family status and rivalries, and ended in the slaughter by Ruatapu of some 70 ‘brothers’, his senior kin.

The ancestress Paimahutonga had been taken captive by the great Hawaiki chief Uenuku. She then married Uenuku and had a son named Ruatapu. Uenuku belittled Ruatapu as a low-born son, and in revenge Ruatapu killed all of Uenuku’s older sons out at sea; the sole survivor was Paikea. The tragedy is known in Ngāti Porou history as Te Huripūreiata.

Paikea was buoyed ashore by calling upon his sea gods and ancestors. He married the beautiful Huturangi, daughter of Te Whironui, who had arrived with his wife Āraiara in the Nukutere canoe. Their marriage is commemorated in ‘Paikea’, the anthem of Ngāti Porou, with the words:

E ai tō ure ki te tamāhine a Te Whironui.
May you cohabit with the daughter of Te Whironui.


Māui’s canoe Nukutaimemeha is the foundation canoe of Ngāti Porou. According to tribal tradition it lies upturned in stone on Mt Hikurangi. Other canoes that brought some of the Ngāti Porou ancestors are Horouta, whose captain was Pāoa, Tākitimu, captained by Tamatea, and Tereanini, captained by Rongomaituaho, who had followed his father Paikea from Hawaiki.

Hamoterangi, Porourangi’s wife, came with the Ikaroa-a-Rauru canoe migration. Other canoes such as Mangarara, Kurahaupō, and Ārai-te-uru are sometimes named in association with Ngāti Porou, but the information is fragmentary. Apirana Ngata commented that Ngāti Porou Māori Land Court claims of the 19th century were established mainly through the mana of Māui-tikitiki-a-taranga, and that the origin canoes were largely neglected.

Links to other tribes

Ngāti Porou is proud of their links with kindred tribes such as Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. This tribe is referred to as the senior line, because one of its prominent members, Taua, was settled in that region after a dispute with his brother. Taua was the son of the famous marriage of Hingangaroa to Iranui (Kahungunu’s sister), both descendants of Porourangi.

Ngāi Tahu, the largest South Island tribe, is known as the ‘younger brother’. The tradition says that Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Porou are descended from the brothers Porourangi and Tahupōtiki. They were further bound by the marriage of Hamoterangi to both brothers.

Kahungunu and Tainui–Waikato

To the south of the region is the large tribe of Ngāti Kahungunu. Their founding ancestor Kahungunu is a direct descendant of Porourangi. His daughter Tauheikurī is also a key ancestor for both Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungunu. She produced two sons, Tawhiwhi and Māhaki, who in turn are important members of Ngāti Porou and the Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki sub-tribes.

Ngāti Porou is also linked through the Kahungunu whakapapa to the prominent Tainui–Waikato tribes. This is the result of the marriage of the ancestress Māhinaarangi to Tūrongo, which produced the famous ancestor Raukawa.

How to cite this page:

Tamati Muturangi Reedy, 'Ngāti Porou - Ancestors', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Tamati Muturangi Reedy, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017