Story: Ngāti Raukawa

Raukawa is an aromatic plant which Māhinaarangi used as perfume for her nightly rendezvous with her Tainui lover, Tūrongo. They named their son, the ancestor of Ngāti Raukawa, after the plant. Their marriage bound together important Tainui and East Coast families and even today, some 20–25 generations later, their courtship is recounted on marae.

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal
Main image: The raukawa plant

Story summary

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Tribal region

The ancestral home of Ngāti Raukawa is in the south Waikato and northern Taupō. Maungatautari, their mountain, is said to be divided: one side male, the other female.

The tribe’s homeland also became divided. In the 19th century, some of them moved south and settled a second region stretching from Manawatū to Waikanae.


The tribe is descended from Raukawa, named after a tree with aromatic leaves. His mother had used them to perfume her skin when courting his father.

Fabled leaders include Maniapoto and Kapumanawawhiti, who carved out new territory. The great warrior chief Te Rauparaha was also of Ngāti Raukawa descent.

The migration south

Facing endless battles over land with Waikato tribes, Te Rauparaha moved south with his people, Ngāti Toarangatira. In the early 1820s he encouraged Ngāti Raukawa to migrate too. The people were unsure, but when another chief burnt down their , they were forced to leave.

This was the first of three migrations. On their long journeys they encountered tragedy and conflict. The leader of the third movement, Te Whatanui, achieved many successes but when invited to return north he replied, ‘Should I, Ngāti Raukawa, return to Maungatautari? To the home abandoned from the heart? … I dread to be looked on as a visitor.’

The 20th century

Many Ngāti Raukawa people moved to the cities after the Second World War. In 1975 they started a successful programme to revive their marae and the language.

Ngāti Raukawa today

The community is flourishing in both regions. Ōtaki is a centre of Ngāti Raukawa culture, with Raukawa marae, Te Rauparaha’s beautifully restored Rangiātea Church, and the tribal centre of higher learning, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa. In 2013, more than 29,000 people claimed descent from the tribe.

How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Ngāti Raukawa', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 March 2017