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Ngāti Raukawa

by  Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal

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.


Ngāti Raukawa have two traditional homelands.

The first, in the southern Waikato and northern Taupō districts, centres on Maungatautari, the ancestral mountain of Ngāti Raukawa. Many important ancestral sites – birthplaces, cemeteries, sites, houses of learning, and more – are found here. In Ngāti Raukawa tradition, this northern region has three districts. They are referred to as:

  • Ngāti Raukawa ki Wharepūhunga – south and east of Te Awamutu between Maungatautari and Waipapa, north of Lake Taupō.
  • Ngāti Raukawa ki Te Kaokaoroa-o-Pātetere – the mountain ranges stretching north of Lake Taupō towards the Kaimai Range, west of Tauranga.
  • Ngāti Raukawa ki Panehakua – the exact location of Panehakua is no longer known.

The second region is Ngāti Raukawa-ki-te-tonga – Ngāti Raukawa of the south. It stretches from the Rangitīkei River, west of Manawatū, to Kukutauaki Stream just north of Waikanae. A large group of Ngāti Raukawa migrated there from the first region in the early decades of the 19th century.

The house of Raukawa

In this tribal saying, the ancestral homeland of Ngāti Raukawa in southern Waikato is likened to a meeting house.

Ko Ranginui te tuanui
Ko Papatuanuku te papa
Ko te poutūārongo kei Pikitū
Ko te poutokomanawa kei Ngātira
Ko te poutāhu kei Tārukenga, kei Te Ngākau
Ōna maihi, taka mai ki Te Wairere
Ki Horohoro.

The sky is the roof
The earth is the floor
The rear post stands at Pikitū
The central post stands at Ngātira
The front post stands at Tārukenga, at Te Ngākau
The front barge boards fall toward Te Wairere and Horohoro.

Maungatautari mountain

Maungatautari is the traditional mountain of the Ngāti Raukawa people. Located just south of the present town of Cambridge, it has a rich and varied history. It is widely referred to in song, proverbs and literature. This reference comes from a letter written by Ngāti Raukawa chiefs at Ōtaki in 1864:

E hoa e te Kawana tena koe, ko te taha whaitua o Maungatautari, ko te taha ki te Rawhiti, E hoa e te Kawana, kia rongo mai koe, He whakatauki tenei, na nga rangatira o te motu mo Maungatautari, ko te Ure tetehi whaitua, ko te Hika kei tetehi whaitua.
Friend, Governor, greetings. Concerning Maungatautari, particularly in the eastern side, Friend Governor, so that you know, there is a proverb held by the chiefs of the nation concerning Maungatautari. One side [of the mountain] is the male side and the other side is female.

A song by the 19th-century Ngāti Raukawa chief Te Whatanui describes Maungatautari as Te Kura-a-Tauninihi (the sacred treasure of Tauninihi). This refers to a sacred treasure that was brought on the Tainui canoe from Hawaiki in central Polynesia.

When the vessel arrived at Whangaparāoa the crew, mistaking the pōhutukawa and rātā blossom there for the treasure they were carrying, cast it onto the sea. When they pulled ashore, they saw that the blossoms were not what they had thought and turned to see if they could recover the sacred treasure they had thrown overboard.

Te Whatanui’s song likens Maungatautari to this treasure, as the mountain had been ‘discarded’ by his Ngāti Raukawa people when they left to migrate to the south in the early decades of the 19th century.

Early history


Ngāti Raukawa trace descent from Raukawa. He was of Tainui descent and through his mother, Māhinaarangi, he also belonged to peoples of Te Tai Rāwhiti (the eastern districts of the North Island), particularly Ngāti Kahungunu. Raukawa was born 20–25 generations ago at the springs of Ōkoroire and grew up at his father’s home of Rangiātea, near Ōtorohanga.

Events in the life of Raukawa are not well known. However, many illustrious ancestors of Ngāti Raukawa have richly influenced the history of the Waikato and southern districts of the North Island. They include the sons of Takihiku, Kapumanawawhiti and Huia. Among the 19th-century ancestors were Te Whatanui, Te Ahukaramū and Te Rauparaha.

Ngāti Raukawa history is full of the triumphs and tragedies of a traditional tribal life.

The children of Raukawa

Tēnā anō rā kei ngā tamariki toa nā Rakamamao
Kei te rangi e haere ana nā Mōtai-tangata-rau.
There go the children of Rakamamao
Across the skies, [the progeny] of the multitudes of Mōtai.

Early tribal history centres on the children of Raukawa – Rereahu, Takihiku, Whakatere and Kurawari. Even today these ancestors are marker points in Ngāti Raukawa history. Except for Kurawari, each of the children was immortalised in the name of a distinct tribe.

The most significant and well-known ancestor in the next generation is Maniapoto, son of Rereahu and ancestor of the Ngāti Maniapoto tribe. Maniapoto succeeded to his father’s position even though he had an elder brother, Te Ihinga-a-rangi.

Maniapoto had a younger sister named Te Rongorito. She became an important ancestor of many Ngāti Raukawa people. Te Rongorito was a puhi, a sacred woman trained in the teachings of the aristocracy. She gave rise to a very powerful section of Ngāti Raukawa.

Te Rongorito’s grandson was Kapumanawawhiti, a man of great prowess in battle who was responsible for taking the name of Ngāti Raukawa far and wide. After a series of successful battles in northern Taranaki, a cousin of Kapumanawawhiti, Parekarau, stated:

He uri tamawahine, māna e takahi te one i Hākerekere.
The descendant of a woman, he shall traverse the shore at Hākerekere.

This is often quoted in Ngāti Raukawa circles to honour Kapumanawawhiti.

Kapumanawawhiti was succeeded by his nephew Ngātokowaru, who also became a famous warrior. However, Ngātokowaru was finally captured in battle and taken to the ailing Te Putu, chief of the Ngāti Mahuta people. As Ngātokowaru leaned over the dying chief of his enemy, he produced a hidden dagger and killed Te Putu, saying, ‘Ko te tete o Ngātokowaru, tēnā ka rangona!’ (The dagger of Ngātokowaru shall be famous!).

19th-century migrations

In the early 19th century, a significant portion of Ngāti Raukawa migrated from the Maungatautari and Wharepūhunga districts to the southern reaches of the North Island. These people eventually settled in the Rangitīkei, Manawatū, Horowhenua and Kāpiti districts.

The movement was in reaction to ongoing conflict in the north. There were also close ties with Ngāti Toarangatira, who had already left their home of Kāwhia to move to the south.

In the early 1820s, word arrived at Maungatautari that a calamity had befallen the Ngāti Toarangatira tribe, and a travelling group was sent out. Among the leaders of this group, known as Te Heke Karere (the company of messengers), were Ngārangiōrēhua, Te Horohau, Mātenga Te Mātia and Te Ahukaramū. Arriving in the south, they found that tragedy had indeed struck, resulting in the deaths of a number of children.

The invitation

When the travellers prepared to return to Maungatautari, Te Rauparaha invited Ngāti Raukawa to settle in the south. However, the group did not take up his offer. When Te Rauparaha’s sister Waitohi heard this, she repeated the invitation, and this time the departing chiefs accepted. On returning to Maungatautari one of the chiefs, Te Ahukaramū, presented the proposal to migrate. When the people remained unconvinced, Te Ahukaramū sent his men to burn their and adjoining areas.

The three migrations

This led to the first major Ngāti Raukawa migration to the south, known as Te Heke Whirinui. The name commemorates the large weavings on the mats they carried. Te Ahukaramū led this group.

The second large migration was called Te Heke Kariritahi, after the type of muskets carried. This group was led by Nēpia Taratoa.

The final migration was called Te Heke Mai-i-raro (migration from below: in the legend of Māui, New Zealand’s northern region forms the tail, or lower part of the ‘fish’). Te Whatanui was the chief of this group.

These migrations brought Ngāti Raukawa into conflict with the people of the south. Together with Ngāti Toarangatira, they secured tracts of land from Rangitīkei to Kāpiti and settled a large number of sub-tribes. This settlement is reflected in the large number of Ngāti Raukawa marae today, some of which stand on land blocks and entitlements negotiated in the early 19th century.

The 20th century onwards

Twentieth-century Ngāti Raukawa history is diverse and complex. The people experienced great change as they wrestled with such momentous events as the First World War and the depression of the 1930s. After the Second World War, people left their traditional tribal areas and moved to the cities.

In 1975, Ngāti Raukawa initiated a 25-year tribal development plan entitled ‘Whakatupuranga rua mano – Generation 2000’, which saw the widespread revitalisation of marae and the Māori language, and the establishment of Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, the tribe’s centre of higher learning in Ōtaki.

Ngāti Raukawa people are involved in a wide range of pursuits, including the arts, sciences, business and the reconstruction of Māori knowledge. The latter half of the 20th century saw the rise of the internationally famous operatic bass Īnia Te Wīata and the composer Kīngi Tāhiwi.

Today, Ngāti Raukawa is represented by a large number of marae and a range of institutions, notably Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Rangiātea Church and Raukawa Marae itself, all in Ōtaki. Other organisations include the Raukawa Trust Board in Tokoroa, and the Ōtaki Māori Racing Club and Te Rūnanga o Raukawa (tribal council) in Ōtaki.

The Waikato section of Raukawa settled its historic treaty claims on 2 June 2012. The settlement included financial redress of approximately $63 million and the strengthening of commercial relationships between Raukawa and Mighty River Power.

Facts and figures

Iwi (tribal) identification

In New Zealand censuses from 1991, residents of Māori descent were asked to indicate the tribe(s) to which they were affiliated.

The figures below show the number who indicated Ngāti Raukawa (including those who named 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 a (single) tribal affiliation was held in 1901.

Ngāti Raukawa

  • 1901 census: 2,084

Ngāti Raukawa (Horowhenua/Manawatū)

  • 1991 census: 1,014
  • 2001 census: 11,088
  • 2006 census: 13,233
  • 2013 census: 15,135

Major regional locations

  • Manawatū–Wanganui: 4,728
  • Wellington: 3,969

Ngāti Raukawa (Waikato)

  • 1991 census: 912
  • 2001 census: 5,175
  • 2006 census: 8,166
  • 2013 census: 10,053

Major regional locations

  • Waikato: 3,621
  • Auckland: 1,860

Ngāti Raukawa (unspecified)

  • 1991 census: 16,509
  • 2001 census: 8,781
  • 2006 census: 8,022
  • 2013 census: 4,785

Major regional locations

  • Waikato: 1,236
  • Auckland: 1,008

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Ngāti Raukawa', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 July 2024)

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