Story: Ngāti Rongomaiwahine

Page 1. Important ancestors

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Rongomaiwahine was the principal ancestor of the people of the Māhia Peninsula. She was ariki tapairu (a woman of very high rank), descended from both Ruawharo, the tohunga of the Tākitimu canoe, and Popoto, commander of the Kurahaupō canoe. Her father was Rapa, and her mother Moekakara.

Ruawharo and Māhia Peninsula

Ruawharo gave the name Te Māhia to the peninsula because it resembled a part of his tribe’s original homeland, Te Māhia-mai-tawhiti (the sound heard from a distance). Before that the place had been known as Nukutaurua, a name that is still applied to parts of the area.

Ruawharo was tohunga and keeper of the gods that were brought on the Tākitimu canoe from Hawaiki. Rollers from the canoe were left in the Maungawhio Lagoon and in Te Papa Creek at Māhia. Ruawharo established the first house of learning, Ngāheru-mai-tawhiti, at Waikawa (Portland Island), which became the spiritual centre of the entire East Coast.

Ruawharo’s first was Wahatoa, above Ōraka. His second pā, Tirotiro-kauika, was on the north side of the peninsula. He married Hinewairākaia and they had three sons: Matiu, Mākaro and Moko-tū-ā-raro. They were placed as mauri to extend the fishing grounds: Matiu was placed near Waikōkopu Harbour, Mākaro at Arapāoanui and Moko-tū-ā-raro at the mouth of the Ngaruroro River.

Kahungunu’s pursuit of Rongomaiwahine

Rongomaiwahine and her first husband Tamatakutai lived at Tawapata, on the eastern side of the Māhia Peninsula. Tamatakutai was a carver. They had two daughters, Rapuaiterangi and Hinerauiri. Rongomaiwahine was pregnant with Hinerauiri when Tamatakutai was drowned.

Kahungunu was born in Kaitāia. He had travelled southwards, marrying a number of women along the way. When he arrived at Nukutaurua, Kahungunu was determined to have Rongomaiwahine for himself although she was already married.

So he set about gaining the approval of Rongomaiwahine’s people by gathering enormous quantities of fern root. In a further attempt to impress, he climbed a hill behind the village at Tawapata, where he watched the shags diving and practised holding his breath until the birds reappeared. This hill has since been known as Puke Karoro (hill of shags). Then Kahungunu went diving for pāua (a type of shellfish). Holding his breath for long periods, he filled several containers – enough for all the occupants of the village. When he surfaced from his final dive he had covered his chest with the pāua, and everyone was very impressed.

Kahungunu then set out to create discord between Tamatakutai and Rongomaiwahine. He ate pāua roe and surreptitiously broke wind under the couple’s bed coverings. They accused one another and an argument resulted.

In the morning Kahungunu joined Tamatakutai in the sport of surfing in a canoe. Kahungunu took over the steering and capsized it on a particularly large wave. Tamatakutai, unable to swim, was drowned.

In time Rongomaiwahine took Kahungunu for her husband. Their principal pā was Maunga-a-Kāhia (Maungakāhia), built by Kahungunu. They had five children: three sons, Kahukuranui, Tamatea-kōtā and Māhakinui; and two daughters, Rongomaipapa and Tauheikurī.

Because of the mana of Rongomaiwahine, the people of Ngāti Rongomaiwahine hold strongly to their separate identity. Some identify themselves as both Ngāti Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Kahungunu, but those who are descended from Rongomaiwahine’s first daughters identify themselves only as Ngāti Rongomaiwahine.

How to cite this page:

Mere Whaanga, 'Ngāti Rongomaiwahine - Important ancestors', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 September 2022)

Story by Mere Whaanga, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 10 Feb 2015