The origins of the Ngāti Toarangatira people (also known as Ngāti Toa) lie with the Tainui canoe. Their traditional lands at Kāwhia, on the west coast of the North Island, are described in this saying:
Mōkau ki runga, Tāmaki ki raro
Mangatoatoa ki waenganui
Ko Pare Waikato, ko Pare Hauraki
Ko Te Kaokaoroa-o-Pātetere.
Mōkau above, Tāmaki below
Mangatoatoa in the centre
Protected by Pare Waikato, Pare Hauraki
And the extended arm of Pātetere.
The ancestors Tūpāhau and Toarangatira
The illustrious ancestor Tūpāhau was a descendant of Hoturoa, the commander of the Tainui canoe. Tūpāhau lived at Kāwhia, where the Tainui canoe finally came to rest.
Tūpāhau had a dispute with a chief named Tāmure over the correct wording of an incantation. Tāmure took great offence and although Tūpāhau attempted to settle the matter peaceably, war broke out between them. Heavily outnumbered, Tūpāhau’s force fought bravely and won. Tūpāhau pursued Tāmure but instead of killing him, allowed him to go, saying, ‘Now you have seen the bravery of a chieftain’s son.’ Peace was made, and thereafter Tūpāhau’s tribe became known as Ngāti Toarangatira, meaning the tribe of chivalrous and chiefly warriors. The name is usually shortened to Ngāti Toa.
Tūpāhau’s grandson, Toarangatira, was born 15–20 generations ago. As a child, he strove to emulate his grandfather’s example. He excelled in the arts of warfare, displaying particular skill with the taiaha (long club). As a young man, Toarangatira assumed the senior place over his older brother, who was no match for his leadership qualities, and through his military prowess he held the reins of power in Kāwhia.
The move south
Ngāti Toa remained at Kāwhia until the early 1820s when, with members of related tribes including Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Te Akamapuhia, they decided to leave their homeland permanently because of ongoing conflict there. They moved to the Cook Strait region and eventually settled mainly around the shores of the Porirua Harbour.
Ko Tainui te waka
Ko Hoturoa te tangata
Ko Ngāti Toarangatira te iwi.
Tainui is the canoe
Hoturoa is the man
Ngāti Toarangatira is the tribe.
Ngāti Toa’s ancestral house, Toa Rangatira, stands at Takapūwāhia marae in Porirua. It is the focal point of tribal activities and gatherings, and an enduring symbol of the mana (prestige) of Ngāti Toa.