The terms Ngāti Whātua-whānui or Ngāti Whātua-tūturu – meaning ‘wider’ or ‘true’ Ngāti Whātua – refer to the confederation of four tribes occupying the lands between the Hokianga Harbour and Tāmaki (Auckland). The tribes are Te Roroa, Te Uri-o-Hau, Te Taoū and Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei. The shorter title of Ngāti Whātua is sometimes used to describe both the wider confederation and the fourth member group. While it is tempting to think of the four groups as hapū (clans or descent groups) of a single iwi (tribe), each is actually an independent tribe that can act with others or independently.
The Ngāti Whātua tribes share a common heritage. They are descended from the ancestor Tuputupuwhenua (sometimes known as Tumutumuwhenua). Each tribe is affiliated with the Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi canoe, which landed on the west coast between Kaipara Harbour and the Hokianga. And they share links with the ancestors who migrated from Muriwhenua and intermarried with, and then subsumed, groups living in the region the tribes occupy today.
The ancestor Tuputupuwhenua–Tumutumuwhenua
Northern Ngāti Whātua groups like Te Roroa believe that Tuputupuwhenua emerged from the ground and describe him as a spring gushing from the earth, the source of the life-giving waters of the land. They say that Tuputupuwhenua’s descendants Ngāi Tuputupuwhenua, and the descendants of his wife Kui, Te Tini-o-Kui (the many of Kui), were the earliest occupants of the Waimamaku valley and Waipoua Forest.
Southern groups name this ancestor Tumutumuwhenua and agree that he emerged from the ground. He married two women: Te Repo, who was a mystical being visible only to those with second sight; and Kui, who introduced the gourd and taro to New Zealand.
Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi is the main ancestral canoe of Ngāti Whātua. Māhuhu made its first landfall on the east coast of Northland, exploring the bays between Whangaroa, Tākou and Whangaruru, before arriving in Pārengarenga Harbour. The canoe then rounded North Cape and sailed down the west coast.
The northern tribe Te Roroa say that Whakatau was the captain, and that the canoe landed at Kawerua on the west coast, where Whakatau's son Rongomai married a local woman, Takarita.
Southern tribes say that Rongomai was the captain, and that the canoe landed at Tāporapora-o-Toko-o-te-rangi, a promontory opposite the entrance to Kaipara Harbour. Rongomai drowned when his canoe capsized, and his body was pounded onto rocks on the northern side of the harbour entrance, Te Ākitanga-o-Rongomai (the beating of Rongomai). His body was eaten by trevally, and to this day his descendants will not eat that type of fish.
Some accounts say that the Māhuhu people returned to the north and settled at Rangaunu Harbour, where the canoe was interred in a creek named Te Waipopo-o-Māhuhu.