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Ngāti Whātua

by  Rāwiri Taonui

Ngāti Whātua's lands border four harbours – Hokianga, Kaipara, Waitematā and Manukau – and their ancestors include famous warriors and fighters for justice. The Ngāti Whātua story is part of Auckland’s story.


Ngāti Whātua-whānui

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.

The tribes of Ngāti Whātua

Te Roroa

Te Roroa are based at Waimamaku valley, Waipoua Forest, Maunganui Bluff and Kaihū valley. They are descended from the ancestor Manumanu I and his brother Rangitauwawaro, who migrated from Muriwhenua to the Waimamaku valley. There, they and their descendants intermarried with, and brought together, the local peoples of Ngāi Tuputupuwhenua, Te Tini-o-Kui, Te Uri-o-Nuku (from the Ngātokimatawhaorua canoe), Ngāti Ruanui (of the Māmari canoe), Ngāti Kahu and Ngāi Tamatea (from the Tinana, Māmaru and Tākitimu canoes), Ngāti Miru (of the Mataatua canoe), and other tribes including Ngāti Rangi and Ngāti Ririki.

Manumanu II (the son of Manumanu I), Rongotaumua (the son of Rangitauwawaro) and their descendant Toa extended Te Roroa’s influence further. They gradually took control of Kaihū and the upper northern Wairoa River, including fortifications on the strategically important mountains of Maungaraho and Tokatoka. Toa’s grandsons (the children of his eldest son Tiro) added to this legacy: Te Waiata and his son, the famous tohunga Tāoho, had authority over Kaihū and Maunganui Bluff; Te Maunga over Waipoua; Te Toko over Taiāmai; Te Māra over Waimamaku; and Paekoraha over Waiwhatawhata and Hunoke. Toa's descendants through his three wives included the important 19th-century chiefs Te Tāua, Tiopira Kīnaki, Parore Te Āwha and Te Tirarau.

Te Roroa take their name from Manumanu II, who was killed in a battle at Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands. He was so brave that his enemies exclaimed, ‘Te Hei! Te roroa o te tangata, rite tonu ki te kahikatea!’ (Behold! That man is as tall as a white pine!)

Te Uri-o-Hau and Te Taoū

Te Uri-o-Hau came to control the northern part of Kaipara Harbour and Te Taoū the south. This happened when Ngāti Whātua expanded south among the resident tribes of Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Ririki and Ngāti Mārua.

Both Te Uri-o-Hau and Te Taoū descend originally from Haumoewhārangi (also spelt as Houmoewārangi or Haumaiwārangi). He had travelled down the Kaihū valley and northern Wairoa River to settle at Poutō, on the northern side of the Kaipara Harbour entrance, but was killed during a dispute over kūmara (sweet potato) gardens. Haumoewhārangi’s widow Waihekeao formed an alliance with Kāwharu, a famous warrior chief from Tainui, who led several ferocious campaigns through the Kaipara area. The most destructive of these was known as Te Raupatu Tīhore (the stripping conquest), where Kāwharu stormed along the west coast of the Waitākere Ranges from Muriwai to the Manukau Harbour entrance.

The descendants of the five children of Haumoewhārangi and Waihekeao – Mawake, Whiti, Rongo, Mauku, Riunga, Weka and Hakiputatōmuri – eventually took control of north and south Kaipara Harbour and the inland region as far east as Whāngārei, Wellsford and Mangawhai Heads. Hakiputatōmuri was the founder of Te Uri-o-Hau, and Mawake was the founding ancestress of Te Taoū.

The exact origin of the name Te Taoū is obscure. One account suggests that it comes from Hakiputatōmuri and his people, known as Te Taoū (the spears) because of their deeds during war. Another says that the name is taken from Toutara, Haumoewhārangi’s granddaughter, who was killed by a spear (tao) thrust through her chest (ū). The conquest of south Kaipara Harbour was completed by Haumoewhārangi’s great grandson, Tumupākihi, and his son Waha-akiaki.

Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei

When Te Taoū became the dominant tribe in south Kaipara Harbour, the main tribe in Auckland was Te Wai-o-Hua, led by Kiwi Tāmaki. Although the two tribes were linked through marriage, the southerly expansion of Ngāti Whātua was the source of much tension between them. This came to a head at the funeral of Tumupākihi. Kiwi Tāmaki attended with several of his warriors, and midway through the feast surprised and attacked their hosts, killing several of them. Tumupākihi’s son Waha-akiaki, his cousin Tūperiri and others escaped to Te Mākiri, the pā of Waha-akiaki, where Kiwi laid an unsuccessful siege. Before leaving, Kiwi threatened to hang Waha-akiaki’s breastbone on Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill). Waha-akiaki replied he would hang Kiwi's breastbone on a pūriri tree at Tauwhare.

The subsequent conflict culminated in a battle at Paruroa (now known as Big Muddy Creek) at Manukau Harbour, where Waha-akiaki killed Kiwi Tāmaki about 1741. During the battles that followed, Waha-akiaki and Tūperiri conquered all of central Auckland. The core members of Te Taoū stayed at Kaipara Harbour under Waha-akiaki, while a division under Tūperiri remained in Auckland. This second group eventually became known as Ngāti Whātua or Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei.

During the early to mid-19th century Te Ōtene Kikokiko became the leader of Te Taoū in south Kaipara Harbour, and Āpihai Te Kawau became the leader of Auckland’s Ngāti Whātua. Te Wai-o-Hua continued to live alongside Ngāti Whātua, but mainly in south Auckland. Several hapū (clans or descent groups), such as Te Uringutu and Ngā Oho, included members from both tribes.

European contact

Intertribal wars

Intertribal wars between 1815 and 1840 were particularly damaging for Ngāti Whātua. They had fared well in traditional conflicts before this. In the north, for example, Te Roroa and other Ngāti Whātua tribes had defeated Ngāpuhi at Moremonui in the battle of Te Kai-a-te-karoro (food for seagulls). Ngāti Whātua of Tāmaki fought intermittent campaigns, sometimes in conjunction with Te Wai-o-Hua, against Ngāti Pāoa of Waiheke and the Coromandel. However, the introduction of muskets by European traders and settlers overturned traditional balances. Conflicts were spread more widely, and casualties were much greater.

In 1822 or 1823 Āpihai Te Kawau, the grandson of Tūperiri and chief of Ngāti Whātua in Auckland, took part in a long campaign with the Waikato tribes. They went through Rotorua to Hawke’s Bay and Wellington, returning through Taranaki and Waikato. While Āpihau Te Kawau was away fighting, Ngāpuhi, under Hongi Hika – who had acquired more muskets than other tribes – devastated much of the Auckland isthmus. The tribe destroyed the Ngāti Pāoa at Mauinaina, killing and dispersing many of the Auckland Ngāti Whātua. In 1826 Hongi Hika again defeated Ngāti Whātua in the battle of Te Ika-a-ranganui, near the Kaiwaka River south of Whāngārei. As tribes fled the fury of muskets during this time, much of the Kaipara and Auckland areas became abandoned wastelands.

The Treaty of Waitangi

Several Ngāti Whātua chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, including Te Tirarau, his brother Taurau, Te Roha from Te Uri-o-Hau (and Te Parawhau), Hāmiora Pakikoraha of Te Roroa, and Te Tinana, Te Rēweti and Āpihai Te Kawau of Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei. Yet Ngāti Whātua lost substantial tracts of land through pre-1840 claims, dubious Crown purchases, the operations of the Native Land Court and other means.

Land losses

In 1842 a group of Māori took action against a storekeeper believed to have desecrated a burial ground by taking human remains. As punishment, Te Uri-o-Hau chiefs were forced to relinquish over 2,000 hectares of land without compensation.

In Te Roroa’s tribal area the government exerted pressure, used questionable methods (including the misrepresentation of total area and boundaries), and abused various statutory powers when purchasing most of their lands during the 1870s. They also ignored oral and written agreements to provide reserves for Māori. Te Taoū suffered equally harshly. Nearly 60% of land at Kaipara Harbour passed out of Māori control before 1865. Of the remaining Kaipara lands that went before the Native Land Court before 1891, a further 55% was lost by 1908.

Over several decades human remains were wrongfully removed from Te Roroa and Te Uri-o-Hau burial grounds.

Ngāti Whātua and the Treaty of Waitangi

Signing the treaty

The chief Āpihai Te Kawau signed the Treaty of Waitangi at Manukau Harbour on 20 March 1840. He did so after inviting Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson to live in Auckland, hoping that he would protect the land and its people. Unfortunately, the relocation of the capital from the Bay of Islands to Auckland meant there was extra pressure for land. Ngāti Whātua sold 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) to the Crown for cash and goods worth £341; six months later, 44 acres (17 hectares) were sold by the Crown at public auction for £24,275. The remainder was sub-divided and sold for over £72,000, mostly within two years. By 1850 most of the tribe’s accessible land in Auckland was gone.

By 1900 Ngāti Whātua were reduced to living at Ōkahu Bay in Ōrākei. The government and Auckland City Council continued to apply pressure to remove them. A main sewerage pipe was built across the front of the village at Ōkahu Bay, which was refused connection to the city’s fresh water supply. The last inhabitants were evicted in the early 1950s, their houses demolished and their meeting house burned. Only the church and cemetery remained.

Bastion Point and beyond

Ngāti Whātua have been at the forefront of action over tribal land loss since 1881, when Paora Tūhaere hosted a pan-national assembly of Māori chiefs at Kohimarama. Nearly 100 years later, in 1977–78, Joe Hawke led a 506-day occupation of Bastion Point. However, Ngāti Whātua protesters were evicted from the ancestral lands they had hoped to get back. Media coverage of that protest raised awareness among New Zealanders of Māori grievances over land issues. A great deal of progress has been made since then. In 1992 the Waitangi Tribunal released findings supporting Te Roroa’s claims, and the tribe now plays a significant role in their region. Action from the Crown has also been positive, offering guardianship of Tāne Mahuta, the largest surviving New Zealand kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest, north of Dargaville.

Treaty claim settlements

Te Uri-o-Hau settled its grievances with the Crown on 13 December 2000. The $15.6-million settlement included Crown-owned land and cash. Te Uri-o-Hau was appointed as an Advisory Committee to provide advice on the management of fisheries in the Te Uri-o-Hau area of interest. Te Taoū claims were before the Waitangi Tribunal in 2004.

On 5 November 2001 Ngāti Whātua Orākei settled its historic treaty claims for a total of $18 million. The tribe also received redress over the maunga on the Tāmaki isthmus through the Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau (Tāmaki Collective) deed of settlement, signed on 7 June 2012. This vested 14 maunga in the Tāmaki region in the Tūpuna Taonga o Tāmaki Makaurau Trust for the benefit of the iwi/hapū of the Tāmaki Collective and all other people of Auckland. Ngāti Whātua received financial compensation for their losses at Ōrākei, and the tribe now plays a prominent part in the cultural and political life of Auckland city. They have lodged a further claim over much of Auckland.

At one of the most poignant events in Auckland’s recent history, over 15,000 people gathered at Ōkahu Bay at dawn on millennium day, 1 January 2000, to welcome the modern Ngāti Whātua canoe Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi into the bay from which, 50 years earlier, the tribe had been evicted.

Facts and figures

Iwi (tribal) identification

In the New Zealand censuses since 1991, residents of Māori descent were asked to indicate the tribe to which they were affiliated. The figures below show the number who indicated the Ngāti Whātua tribes (including those who indicated 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 tribal affiliation – but not of multiple tribes – was that of 1901.

Ngāti Whātua

  • 1901 census: 356
  • 1991 census: 9,360
  • 2001 census: 12,105
  • 2006 census: 14,721
  • 2013 census: 14,784

Major regional locations

  • Auckland: 7,353
  • Northland: 3,120

Te Roroa

  • 2001 census: 966
  • 2006 census: 1,170
  • 2013 census: 1,176

Major regional locations

  • Auckland: 504
  • Northland: 387

Te Uri-o-Hau

  • 2001 census: 732
  • 2006 census: 1,071
  • 2013 census: 1,260

Major regional locations

  • Auckland: 459
  • Northland: 417

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ngāti Whātua', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 September 2021)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 22 Mar 2017