Although there were disputes between Rangitāne and neighbouring tribes (such as Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Apa), for three or four centuries life was relatively settled. But in the 1820s this changed. Northern tribes, notably Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa, encroached upon the Manawatū and Horowhenua areas as they made their way to the Kāpiti Coast. Armed with muskets, they were able to dominate those regions. But Rangitāne confronted the newcomers, fighting many battles. Eventually, peace agreements were negotiated.
The influx of northern tribes had posed problems in the 1820s and 1830s, and in the second half of the 19th century migration from Europe presented even greater challenges. New customs evolved, and a new faith – Christianity – was embraced. Many old settlements on river banks were deserted in favour of villages situated near roads and railways, where trade could be carried out more efficiently. European settlers were keen to acquire land for farming, and the government purchased large blocks of land in Manawatū and the Dannevirke area in the 1860s and 1870s.
The social and economic impact of the changes brought by European settlement might have been calamitous, were it not for the tribal leadership provided during that time by Hōri Rōpiha, Tame Te Panau, Kerei Te Panau, Te Peeti Te Aweawe, Hoani Meihana Te Rangiotū, Nireaha Tāmaki and Hoani Tūnuiārangi. They created bridges into the modern world by forging alliances with Pākehā, and encouraging education, while continuing to hold fast to Rangitāne tradition and knowledge. In 1852, for example, Te Rangiotū called some 60 Rangitāne leaders to Puketōtara in order to compile genealogical records. His meticulous notes remain an important source of tribal history.