The Rangitāne tribe trace their origins to Whātonga, one of three chiefs who commanded the Kurahaupō canoe as it sailed to New Zealand. According to tradition, the canoe was hewn out of a tree from the Tawhitinui forest, in the Pacific homeland Hawaiki. It survived an epic voyage across the Pacific Ocean and landed at Nukutaurua, a small bay on Māhia Peninsula, around 1350 (some accounts give a date two centuries earlier). There, the canoe is said to have been turned into stone by the tohunga Hau.
Whātonga eventually settled in Heretaunga (the Hastings area). He married Hotuwaipara, and their son Tarataraika became the ancestor of the Ngāi Tara people in the Wellington region. The harbour there is called Te Whanganui a Tara (the great harbour of Tara). Whātonga’s second wife, Reretua, bore him a son, Tautoki, and a daughter, Rerekitaiari. Tautoki married Waipuna, a great-granddaughter of the great navigator Kupe, and their child was named Rangitāne (also known as Rangitānenui, Tānenui-a-rangi and Rangitānenui-a-rangi) – from whom the tribe took its name.
Some generations later the Rangitāne tribe migrated to Tāmakinui-a-Rua (around present-day Dannevirke), Wairarapa, Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington), and Wairau in the south, and Manawatū and Horowhenua to the west. The Rangitāne people continue to claim mana whenua (traditional authority over the land) in these places.
The tribe’s expansion led to the saying:
Tini whetū ki te rangi
Ko Tānenui-a-rangi ki te whenua.
Like the multitude of stars in the sky
So great is Rangitāne on the earth.
As the tribe grew, some groups such as Muaūpoko became tribes in their own right, but most hapū (sub-tribes) remained part of a wider tribal consortium that endures in the 21st century. These groups include Ngāti Kere, Ngāti Parakiore, Ngāti Hāmua, Te Rangiwhakāewa, Ngāti Mairehau, Ngāti Hauiti, Ngāti Hineaute, Ngāti Tauira, Ngāti Rangiaranaki, Ngāti Rangitepaia, Ngāti Kuia and Ngāti Huataki.
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.
In the early 20th century Rangitāne turned to farming, dairying, and some horticulture. But the economic downturn in the depression of the 1930s meant that small-time farmers were unable to maintain the value of their property. They either sold land for grossly deflated prices or leased it to neighbours, usually Pākehā farmers. Rangitāne, like other tribes, entered the labour force as manual workers on other people’s farms, in freezing works, on the railways, or in public works schemes. The move to towns and cities occurred quite rapidly, and although marae were maintained in small villages, increasingly the population lived elsewhere.
A new generation of leaders ensured the tribe’s survival through their readiness to embrace new economic systems, technology and alliances. Wiremu Kīngi Te Aweawe, John Mason Durie, Tūiti Makitānara and Rangiputangatahi Māwhete were among those who became involved in local and national politics, and encouraged Rangitāne to become entrepreneurial during and after the depression years. Adelaide Poananga, who had lived in the USA for some years, provided leadership for uniting Rangitāne people in urban areas. She was also instrumental in establishing the Māori Battalion Hall in Palmerston North.
In the second half of the 20th century, contributions by Rangitāne to Māori and to the nation were also made by such exceptional people as Tipi Rōpiha (public servant), Rangi Ruru Karaitiana (musician), Rina Moore (doctor), Manahi Nītama Paewai (rugby player and doctor), Taylor Mihaere (Palmerston North city councillor), Brian Poananga (military leader and diplomat), Barbara Devonshire (Māori welfare officer), Inia Te Rangi (chair of Te Mauri o Rangitaane, the council of elders) and Rangi Fitzgerald (member, Rangitaane Māori Committee).
Tipi Rōpiha was the first Māori to lead a government department, as under-secretary for Māori Affairs from 1948 to 1957. His daughter, Rina Moore, was the first Māori woman to graduate as a medical doctor, in 1949.
Lui Paewai was a member of the 1924 ‘Invincible’ All Blacks. His nephew Manahi Paewai played rugby for the New Zealand Māoris in 1950–51 and was also a doctor.
Eddie Taihākurei Durie, grandson of John Mason Durie, was the first Māori to be appointed a judge of the Māori Land Court in 1974, and of the High Court in 1998.
By 2000, Rangitāne had achieved a great deal: they had survived migration from Hawaiki; built settlements in new territories; and moderated the effects of tribal invasion, colonisation and urbanisation. Te Rūnanganui-o-Rangitāne, a tribal governing body, was formed in 1988.
Although Rangitāne’s landholdings are greatly diminished and most of its people live away from traditional homelands, a strong tribal identity remains. Rangitāne have a continuing commitment to old values and tribal heritage, and a willingness to confront new circumstances and innovations. As protagonists for Māori language and media, health and education, fishing, economic growth, marae development and environmental protection, Rangitāne have demonstrated a measure of self-determination and the capacity for ongoing development.
The tribe’s strength is reflected in the number of marae around the country which have a Rangitāne meeting house and observe the tribe’s customs. They are Ōmaka (in Blenheim); Mākirikiri, Kaitoki, and Whiti te Rā (all near Dannevirke); Te Ore Ore (near Masterton); Tūturu Pūmau (Palmerston North); and Te Rangimārie (Rangiotū, Manawatū).
Some meeting houses, such as Te Rangimārie, have been used since the 19th century. Others, such as Tūturu Pūmau, were opened in the 21st century. Together, the old and new marae can be seen as symbols of continuity and change.
On 4 December 2010, Rangitāne o Wairau settled its historical treaty claims with the Crown. The settlement included financial and commercial redress valued at about $25.4 million, and the return of culturally significant sites at Wairau Bar, Rārangi, Tuamatene Marae and Picton.
On 14 November 2015, Rangitāne o Manawatū settled its historical claims. The settlement included financial and commercial redress worth $13.5 million, and cultural redress including establishment of the Manawatu River Advisory Board and Crown acknowledgement of Rangitāne o Manawatū’s special connection to Linton Army Camp and Manawatu Prison.
On 6 August 2016 Rangitāne o Wairarapa and Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua settled their historical claims. The settlement included financial redress of approximately $32.5 million, and cultural redress including the vesting and gifting back to the Crown of Pūkaha/Mount Bruce. The geographic name ‘Rimutaka Range’ was changed to ‘Remutaka Range’.
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 Rangitāne (including those who indicated more than one tribe), and the regions where they were found in the greatest numbers in 2013.
McEwen, J. M. Rangitane: a tribal history. Auckland: Heinemann Reed, 1990.