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Tāmaki tribes

by  Rāwiri Taonui

Tāmaki (Auckland) is a landscape dominated by volcanoes. In the tradition of one tribe, they were created when the goddess Mahuika sent fire to warm Mataaho, whose wife had left him and taken all his clothes. In another dramatic version of their creation, the volcanoes were produced when priests chanted spells to send down sunrays, setting the isthmus alight.


Tribal history and places

The history of Tāmaki (Auckland) shows the area to be a highly contested and rich resource, strategically located at the centre of several interconnecting trade routes running between Northland, Waikato, Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty. Tāmaki was visited by many of the important founding canoes, and several different iwi (tribes) have lived on the lands between its two harbours. Some tribes have occupied the area from the earliest times; others came and went, and some amalgamated to form new tribes.

The name of Tāmaki

Because many tribes have lived in Tāmaki, there are numerous explanations for the origin of its name. One tradition says that Tāmaki refers to the narrow neck of land between the Waitematā and Manukau harbours, and that Tāmaki was an ancestor whose daughter married one of the original ancestors, Toitehuatahi. Another says that Tāmaki was the son of the Taranaki ancestor Maruiwi. Southern Taranaki tribes say that Tāmaki refers to a line of chiefs descended from their ancestress Parehuia. Some believe the name comes from the ancestor Maki or from one of his daughters. Yet another tradition claims that it comes from the 18th-century Te Wai-o-Hua chief Kiwi Tāmaki. A Waikato tradition traces the name to Tāmaki-makau-rau, a woman chief who was the daughter of Te Huia and the Ngāti Te Ata chief Te Rangikiamata.

Variations of the name include Tāmakinui (great Tāmaki), Tāmaki-makau-rau (Tāmaki of a hundred lovers), and Tāmaki-herehere-ngā-waka (Tāmaki that binds many canoes).

The mountains of the isthmus

Volcanic cones dominate the geography of Tāmaki, and oral traditions remember them in different ways. According to one tradition, the deity Mataaho lived in Te Ipu-a-Mataaho (the bowl of Mataaho – Mt Eden's crater). When his wife left him, taking all his clothes, Mataaho called on the goddess Mahuika. The fire she sent to warm him formed Ngā Huinga-a-Mataaho (the gathered volcanoes of Mataaho).

Another tradition explains that the volcanoes were formed when Hinemairangi – a patupaiarehe from the Hūnua Ranges in east Auckland – eloped with Tamaireia from the Waitākere Ranges in the west. A Hūnua war party sent to retrieve her was driven back when Waitākere priests chanted incantations, bringing down super-heated sunrays. The Hūnua priest responded in kind, and the isthmus erupted in fire. This event is celebrated in the name Te Pakūrangarāhihi (the battle of sunrays).

The waters of Hua

Māori tribes knew Tāmaki's two major harbours by different names. The northern harbour, according to Te Arawa tradition, was named Te Waitematā (the obsidian waters) by the ancestor Tamatekapua, after he placed a volcanic stone as a mauri (talisman) in its upper reaches near Birkenhead. Ngāpuhi call this harbour Te Wai-o-te-mate (the waters of death) because of the many struggles for control of the isthmus.

The southern harbour was named Mānuka (implanted post) in Te Arawa traditions, after the ancestor Īhenga, who put a stake there and claimed ownership of the waters. Tainui traditions name the harbour Te Mānukanuka-a-Hoturoa (the troublesome waters of Hoturoa) because of the sandbanks and quick-moving tides. More generally the harbour is known as the Manukau (wading birds), because birds such as the godwit and southern oystercatcher migrate there each summer.


The canoes of Tāmaki

Early canoes

The Tāmaki (Auckland) isthmus is associated with many of the canoes that came in early migrations from Polynesia, including the Matawhaorua or Matahourua, Aotea, Mataatua, Tainui, Te Arawa, Tākitimu and Tokomaru.

Some crossed Te Tō Waka, the narrow stretch of land between the Tāmaki River and Manukau Harbour. This was the most frequently-used canoe portage in pre-European New Zealand – canoes had to be dragged from the Tāmaki River before they could cross the Manukau Harbour. From there they sailed south along the coast to Raglan, Kāwhia and on to Taranaki, or they sailed northward to Northland. Alternatively, they could make another portage at Waiuku to access the interior of the North Island along the Waikato River. Those crossing in the other direction could go east to the Coromandel or north to Whāngārei. Many who made these early canoe journeys stayed and settled in Tāmaki.

Older canoes, tribes and conquests

The older tribes of Tāmaki such as Te Wai-o-Hua and Te Kawerau-a-Maki trace their descent from the canoes Te Wakatūwhenua and Te Moekākara, which landed around Leigh and Kawau Island. Many other tribes have lived on the Tāmaki isthmus, including Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Tītahi, Ngāi Tāhuhu, Ngā Marama rānei, Ngā Uri-o-Rakataura, Ngāti Huarere, Ngā Riki and Ngā Iwi among others. Traditions also record several battle campaigns across the isthmus, including those by Rautao of Ngāti Maru and Kapetaua of Ngāti Paoa, Maki of Te Kawerau-a-Maki, Kāwharu of Tainui and Tuperiri of Te Taoū and Ngāti Whātua.


The tribes of Tāmaki

Ngāti Pāoa

Ngāti Pāoa descend from the ancestor Pāoa, who migrated from Ngāruawāhia on the Waikato River to Hauraki (Coromandel). There, he married Tukutuku, a descendant of Marutūahu. Rautao, a descendant of Marutūahu, and Kapetaua of Ngāti Pāoa, conquered much of Tāmaki (Auckland) in separate battles. Ngāti Pāoa fought a number of campaigns against Ngāti Whātua and Te Wai-o-Hua of Tāmaki at Mahurangi and the Whau and Tāmaki rivers. Until European contact, the tribe occupied most of the land from the Thames estuary, the Hūnua Ranges, east Tāmaki, Waiheke Island and the coast northward to Whangaparāoa.

Ngāi Tai

Ngāi Tai descend from the Tainui ancestors Taihaua, Taikehu and Te Kete-ana-taua, who settled in Tāmaki when the Tainui canoe passed across the isthmus on its way to Kāwhia Harbour. The tribe was once part of an extensive coastal trading network between Tāmaki, the Coromandel, Aotea (Great Barrier Island) and across the Bay of Plenty to Tōrere Bay, where another Tainui-related tribe, Ngāti Tai, live today. Links between Ngāi Tai and Ngāti Tai were reinforced several generations ago when three sisters, Raukohekohe, Motuitawhiti and Te Kawenga, led several hundred people in a migration called Te Heke-o-Ngā-Tokotoru (the migration of the three) from Tōrere Bay to Tāmaki. Here, Raukohekohe and Motuitawhiti both married both Te Wai-o-Hua and Ngāi Tai chief Te Whatatau.

Te Wai-o-Hua and Ngā Oho

Te Wai-o-Hua originate from Te Wakatūwhenua and Te Moekākara canoes, and from the early Te Arawa tribe Ngā Ohomatakamokamo-o-Ohomairangi (Ngā Oho), who once dominated much of the land between Tauranga and Cape Rodney, near Leigh. Ngā Oho subsequently divided into three groups, based in three areas: Ngā Oho at Papakura; Ngā Riki from Papakura to Ōtāhuhu; and Ngā Iwi from Ōtāhuhu to the North Shore. Eventually they merged to become Te Wai-o-Hua (the waters of Hua) under the chief Te Hua-o-kaiwaka.

Te Wai-o-Hua remained the main tribe on the Tāmaki isthmus well into the 18th century. Around 1741 their paramount chief, Kiwi Tāmaki, was killed in a battle at Paruroa (Great Muddy Creek) by Te Waha-akiaki of Te Taoū and Ngāti Whātua. This happened during a sequence of events that saw Ngāti Whātua take possession of central Tāmaki.

Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei

Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei descend from the Ngāti Whātua confederation of tribes, which also includes Te Roroa, Te Uri-o-Hau and Te Taoū. The confederation originates from the ancestor Tumutumuwhenua (also known as Tuputupuwhenua) and the Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi canoe. Their ancestors migrated from Muriwhenua to the Waimamaku River valley, Waipoua Forest, Kaihū River valley and Kaipara Harbour, where they intermarried with, and subsumed, earlier peoples. Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei occupied the central isthmus during the mid-18th century after an invasion led by Te Waha-akiaki and Tuperiri.

Ngāti Te Ata

Ngāti Te Ata were also known as Te Ruakaiwhare, after the tribal guardian who protects the waters of Manukau Harbour. They occupied the area around Waiuku, the Awhitū peninsula, Huia and the Waitākere Ranges.

The tribe gets its name from the famous woman chief Te Atairehia, a granddaughter of the founding Te Wai-o-Hua chief Te Hua-o-kaiwaka. She was given land in Waiuku after helping the local hapū (sub-tribe) Ngāti Kahukōkā in its fight against other tribes. Te Atairehia married Tapuae, a Tainui chief who was killed after winning control of a stretch of the Waikato River from Taupiri to Port Waikato. His death was avenged by his son Pāpaka, who secured Waiuku for Ngāti Te Ata.

Te Kawerau-a-Maki

Te Kawerau-a-Maki is one of the older Tāmaki tribes, whose territory once extended from the Waitākere Ranges north to Cape Rodney.

Te Kawerau-a-Maki descend from the Tainui, Te Wakatūwhenua and Te Moekākara canoes. Their ancestor Tiriwa is one of the oldest and more mysterious Tāmaki forebears, credited with uplifting Rangitoto volcano from Karekare beach and carrying it to its present location in the Hauraki Gulf. An older name for the Waitākere Ranges, the tribe's heartland, was Te Waonui-a-Tiriwa (the great forest of Tiriwa).

The tribe trace their descent from the Tainui priest Rakataura, or Hape. They also have links with the now extinct Bay of Plenty tribe Te Kawerau, who were said to have migrated to Tāmaki.

Te Kawerau-a-Maki’s ancestor Maki, who migrated from the Tainui and Taranaki regions, took control of much of the land between Tāmaki and the Kaipara. The tribe take their name from his son Te Kawerau-a-Maki, who was named after a dispute between his father and Ngāti Whātua over kūmara (sweet potato) plantations (te kawerau is the term for the straps of a bag used for carrying kūmara). Maki’s great-grandson, Te Auotewhenua, went on to control the land between Muriwai and Manukau Harbour.


European contact

Wars and muskets

The intertribal wars between 1815 and 1840 were particularly devastating for the tribes of Tāmaki (Auckland). Under Hongi Hika, who had acquired guns in his dealings with European traders, Ngāpuhi destroyed the Ngāti Pāoa at Mauinaina (Panmure). Many of the tribe's members were killed. Te Kawerau-a-Maki also suffered, with several of their pā along the west coast falling in quick succession. During the 1820s much of the isthmus was abandoned as tribes sought shelter in the Tainui region.

Signing the treaty

Sixteen chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi in Waitematā on 4 March 1840. Āpihai Te Kawau of Ngāti Whātua signed it at Manukau Harbour on 20 March, and another seven chiefs signed at Tāmaki on 9 July. Āpihai Te Kawau signed the treaty after inviting Governor William Hobson to settle in Auckland in the hope that this would protect the land there.

Land loss

Early European settlement and the relocation of the capital from Russell to Auckland in the 1840s and 1850s meant there was pressure for land. By 1850 most of the usable land in Auckland had been purchased by Europeans. Promises to establish ‘generous reserves’ were overruled or ignored. By 1860 over 40% of Auckland’s Māori land had been lost. In addition, an estimated 40,500 hectares of land in south Auckland was confiscated under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863.

By 1936, Māori in Auckland possessed less than four hectares per head. The lands of Te Kawerau-a-Maki, Ngāi Tai and Ngāti Pāoa in the Waitākere and Hūnua Ranges were used for supplying Auckland’s water, and eventually became regional parks. In 1951 Ngāti Whātua, who occupied the last significant Māori bastion at Ōkahu Bay in Ōrākei, were systematically evicted, their houses demolished and meeting houses burned. Ngāti Te Ata and Te Wai-o-Hua continued to lose much of their lands around Manukau Harbour well into the 20th century. It was taken under the Public Works Act for projects such as Auckland airport, Māngere sewage works and the steel mill at Waiuku.


Tāmaki tribes today

Today there are six tribes in the wider Tāmaki (Auckland) region: Ngāti Pāoa on Waiheke Island; Ngāi Tai at Maraetai; Ngāti Whātua at Ōrākei; Te Wai-o-Hua/Ngā Oho at Māngere; Ngāti Te Ata at Manukau; and Te Kawerau-a-Maki in the Waitākere Ranges.

Waitangi Tribunal reports and settlements

Between 1985 and 1987 the Waitangi Tribunal released three reports concerning tribes in the Tāmaki region.

The Waiheke report stated that Ngāti Pāoa had been unfairly made almost landless. In 1990 a settlement was signed that transferred ownership of the Ngāti Pāoa Station on Waiheke Island and provided finance for the purchase of stock.

The Manukau report detailed tribal land loss around Manukau Harbour. It was instrumental in introducing the Resource Management Act 1991, which makes statutory allowance for the consideration of Māori environmental concerns. Te Wai-o-Hua and Ngāti Te Ata were named as consultant guardians of Manukau Harbour.

Te Kawerau-a-Maki  settled its historic treaty claims on 22 February 2014. The settlement included the transfer to the iwi of most of Riverhead Forest, valued at $6.5 million. The iwi also gained right of first refusal over Crown assets within its tribal area, including Paremoremo Prison, and land plus $300,000 to establish a marae at Te Onekiritea Point (Hobsonville).

The Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki Deed of Settlement was signed on 7 November 2015. This vested 16 sites of cultural significance and provided $50,000 for cultural revitalisation, plus financial and commercial redress of $12.7 million.

The future

The Tāmaki tribes now live in an environment where local authorities increasingly recognise their importance to the future of Auckland. For example, Te Kawerau-a-Maki now have a significant role at the visitors’ centre in Arataki, the gateway to the Waitākere Ranges.


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 Tāmaki tribes (including those who indicated more than one tribe), and the regions where they were found in the greatest numbers in 2013.

Ngāi Tai

  • 1991 census: 96
  • 2001 census: 177
  • 2006 census: 342
  • 2013 census: 498

Major regional locations

  • Auckland: 312
  • Waikato: 78

Ngāti Pāoa

  • 1991 census: 1,695
  • 2001 census: 2,397
  • 2006 census: 3,375
  • 2013 census: 3,456

Major regional locations

  • Auckland: 1,440
  • Waikato: 966

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 Kawerau-a-Maki

  • 2001 census: 228
  • 2006 census: 123
  • 2013 census: 150

Major regional locations

  • Auckland: 96

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

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How to cite this page: Rāwiri Taonui, 'Tāmaki tribes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/tamaki-tribes/print (accessed 25 May 2019)

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