Story: Taranaki tribe

Page 1. Tribal origins

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The tribe

The Taranaki iwi (tribe) is one of a number from the Taranaki region. Bounded by Te Āti Awa in the north and Ngā Ruahine in the south, the Taranaki tribe has a history of constant vigilance and war, which has given rise to the saying: ‘Kāore e pau, he ika ūnahi nui’ (They cannot be conquered, they are like fish with great, thick scales).


The tribal area is on the western cape of the North Island. It stretches from Ōnukutaipari on the northern coast to the Ōuri River in the south, and encompasses Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont). These traditional boundaries are described in the following saying:

Ōnukutaipari marks the ascent to the post of Ōkurukuru,
From Ōkurukuru to Te Whakangerengere,
Te Whakangerengere to Te Tahuna o Tuutawa [Warwick Castle],
Te Tahuna o Tuutawa to Panitahi [Fanthams Peak],
Panitahi to the Ōuri Stream, arriving at the tributary of Raawa o Turi
And the pillar stone of Matirawhati.

The mountains of the Kaitake Range, Pouākai Range and Mt Taranaki bisect the Taranaki tribal area and are the source of the tribe’s genealogy. The first people were called Te Kāhui Maunga – the people of the mountains.

How Mt Taranaki got its name

Tradition holds that the chief Tahurangi climbed the peak and lit a ceremonial fire, which caused an alpine cloud to descend. In this rite the name of the ancestor Rua Taranaki was conferred on the mountain. The people of the Taranaki tribe have a saying:

The fire of Tahurangi brings forth the alpine cloud
It stands, elevated
And falls in the dawn and in the evenings.

The mountain, Taranaki

Traditions say that Mt Taranaki, formerly known as Pukeonaki, once stood at Taupō. He and another mountain, Tongariro, both loved the beautiful maiden mountain Pīhanga, and fought over her. Pukeonaki was beaten and retreated down the Whanganui River to the sea. Led north-west by a guide, Te Toka a Rauhoto, he saw the Pouākai mountain. He progressed up the Hangaataahua River, resurfacing in his final position beside Pouākai.

The ancestor Rua Taranaki

The first ancestor of the Taranaki tribe, Rua Taranaki, came from Taupō. He settled at the headwaters of the Hangaataahua River, carrying the bones of his elders there for burial in a cave, which was called the Cave of Tahatiti. Rua Taranaki was the first of a line of chiefs. His ascendancy is described as follows:

The tides of the dark night rise up
The tides of full daylight descend
The tides of increase climb
It is of cosmic authority
Behold Tiki …Tiki given form from earth, form from heaven
Arriving at human form
Rua Taranaki married Rauhoto Taiparu
Their offspring were Rua te tira,
Rua te pāe,
Rua te maemae aroha,
Tira haere,

The Taranaki tribe becomes known

The Kurahaupō was one of the canoes that brought the ancestors of Māori from East Polynesia to New Zealand. During the voyage it suffered damage, and some people on board, led by Te Moungāroa, were transferred to the Mataatua canoe for the last part of the journey. Te Kāhui Maunga intermarried with these later arrivals, and the tribe Taranaki emerged.

How to cite this page:

Te Miringa Hōhaia, 'Taranaki tribe - Tribal origins', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 June 2024)

Story by Te Miringa Hōhaia, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017