Story: Te Āti Awa of Taranaki

According to legend, the people of Te Āti Awa have both mortal and immortal origins. They are descended from Awanuiarangi, the son of a woman, Rongoueroa, and a spirit descended from the sky, Tamarau-te-heketanga-a-rangi.

Story by Peter Adds
Main image: Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke’s pā

Story summary

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The traditional lands of Te Āti Awa of Taranaki stretch from the coast north of New Plymouth, to Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont), and to the Matemateaonga ranges in the south.

Te Āti Awa origins

Te Āti Awa is one of several Awa tribes, all descended from Awanuiarangi. He was the son of a mortal woman, Rongoueroa, and a sky spirit, Tamarau-te-heketanga-a-rangi.

The Awa tribes – which include Ngāti Awa in the Bay of Plenty – separated in 1820 and are now independent groups with their own authority. The individual identity of Te Āti Awa in Taranaki is expressed in their association with the Tokomaru canoe.

Europeans arrive

The arrival of European settlers in Taranaki caused upheavals for Te Āti Awa. Having come with the express purpose of farming, New Zealand Company immigrants snapped up the fertile Te Āti Awa land. This disrupted both the Taranaki area and the tribe itself – some of whom wanted to sell land to settlers, while others opposed land sales. Even though the tribe were divided, their chief Wiremu Kīngi Te Rangitāke managed to establish a thriving economy by selling crops to the new settlers. When the government bought some of the tribe’s land, Kīngi disputed the validity of the sale and refused to leave. The British fired at him, and the main phase of the New Zealand wars began.

War and a kind of peace

Though there was a truce after a year of fighting, Māori land was later confiscated as a punishment for ‘rebellion’. The loss of land was socially, culturally and politically debilitating for Te Āti Awa. Their 90 sub-tribes were reduced to the six of today.

Te Āti Awa today

Throughout the early 20th century Te Āti Awa land was still being sold off, despite calls for settlement. In 1996 the Waitangi Tribunal acknowledged past breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, and negotiations for compensation began. In the 2013 census, 15,270 people claimed descent from Te Āti Awa of Taranaki.

How to cite this page:

Peter Adds, 'Te Āti Awa of Taranaki', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 April 2024)

Story by Peter Adds, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 March 2017