Te Āti Awa of north Taranaki is one of several closely related tribes originating from the ancestor Awanuiarangi. According to tribal traditions, Awanuiarangi had a semi-divine origin. He was conceived from the union of an earthly mother, Rongoueroa, and Tamarau-te-heketanga-a-rangi, a spirit that descended from the sky.
Despite the slight difference in name, Ngāti Awa and Te Āti Awa share a common ancestry. Several traditions describe how the people of Awanuiarangi settled originally in Northland, but were forced to move south following disagreements with other local tribes. They relocated to both the Bay of Plenty, where the Ngāti Awa people today reside, and to Taranaki, where Te Āti Awa live. It is not clear from these traditions whether the two areas were settled at the same time, or whether one was settled after the other.
Splitting of Awa tribes
In the 1820s many Te Āti Awa had moved south from Taranaki, as part of a larger contingent of tribes. They occupied the Kapiti Coast, Wellington and various locations at the top of the South Island.
There are several other Awa tribes, created when the descendants of Awanuiarangi split in 1820. They share some aspects of their history, tradition and genealogy. But they are now independent political units with their own authority. Perhaps the most obvious expression of separate identity is the current affiliation of the Bay of Plenty Ngāti Awa people with the Mataatua canoe, and Te Āti Awa in Taranaki with the Tokomaru canoe.
Te Āti Awa in Taranaki are located on the coast between Ōnukutaipari, near New Plymouth, and Te Rau o te Huia, near Motunui. Before the arrival of Europeans this territory sustained Te Āti Awa, who cultivated some 32 km of coastline and a large undulating fertile plain that extends inland for several kilometres. The inland boundary is somewhat contested, but two markers that are generally acknowledged are a promontory on the north-east slopes of Mt Taranaki, called Tāhunatūtawa, and the inland Matemateaonga Ranges.