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Te Āti Awa of Wellington

by  Morris Love

During the 1820s and 1830s, members of Te Āti Awa and other tribes left their ancestral home in Taranaki and travelled south in four great migrations, finally reaching the Kāpiti Coast and Wellington Harbour. After the arrival of the first English settlers in the area, many important sites were lost in the pressure for land.



The origins of Te Āti Awa of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) lie with Toitehuatahi or Toi-kai-rākau, the Polynesian explorer. One of Toi’s sons, Ruarangi, married a woman called Rongoueroa. She gave birth to Rauru, and to Whātonga, whose son Tara gave his name to Wellington Harbour and environs – Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara). In Te Āti Awa tradition, Rongoueroa also became the mother of Awanuiarangi, following a liaison with a spirit ancestor called Tamarau. The history of Te Āti Awa in Wellington started with the ancestral connection between Awanuiarangi and Whātonga.

Related tribes

Te Āti Awa of Wellington have close connections with the Te Āti Awa tribe of Taranaki, and more distantly with Ngāti Awa of the Bay of Plenty and the far north. All have a common ancestor in Awanuiarangi, but became differentiated through later marriages, and moved to different locations.

A history of migration

The history of the tribe centres on a series of battles and migrations that brought several tribes down from Kāwhia and Taranaki to the Kāpiti Coast and ultimately to the Wellington area. The migrations started in the 1820s and were largely complete by 1835.

Over many generations, people of Te Āti Awa moved on, either to other places or back to reclaim customary lands in Taranaki. Those who stayed in the Wellington region maintained the interests of those who had lived there before European settlement.

Migrations of the 1820s

In the movement southwards to the Cook Strait region, Te Āti Awa joined forces with several other tribes. These included Ngāti Toa of Kāwhia, and the northernmost Taranaki tribes, Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama.

Incentives for migration

The Kāwhia tribes of Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Rārua faced pressure both from their connections in Taranaki and from their aggressive Waikato kin. The introduction of muskets by Europeans had changed the balance of power among tribes, and chiefs used these firearms to settle old scores.

In 1819 the Ngāpuhi tribe from Northland, inspired by the exploits of their leader Hongi Hika, set off on an expedition through the North Island. They were led by chiefs Patuone and Tāmati Wāka Nene, and joined by chiefs and people of Te Āti Awa of Taranaki, Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Mutunga. This combined war party was heavily armed with muskets and moved quickly, killing people but not necessarily conquering and retaining land. Some have seen this as an exploratory expedition for Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Toa, who both wanted to move away from the marauding Waikato tribes.

The drive for migration grew stronger for the Kāwhia tribes, and in the early 1820s they moved south to Taranaki. For Te Āti Awa, the decisive event came when they defeated the Waikato tribes at Motunui in 1822. This only ensured that Waikato would return to seek retribution.

The Tātaramoa migration

The first migration, or heke, from Taranaki included Ngāti Toa, who were already taking refuge in northern Taranaki while building their strength and resources. When they decided they could stay no longer, they were joined by some of Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga and Te Āti Awa, who also saw themselves at risk from the Waikato tribes. The migration of this mixed party to the Kāpiti Coast was known to Māori as Te Heke Tātaramoa.

The Nihoputa migration

Naming the journeys

The first migration was known as Te Heke Tātaramoa – the bramble bush migration. This was because there were so many difficulties that the journey was likened to travelling through bramble bushes. The second migration, Te Heke Nihoputa (the boar’s tusk migration) was no easier. While Te Āti Awa were staying with Ngā Rauru at Waitōtara, Hone Potete of Ngāti Mutunga heard one of the hosts say, ‘Ū, ku[a] mate taku niho puta mō taku manuwhiri’ (My tusked boar has been killed to feed the visitors). This was a signal to attack the visitors, and gave rise to the name of the migration.

The second major migration took place around 1824. Known as Te Heke Nihoputa, it included a large party of Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama of Taranaki. Their chiefs were Te Poki, Te Arahu and others, and the young chief Pōmare (later known as Wī Piti Pōmare). They were accompanied by Ngātata-i-te-rangi of Ngāti Te Whiti, a sub-tribe of Te Āti Awa.

Ngāti Mutunga settled at Waikanae, and Ngāti Tama at Ōhariu. Later, with the encouragement of the Ngāti Toa leader Te Rauparaha, Ngāti Tama settled at Tiakiwai. This was near the northern end of present-day Tinakori Road in central Wellington. Ngāti Mutunga followed, settling at various points on the western side of the harbour from Te Aro to Kaiwharawhara. This marked the first arrival of Taranaki people in the Wellington Harbour area.

The migration of 1832

Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto strike back

Seeking revenge for the losses at Motunui in 1822, Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto forces invaded Taranaki, taking Pukerangiora , a Te Āti Awa stronghold, in December 1831. The siege of Pukerangiora had a devastating impact on Te Āti Awa, with many killed in the most horrible manner.

The invaders carried on to Ngāmotu (Ōtaka pā – now part of New Plymouth) in early 1832, intent on further retribution. The Ngāmotu people consisted of various sub-tribes of Te Āti Awa, including Ngāti Te Whiti, Ngāti Tawhirikura and Te Matehou.

At Ōtaka, the raiding party was not as successful. The people of the pā were aided by European traders including John Love and Dicky Barrett, and the attackers were repelled. This attack provided the impetus for Te Āti Awa of Ngāmotu to follow their relations south to the Wellington region.

The Tamateuaua migration

In 1832 the Te Āti Awa people from Ngāmotu moved south in considerable numbers. This migration was known as Te Heke Tamateuaua. Ngāti Tawhirikura were led by Tautara, Ruaukitua, Ngātata-i-te-rangi, Te Wharepōuri and Hēnare Te Keha. Also in the migration were the people of Ngāti Mutunga, led by the chiefs Rangiwāhia, Hautohoro, Onemihi, Te Ito from Waitara and Te Puponga (William Keenan) from New Plymouth. Some Ngāti Tama people came with their chiefs Te Tū-o-te-rangi, Te Rangikatau, Te Kāeaea (Taringakurī) and Te Rangitamarau.

Not everyone left: some preferred to remain on their ancestral lands and risk the return of the Waikato tribes.

1830s: settling the land

Ngāmotu and Ngāti Mutunga links

After their journey from Taranaki, Te Āti Awa people from Ngāmotu settled first at Waikanae. The hapū (sub-tribe) Te Mana of Ngāti Mutunga were living at Pito-one (Petone) just north of Wellington, having arrived in a previous migration from Taranaki. They invited the Ngāmotu chiefs Te Puni, Te Wharepōuri, Te Matangi and his son Te Manihera Te Toru to settle with them there, since they were close kin.

About the same time, the Te Āti Awa leader Wī Tako Ngātata and a war party were returning south. They made their way to Heretaunga (the Hutt Valley) and attacked the Ngāti Kahukura-awhitia settlement called Puniunuku. Their aim was to avenge the death of the Ngāti Mutunga chief, Te Momi. In gratitude Patukawenga of Ngāti Mutunga made Waiwhetū, the area east of the Heretaunga (Hutt) River mouth, tapu (sacred) for the Ngāmotu people.

Patukawenga called this area Te Iwi Tuarā o Tipi (the backbone of Tipi) after his cousin, who had been given in marriage to a Ngāmotu chief. The Te Mana people then made Whiorau (Lowry Bay) tapu for the Ngāmotu people. These gifts gave Te Āti Awa a stake in the Wellington region.

The Paukena migration

Te Puni and Te Wharepōuri took a war party to the Wairarapa, seeking revenge for an incident in which some people had been killed, but they arrived to find the land deserted. They decided to take most of their people to southern Wairarapa, leaving the older ones at Waiwhetū.

While the Ngāmotu people were in the Wairarapa, the situation along the Kāpiti coast had deteriorated because of pressures on land, and old rivalries. Haowhenua, a long-running and inconclusive battle in 1834, saw another Taranaki migration, known as Paukena, arrive from Waitara. These Te Āti Awa people were led by Te Rangitāke (also known as Wiremu Kīngi).

The 1835 transfer

In 1835 Ngāti Mutunga and sections of Ngāti Tama, feeling insecure about the arrival of Ngāti Raukawa on the Kāpiti coast and the breakdown of relationships with Ngāti Toa after the Haowhenua battle, sought to escape the growing pressures. They were aware of the resources of the Chatham Islands and planned to seize a ship, the Rodney, to take them to the Chathams from Matiu (Somes Island) in Wellington Harbour. Before the final voyage in November 1835, at a meeting on Somes Island, Ngāti Mutunga transferred their rights to land around the harbour to Te Āti Awa and other Taranaki chiefs.

The battle called Kūititanga

Fought in October 1839, the battle known as Kūititanga was the last major tribal war over land before the arrival of New Zealand Company settlers at Port Nicholson. Some Ngāti Raukawa people, with the blessing of the Ngāti Toa leader Te Rauparaha, attacked Te Āti Awa at Waikanae. The ostensible reason was the ill treatment by Ngāti Tama of Te Rauparaha’s sister Waitohi. She died just before the battle. However, the real reason for the fighting was competition for land and resources. The people of Ngāti Raukawa expected to win, but had more casualties than Te Āti Awa, who saw this battle as a victory. The battle of Kūititanga clarified issues of land ownership, particularly on the Kāpiti Coast.

After 1840

Settler pressures

In 1839 the New Zealand Company, set up to organise emigration from England, bought land in the Wellington Harbour area for settlement. (The validity of this purchase was later disputed.) The following year, English immigrants began arriving by the shipload, and the demand for land and pressure on the areas occupied by Māori and settlements steadily increased. The New Zealand Company had sold sections occupied by Māori to the new settlers. To resolve this issue, Lieutenant Colonel William Anson McCleverty was appointed to obtain deeds from the tribes concerned, exchanging their settlements and cultivations for land elsewhere.

The McCleverty awards of 1847 were the final allocation of lands for Māori in the Wellington Harbour area. Pā such as Te Aro, Pipitea and Kaiwharawhara became less desirable as their food-growing areas were replaced by less productive and more remote land, mostly outside the town of Wellington. The pressure on the Te Aro people was such that by 1881, a census showed only 28 Māori still living at Te Aro, and nine at Pipitea.

Māori departures

With the threat of European settlers also encroaching on ancestral lands in Taranaki, return migrations took place. About 600 Te Āti Awa went back to Taranaki in 1848. More Māori returned to Taranaki during the land wars there in the 1860s. The Te Āti Awa sub-tribe Te Matehou, of Pipitea pā, moved to join their kin at Waiwhetū. Ngāti Tama also moved away, with those in Ōhariu migrating to Whakapuaka near Nelson. Those left to keep the fires burning in Wellington after about 1890 belonged predominantly to the Te Āti Awa sub-tribes of Ngāti Te Whiti, Te Matehou, Ngāti Tawhirikura and Ngāti Puketapu. This remains the situation today.

The disappearance of pā sites

The pressures of European settlement led to the disappearance of many traditional pā. By the 1890s the sites at Te Aro and Pipitea were unoccupied; Pito-one (Petone) pā was abandoned soon afterwards, although the Te Puni street cemetery remains in use. The pā at Ngāūranga also declined and did not survive into the 20th century.

Waiwhetū pā was the last Māori-owned settlement in the 1920s in the Lower Hutt region. However, it was eventually taken over for river works and developments. Its site is now marked by the cemetery, Ōwhiti, near the mouth of the Waiwhetū Stream. Only the seasonal pā at Orongorongo and Parangārehu remained in use.

Recent times

Te Āti Awa in Wellington retained strong ties with their Taranaki relatives. Between the two world wars Taranaki Māori began migrating to Wellington once again, often looking for work. The growing numbers of Te Āti Awa in Hutt Valley led to the opening in 1933 of the meeting house Te Tatau o Te Pō. During and after the Second World War even larger numbers of Māori, not all Te Āti Awa, were attracted to Wellington by employment opportunities.

The Wellington Tenths

In 1839 the New Zealand Company purchased land around Wellington Harbour from some of the Māori who had customary rights there. The purchase deed provided for one-tenth of the land purchased to be reserved for the signatory chiefs and their families. This provision gave rise to the expression ‘tenths’, to refer to the land reserved for Māori in and around Wellington.

In 1960 the Waiwhetū marae at Lower Hutt was opened. And in 1977 the Wellington Tenths Trust was established to represent the beneficiaries of the Wellington land reserves (‘tenths’). These beneficiaries are the descendants of Te Āti Awa and other Taranaki people who were living in the Wellington Harbour area at the time of the disputed New Zealand Company purchase in 1839. The trust pursued claims with the Waitangi Tribunal to gain compensation for the losses suffered since 1839.

Te Āti Awa of Wellington shared in the treaty settlement signed on 19 August 2008 with Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika. The financial component of this settlement, valued at $25 million, included the option to buy and lease back Crown properties in Wellington City, including Archives New Zealand, the National Library of New Zealand, the High Court and Wellington Girls’ College. Several sites of traditional, historical, cultural and spiritual association with Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, including Matiu/Somes Island, Mokopuna Island and Mākaro/Ward Island in Wellington Harbour, were vested in those tribes.

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 Te Āti Awa tribe of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington) (including those who indicated more than one tribe), and the regions where they were found in the greatest numbers in 2013.

Te Āti Awa (Te Whanganui-a-Tara)

  • 1991 census: 45
  • 2001 census: 1,233
  • 2006 census: 1,728
  • 2013 census: 2,556

Major regional locations

  • Wellington: 1,326

Te Āti Awa (unspecified)

  • 1991 census: 11,028
  • 2001 census: 4,929
  • 2006 census: 4,644
  • 2013 census: 3,063

Major regional locations

  • Auckland: 588
  • Wellington: 453
  • Taranaki: 357

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Morris Love, 'Te Āti Awa of Wellington', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 July 2024)

Story by Morris Love, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 March 2017