Tahi | 1 Ngāti Awa's place of plenty

Ngāti Awa, tawharautia!

Ngāti Awa come together as one!

Ngāti Awa are the descendants of Te Tini o Toi, the original inhabitants of the region, and the people of Mataatua waka, which made landfall at Whakatāne after voyaging from Hawaiki around 1300 CE. Most affiliate to hapū who settled areas around the Whakatāne, Rangitāiki, and Tarawera Rivers.

Ngāti Awa’s territory is bordered by other iwi. Te Arawa are to their west, Ngāti Tuwharetoa and Ngāi Tuhoe to the south, and to the east, including Ōpōtiki, are Te Whakatōhea.


Hawaiki is the homeland of Māori, whose ancestors originated in East Polynesia.

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Hapu authority

In the early 1860s, the rangatira of Ngāti Awa hapū controlled the region. In consultation with their people, they made all the decisions about access to their land and resources.

Hapū united to defend themselves and their resources, though there were also disputes and differences of opinion. Allegiances and conflicts could go back generations. Governmental authority existed in Whakatāne in name only.

Image: Wairaka, Whakatāne, in 1900. Image supplied by the Whakatāne Museum and Research Centre, no. 815.


By the 1860s, Pākehā already outnumbered Māori in New Zealand, but few Pākehā lived in the Whakatāne district. There were traders who had married into Ngāti Awa, and Christian missionaries had been preaching in the region since the 1830s, though now most were Māori.

Ngāti Awa, like their neighbouring iwi, practised Christianity alongside their own customs. They recognised that peace was preferable to conflict, although internal disputes still sometimes resulted in bloodshed.


The land, rivers, swamps, and sea provided food and other resources, but Ngāti Awa were also extremely productive. They raised horses, dogs, chickens, pigs, and other farm animals. They grew kūmara, cabbages, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, and turnips, and cut and scraped flax to make rope to trade. They sent animals, goods, and produce to the Auckland market aboard their own schooners.

Images: Left: Flax mill near waterfall, Wairaka, Whakatane, Bay of Plenty, 1903, image supplied by the Whakatāne Museum and Research Centre, no. 944-2. Right: Ngati Awa unloading green flax on the beach. Whakatane, Bay of Plenty, 14 May, 1903. Image supplied by the Whakatāne Museum and Research Centre, no. 477.

Rua | 2 Conflict and loss

E waiho taku mana, e ki Whakatāne
Te whenua o te patu, waiho atu i waho na.

Leave off my prestige, Whakatāne
The land where fighting occurred, leave it out [of your plans].

In March 1865, a single killing sparked a series of events that would prove cataclysmic for Ngāti Awa.Less than a year later, nearly a quarter of a million acres (100,000 hectares) of their land would be confiscated, plunging the iwi into over a century of hardship.

Ngāti Awa, 1860s

As the government acquired more Māori land, the New Zealand Wars escalated, especially in the Waikato region. In 1864, some Ngāti Awa hapū joined a force of Tairāwhiti chiefs and warriors going to the aid of the Waikato-based Kīngitanga movement, but neighbouring Te Arawa declared an aukati, preventing the group crossing their land. Ngāti Awa returned home, concerned about conflict spreading to their territory.

Image: The fight at the 2nd Parapet, Waiari, 1863. By Charles Heaphy. Supplied by The Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: B-043-017.

New Zealand Wars

A series of armed conflicts that took place between Māori and the New Zealand government over land and sovereignty from the 1840s until the 1870s.

King Movement

In 1858, a group of central North Island iwi selected a Māori king, and the Kīngitanga movement was born. Its aim was to unite iwi, control land sales, strengthen the position of Māori in dealings with the government, and offer a separate governing body for Māori. Ngāti Awa supported the Kīngitanga.

Te Arawa

Te Arawa are Ngāti Awa’s western neighbours, but the two iwi were not on good terms because of disputed territory. The majority of Te Arawa were allied with the government. When the large Tairāwhiti army tried to go to the aid of King Tāwhio in Waikato, Te Arawa twice repulsed it.


Iwi laid down aukati to manage their territory. The terms of access weren’t always straightforward. Different hapū or groups of hapū within an iwi would sometimes issue local aukati for their areas. Aukati were fiercely defended, as authority over land was essential to the survival and mana of the hapū.

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The Killing of Carl Völkner

In March 1865, Reverend Carl Völkner, a missionary at Ōpōtiki, was killed by a group of Māori believing him to be a government informer. The group included followers of the Pai Mārire religion from Taranaki. Because Ngāti Awa had accompanied them from Whakatāne, they were also blamed. Ōpōtiki was not part of Ngāti Awa’s territory.

Image: Photograph of Carl Völkner. Supplied by Auckland Public Libraries - Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero, Sir George Grey Special Collections. Reference 4-2735.

Reverend Carl Völkner

Reverend Carl Völkner ran a Church Missionary Society mission at Ōpōtiki. After he made several trips to Auckland, rumours that he was a government spy spread among members of the Pai Mārire religion who had recently moved to the area. When he returned from Auckland yet again, locals advised him to stay away from the mission station, a warning he ignored.

Pai Mārire

The Pai Mārire (goodness and peace) religion was founded by Te Ua Hamēne in 1862. Emerging out of Taranaki land conflict, it was both political and the first independent Māori Christian movement. Although its principles were peaceful, some of its followers were not, and Pākehā came to view them as violent and rebellious. Followers were also known as Hau Hau (the Breathe of God), after the name of Te Ua Hamēne’s church.

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Ngāti Awa’s Aukati

In the same month, Ngāti Awa rangatira at Whakatāne placed an aukati over their lands. Their intention was to keep the peace. They wrote to the government stating that any force sent to apprehend Völkner’s killers should not cross Ngāti Awa’s territory but go directly to Ōpōtiki by sea.

“Na ki te haere mai a te Kawana ratou ko ana hoa hoia, me ra to moana mai kia tika ai ki Opotiki, ki te Kainga o te toto kohuru.”

“If the Governor and his soldiers come let them go by sea, that they may go direct to Ōpōtiki, to the place where the murder was done”

Wepiha Apanui

Te Kepa


17 March 1865

Papers relative to the murder of the Rev. Carl Sylvius Volkner by the Hau Hau fanatics.

Image: Papers relative to the murder of the Rev. Carl Sylvius Volkner by the Hau Hau fanatics. Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1865 Session I, E-05, Enclosure 7 to No 6.

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The Killing of James Fulloon

However, in July, two ships entered Whakatāne Harbour to pursue Völkner’s killers. Defying the aukati deeply insulted Ngāti Awa’s mana and rangatiratanga. In the ensuing confrontation, James Fulloon, himself part-Ngāti Awa but acting for the government, and two Pākehā crew were killed.

Government Authority

The government’s response was swift and forceful. It saw that catching Fulloon’s killers was also an opportunity to assert authority over Ngāti Awa and acquire their land. It proclaimed martial law and enlisted its Te Arawa allies to invade Ngāti Awa’s territory and hunt down those responsible.

Image: Proclamation of martial law at Opotiki. Supplied by: The Colonist, Volume VII, Issue 823, 19 September 1865.

Specific Ngāti Awa hapū were targeted. They resisted, defending the aukati. Fighting culminated in the battle of Te Kupenga on the banks of the Rangitāiki River at Te Teko. Chief Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi’s men were hopelessly outnumbered. On 20 October 1865, they surrendered.

Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi

Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi was chief of the once powerful Ngāti Awa hapū Ngāi Te Rangihouhiri. He supported Governor Grey’s 1861 scheme to include rūnanga (Māori assemblies) in government programmes, but in 1865 converted to the Pai Mārire religion. Ngāti Awa viewed his defeat and subsequent trial and imprisonment as bringing shame on the entire iwi.

Image: Te Hura Taiwhakaripi, chief of Ngāi Te Rangihouhiri. Supplied by Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, O.032351

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Image: top row, left to right: Hoane Poururu (Ngāti Hikakino), Te Hura Te Taiwhakaripi (Ngāi Te Rangihouhiri), Hoani Hupe (Ngāti Awa), Mikaere Kirimangu (Ngāti Awa), Himone Te Auru (Ngāi Taiwhakaea); bottom row, left to right: Paraharaha (Ngāi Taiwhakaea), Te Aka o Tau (Ngāi Te Rangihouhiri), Utiku Te Rangi (Ngāi Te Rangihouhiri), Horomona Poropiti (Taranaki), Heahea (Ngāi Taiwhakaea). Supplied by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa.

Of the 35 men accused of killing Fulloon and his companions, five were found guilty and hanged. Others served sentences for related crimes, several dying from illness in prison. Only a handful ever returned to their home territory.

Image: Some of the men convicted and imprisoned on various charges in relation to the killing of James Fulloon. Supplied by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa.


On 17 January 1866, less than a year after Völkner’s killing, the government confiscated 245,000 acres (99,000 hectares) of Ngāti Awa land and redistributed it three ways:

  • Government's Māori allies (including Te Arawa)

    87,000 acres

  • Government

    80,000 acres

  • Ngāti Awa as ‘Surrendered Natives’

    77,870 acres

The land confiscations and other punishments impoverished Ngāti Awa economically, divided them socially, and damaged their mana and self-respect.


Prestige, integrity, authority, status, charisma, reputation, spiritual power – mana can apply to people, places, events, and objects.

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Image: The Rangitāiki Swamp, an important Ngāti Awa food source, being drained under the Public Works Act in 1913. Image from the Auckland Weekly News, p 45, 18 September 1913, supplied by Auckland City Libraries - Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero.

The Government also took urupā (burial grounds) and other wāhi tapu (sacred sites), and Rangitāiki Swamp, which it drained under the Public Works Lands Act.

Toru | 3 Knock-on Effects

He iwi mate a Ngati Awa i nga whiunga a te ture, a i tangi toku ngakau mo ratau.

Ngati Awa are a sickly people because of the punishment of the law, and my heart mourned for them.

Āpirana Ngata, 1899

The raupatu was not the end of the Ngāti Awa’s ill treatment.The government labelled them tangata hara (sinful people), a stigma that lasted for generations as its unjust origins faded from memory. The label affected how Ngāti Awa saw themselves and how others saw them, and tainted their interactions with the government and other iwi.

Scattered and vulnerable

The raupatu left Ngāti Awa scattered and vulnerable. In 1869, Te Kooti and his Tūhoe allies invaded Whakatāne, causing further fragmentation.

European diseases also took their toll. Whooping cough, measles, and typhoid caused many deaths among Ngāti Awa children in the 1870s, and the influenza epidemic swept through in 1918.

Ironically, during this period many Ngāti Awa turned to Te Kooti’s Ringatū faith for spiritual sustenance.

The building of Maatatua wharenui in 1875 was a short-lived triumph. Designed to unite, rejuvenate and inspire the iwi, it would be the last major task Ngāti Awa were able to accomplish in over a century.

Te Kooti

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki founded the Ringatū (Upraised Hand) faith while imprisoned on the Chatham Islands between 1866 and 1868. It is still a formally registered church, with seven regional branches. Many Ngāti Awa follow the Ringatū faith.

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Attempts at redress

In 1867 the Compensation Court awarded parts of Ngāti Awa land to other iwi. Some land was returned, but not to the original owners, and titles were never given to hapū, but to individuals. Later, when the Native Land Court was in operation in the Whakatane district, the largest shares in land blocks were usually awarded to rangatira and their families. People who had no connection with the land also received shares. This created rifts between hapū that lasted generations.

Ngāti Awa periodically petitioned the government for compensation over the wrongful confiscation of their land.

In 1927, the Sim Commission considered Ngāti Awa’s claims, but concluded the government’s land confiscations had been largely justified. It did recommend, however, that two hapū be given land at Matata, but the government ignored this.

Sim Commission

Formed by the government in 1926, this was a body chaired by Supreme Court Judge Sir William Sim and tasked with looking into the fairness of the government’s land confiscations. While it decided some iwi deserved some compensation, it largely dismissed the claims of Ngāti Awa.

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Further losses

Throughout the 20th century, further land, including urupā and wāhi tapu (sacred sites), was taken by the government under public works legislation.

As the century progressed, Ngāti Awa’s loss of land led to other losses. Perhaps most damaging was a loss of memory about the raupatu.

Generations were unaware that much of the land in the region had once belonged to their ancestors, much less the circumstances behind its confiscation.

Often the only detail they knew of was their status as tangata hara (sinful people).

Accompanying this amnesia was a loss of reo, tikanga, and identity. Many Ngāti Awa didn’t know who they were or didn’t want to be who they were.

If the iwi were to thrive again, its collective memory needed to be restored.

Wha | 4 Mataatua

Ehara i te whakaaro kino i hangaia ai tenei whare, engari mo nga tikanga pai, a he pai ano tona putanga ki te iwi.

This house was never designed for a bad purpose, but for good, and that good will result to the tribe.

Wepiha Apanui, 1875

Land confiscations impoverished Ngāti Awa. They were down but not out, and by 1875 had built Mataatua, a magnificently carved wharenui. Yet by 1879, this icon of hope, unity, and renewed strength was also in government hands, and about to journey around the world.

Discover Mataatua’s epic global journey.


A meeting house, communal space, and focal point for Māori communities. The building symbolises an important ancestor, with each part representing parts of a body. Carvings embody other important ancestors, and paintwork and woven tukutuku panels illustrate stories and history.

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Mataatua returns to Whakatane

A Deed of Settlement from the Treaty of Waitangi negotiations sees wharenui return in 1996. Between 1996 and 2011 Ngāti Awa reconstructs and repairs Mataatua. On 17 September 2011, Mataatua reopens. Today Mataatua is a living breathing wharenui, central to Ngāti Awa culture and the rejuvenation of the region.

Treaty of Waitangi settlement

In 1975 the Treaty of Waitangi Act established the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate government breaches of the Treaty. In 1985 the Tribunal’s scope was extended to include historical claims. At last there was a legal process through which iwi could seek redress. Many settlements have been reached. Settlements usually take the form of an apology, financial compensation and (limited) return of land.

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Rima | 5 Road to Recovery

He manu hou ahau, he pii ka rere.

I am a new bird, a fledgling that has just learnt to fly.

A century after Ngāti Awa were stigmatised, stripped of their land, and had their wharenui Mataatua taken, few whānau (families) knew that once the whole Whakatāne district had belonged to them.

In the 1980s, the influential Ngāti Awa kaumātua took up the challenge to restore the iwi’s memory, unity, and land.

A Plan

Eruera Mānuera (1895–1990) was a descendant of three important tribal chiefs – Te Rangikawehea, Hātua and Te Rangitūkehu. He was a leader of the Rangitāiki hapū and was also recognised as the spokesman for Ngāti Awa up until the creation of the Ngāti Awa Trust Board in 1981. Eruera's cousin Matarena Reneti, like him a descendant of past tribal leaders was intent on seeking out ways of uniting the hapū.

During the late 1970s, with other tribal elders, including Hāre Rēneti, Aniheta Rātene, Kakaho Te Ua, Wī Tārei and Rāniera Mason, they had brought together Ngāti Awa of the Ringatū Faith for that purpose, but many other Ngāti Awa remained apart. Matarena held to her passionate belief that all of Ngati Awa must unite. While she was the driving force behind establishing what was to become the Ngati Awa Trust Board, she and the other elders needed a younger group who could try and unite the entire iwi. In time, such a group would emerge, led by Hirini Moko Mead.

Matarena Rēneti

Matarena Rēneti was an example of a strong Ngāti Awa woman. Self-educated, she was a key person in shifting Ngāti Awa towards unity. She challenged those who were opposed to the idea and put detractors in their place.

Ringatū Faith

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki founded the Ringatū faith while imprisoned on the Chatham Islands between 1866 and 1868. It is still a formally registered church, with seven regional branches. Many Ngāti Awa are members.

Hirini Moko Mead

Raised by his Ngāti Awa grandmother and later whānau from Murupara, Hirini attended St Stephens School and Te Aute College before becoming a teacher. In 1949, he was 22, newly married to June Te Rina Walker of Ngāti Porou, and teaching in Rūātoki when his granduncle Eruera Mānuera laid out his expectations for the young teacher. Hirini continued with his teaching career during the years that followed, gaining higher degrees and further experience with schools and eventually with universities both here and overseas.

In the mid-1960s, he took his family to the US to complete his PhD with the encouragement and blessing of his elders. During his years abroad, like his contemporaries Whatarangi Winiata and Patu Hohepa, Hirini would reflect on how the revival of the iwi could be achieved through various means including education.

In 1977, Hirini took up a professorship and established New Zealand’s first Māori Studies department (at Victoria University of Wellington). At this point, Eruera and Matarena called him to the task that became his focus for the next 40 years: the reunification and renaissance of Ngāti Awa.

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Ngāti Awa Unite

It wasn’t until 1980 at a hui at Puawairua marae that Ngāti Awa’s claims for redress were kick started. It was decided that an iwi authority was needed if a claim was to be progressed. The new entity would have four aims:

  • Return of the Ngāti Awa Farm and other land
  • Return of Pūtauaki
  • Settlement of claims to land around Matatā/Kawerau
  • Return of Mataatua wharenui

Research activity began almost immediately. Soon after, in 1981, the Ngāti Awa Trust Board was established under the Charitable Trusts Act to advance the tribe’s claim. Sir James Fletcher had advised Hirini Mead that rather than waiting around for the government to create an entity for the iwi, Ngāti Awa should create one for itself.

Peoples of the Claim: ngā kanohi kua kore e kitea

Ono | 6 The Claim

“Ngati Awa accepts the Crown’s apology and on our part say that we forgive the Crown for what it did to us and we, too, … look forward to building a relationship of mutual trust, respect and co-operation.”

Hirini Moko Mead

Ngāti Awa’s claim took several years to progress. The process was difficult – long, hard fought, and at times divisive.

Partial Compensation

In 1983, the government acknowledged Ngāti Awa had a legitimate case and made a $320,000 final settlement offer. Ngāti Awa rejected this as totally inadequate. However, in 1987, the iwi accepted another offer as part payment towards the official claim they would lodge the following year. The deal involved the return of the Ngāti Awa Farm.

The Official Claim

By 1988, the Ngāti Awa Trust Board had become a Māori trust board under a special act of parliament and was renamed Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa. Moreover, the government made a statutory pardon to those Ngāti Awa who had been arrested, tried, and labelled as rebels, and in respect of all matters that arose out of the events of 1865. This lifted the weight put on Ngāti Awa 123 years earlier that they were tangata hara (sinful people) in rebellion against the Queen.

Also in 1988, Hirini Mead, on behalf of 21 Ngāti Awa hapū, filed a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal, which became known as Wai 46 using the tribunal’s numbering system. But it wasn’t until 1994–95 that Ngāti Awa got to present their story to the Tribunal. Soon after, a negotiation team was appointed in December 1995 to commence the process of settling the claims.

The negotiation process was a start-stop affair as Ngāti Awa and the government tried to find a middle ground. A change of government in 1999 further delayed progress.

The Settlement

Continued negotiations between representatives of Ngāti Awa and the new government finally led to a deed of settlement being signed at Parliament in 2003. The terms of the agreement were set out in the Ngāti Awa Claims Settlement Act 2005.

They included:

  • $42 million plus accumulated rentals on Crown forest land to be returned
  • over 10,000 hectares of forest land and buildings including schools, the local courthouse and police station that were then leased back to the government
  • an apology from the government for past injustices

For more information see the Ngāti Awa Deed of Settlement.

A New Authority

As part of the settlement, Ngāti Awa received an apology from the government, and Hirini Mead, on behalf of the iwi, forgave the government.

The Crown's apology to Ngāti Awa

The Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa Act 2005 established a new Ngāti Awa authority to receive and manage the settlement assets. Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa superseded the Trust Board.

An issue that was not settled as part of Ngāti Awa’s claim was the return of Pūtauaki (Mt Edgecumbe). Ngāti Awa continue to press for the return of their maunga (mountain).

Ngati Awa Deed of Settlement signing, 2003

Whitu | 7 Beyond the Treaty Settlement

Kia rite!

Be ready!


With the Ngāti Awa Claims Settlement Act 2005 in place, the iwi was able to refocus its efforts and resources toward tribal development and recovery by empowering its beneficiaries and by representing their interests at the iwi and pan-tribal level. To manage the settlement assets, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa was reconstituted as a body corporate accountable to its members.

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa works to benefit Ngāti Awa. It acts as the representative of the iwi advocating for tribal interests on the local and national stage. The Rūnanga also provides services, such as grants and scholarships for tertiary students, and is the umbrella organisation for other groups.

  • Development Ngāti Awa is a subsidiary trust of the Rūnanga that is intended to provide advocacy for tribal development issues.
  • Environment Ngāti Awa works to protect and enhance the mana whenua interests of hapū regarding resource management.
  • A Research and Archive Trust maintains Ngāti Awa’s historical information and a register of beneficiaries.
  • Te Mānuka Tūtahi Marae and the Mataatua Visitor Centre showcases Ngāti Awa’s history through a range of cultural, educational, and multimedia experiences.
  • Ngāti Awa Te Toki is a biennial festival celebrating Ngāti Awa through kapa haka that is supported by the Rūnanga.
  • The annual Ngāti Awa Hapū Challenge includes a range of competitions and activities designed to enhance tribal cohesiveness.
  • Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi is a wānanga founded by the Rūnanga that provides tertiary level courses and programmes.
  • Te Tohu o Te Ora o Ngāti Awa delivers social and health services.
  • Te Reo Irirangi o Te Mānuka Tūtahi Trust is the tribal radio station that promotes language and culture.
  • The whare wānanga, social and health services and the radio station were all established before the settlement was finalised.

Local Investment

Through its subsidiary, Ngāti Awa Group Holdings Ltd, the Rūnanga on behalf of the iwi, has investments in local agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and property worth about $94 million (2017). These have benefited not only Ngāti Awa, but the entire region, providing jobs, attracting tourists, and preserving the natural environment.

Ngāti Awa 2050

Ngāti Awa have three long-term goals:

  • to revitalise their identity and culture
  • to care for their most vulnerable
  • to realise the potential of their rangatahi

In order for Ngāti Awa’s youth to succeed, says Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa’s Chief Executive Leonie Simpson, they need to know where they are from, who they are, and have the knowledge of their elders.

After over a century of hardship, Ngāti Awa have emerged with renewed skills and strength.

The aim for the future is kia rite – to be ready.