Story: Te Whakatōhea

‘Take the rope from my throat that I may sing my song.’ These words were sung by Mokomoko, wrongly accused in 1865 of the murder of a missionary. As punishment for this killing the government took much of Te Whakatōhea’s territory. With a harbour rich in fish and shellfish, and forests offering fern grounds, eel fisheries and pigeons, that land seemed like paradise lost.


Story by Ranginui Walker
Main image: Mākeo mountain

Story summary

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Te Whakatōhea territory includes Ōhiwa Harbour in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Ōpōtiki lies at the centre.


The area was rich in food resources. Mussels and crayfish abounded in Ōhiwa Harbour, and in the forests it was easy to catch fat kererū (New Zealand pigeons) and other native birds.


There are many important ancestors:

  • Tarawa was the first to arrive from Hawaiki (the Polynesian homeland) – it is believed that he swam from Polynesia to Paerātā.
  • Tautūrangi came in the Nukutere canoe, which he moored to a white rock named Te Rangi.
  • Muriwai, a female ancestor, arrived in the Mataatua canoe. Ōpōtiki tradition says she seized the paddles and saved the canoe from drifting out to sea, calling out, 'Me whakatāne au i ahau!' ('I must act like a man!') Whakatāne is named after her act.
  • Kahuki was a celebrated leader of the Whakatāne sub-tribe.


There was much bloodshed as the people fought neighbouring tribes. In one of the last attacks, Te Whakatōhea warriors exchanged the head of an enemy chief killed in battle for the return of a prized greenstone adze. The adze, named Waiwharangi, is now held in the Whakatāne Museum.

When European missionaries arrived in the 19th century, there was a period of peace.

The killing of Carl Völkner

Völkner was a German missionary at Ōpōtiki. He became unpopular among Te Whakatōhea, who believed he was a government spy. When he was killed in 1865, the government took large areas of Te Whakatōhea land. Nearly 100 years later the people received some compensation for this injustice.

Te Whakatōhea today

The tribe consists of six sub-tribes: Ngāti Ruatakena, Ngāti Patumoana, Ngāti Ngahere, Ngāi Tamahaua, Ngāti Ira and Te Ūpokorehe. The Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board holds farmland and provides training in horticulture and other skills. In 2013, Te Whakatōhea had more than 12,000 people.

How to cite this page:

Ranginui Walker, 'Te Whakatōhea', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by Ranginui Walker, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 March 2017