Story: Te Whakatōhea

Page 2. Ancestors

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Tarawa was the first ancestor to arrive from Hawaiki. According to one legend he swam to New Zealand and came ashore at Paerātā, east of the Waiōtahe River. There he released two pet fish in a spring which became known as Ōpōtiki-mai-tawhiti (the pets from afar). This name was later applied to the township of Ōpōtiki. Tarawa’s arrival is marked by two carved pillars commemorating the settlement of the land by Māori and later Pākehā ancestors.


The next ancestor of note was Tautūrangi, who arrived in the Nukutere canoe 26 generations before 1900. The canoe made landfall in an isolated rocky cove, and was moored to a flat white rock named Te Rangi. Tautūrangi and his followers then sailed round to Te Kōtukutuku and went ashore.

Tautūrangi’s first act of claiming the land was to travel up the Waiaua Valley to a high point on the skyline, named Kapuarangi. There he installed the god Tamaīwaho. Tautūrangi’s tribe was known as Te Wakanui until the time of Tūtāmure, born eight generations later.


Tūtāmure established the eastern boundary between the two tribes of Te Wakanui and Ngāi Tai at Tōrere, and inland from Te Rangi cove to Ōroi.

He led an attack on the of Ngāti Kahungunu in Maungakāhia, to avenge the murder of his sister Tāneroa by her husband. During the battle Tūtāmure broke a club, and reached for his more durable whalebone club to smash the heads of his enemies and bury them. Thereafter, the victorious Tūtāmure and his people were known as Te Panenehu (the buried heads).

Tūtāmure built Poutōtara pā inland at Waiaua to seal off retaliatory raids by Ngāti Kahungunu. He occupied several pā at Waiaua, including the iconic, pyramid-shaped Mākeo behind Ōmarumutu marae.


Acting like a man

Nine generations after the Nukutere canoe arrived from Hawaiki, the Mataatua canoe brought the Te Whakatōhea female ancestor Muriwai, landing at Whakatāne. The captain, Toroa, and his men left the canoe and went inland to survey the land, unaware of the danger of the high rise and fall of the tides in New Zealand. Muriwai, seeing that the falling tide threatened to sweep the Mataatua out to sea, cried out, ‘Ka whakatāne au i ahau!’ (I shall acquit myself like a man!). She saved the canoe and immortalised her actions in the name of Whakatāne.

The Mataatua canoe, bearing the female ancestor Muriwai from Hawaiki, reached Whakatāne nine generations after the Nukutere canoe. Muriwai’s son Rēpanga went to Ōpōtiki where he married Ngāpoupereta. Rēpanga’s descendant, Ruatakena, became the ancestor of the Ngāti Ruatakena tribe (now known as Ngāti Rua). Muriwai’s daughter Hine-i-kauia followed her brother and married Tūtāmure. The descendants of this union became Te Whakatōhea, who merged with Te Panenehu.


Tūtāmure’s counterpart in the west was Kahuki, of the Whakatāne sub-tribe. Kahuki lived at Waiōtahe. He conquered the other sections of this hapū to avenge the killing of his father, Rongopopoia.

He then returned to Waiōtahe, where he built a pā close to the river. The remaining members of Whakatāne and Ngāti Raumoa, including the Te Ūpokorehe hapū, occupied lands at Waiōtahe and Ōhiwa under Kahuki’s control. Te Ūpokorehe, on the western border, were subjected to attacks from Tūhoe and Ngāti Awa. In times of danger Te Ūpokorehe sought refuge at Ōpōtiki. The final battle between Te Whakatōhea, and Ngāti Awa and their Tūhoe ally, took place at Ōhope. There Te Whakatōhea chief Te Rupe led his people to victory with the haka, ‘Te kōtiritiri te kōtaratara!’

Te Rupe’s chant

This chant was delivered by the Te Whakatōhea leader Te Rupe, before a retaliatory battle at Ōhope against a party of Tūhoe warriors.

Te kōtiritiri te kōtaratara o huki Ōhope e.
Haere tī taha ana te kaha o te kupenga ki uta rā e.
Hurahia te tangata mate.
Hurahia te tangata mate.

Houhoua e te ure.
Houhoua e te ure.
Ki roto ki te onepū.
Kei motu tī kariri i te tūpere ha!

Te Whakatōhea fought many battles against their eastern neighbour Ngāi Tai at Tōrere, to keep them out of Waiaua. The defining battle was at Awahou under the leadership of Punāhamoa, before the arrival of the missionaries. The Ngāi Tai chief Tūterangikūrei was killed, and his head preserved as a trophy of war. Ngāi Tai redeemed their chief’s head in exchange for the greenstone adze named Waiwharangi, which they gave to the Te Whakatōhea victors. Waiwharangi is now held in the Whakatāne Museum.

How to cite this page:

Ranginui Walker, 'Te Whakatōhea - Ancestors', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 April 2024)

Story by Ranginui Walker, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017