Story: Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes

Four tribes dominate the Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (Poverty Bay) area on the east coast of the North Island. Their ancestors include Kiwa, who named the region; Pāoa, who explored the hinterland; and Hinehākirirangi, who brought the life-sustaining kūmara (sweet potato) from Hawaiki to New Zealand in her sacred basket.

Story by Nick Tūpara
Main image: Te Kurī-a-Pāoa

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Four tribes

For centuries Tūranganui-a-Kiwa – the Poverty Bay region on the east coast of the North Island – has been dominated by the tribes of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Te Aitanga a Hauiti. Their people descend from the voyagers of the Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru, Horouta and Tākitimu canoes.

Ancestors and places

The Tūranganui-a-Kiwa area gets its name from the ancestor Kiwa, who arrived from Hawaiki on the Tākitimu canoe. According to one legend, he waited so long for the Horouta canoe to arrive that he called its final landing place Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (the long waiting place of Kiwa). Pāoa, captain of the Horouta, also gave his name to various places, notably the Wai-o-Pāoa (Waipāoa) River. Another important ancestor was Hinehākirirangi, who brought kūmara (sweet potato) from Hawaiki in her sacred basket. Eventually a descendant of the three ancestors Kiwa, Pāoa and Hinehākirirangi emerged as a leader – his name was Ruapani.

European arrivals

People from Tūranganui-a-Kiwa met Lieutenant James Cook and his crew when they arrived on the Endeavour in 1769. In the 1800s more Europeans – whalers, traders, missionaries and then settlers – came to the region. Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes did not join in the wars between Māori and the government in the early 1860s. But when the government began to confiscate their land, the tribes’ attitude changed. They realised the threat to Māori society.

Religious prophets

Prophets of the Hauhau (Pai Mārire) faith, which was opposed by the government, came to Poverty Bay in 1865. Many people decided to join their religion. After clashes between Hauhau supporters and government forces, Māori prisoners were sent to the Chatham Islands. A Rongowhakaata man, Te Kooti, led a mass escape and an attack on Poverty Bay, and became an important leader and the founder of the Ringatū religion. Government forces pursued him into Te Urewera, but he evaded them. 

Land development

In the later 19th century, leaders of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa promoted the idea of setting up trusts to keep and look after Māori land. In the 20th century the tribes worked to develop their land.

The 20th century

Many from Tūranganui-a-Kiwa fought in the world wars. Others were active in helping returned soldiers settle back into society. Following the Second World War, the Māori Women’s Welfare League established many branches in the area. The main community organisation is now Te Rūnanga o Tūranganui a Kiwa, which provides social, education, land management and health services. In the 2013 census, more than 12,000 people said they were descended from Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes.

How to cite this page:

Nick Tūpara, 'Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Nick Tūpara, published 8 February 2005, updated 1 March 2017