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Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes

by  Nick Tūpara

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.

Lands and ancestors

Tribal lands

For centuries, four tribes – Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Te Aitanga a Hauiti – have dominated the southern part of the North Island’s East Cape. The tribes’ traditional lands stretch from Paritū in the south to Pouawa in the north. Their lands extend inland to the headwaters of the Mōtū, Waipāoa and Waiōeka rivers, and to Lake Waikaremoana. The heart of this district is Tūranga (the area of present-day Gisborne) and Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (Poverty Bay). The rich history of this area is summed up in the saying:

Ko Tūranga-a-Mua
Ko Tūranga Ararau
Ko Tūranga Makaurau
Ko Tūranga Tangata-rite
Ko Tūranganui-a-Kiwa.
Tūranga the ancient
Tūranga the pathway of many
Tūranga of a thousand lovers
Tūranga the meeting place of people
The long waiting place of Kiwa.

The early people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa

The members of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Ngāti Oneone (a sub-tribe of Te Aitanga a Hauiti) are descended from voyagers on board the Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru, Horouta and Tākitimu canoes, which sailed from Hawaiki. Once in New Zealand, the groups had intermingled and formed alliances. Important ancestors were Māui, Paikea, Kiwa, Pāoa, Hine Hakirirangi, Tamatea, Māia, Porourangi, Hamo-te-Rangi, Tahupōtiki, Ruapani, Kahungunu, Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Tāmanuhiri and Hauiti.

Manutukutuku – kites

Kites feature prominently in the mythology and history of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa. They could represent striving: the god Tāwhaki attempted to ascend to heaven on one. They were also used to send messages: the ancestor Tahupōtiki was informed of his brother’s death by a flying kite. Their importance has led to the saying: ‘A treasured kite lost to the winds, brings much joy when found again.’

The ancestor Kiwa

According to one account, the area of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa was named by the ancestor Kiwa, who arrived on board the Tākitimu canoe, ahead of the Horouta. Because it took so long for the Horouta to arrive, he named its final landing place Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (the long waiting place of Kiwa). In another version, the name tells of the time Kiwa spent gazing out to sea, anxiously awaiting the return of his lost son. Yet another tradition suggests that Kiwa, not wishing to be outdone by Tamatea, captain of the Tākitimu, who had named the north-eastern side of the bay Te Tūranga-a-Ruamatua, laid claim to the southern side by naming it Tūranganui-a-Kiwa.

Arrivals and alliances

The Horouta canoe

The intricate history of the people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa began once the Horouta canoe had arrived from Hawaiki. It made landfall at Ōhiwa Harbour, in the eastern Bay of Plenty. But when those on board attempted to cross a sandbar named Tukerae-o-Kanawa and enter the harbour, they ran the canoe aground, and the haumi (join) in the hull was broken. The chief Pāoa took a party inland to search for a suitably shaped tree with which to repair the canoe. Far from the coast, on top of a high mountain, they found such a tree, so the mountain was named Maunga Haumi. While there, Pāoa needed to urinate, giving form to the stream Te Mimi-a-Pāoa, the Mōtū River, which flows to the north, and the Waipāoa River, which flows south-east towards the sea.


Once repaired, the canoe headed around the East Cape and followed the coastline south. The Horouta people greeted the inhabitants already living there, and some remained with them, while the rest continued south, replenishing water and food supplies as they went. Finally, they reached a large bay where Kiwa had set up a sacred reserve, claiming the area in the names of the canoe’s remaining crew.

Hine Akua, the daughter of Pāoa, married Kahutuanui, the son of the ancestor Kiwa. Pāoa’s sister, Hine Hakirirangi, was the ancestor who nurtured the kūmara (sweet potato) she had brought from Hawaiki in her sacred basket. At Manawarū and Āraiteuru she planted kūmara vines, which nourished her people.

The people of Tūranganui trace their lineage back to these ancestors.


The chiefly lines of the Tākitimu and Horouta canoes eventually converged in the leader Ruapani: he was descended from Kiwa, Pāoa and Hine Hakirirangi. The guardianship of the whole district of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa fell upon his shoulders. He had a great , known as Popoia, on the western bank overlooking the Waipāoa River at Te Waituhi-a-Maia (Waituhi). Ruapani had three wives, and the descendants of their numerous children brought together all the tribes of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa.

Māia and Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru

Māia was the captain of the Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru canoe, which arrived after the Tākitimu and Horouta. He is often credited with bringing gourd seeds from Hawaiki. Although he left Tūranganui-a-Kiwa to accompany members of his family to Waikaremoana, his remains were eventually brought back and interred in the Kohurau cave in the Maungaroa Range.

Contacts and conflicts

First European arrivals

Tūranganui-a-Kiwa people first met Europeans when Lieutenant James Cook’s Endeavour anchored in Poverty Bay in late 1769. Conflict arose when the crew went ashore, and several Māori were killed or wounded.

European whalers and traders began to arrive on the East Coast from the late 18th century. Probably the most well-known of these was Thomas Halbert, an Englishman who disembarked from a whaling vessel at Tūranganui-a-Kiwa about 1832. He married six Māori women, including three of the Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki tribe and two of Rongowhakaata. The descendants of these unions were to rise to local and national prominence.

Later in the 1830s the Church Missionary Society extended its attention to the East Cape. William Williams established a mission station at Tūranga in 1840, and the Anglican Church became a strong influence in many Māori communities in the area.

The lure of land

In May 1840, 24 chiefs from the Tūranga (Gisborne) district (mainly Rongowhakaata, with some Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Te Aitanga a Hauiti) signed a copy of the Treaty of Waitangi. Land was subsequently sold or leased, and more systematic European settlement of the area began. The Māori people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa made the most of business and trading opportunities. Some hapū (sub-tribes) had their own ships taking foodstuffs to the Auckland market.

The wars of the 1860s

Few people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes were drawn into the wars of the early 1860s. Fighting had broken out between Māori, who were determined to retain their land and authority, and the government, which was equally resolved to establish its dominance and gain more land for settlement. However, when the government began to confiscate Māori land the attitude of the people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa changed.

Emissaries of the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) religious movement came to Poverty Bay in 1865 and made many converts. They were pursued by government forces, and in the battle of Waerenga-a-hika Māori fought on both sides. Prisoners taken by the government were sent to the Chatham Islands. Among their number was a Rongowhakaata man, Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki.

Te Kooti and Ringatū

Te Kooti, once regarded as a promising pupil at William Williams’ mission school, had fought on the government side at Waerenga-a-hika. However, he was later imprisoned because he was thought to be a spy. The perceived injustice of this appears to have been a factor in his later actions. After having religious visions, Te Kooti became the spiritual leader of his fellow prisoners and led them in a dramatic escape from the Chathams. In July 1868, nearly 300 people seized a supply ship, the Rifleman, and forced it to sail to Poverty Bay. After a battle with government forces, Te Kooti decided to attack settlements at Poverty Bay. Dozens of Māori and Europeans were killed. For the next few years he was pursued into the Urewera district, and then through to the Taupō area, eluding defeat and capture until he sought refuge in the King Country. Although he was regarded with fear and suspicion by Europeans and some Māori for the rest of his life, his followers revered him as a prophet and the founder of the Ringatū faith. The name of this religion refers to the upraised hand, a gesture of homage to God at the conclusion of prayers.

Reconstruction and development

Retaining land

Following the wars of the 1860s, East Coast tribes were threatened with confiscation of their lands by the New Zealand government. To avoid this threat Māori leaders negotiated the surrender of some lands to the Crown, and they agreed to a Native Land Court investigation of titles in the area. In 1869 the Poverty Bay Commission began granting title to land in the area, excluding those who had fought against the Crown after 1863. Some tribes of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa suffered more than others in this exercise. In the 1870s the Repudiation movement, which opposed further sale of Māori land, spread to Poverty Bay.

In 1880 a joint Māori and European-managed land organisation, the East Coast Native Land Settlement Company, was set up to lease Māori land in the interests of its owners. Although the company failed, its land holdings were put in trust under the East Coast Native Trust Lands Act 1902. The idea of administering Māori lands in trust influenced later initiatives. In the 20th century, people of Tūranganui-a-Kiwa participated in the land development schemes of Apirana Ngata, the member of Parliament for Eastern Māori from 1905 to 1943. Several large incorporations were established to bring large areas of Māori land under tribal control so that it could be effectively farmed.

World wars

Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes were represented in the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, which brought together Māori troops to fight in the First World War. They again provided men for 28 (Māori) Battalion in the Second World War. Kīngi Āreta Keiha of the Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Te Aitanga a Hauiti tribes commanded the battalion for a time in 1943. Patriotic activities during the wars, and the rehabilitation of servicemen afterwards, gained considerable local support, often under the leadership of women such as Hēni Materoa Carroll and Lena Matewai Ruru. Initiatives such as the Māori Women’s Welfare League, established after the Second World War, also had a strong following among Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes.

Te Rūnanga o Tūranganui a Kiwa

In 1986 Te Rūnanga o Tūranganui a Kiwa was established to represent the interests of Rongowhakaata, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki. It is involved in social, education and health services, the organisation of sporting events and coaching, and land and asset development. The organisation also runs a radio station, providing Māori news and views in the Māori language. In association with the Gisborne Herald, it publishes its own monthly newspaper, Pipiwharauroa.

Rongowhakaata’s treaty settlement, dated 30 September 2011, was valued at about $22 million. Ngā Uri o Te Kooti Rikirangi are a whānau group of Rongowhakaata. The Treaty settlement included several measures, including payments totalling $450,000, to acknowledge Crown breaches of the Treaty in relation to its treatment of Te Kooti Rikirangi and his descendants.

Ngāi Tāmanuhiri settled it historic treaty claims on 5 March 2011, for a financial value of $11 million plus interests in Crown assets including the Wharerata Forest. Young Nick’s Head Historic Reserve was vested in Ngai Tāmanuhiri as a national historic reserve, and its name changed to Te Kuri a Paoa/Young Nick’s Head. A further $180,000 was paid towards cultural revitalisation of the iwi, and $100,000 for a memorial to members of Ngai Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata and Te Whakarau (former prisoners of the Crown and followers of Te Kooti) who lost their lives due to past actions of the Crown.

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 Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes (including those who indicated more than one tribe), and the regions where they were found in the greatest numbers in 2013.

Ngāi Tāmanuhiri

  • 1991 census: 546
  • 2001 census: 1,173
  • 2006 census: 1,662
  • 2013 census: 1,719

Major regional locations

  • Gisborne: 714
  • Wellington: 210


  • 1991 census: 2,358
  • 2001 census: 3,612
  • 2006 census: 4,710
  • 2013 census: 4,920

Major regional locations

  • Gisborne: 1,854
  • Wellington: 609

Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki

  • 1991 census: 2,742
  • 2001 census: 4,365
  • 2006 census: 5,877
  • 2013 census: 6,258

Major regional locations

  • Gisborne: 2,550
  • Wellington: 798

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Nick Tūpara, 'Tūranganui-a-Kiwa tribes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 8 December 2023)

Story by Nick Tūpara, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2017