Story: Volcanic Plateau region

Page 4. Māori traditions – from Maketū to Tongariro

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People of Te Arawa

The main tribes of the Volcanic Plateau are the Te Arawa people, in the Rotorua area, and Ngāti Tūwharetoa, around Taupō. The traditions of both groups link them to the Te Arawa canoe, which made its final landfall at Maketū on the Bay of Plenty coast. The saying ‘Ko te ihu o te waka kei Maketū, ko te kei o te waka kei Tongariro’, means that the prow of the Te Arawa is at Maketū, and the stern at Mt Tongariro.

Exploring ancestors

Many places are named after the journeys of early ancestors.

  • Lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti are named after the explorers Kahumatamomoe (son of Te Arawa captain Tamatekapua) and his nephew (later also son-in-law) Īhenga. The lakes’ full names are Te Rotoruanui-a-Kahumatamomoe and Te Rotoiti-kite-a-Īhenga.
  • Tia, Tamatekapua’s uncle, travelled south to Taupō. He named a number of places, including Ātiamuri (Tia who arrived after others), Aratiatia (Tia’s stairway) and Te Taupō-nui-a-Tia (Tia’s rain cloak), a name now applied to the entire lake.
  • Ngātoroirangi, the tohunga (priest) of Te Arawa, reached the mountains south of Taupō. Ngāuruhoe is named after a slave he sacrificed. Ngātoroirangi climbed Tongariro in cold weather, and called to his sisters in Hawaiki for fire to warm him. Hot springs on the mountain are called Ketetahi (one basket) – a reminder that while he asked for three containers of fire, only one arrived.

Te Arawa – descendants of Rangitihi

Rangitihi is an important ancestor of the Te Arawa people. He survived a massive blow to his head in battle and became known as Rangitihi-te-Upoko-i-takaia-ki-te-akatea (Rangitihi whose head is bound with the akatea vine). The descent lines from his eight children are often called ‘Ngā pūmanawa e waru’ – the eight great strengths or beating hearts (of Rangitihi).

Present-day tribes

Te Arawa tribes today include Ngāti Kearoa, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Rangiteaorere, Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāti Rangiwewehi, Ngāti Rongomai, Ngāti Uenukukōpako, Ngāti Wāhiao, Ngāti Whakaue, Tapuika, Tūhourangi and Waitaha.

Dual identity

The Waikato River has two names. Ngāti Tūwharetoa call the river above Lake Taupō Tongariro. They acknowledge that just as they have kinship links with Waikato people, so are the Tongariro’s waters linked to those of the Waikato. Chair Te Kanawa Pitiroi has said, ‘From Tongariro flows the river named after it; that flows into the lake and eventually becomes the Waikato River. We’re one and the other.’ 1

Descendants of Tūwharetoa

Tūwharetoa was a prominent Bay of Plenty chief who lived near present-day Kawerau in the 1500s.

Moving to Taupō

About 100 years later, his descendants went to the Taupō area, with their chiefs Tūrangitukua, Waikari and Ruawehea. With the support of Tūtewero from Kawerau, they overwhelmed the local Ngāti Hotu people, establishing the Tūwharetoa tribe’s mana in the region. Tūrangi is named after Tūrangitukua.

Later chiefs

Te Rangiita, seven generations after Tūwharetoa, was an important warrior chief, as was his son Tamamutu. Te Rangituamātotoru, Tamamutu’s great-grandson, set a high standard of leadership as paramount chief in the later 1700s.

The Te Heuheu dynasty

Herea, who lived around 1800, was descended from Te Rangiita’s sister. He became known as Te Heuheu Tūkino after the time he searched for a relative’s body, which was hidden by the shrub māheuheu.

Herea defeated the warrior chief Te Wakaiti at Pūkawa, and became undisputed chief of the Taupō area. He is the ancestor of the later paramount chiefs of Tūwharetoa – all of whom take the name Te Heuheu Tūkino.

  1. Quoted in Yvonne Tahana, ‘A place of searching.’ Waikato Times, 15 November 2006. › Back
How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Volcanic Plateau region - Māori traditions – from Maketū to Tongariro', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 May 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 1 Nov 2007, updated 1 May 2015