The Taranaki iwi (tribe) is one of a number from the Taranaki region. Bounded by Te Āti Awa in the north and Ngā Ruahine in the south, the Taranaki tribe has a history of constant vigilance and war, which has given rise to the saying: ‘Kāore e pau, he ika ūnahi nui’ (They cannot be conquered, they are like fish with great, thick scales).
The tribal area is on the western cape of the North Island. It stretches from Ōnukutaipari on the northern coast to the Ōuri River in the south, and encompasses Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont). These traditional boundaries are described in the following saying:
Ōnukutaipari marks the ascent to the post of Ōkurukuru,
From Ōkurukuru to Te Whakangerengere,
Te Whakangerengere to Te Tahuna o Tuutawa [Warwick Castle],
Te Tahuna o Tuutawa to Panitahi [Fanthams Peak],
Panitahi to the Ōuri Stream, arriving at the tributary of Raawa o Turi
And the pillar stone of Matirawhati.
The mountains of the Kaitake Range, Pouākai Range and Mt Taranaki bisect the Taranaki tribal area and are the source of the tribe’s genealogy. The first people were called Te Kāhui Maunga – the people of the mountains.
Tradition holds that the chief Tahurangi climbed the peak and lit a ceremonial fire, which caused an alpine cloud to descend. In this rite the name of the ancestor Rua Taranaki was conferred on the mountain. The people of the Taranaki tribe have a saying:
The fire of Tahurangi brings forth the alpine
It stands, elevated
And falls in the dawn and in the evenings.
Traditions say that Mt Taranaki, formerly known as Pukeonaki, once stood at Taupō. He and another mountain, Tongariro, both loved the beautiful maiden mountain Pīhanga, and fought over her. Pukeonaki was beaten and retreated down the Whanganui River to the sea. Led north-west by a guide, Te Toka a Rauhoto, he saw the Pouākai mountain. He progressed up the Hangaataahua River, resurfacing in his final position beside Pouākai.
The first ancestor of the Taranaki tribe, Rua Taranaki, came from Taupō. He settled at the headwaters of the Hangaataahua River, carrying the bones of his elders there for burial in a cave, which was called the Cave of Tahatiti. Rua Taranaki was the first of a line of chiefs. His ascendancy is described as follows:
The tides of the dark night rise up
The tides of full daylight descend
The tides of increase climb
It is of cosmic authority
Behold Tiki …Tiki given form from earth, form from heaven
Arriving at human form
Rua Taranaki married Rauhoto Taiparu
Their offspring were Rua te tira,
Rua te pāe,
Rua te maemae aroha,
The Kurahaupō was one of the canoes that brought the ancestors of Māori from East Polynesia to New Zealand. During the voyage it suffered damage, and some people on board, led by Te Moungāroa, were transferred to the Mataatua canoe for the last part of the journey. Te Kāhui Maunga intermarried with these later arrivals, and the tribe Taranaki emerged.
The people of the Taranaki tribe were closely related to other tribes in the region through ancestry and proximity. Alliances and disputes between them were a feature of their history both before and after European settlement. Threats from other tribes and the need to protect territory, authority and honour meant that relationships between the Taranaki tribes were continually changing.
There was a long history of warfare between Waikato and Taranaki. Tribes from Waikato had raided Taranaki and Whanganui in the late 18th century, and warfare continued until the 1830s.
Meanwhile in the early 19th century, other tribes from the north – Ngāti Whātua, Te Roroa, Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Toa – raided Taranaki, armed with muskets. They defeated the Taranaki tribe and captured slaves skilled in the preparation of flax. The work of these slaves earned income for the northern tribes and enabled them to buy muskets for further expeditions.
The Ngāti Toa tribe of Kāwhia was also under pressure from Waikato tribes, and in about 1822 they decided to migrate to the Kāpiti Coast and Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour). On the way they passed through the Taranaki region and were joined by some people of the Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama tribes. In 1824 more Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama accompanied Ngāti Toa in another migration south. These upheavals and the depopulation of the area altered the balance of power.
The Taranaki tribe and their neighbours continued to suffer raids from Waikato. Between 1834 and 1837 Waikato tribes ventured down the Taranaki coast. The Taranaki tribe, led by the great chief Wiremu Kīngi Te Matakātea, inflicted three defeats on them, first at Ngā Weka, then at Te Namu, and finally at Waimate. A sacred peace known as ‘Hou-hou-rongo’ was then negotiated, and is binding on the tribes to this day.
The first dealings most Taranaki Māori had with Europeans were with the crews of trading vessels. These ships stopped at Ngā Motu (now the site of New Plymouth) on voyages between Cook Strait and Hobart or Sydney from the 1820s. Māori exchanged flax and pigs for muskets and ammunition. Shipwrecks also brought Māori into contact with Europeans. When the barque Harriet was wrecked at the mouth of the Ōkahu Stream in 1834, three of the passengers – Betty Guard and her two children – were taken hostage by some Ngāti Ruanui. The chief Oaiti rescued them and they lived contentedly with the Taranaki tribe for a time. Europeans, however, assumed that Betty and her children were prisoners, and the British ship Alligator was sent to rescue them. In the process its crew burned the Taranaki pā of Te Namu, and the Ngāti Ruanui pā of Ōrangituapeka and Waimate.
From the 1830s people of Taranaki who had been enslaved and taken north by Ngāpuhi and Waikato invaders were, along with their captors, exposed to missionary teachings. When they were freed as a result of the influence of Christianity, they returned home to spread the word. By 1846 a Lutheran mission station had been established at Wārea, and missionaries of other denominations were working in the region.
On 15 February 1840, agents of the New Zealand Company purchased land at Ngā Motu for the settlement of New Plymouth, and immigrants began arriving the following year. During the 1840s some blocks of land, mainly bush-covered hill country, were sold by members of the Taranaki and Te Āti Awa tribes against the wishes of the majority. The new settlers wanted land that was more suitable for farming, and pressure was put on Taranaki tribes to sell.
During the 1850s, more Māori began to resist this pressure. Tensions spilled over in Taranaki in 1859 when a faction of Te Āti Awa offered to sell land at Waitara to the government, and other members of the tribe with an interest in the land objected. War broke out between Māori and government forces in 1860, and the people of the Taranaki tribe were drawn into it. Although a ceasefire was agreed in 1861, the conflict remained unresolved and fighting began again in 1863.
In 1865 combined colonial and British forces marched north from Whanganui, establishing forts and destroying the villages and cultivations of all south Taranaki tribes. Taking the inland route to New Plymouth, the troops returned along the coast in 1866, attacking Taranaki tribal settlements on the way.
The outcome of war was that a large tract of land, including the territory of the Taranaki tribe, was confiscated by the government and sold for settlement. Initially the Taranaki tribe’s land was not occupied, but after 1878 settlers and surveyors moved into the area south of the Hangaataahua River.
A new religion, founded by Te Ua Haumēne, emerged from the conflict over land in Taranaki. Te Ua had been captured by Waikato in a raid on Taranaki in 1826, and was subsequently exposed to missionary teachings. In the 1850s he joined Māori opposition to land sales, and he fought against the government in 1860. Te Ua’s understanding of Christianity and his belief in the need for Māori to retain land fused in September 1862, when he had a vision of the Archangel Gabriel commanding him to lead his people in casting off the yoke of the Pākehā. The angel promised him that the birthright of Israelites (the Māori people) would be restored in the land of Canaan (New Zealand) following a day of deliverance in which the unrighteous would perish.
Te Ua called his church Hauhau, because Te Hau – the breath of God – carried the news of deliverance to the faithful. Although the founding principle of the faith was pai mārire (goodness and peace), it was subverted by violent elements, much to the disappointment of some of its members, who included Te Matakātea and Te Whiti-o-Rongomai. As the prophets of the faith travelled around the North Island between 1864 and 1867 to spread its teachings, they were drawn into armed conflict with government forces. The Hauhau faith, however, was to influence the development of other Māori religious movements, and it has survived into the 21st century.
From the mid-1860s Parihaka, a Māori settlement in the Taranaki tribal area, became the centre of a peaceful resistance movement. The movement involved not only other Taranaki tribes, but Māori from a number of tribes around the country. Its leaders, Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, were of both Taranaki and Te Āti Awa descent. The confiscation of land was now the central problem faced by Taranaki Māori, and under Te Whiti’s leadership a new approach to this issue was developed: non-violent resistance to European settlement of confiscated land.
In 1879, when the government started surveying confiscated land on the Waimate plain, followers of Te Whiti began disrupting surveys and ploughing and fencing land occupied by settlers. Many were arrested and held without trial in the South Island, but the protests intensified. In November 1881, the government sent a force of over 1,500 troops to Parihaka. Most of its inhabitants were arrested or driven away, and the village was largely demolished. Te Whiti and Tohu were imprisoned without trial until 1883. In their absence, Parihaka was rebuilt. Ploughing campaigns continued until the late 1890s, as did the imprisonment of Parihaka protesters without trial.
In 1990 the Waitangi Tribunal began hearing the claims of Taranaki tribes relating to the land confiscations of the 1860s. The tribunal’s report, published in 1996, found that ‘Taranaki Māori were dispossessed of their land, leadership, means of livelihood, personal freedom, and social structure and values’. 1
The historical treaty claims of the Taranaki iwi were settled in 2015. The settlement included commercial and financial redress valued at $70 million, and a cultural fund of $55,633. Twenty-nine Crown-owned sites were vested in Taranaki iwi, and taonga tūturu, fisheries and conservation protocols were established with relevant government departments.
In the 2013 census, 6,087 people identified themselves as belonging to the Taranaki tribe. The main hapū (sub-tribes) are Ngāti Tairi, Ngā Mahanga, Ngāti Moeahu, Ngāti Haupoto and Waiotama, Ngāti Tuhekerangi, Ngāti Tara, Ngāti Kahumate, Ngāti Tamarongo, Ngāti Haumia, Ngāi Wetenga, Titahi and Ngāti Tamaahuroa.
Aside from Parihaka and its many marae, the main marae in the tribal region are at Ōakura, Puniho, Pōtaka, Orimupiko and Ōeo.
Tribal initiatives include the retention of the language, traditions and customs of the Taranaki people.
The settlement of Parihaka was a model of Māori autonomy in the late 19th century, blending European innovation with traditional Māori values. By the end of the 1870s it had a permanent population of about 1,500, including people from Taranaki and Whanganui tribes. Parihaka had its own bank, and police to keep order. A large area of land was cultivated, and modern agricultural equipment such as reaping and threshing machines were used. The inhabitants harvested, hunted and gathered food to feed their many visitors.
Parihaka remains a potent symbol of non-violent protest. From the 1970s the settlement grew in size and received many visitors, both Māori and Pākehā, including trade unionists, artists, writers and historians. During the summer of 2000–01 an exhibition at the City Gallery in Wellington brought together 120 years of art, poetry and songs about Parihaka. A book from the exhibition, Parihaka: the art of passive resistance, was joint winner of New Zealand’s premier book award in 2001.
In 2018, a $9 million reconciliation package for the people of Parihaka was finalised. In 2019 a Crown apology for the invasion of Parihaka and the imprisonment of its people, first given in 2017, was passed into law.
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 Taranaki tribe (including those who indicated more than one tribe), and the regions where they were found in the greatest numbers in 2013.
The only previous census asking Māori to indicate tribal affiliation – but not of multiple tribes – was that of 1901.
Ballara, Angela. Taua: ‘musket wars’, ‘land wars’ or tikanga? Auckland: Penguin, 2003.
Church, Ian. Heartland of Aotea: Maori and European in South Taranaki before the Taranaki wars. Hawera: Hawera Historical Society, 1992.
Hōhaia, Te Miringa, Gregory O’Brien and Lara Strongman, eds. Parihaka: the art of passive resistance. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2001.
Riseborough, Hazel. Days of darkness: the government and Parihaka, Taranaki, 1878–1884. Rev. ed. Auckland: Penguin, 2002.
Scott, Dick. Ask that mountain: the story of Parihaka. Auckland: Heinemann/Southern Cross, 1975.
Smith, S. Percy. History and traditions of the Maoris of the west coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840. New Plymouth: Polynesian Society, 1910.