Top of the south tribes had many backgrounds

00:26, Nov 12 2009
MARLBOROUGH MAORI: Taitook Pah, Pelorus. JP Murray (c 1880)

The origins and fortunes of the tangata whenua tribes of te tau ihu (the top of the south) were varied, with many skirmishes taking place to establish land tenure and supremacy.

Three of the eight tangata whenua tribes in Te Tau Ihu (Rangitane, Ngati Kuia and Ngati Apa) are of Kurahaupo waka origins; three (Ngati Toa, Ngati Koata and Ngati Rarua) descend from the Tainui waka; and two are from northern Taranaki (Ngati Tama of Tokomaru waka origins and Te Atiawa of Aotea or Kurahaupo descent).

Ngati Kuia descend from three ancestors who disembarked from the Kurahaupo at Te Tai Tapu in north-west Nelson as the waka circumnavigated Aotearoa upon arrival from Hawaiki in the 13th or 14th century.

Kuia migrated eastwards and eventually established settlements in the Pelorus Valley and Sound, at d'Urville Island and along the eastern coast of Tasman Bay.

Rangitane migrated south from Wairarapa in the 16th century, led by chiefs who traded land at Wairarapa for waka to travel to the South Island.

Through skirmishes and shifting alliances they consolidated their position in the Wairau, Queen Charlotte Sound, Awatere and the northern Kaikoura coast.


A few Ngati Apa first crossed to the outer Sounds from the Rangitikei district in the late 17th century.

Further contingents from the Rangitikei, Manawatu and Kapiti districts mounted a sizeable assault on Ngati Tumatakokiri in western Te Tau Ihu in the late 1700s, eventually ousting Tumatakokiri.

After Tumatakokiri's comprehensive defeat by Apa, Kuia and Ngai Tahu in about 1810, Apa consolidated their holdings from the Waimea west to Mohua (Golden Bay) and Buller, as well as in Queen Charlotte Sound.

Kuia, Rangitane and Apa were dramatically displaced as manawhenua iwi (having authority over the land) when they were defeated by the alliance of Tainui and Taranaki iwi (Ngati Toa, Ngati Koata, Ngati Rarua, Ngati Tama, Te Atiawa) c1828-1832, although they retain their tangata whenua status.

Toa, Koata and Rarua, had been forced to abandon their lands around Kawhia Harbour in 1821 by their better-armed Tainui cousins, Waikato and Ngati Maniapoto.

After a 10-month stay in north Taranaki with relatives (Ngati Tama, Ngati Mutunga and Te Atiawa), which was spent planting and harvesting crops, hunting, fishing and preserving foods, the Toa chief, Te Rauparaha, led Te Heke Tataramoa down the west coast of the North Island.

This was named the Bramble Bush Expedition, because of the difficulties of the journey.

The Kawhia tribes and contingents of Tama, Mutunga and Atiawa conquered and occupied the districts of Rangitikei, Manawatu, Horowhenua, Otaki, Kapiti, Porirua and Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington).

After establishing themselves there, the allies (minus Mutunga who had migrated to the Chathams) turned their attention to the South Island to exact utu on Kurahaupo who had challenged them at Kapiti, and to avenge insults.

Between 1828 and 1832, war parties conquered Te Tau Ihu (Nelson-Marlborough), and as far south as Kaiapoi and Okarito. Iwi subsequently agreed on the division of lands.

Toa and some Rarua occupied the Wairau, Port Underwood and northern Kaikoura Coast.

Atiawa spread throughout Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel.

Koata settled at Rangitoto (d'Urville Island), the Croisilles and outer Pelorus, while Toa stayed in Pelorus Valley and the inner Sound.

Tama got Wakapuaka and Rarua, Atiawa and some Tama occupied Motueka, Mohua and Te Tai Tapu (on the west coast south of Farewell Spit).

Those Kurahaupo who survived were enslaved or withdrew to inland hiding places.

The Tainui Taranaki chiefs negotiated with New Zealand Company officials to allow European settlement.

This story was written by Hilary and John Mitchell who contributed stories to from their book: Te Tau Ihu o te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough. Check out www.theprow. for a list of further resources relating to tangata whenua, or for more historical stories from o te tau ihu – the top of the south.

The Marlborough Express