The ascendancy of the Kurahaupõ


The Ascendancy of the Kurahaupō


The northern South Island, ‘Te Tauihu o te Waka a Māui’, has always been of strategic importance to Māori.


New Zealand’s first people settled at the Te Pokohiwi o Kupe, the Wairau Bar, in the north eastern corner of the South Island around 1300 AD.


Why? Location, Location, Location!


Here was to be found a ready supply of protein in the form of the moa; from the Nelson mineral belt could be procured metamorphosed mudstone (argillite), or pakohe, from which stone tools were made and traded; and kumara, with some effort could be grown.


These factors made Te Pokohiwi an ideal location to establish New Zealand’s first town. 

It is estimated that after 150 years the moa had been hunted to extinction. While there was certainly enough food resources to support a population, the demise of the moa and a cooling in the climate which made kumara cultivation more difficult, encouraged a movement north. It is unlikely that the ‘Little Ice Age’ caused a full evacuation however. The archaeological signature in and around Te Pokohiwi suggests that there has been at least intermittent occupation since first settlement.

The first migrants from the North Island to cross Raukawakawamoana were descended from the crew of the Kurahaupō canoe. According to one tradition the Kurahaupō made landfall at Mahia Peninsula where its people settled for a while. Following a domestic dispute Whātonga, a leader of the Kurahaupō, took leave of his wife, Hotuwaipara, and explored the east and west coasts of the the lower North Island.  Tradition records that the Whātonga made a brief stop in Te Tauihu before returning north. When he came upon the Manawatū River (a name bestowed upon it by Hau, another Kurahaupō explorer) he ascended it, making his way through the Manawatū gorge to ‘Forty Mile Bush’ - Te Taperenui o Whātonga.

The Kurahaupō people eventually dispersed, branching out from Mahia and Heretaunga until they occupied much of the lower North Island and northern South Island. The descendants of Whātonga, include Ngai Tara, Ngāti Mamoe, Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri, Muaūpoko, and Rangitāne. The progeny of Ruatea, another Kurahaupō leader, include Ngāti Apa of the Rangitikei and Te Tauihu. The Ngāti Kuia people of Te Tauihu claim descent from Whātonga, Ruatea, and Awa, another Kurahaupō voyager. Tradition also speaks of the Kurahaupō plying the coasts of the North Island, during which time other crew members disembarked. Indeed Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa of Muriwhenua also descend from the Kurahaupō. 

Te Whanganui a Tara/The Great Harbour of Tara (Wellington), as the name suggests, was first occupied by the descendants of Tara, Whātonga’s son. Te Whanganui was an important staging post for migrants heading south. From about the end of the 15th century, Ngāti Mamoe moved from Heretaunga, through Wairarapa, and into Whanganui a Tara where they settled with their relatives. Ngai Tara had made early excursions into the Marlborough Sounds settling at Tōtaranui, Pelorus, and Waimea. Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri were also early to arrive settling on Arapaoa Island before moving westward. Ngāti Mamoe’s entry into the South Island, according to tradition, speaks of Waitaha from the Wairau sending gifts of food to entice the Ngāti Mamoe to migrate. This apparent invitation was most likely accepted with enthusiasm as pressure from Rangitāne was bearing down on them. Like Māui and Kupe, these migrants would all leave their mark on the cultural landscape. 

Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri, who it is said met Abel Tasman 1642, are responsible for names such as Puhikererū (Mt Furneaux), Nukuwaiata (Inner Chetwode Island), Puangiangi, Hautai, and Moawhitu. Not simply geographical features i.e. a mountain, islands, and a lake, they are ancestors whose names mark the migration of a people. Ngāti Tūmatakōkiri would eventually occupy the area from Rangitoto (D’Urville Island) to Onetahua (Farewell Spit). 

Ngāti Mamoe came south in a number of migrations in fairly quick succession, if not simultaneously, and they would eventually occupy all of Te Waka a Māui. In the Marlborough area NgātiMamoe’s occupation has been been remembered in names such as  Te Ana o Rongomaipapa (A cave at Rarangi), Oraumoa (Fighting Bay), Hinekoareare (Mt Strahan), Whitiao (Mt Dobson), and Hineanaumate (one of the many hand dug canals adjacent to the Wairau Lagoons). Later migrations of Rangitāne and Ngāti Apa resulted in marriages, the descendants of which continue to  live in the area to this day.

The first of Kupe’s descendants to settle permanently in the Marlborough Sounds arrived with Matua Hautere as part of an early Ngai Tara migration. According to Ngāti Kuia tradition, Matua Hautere was guided to the region in his waka, Te Hoiere, by two ancestral guardians, Ruamano and Kaikaiāwaro, who took the form of dolphins. They explored the outer Marlborough Sounds and the Pelorus Sound and river, naming numerous places. Te Hoiere was the name given to the Pelorus Sound and valley; ‘Awaiti’ (the little river) was the name given to a small island in the  Tawhitinui Reach; and, at Motueka (Havelock) at the head of the sound where the Kaituna and Pelorus rivers meet, was named ‘Awanui’ (the big river). 

The exploratory expeditions of Matua Hautere in many ways resembles that of Kupe. Like Kupe, Matua Hautere is credited with the creation of natural features. For instance, it is said that Kaikaiāwaro created the meandering section of the Pelorus River, the intertidal zone where the freshwater mixes with the sea, by digging it out with its nose. This tradition is similar to that of Rākaihautū, who created the southern lakes with his Ko (a gardening implement). Both are stories of discovery. Unlike Kupe, Matua Hautere settled in the area, at Tītīrangi; moreover, successive generations of his descendants settled in the bays and inlets of the Pelorus Sound and D’Urville Island, forming an enduring bond with Kaikaiāwaro.  

Mixed groups of Ngai Tara, Rangitāne, and Ngāti Apa continued to cross Raukawakawamoana. Writing in 1947, Peter MacDonald states that his ancestors migrated south on account of ‘internal dissension’ and pressure from the north. Like earlier migrations they landed at Meretoto. The land, writes Peter, was occupied by Ngāti Mamoe. They spoke a similar language and practiced similar customs to the new arrivals. He also raises an important point, and one that is key to understanding the Māori history of this area: inter-marriage played a far greater role than warfare. Certainly fighting occurred, and indeed James Cook and his crew saw evidence of conflict. What whakapapa clearly shows, however, is that conflict was concluded by intermarriage and that descendants claimed land rights through both their parents. 

The period Peter is writing about is only 2 or perhaps 3 generations prior to the arrival of Cook. By this time Māori had achieved quite a bit. The land had been named/mapped; stone resources had long been identified and exploited; and, the seasonal cycles had been observed and recorded. For instance, names of bays such as Anakakata and Anakoha allude to the harvesting of fish and birds. Punaruawhiti (Endeavour Inlet) was a hub in the semi-nomadic life style of Sound’s Māori, while Anahou (later renamed ‘Cannibal Cove’ by Cook) was frequented by winds favourable for inter-island travel. By this time too the overland routes and inland waterways were well established. In fact, these were known about quite early on, and can be seen in the distribution argillite, basalt, and obsidian; from this we can deduce that there was a well established trade network in minerals. 

In many ways having to adapt to a new environment as well as the constant influx of migrants readied Tōtaranui Māori for the arrival of Europeans. Of course nothing could prepare them for firearms or European diseases. Nevertheless, Māori were quick to recognise the usefulness of some European goods especially those items that could be incorporated into their everyday lives. They were also well aware that Cook needed to replenish his stores, this in turn created a space where trade could flourish. Māori were so adept at reading the situation that they began to produce, and procure, items for trade. The trade in mokomokai, or preserved tattooed heads, while abhorrent by today’s standards,  indicates that Māori were not benign players in these early encounters, rather, they were active agents who pursued their own interests. Moreover, the Cook expeditions did not just expose Māori to the European world, through Tupaia they were reacquainted with the Polynesian world. Such was Tupaia’s influence that names of Tahitian origin appeared in the whakapapa of Tōtaranui Māori around the time of Cook’s first expedition. 


Dr Peter Meihana & Mark Moses 

Photo : Te Ara


In 2019, New Zealand will mark 250 years since the first meetings between Māori and Pākehā during James Cook and the Endeavour’s 1769 voyage to Aotearoa New Zealand. Tuia – Encounters 250 will acknowledge this pivotal moment in our nation’s history as well as the extraordinary feats of Pacific voyagers who reached and settled in Aotearoa many years earlier.

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