BLINDED 175 YEARS: Wellingtonians, unaware of their city’s Maori heritage and Te Ati Awa history
Also in this story:
- Kupe, discoverer of Aotearoa
- Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Te Ati Awa history
- Wairau Bar Scientific Finding
- The Great Polynesian Migration
Wellington celebrates 175 years this month, commemorating the arrival of the first European settlers to Wellington on the ship Aurora, docking at Pito One (now called Petone), setting up the short-lived town of Britannia.
Later, in July, it will celebrate 150 years as New Zealand’s third capital city.
Yet, those milestones and subsequent history commemorate events mostly from European colonization, settlement and development. Stories sculpted on Wellington’s physical landscape as a result of its status as capital, and interventions by two major earthquakes in 1848 and 1855.
But what is missing from the memories of many Wellingtonians are stories from its Maori history, settlement, treasures and heritage buried under their city’s streets that are of significance not just to Wellington and New Zealand, but to the Pacific and the world.
It is why we at Pacific Guardians were not surprised when Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae’s New Year message about ‘nationhood’ referenced the blatant ‘Maori/Polynesian’ memory gaps amongst New Zealanders generally.
ANYONE KNOW WAIRAU BAR (Te Pokohiwi o Kupe)?
He said his visits last year to “Wairau Bar and Rangihoua,” as places “which may not be familiar to many New Zealanders.”
He emphasised, “As it happens, they are of profound significance to the history of human settlement on our planet. New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled and Wairau Bar is now considered one of the first major entry points for Polynesian migration in New Zealand.
“Rangihoua was the site of the first permanent European settlement here.”
Sir Mateparae has a point. For Wellington it is poignant because Maori stories about Wellington are not just significant to New Zealand, but to the Pacific as it describes a time of Polynesian migration acknowledged as one of humanity’s most remarkable achievements: the discovery and settlement of the remote, widely scattered islands of the central Pacific.
A span of one thousand years where voyagers from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga began to settle islands in an ocean area of over 10 million square miles. A feat that involved finding and fixing in mind the position of islands, sometimes less than a mile in diameter on which the highest landmark was a coconut tree. By the time European explorers entered the Pacific Ocean in the 16th century almost all the habitable islands had been settled for hundreds of years, including New Zealand, who Rarotonga voyagers may have called Avaiki-tautau in those times.
For Wellington, its Maori stories go back to Maui fishing up the North Island/Te Ika a Maui which gave Wellington its Maori name – Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui (the head of Maui’s fish).
KUPE, DISCOVERER OF AOTEAROA
Then there’s the Maori story dating back more than 1,000 years detailing when New Zealand was first discovered by the great Polynesian explorer Kupe, who circumnavigated the North and South Islands in 925 CE (AD) in his double-hulled voyaging canoe, Matahorua.
It is doubtful if many Wellingtonians know that a statue on the waterfront, behind The Boatshed, and in front of Te Raukura, Te Wharewaka o Poneke, is that of Kupe with his wife Hine-i-te-aparangi (also known as Kura Marotini), and priest Pekahourangi.
Fewer still will know that it was Hine-i-te-aparangi who gave this country the name Aotearoa. She first sighted land from Matahorua crying out, Titiro, Te Ao, Te Ao, Te Aotearoa and the rest is history (even if not that many Kiwis know about it).
It is important to note that Hine-i-te-aparangi uttered the name Aotearoa some 700 years before Dutch explorer Abel Tasman saw the Southern Alps on 13 December 1642 and named the so called ‘new land’ Nova Zeelandia (later James Cook who set foot at Poverty in October 1769 anglicized it to New Zealand).
Since Kupe’s arrival in Wellington, landing at Te Turanga o Kupe (Seatoun), and hundreds of years before the first European settlers arrived; Maori migrations and settlements dotted Whanganui a Tara (the great harbor of Tara – later named Port Nicolson, then Lambton Harbour and finally Wellington harbor).
Yet these stories are missing from the memories of many Wellingtonians – albeit not of their making.
How can Pacific Guardians make such a bold claim? Are the majority of Wellingtonians really that far removed and ignorant of their city’s history and Maori heritage?
There are two key reasons why we believe our conclusion is correct.
WELLINGTON CITY COUNCIL
First is from Wellington City Council (WCC) literature. Since 2012, WCC has been implementing a strategy called Wellington Towards 2040: Smart Capital. One of the first steps Council took, to get to its 2040 vision, is outlined in its brochure ‘Wellington, our sense of place – building a future on what we Treasure’.
“We have researched what Wellingtonians treasure about their city and what gives it its unique character or essence – its sense of place. Understanding this sense of place helps us define what must be protected and enhanced as the city grows,” the brochure states.
From its research, the Council concluded that Wellington’s essence is the ‘integration’ of the following:
- Hills-harbour-buildings-greenery in balance
- Work-play-living in proximity
- Nationhood-mana-creativity in synergy
- Symbols-character-energy-places in concert
- All types of people in there together
Putting all of the above together, Council summed-up Wellington’s sense of place in one word, “Connectedness – in all senses of the word – is the key pillar to Wellington’s future.”
On 7 August 2012, Council issued a statement, “The strategy takes steps now towards that year  – highlighting the city’s strengths and the importance of new technologies, particularly ICT and green technologies; protecting and using our natural resources sustainably – a huge drawcard for many people to move here; prosperity; and a focus on information or ‘weightless’ industries.”
It outlined that all resultant new growth from ‘connectedness’ would be channeled to preserve and enhance ten key Wellington characteristics. In 10th place, “The symbols, images, places and buildings that identify the people of Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Wellington city and tell their history.”
Sadly, the Council’s definition of ‘connectedness’ only points forward. It fails to connect to the richness of Wellington’s past, to its Maori heritage and spirit of their ancestors simply for the reason, it hasn’t really connected the ‘people of Te Whanganui-a-Tara’ with its Wellington towards 2040: Smart Capital strategy.
This is highlighted in our second reason why Wellingtonians are unaware of their Maori heritage and who the descendants of Te Whanganui-a-Tara are.
THE AUSTRALIAN TOURIST
It comes from an Australian repeat tourist the writer overheard discussing the ‘missing Wellington Maori’ early last month.
“I’m a repeat visitor to Wellington and I’ve been on the Council’s ‘Walk Wellington’ tour. What was very obvious to us was the lack of Maori cultural content – we never found a reference to any,” she said.
“We were all wondering if Maori ever came or lived in Wellington, as there’s nothing in the material of Wellington highlights we were given. I mean, it’s a no-brainer that a lot of international visitors would be attracted to Wellington if a Maori Tour was available.”
When she was told that the Port Nicolson Block Settlement Trust was organizing cultural tour packages, including walking and waka tours, from an iwi perspective for Wellington in early 2015, she couldn’t hold back her excitement.
“I’ll certainly come back for that.”
Checking the WCC ‘Walk Wellington’ tour brochure confirms the Australian’s comments. There are no Maori sites or attractions included, not even Te Papa Tongarewa made it on the brochure’s list of ‘attractions’ to visit.
In the brochure’s description of Thorndon, promoted as ‘Wellington’s historic precinct’, it describes it as ‘New Zealand’s political, financial, religious, artistic and literary past’. There is no reference to Maori heritage or history full stop!
For those two reasons, Pacific Guardians is not surprised most Wellingtonians have either very little, if any, knowledge of their city’s significant Maori symbols, heritage and history.
To start filling this gap, Pacific Guardians will write a series of articles on various aspects of Wellington’s Maori history.
STORY: TE WHANGANUI-A-TARA AND TE ATI AWA
The first is a broad feature on why Wellington harbor is named Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbor of Tara).
Tara’s story as told through tradition is an important one for two reasons. One is that his tribal line Te Ati Awa, through their continuous occupation and rights through Ohāki (gifting) and conquest, are the recognised tangata whenua of Wellington. Tracing Tara’s story reveals the connection between the original settlement of New Zealand by Maori, and before that, the arrival of their ancestors from Polynesia.
Secondly, Tara’s story, in part, verifies recent scientific revelations made at Wairau Bar.
WAIRAU BAR SCIENTIFIC FINDING
The Wairau Bar scientific findings suggest New Zealand’s prehistory doesn’t date back longer than 1300AD.
“We used to think New Zealand was settled 800AD,” University of Otago archaeologist Richard Walter told the NZ Listener in 2013. “This discovery effectively halved what was already a short prehistory.”
He added, “There may well have been people coming into New Zealand, stopping here and there for a little while, but we think Wairau Bar is the first place there was a large-scale permanent settlement involved in a deliberate strategy of colonising New Zealand.”
To archaeologists and anthropologists the New Zealand findings are more than interesting because there are no models to explain how the sudden emergence of a Maori society – a radically different society from any other in Polynesia – in the New Zealand landscape in 1500AD, when pa sites, gardening systems, new artefact forms suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. The moa hunter way of life is gone, the huge double-hulled canoes are gone, there is much less long-distance trade and exchange.
But even though it created a great deal of excitement in the scientific community, it was quite old news to the Polynesian community. and that was because for a long time, in fact way back in the 19th century, Polynesian oral traditions already spoke of a great migration to Aotearoa at this time (Polynesian mariners measure time not in years, but in generations (one generation being 25-years)).
THE GREAT POLYNESIAN MIGRATION
As recorded by Elsdon Best, The Maori (1924, pp. 40-56) and Peter Buck, Vikings of the Sunrise (1938, pp. 277-283) state that about “24 generations from 1900 (around 1300 A.D.), more conflicts in Hawaiki led to the migration of more canoes to Aotearoa. The names of the chiefs and canoes that came to Aotearoa in the heke (“Great Fleet”) are recorded in tradition as:
- Hoturoa came in Tainui
- Tama-te-kapua came in Arawa
- Toroa came in Mataatua
- Tamatea came in Takitumu
- Porou-rangi came in Horouta
- Turi came in Aotea
Many Maori trace ancestry to these canoes and chiefs who traveled in them. It means the Wairau Bar scientific revelation simply verified Polynesian oral history. It should allay fears in the science community so that instead of looking to reject Pacific oral traditions, they should with them so that as their methodologies improve they should be able to then explain in modern terms the truth logged in the Polynesian stories of Aotearoa settlement. Their stories not only hold answers on the ancestry of the first Polynesians to arrive on these shores, but also on the evolution of a unique and highly sophisticated culture. When scientists have done that, they should then proceed to correct and amend the chapters in our history texts.
ORIGIN OF TE ATI AWA
The story of the origins of Te Āti Awa of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington Harbour) lie with their ancestor Toitehuatahi or Toi-kai-rākau, who according to oral traditions set sail for Aotearoa 28 generations from 1900 (around 1200AD) ago. There are a number of story variations as to how Toi (who got directions from Kupe) made it to Aotearoa.
One of the more favoured versions is that Toi’s grandson, Whatonga got blown away from land while competing in an offshore canoe race in Hawaiki.
Whatonga is important to the story of Wellington but also his mother Rongouera who in Te Ati Awa tradition also gave birth to Awanuiarangi. The history of Te Āti Awa in Wellington started with the ancestral connection between Awanuiarangi and Whātonga.
Toi when he got reports Whatonga was one of the competitors missing immediately set out in search of his grandson in a canoe called Te Paepae-ki-Rarotonga. In his search, Toi landed at Samoa and Rarotonga but finding no sign of his grandson, set sail to the open ocean and eventually ended up at the Chatham Islands (Wharekauri or Rangikohu). After a short rest he set sail north and landed at Whakatane on Bay of Plenty where he settled.
Meanwhile, Whatonga, was able to make it back to Hawaiki. But when told his grandfather had gone in search of him, left in search of his grandfather on the canoe Kurahaupo. Whatonga stopped off in Rarotonga, before his search took him to the North Cape of Aotearoa. Travelling down the west coast he learnt his grandfather was at Whakatane. When he finally met up with Toi, Whatonga also decided to settle down at Nukutaurua on the Māhia Peninsula.
In the Hawke’s Bay, Whatonga married Hotuwaipara who soon fell pregnant. Just before giving birth she pricked her finger with a tara, the spine of a fish, hence when her son was born, she named him Tara-ika.
Later, Whātonga travelled south to Cook Strait. There he saw the harbour [Wellington] and liked the look of the area. So he decided to head back home with the news but while traveling up the west coast to the Manawatū River he came to Aokautere where he was smitten by a woman. He decided to settle there to win her. This he did and married his second wife, Reretua, with whom he had a son, Tautoki. Tautoki in turn would have a son – Tānenui-ā-rangi (also known as Rangitāne) – who was the ancestor of the Rangitāne people occupying territory at either end of the Manawatū Gorge.
After a number of years Whātonga returned to Hawke’s Bay, where he rejoined Hotuwaipara and Tara. But his thoughts were of the lands in the Cook Straits. He sent his son Tara to scope it for settlement.
Tara came back with positive reports and Whatonga uplifted his people to establish a settlement around the harbour. Upon arrival, the harbour was now known as ‘Te Whanganui-a-Tara’ (the great harbour of Tara). And the Tararua ranges also were named after Tara, its name derived from the saying ‘Nga waewae e rua a Tara’ or ‘the spanned legs of Tara’, meaning that his people had a foothold on either side of these ranges.
These descendants of Tara built pā in a number of places in Te Whanganui-a-Tara including the Miramar peninsula when it was the largest island in the harbor called Motukairangi which became attached to the mainland after the Haowhenua earthquake in 1460. Here the fortifications of Te Whetū Kairangi and Te Rangitatau Pā are located.
Rangitatau Pā was particularly important in the 17th century when the Ngāi Tara chief Tuteremoana, Tara’s great great grandson lived there. His daughter Moeteao married a chief of the Ngāti Ira tribe of Hawkes Bay, and started a process of intermarriage between Ngāi Tara and Ngāti Ira. It started the amalgamation of these tribes where most Ngāi Tara became known as Ngāti Ira.
Later Ngāti Ira were joined by the people of Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Mamoe. Each of these tribes occupying distinct areas of the harbour before most of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Mamoe migrated to the South Island some time in the 16th or 17th century.
In 1819 a war party comprising Taranaki, Atiawa, Ngāti Toa, Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Whatua, attacked the Wellington area, destroying the main Ngāti Ira fortifications. Most of the Ngāti Ira fled to the Wairarapā where they are still located today.
At around 1825-26, Taranaki iwi, particularly Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Mutunga and Te Ati Awa, moved to Te Whanganui-a-Tara, and established settlements throughout the area made up of the present Wellington City, Petone beach and the Hutt Valley. The eastern side of the harbour remained mostly in the hands of Ngāti Ira and Ngāti Kahungunu however.
The relationship between these people and the Taranaki iwi was an uneasy one, and eventually they attacked Ngāti Ira and Ngāti Kahungunu and drove them out to Wairarapa, thus assuming effective control of the harbour and the surrounding lands.
Besides the remnants of other tribes who once occupied the Wellington area, there has been an influx of other tribal groups since the 1960s. This has resulted in a unique and complex mixture of iwi in the Wellington region.
Te Ati Awa, because of their continuous occupation and rights through Ohāki (gifting) and conquest, are the recognised tangata whenua of Wellington.
This is the short story of the identity of the people of Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
INFORMATION AND REFERENCES
KUPE, The Polynesian Navigator and Explorer, T. V. Saunders
Kupe, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 4, 1913, pp. 118-133. It is “Part II. Te Kawae-raro, or ‘Things Terrestial’” of The Lore of the Whare-wananga, told by Te Matorohanga, recorded by H.T. Whatahoro, and translated by S. Percy Smith.
Discovery and Settlement of Polynesia, Mālamalama/The Light of Knowledge: The Magazine of the University of Hawai’i, April 21, 2011.
Where it all began, Sally Blunder, NZ Listener, 1 Jan 2014
Te Āti Awa of Wellington, Morris Love
Te Ara o nga Tupuna, Matene Love