Early Maori settlers
Maori settled in Hawke’s Bay around 1250–1300 AD. Over time settlements were established on the coast from Mahia in the north down to Porangahau in the south, and along rivers and waterways inland.
The people who became known as Ngati Kahungunu arrived in the region some time during the 16th century. Kahungunu, whose grandfather captained the Takitimu waka (canoe) from Hawaiki to New Zealand, was in born in Orongotea (Kaitaia) and grew up in Tauranga. He later travelled down the east coast, making a series of marriage alliances with high-born women as he went. He finally settled at Nukutaurua (Mahia Peninsula), the home of his fourth wife, Rongomaiwahine.
Kahungunu’s father Tamatea has been described as ‘New Zealand’s first extreme sports enthusiast’1 and the ‘Maori Marco Polo’ in response to his adventurous exploration of the country. He circumnavigated both islands in his waka and explored the land on foot. Some accounts say he met his death attempting to shoot the rapids at Huka Falls on the Waikato River near Taupo, while others say this happened at the Aratiatia rapids.
Their descendants, who also lived at Turanganui (Gisborne), populated Wairoa and spread south into Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa. These migrations make up the three strands of the tribe: Wairoa, Heretaunga and Wairarapa. Some descendants on the Mahia Peninsula identify as Ngati Rongomaiwahine rather than Ngati Kahungunu.
Rangitane tribal ancestors arrived at Mahia Peninsula aboard the Kurahaupo waka about 1350. Rangitane later settled in Heretaunga but, after Ngati Kahungunu arrived, they migrated further south to Tamaki-nui-a-Rua (around Dannevirke), where the Hawke’s Bay section of the tribe was centred in the 2000s.
Ngati Kahungunu became the dominant tribal group in Hawke’s Bay through a combination of warfare and strategic marriage. However, existing hapu (sub-tribes) maintained distinct identities, and later Ngati Kahungunu descendants claimed kinship links with them as well. In fact, the people did not think of themselves as belonging to a singular, united tribe called Ngati Kahungunu until the late 18th century.
Maori who acquired European weapons had a distinctive advantage over those who did not. Despite modifying pa (fortified villages) to defend against muskets, Hawke’s Bay Maori were unable to protect their lands against armed invasions from the west and north during the 1820s. Most went to Mahia, leaving much of the central and southern region empty of inhabitants until the late 1830s, when they began to return. Tribal populations declined sharply in the wake of the invasions. However, these troubles prompted Hawke’s Bay Maori to work together, which reinforced the idea of Ngati Kahungunu as a tribal identity.
- Article from Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand