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The Coming of the Maori

The Tangata Whenua

The Tangata Whenua

A more feasible tradition concerning the advent of the first settlers of the land (tangata whenua) was given by Te Matorohanga (81, pp. 69, 70) and some gaps in his narrative were filled in by Turaukawa, a graduate of a Taranaki school of learning. The first settlers landed in three canoes on the Taranaki coast at Ngamotu near the present town of New Plymouth. The canoes were Kahutara, Taikoria, and Okoki, commanded respectively by Maruiwi, Ruatamore, and Taitawaro. Three other persons belonging to that period were Pananehu, Tamaki, and Pohokura, a younger brother of Taitawaro. Te Matorohanga stated that neither he nor Turaukawa knew where the canoes came from. In a later chapter (81, p. 91), he remembered that they came from Horanuiatau and Haupapanuiatau which fills out the narrative but sheds no light. The country they came from was said to be very hot and larger than the land to which they came. Percy Smith (81, p. 72) interpolated into his translation the statement that they were out fishing when a westerly gale sprang up and blew them out to sea. This explanation does not make sense, for the canoes had women aboard. They evidently set out with food, water, and women to reach some group but adverse weather conditions drove them to the wrong land.

These first settlers occupied localities along the west coast of the North Island. The family groups increased in numbers and became distinguished by the prefix Tini (myriad) before their particular ancestor. The main groups, which were descended from the three canoe commanders, were Tini o Maruiwi, Tini o Taitawaro, and Tini o Ruatamore. A fourth group claimed descent from Pananehu, the Tini o Pananehu.

The people (81, p. 69) were tall and upright (kokau), with large bones (nunui nga iwi), prominent knees (turi takoto), flat faces (kanohi paraha), quick eyes (mata kanae) that were side glancing (tiro pikart), flat noses (ihu patiki), expanded nostrils (pongare kau parari), straight hair (maikawe torotika) some with lank hair (he mahora etahi) and reddish-black skins (kiri puwhero waitutu). They were a people who hugged the fire (he iwi kiri ahi) and they were lazy (mangere). In a later reference (81, p. 91), it is stated that they had thin calves (ateate rere).

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The above description would have done credit to a trained physical anthropologist and it would have been remarkable as an example of transmission by memorizing over a number of centuries, if it were true. Such characteristics as flat noses with expanded nostrils, thin calves, and reddish-black skins led Percy Smith and Elsdon Best to accept the recital as confirming a theory that the first settlers were of Melanesian stock. However, the details, impressive though they seem, contain one item which destroys their value as an accurate description of racial stock. A constant character of the Melanesian people is their woolly hair and as the hair of the early settlers is definitely stated to be straight (torotika) and lank (mahora), their Melanesian origin cannot be accepted as being supported by the Matorohanga account. It is evident that the Matorohanga school believed that the early settlers were different from themselves and so they made them different. The sum of physical differences formed an academic type that did not exist in real life.

The language of the Maui nation, according to Wilson (109, p. 128) was Maori. Percy Smith (81, p. 72) says of the first settlers, "The language they spoke was evidently Polynesian, as the names of people and places show." The Matorohanga school was able to create physical differences but its linguistic range was not sufficient to introduce differences in language and so the Melanesian origin is also contradicted by the first settlers not only bearing Polynesian names but applying them to their canoes and the places they occupied.

Food plants were not introduced by the first settlers and their vegetable foods were obtained entirely from local plants (p. 73). Wilson (109, p. 127), however, stated that they introduced the gourd (hue) which is possible but extremely doubtful. Wilson's further statement that they did not have the karaka is incorrect for that plant is indigenous to New Zealand. Wilson evidently knew the story of the introduction of the karaka by Turi in the later Fleet period and hence inferred that it was not present in New Zealand when the first settlers arrived.

Their clothing, as described by Turaukawa (81, p. 70), was as follows:

Kaore he kakahu, They had no kakahu,
Ko nga kahu he pake— their kahu were pake
o nga wahine, of the women,
o nga tane. of the men.

Turaukawa evidently distinguished between kakahu as well-made cloaks and kahu as an inferior form of rain cape, for the pake of his period was a rough rain cape made of undressed kiekie leaves or of flax and not a kilt, as translated by Percy Smith (81, p. 71). What Turaukawa meant was that the early settlers had no cloaks of dressed fibre but both sexes wore a rough rain cape of undressed material.

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Their houses were in the form of wharau which Percy Smith (81, p. 71) translated as a lean-to shed.

Their weapons according to Turaukawa (81, p. 70) were huata (long spears), hoeroa (whalebone throwing club), and kurutai (short stone club). To these, he added, "he pere; whakawhana ai te manuka hei pere." Smith (81, p. 73) translated the statement as "the pere, by which manuka spears were thrown."

The Tini o Taitawaro spread over the present province of Taranaki from Oakura to the Mokau River. They had a village named Otaka near the present freezing works just north of New Plymouth. In the Urenui valley, they built a village named Pohokura after the younger brother of Taitawaro, and another named Okoki after his canoe. The names are still borne by two terraced hill forts on the north bank of the Urenui River but I believe that the original villages were on the flat and the names transferred after fortifications were developed centuries later.

Maruiwi died in Taranaki but the Tini o Maruiwi spread north and occupied the Tamaki area (Auckland isthmus). The Tini o Ruatamore spread further north to occupy Muriwhenua (north Auckland peninsula). Various branches spread east to Tauranga, Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, east coast areas, and the northern part of Hawkes Bay.

We may regard the tangata whenua described by Te Matorohanga and the Maui nation described by Wilson as the same people. The original groupings became further divided with the increase of population by the budding off of smaller groups or subtribes, which, in the course of time, assumed the numerical proportion of tribes. These subdivisions assumed or were given distinctive names. The people who lived at Tauranga were called Purukupenga (Full-net) because of the abundant supply of sea fish in that locality. Though puru sounds suspiciously like a Maorified form of "full", it is actually the Maori word meaning stuffed, full. Another group living at Rangitaiki and Matata was named Wai o hua (Waters of abundance) because of the plentiful supply of fresh-water fish (eels, white-bait) in the rivers. Others had rather poetical names derived from native plants that flourished in their districts. Such plants as the raupo with edible roots, tree ferns (mauku) with edible pith, and the tawa with edible berries may have given rise to names like the Raupongaoheohe (Rustling-raupo-leaves), Tururumauku (Bending-fern-tree-fronds), and Tawarauriki (Small-leaved-tawa). On the other hand, the number of the leaves of the raupo and the tawa may have been used as figures of speech to denote the strength of the people in numbers. Some names seem to be entirely fanciful—such as Haeremarire (Proceed carefully) and Ngarutauwharewharenga (Curling waves)—but they must have had an original significance that has been forgotten.