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Waka Huia

Sunday at 10.30am | TV ONE

Taonga Tuku Iho - 23 May

Ngai Tahu Whanui, people of Te Waipounamu (the South Island), and Canterbury Museum are proud to present Mo Tatou: Te Hokinga Mai. The return home of this
Te Papa curated show is celebrated with the complementary exhibition Mo Ka Uri, which showcases Canterbury Museum's rich collection of Ngai Tahu taonga alongside contemporary artwork by leading Ngai Tahu artists.

Watch this episode on TVNZ Ondemand here

Ngai Tahu means 'people of Tahu' after our founder, Tahu Potiki. Around ten generations ago, his descendents migrated from the North Island of New Zealand to the South Island. Through intermarriage and conquest, these original migrants merged with the resident Waitaha and Kati Mamoe tribes, to form Ngai Tahu Whanui as it is today. Embedded in the land, Ngai Tahu Whanui have survived and progressed from near-decimation to tribal autonomy and self-reliance. Four cultural values, drawn from the tribal saying 'Mo tatou, a, mo ka uri a muri ake nei. For us and our children after us', are the organizing principles for this exhibition and reflect our contemporary understanding of our past and our future.

Ngai Tahu, or Kai Tahu, is the principal Maori iwi (tribe) of the southern region
of New Zealand, with the tribal authority, Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, being based in Christchurch and Invercargill. The iwi combines three groups, Kai Tahu itself, and Waitaha and Kati Mamoe who lived in the South Island prior to the arrival of Kai Tahu. The five primary hapu of the three combined groups are Kati Kuri, Ngati Irakehu, Kati Huirapa, Ngai Tuahuriri and Ngai Te Ruakihikihi. Some people claim to be explicitly descended from one or both of Waitaha and Kati Mamoe whanui, often in conjunction with Kai Tahu. However, others argue that due to conflict and intermarriage these groups have been incorporated into Kai Tahu, and are no longer distinct.

The iwi's takiwa (tribal area), the largest in New Zealand, extends from Kaikoura in the north to Stewart Island/Rakiura in the south, and includes the West Coast area, Tai Poutini. Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu constitutes 18 runanga/runaka representing geographical areas, generally based around traditional settlements.

Ngai Tahu trace their tribal identity back to Paikea, who lived in the Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki. To escape being killed at sea by his brother, he came to New Zealand on the back of a whale. Ngai Tahu share this ancestor with the Ngati Porou people. One of Paikea's descendants was Tahupotiki, from whom Ngai Tahu take their name. He lived on the East Coast of the North Island.


From the East Coast, Ngai Tahu migrated south, first to Wellington, then across Cook Strait to the South Island. This was known as Te Wai Pounamu, the greenstone waters - named after the beautiful and valuable stone found on the West Coast. As Ngai Tahu moved down the island they fought several battles with two tribes already living there: Ngati Mamoe and Waitaha. By the end of the 18th century Ngai Tahu had reached Foveaux Strait at the bottom of the South Island, and occupied the West Coast.

It was not just through warfare that Ngai Tahu came to occupy much of the South Island. They also mixed with Ngati Mamoe and Waitaha through marriages with the families of chiefs. They studied and adopted the traditions and history of Waitaha, whose ancestor Rakaihautu is said to have carved out the South Island's lakes and mountains with his digging stick. Waitaha believed the landmarks surrounding them were their ancestors, and that the winds were related to each other like members of a family.

In the 1820s and 1830s the powerful chief Te Rauparaha led the North Island tribe Ngati Toarangatira in attacks on Ngai Tahu. Armed with muskets, they were seeking revenge for tribal insults and killings. They also wanted to take control of the valuable greenstone in the region. Ngai Tahu suffered greatly. They survived for three months when Te Rauparaha surrounded their pa at Kaiapoi, but when strong winds caused a fire, the enemy rushed in and killed the people. However, Nga Tahu did not lose their territory. On one occasion Ngai Tahu nearly captured Te Rauparaha himself in a surprise attack from behind a hill at Kapara-te-hau (Lake Grassmere).


Ngai Tahu sold most of their land to the British Crown between 1844 and 1863. The Crown had promised to leave some of the land and the food-gathering places in the hands of the tribe, and to provide schools and hospitals. But the government did not keep these promises, and for 150 years, Ngai Tahu pursued a claim for compensation. Their claim was finally settled in the 1990s. Among other things, it returned the sacred mountain of Aoraki/Mt Cook to the tribe and acknowledged their ownership of pounamu (greenstone).
In the 2006 census, almost 50,000 people said they were of Ngai Tahu descent.