One of the leading chiefs of Ngāi Tahu was Tūāhuriri. His story is based in the Wellington area where he lived. Although he was not to settle in Te Waipounamu, his sons and his descendants would play significant roles in the Ngāi Tahu migration history that was to follow.

Tūāhuriri’s birth and naming

Born to Rākaitekura, a Ngāi Tahu woman of high rank, Tūāhuriri’s birth was one of controversy. Rākaitekura’s husband Tūmaro having been away to visit his whānau returned to find his wife pregnant. During the birth Tūmaro suspected something was amiss as the delivery was taking a long time. On stating the name of Rākaitekura’s lover Te Aohikuraki, (a senior Ngāi Tahu chief, the grandson of Tūhaitara) the child was born.

Tūmaro settled in Waimea, near Nelson with a group of family members and friends who went with him. He left his wife and the child behind.

The young boy was given the name of Te Hikutawatawa (Te Hiku-tawatawa-o-te-raki). It seems Te Hikutawatawa learned of his illegitimate status when he overheard other children/adults referred to him as a bastard during his childhood. When he asked his mother her reply was Look where the sun sets; that is where your father dwells.

The visit of Tūāhuriri to the home of Tūmaro

Years later Tūāhuriri would venture with a waka taua to the Waimea home of Tūmaro. As an unknown party the visitors were welcomed. However, in those times the tangata whenua (home people) also prepared to overpower them (as perceived enemies) and would then have cooked and eaten them.

Inside the whare Tūāhuriri made comments about the rafter patterns and likened them to the designs left behind at Kaiwhakawaru by his grandfather Kahukura-te-paku. When this tale was told to his grandfather he replied, Ask him his name? It is said that Tūmaro asked him to say his name to which Tūāhuriri replied that he was Te Hikutawatawa the name given him by his father.

Because the intention had been to cook Tūāhuriri an act defiling his mana had occurred, so he was asked to climb through the window to remove the tapu. He climbed out and was greeted by his father and grandfather. When he was ready to return to Wellington, they asked him to return in the autumn when they could provide better hospitality to his party. However, he did not forget their treatment and the indignity and loss of mana involved. Instead of returning in autumn he delayed and went back in spring when the food supplies were low. When all the food was eaten he and his party left for Wellington.

Sometime soon after his departure the house where he had stayed burnt down and the site became tapu. After a time wild cabbages grew on the site. The people starved of food ate the greens which were now tapu and many died. It was after this event that Tūāhuriri was given this name referring to the offence given to a sacred place. A tūāhu was a sacred altar and riri means to be angry. There are other stories of how he acquired his new name. They all have in common a cautionary theme about the place of tapu in the daily lives of Māori and the consequences of breaching tapu.

Tūāhuriri and Tūtekawa

Tūtekawa was Tūāhuriri’s brother-in-law. He descends from the senior lines of Paikea with his whakapapa linking him to Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Māmoe tribes.

The story takes place in the Wellington area where Tūāhuriri had displeased a prominent tribal member Hikaororoa, who led a taua (war party) against Tūāhuriri’s own pā – Te Mata-ki-kaipoinga (translation The cliffs where the food was swung).

To be the first to engage with the enemy was a coup for warriors and a young relative of Tūtekawa, engaged in the assault, was shamed by the elder warrior Hikaororoa for daring to take credit for the victory. He sought out his relative Tūtekawa at the rear, who recognised the insult and withdrew his men to assault Tūāhuriri’s pā from another front.

Before the assault began he sent his relative ahead to warn Tūāhuriri to escape, and this he did into the nearby bush. Tūtekawa was the first to make his way into the pā and went straight to Tūāhuriri’s whare where he found his wives Hinekaitaki and Tuarāwhati (sisters to Whākuku). It is unclear why he did so, perhaps it was to save family honour rather than allowing them to be taken by enemy; whatever the reason Tūtekawa killed them both, which was to have grave consequences for him in the future.

After the battle Tūāhuriri, on hearing what had happened, told his cousin to stay close to shore. It is said that following the assault Tūāhuriri sought revenge on the taua by calling forth a storm to vanquish the enemy fleet as they left through Cook Strait.

Tūtekawa, fearful of Tūāhuriri’s vengeance, eventually made his way to the southern island where he settled among his Ngāti Māmoe people at Waikākahi on the shores of Waihora (Lake Ellesmere).

The Last Chapter

As for Tūāhuriri his story ends with his tragic drowning along with his father Tūmaro when his single canoe capsized.

With the establishment of Ngāti Kuri along the Kaikōura coast, the ariki of Ngāi Tahu, Tūteāhuka moved his remaining people from Wellington. Among them was Tūāhuriri. Tūāhuriri was preparing his single canoe to leave from Island Bay for this final migration. Weather in the strait was often unpredictable with the cautious seafarer choosing to lash two canoes together for greater stability. When receiving the suggestion from another chief called Te Aweawe to do so, Tūāhuriri chose to ignore the sage advice.

When the single hulled canoe reached the tidal rip Tūāhuriri’s canoe capsized and his crew were thrown into the water. It is said that Tūāhuriri called to Te Aweawe to pick him up but he refused and left him to his fate. Both Tūāhuriri and his father Tūmaro were drowned. Some accounts say that Hāmua, Tūāhuriri’s eldest son was also drowned that day. As Hāmua features little in later stories it is possible that this was the case. Alternatively, he settled in Kaikōura and died there at a young age. So ends the story of Tūāhuriri this Ngāi Tahu chief from whom the hapū of Ngāi Tūāhuriri descends today.


  • Te Maire Tau and Atholl Anderson editors. Ngāi Tahu A Migration History, Bridget William Books, 2008
  • Told by Teone Taare Tikao to Herries Beattie. Tikao Talks. Cadsonbury Publications Christchurch, 2004
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