An old proverb sums up the character of the Tūhoe people:
Tūhoe moumou kai
Moumou tangata ki te Pō.
Tūhoe wasteful of food
Wasteful of treasures
Wasters of men to Death.
When the Mataatua canoe arrived in New Zealand 18–20 generations ago, Toroa was the captain and his half-brother Tāneatua was the tohunga. Among the crew were Toroa’s younger brother Puhi, his sister Muriwai, son Ruaihona and daughter Wairaka.
The Mataatua landed first at Whangaparāoa (Cape Runaway) in the eastern Bay of Plenty, and then progressed to Te Mānuka Tūtahi (lone-standing mānuka) at the mouth of the Ōhinemataroa River. The new arrivals found the ancient tribe of Te Hapū-oneone occupying the district from Whakatāne to Ōpōtiki. Also established were Ngāi Tūranga in the Rūātoki and Ōpouriao districts, Ngā Pōtiki at Ruatāhuna and Mārangaranga in the upper Rangitāiki valley.
Some time after they reached Whakatāne a dispute arose between Toroa and Puhi over their cultivations, which ended with Puhi sailing northwards with the Mataatua and most of the crew. Puhi and his descendants settled in the north, where they are known as Ngāpuhi. Only Toroa, Tāneatua, Muriwai and their immediate families remained in the Bay of Plenty. They and their descendants intermarried with the earlier peoples. These unions were to bring about new tribes, one of them being Ngāi Tūhoe. The Mataatua migrants, while extremely few in number, added vigour to the earlier peoples, to the extent that over several generations the identities of earlier tribes diminished as a Tūhoe identity emerged.
The Tūhoe tribe takes its name from Tūhoe-pōtiki, the youngest son of Tamatea-ki-te-huatahi (the grandson of Toroa) and Paewhiti, who was part Ngāi Tūranga and part Mataatua immigrant through her father Tāneatua. Tūhoe, his two elder brothers, Ue-imua and Tānemoeahi, and sister Uenuku-rauiri lived in the Rūātoki valley, 32 kilometres upstream from where the Ōhinemataroa River flows into Te Moana-a-Toitehuatahi (Bay of Plenty). The pā of Tūhoe-pōtiki were Te Mauku and Ngā Taumata; Tānemoeahi occupied Te Pūtiki pā, and Ue-imua resided at Kākā-tarahae pā.
The brothers had a fearsome reputation, and were known throughout the region as Te Tokotoru-a-Paewhiti (the three sons of Paewhiti). Because of their ferocity in battle, the following saying arose:
Kainga te kai, kei te haere te tokotoru a Paewhiti!
Eat and run, the three sons of Paewhiti are on the rampage!
A dispute arose among them over rights to cultivations near Ōwhakatoro Stream, a western tributary of the Ōhinemataroa River. Ue-imua threated to kill Tūhoe-pōtiki and eat his heart. Warfare erupted between the brothers and their people. Tānemoeahi sided with Tūhoe against Ue-imua. In the ensuing battle it was Ue-imua who was killed and his heart consumed by Tūhoe; by this act Tūhoe acquired the mana of his elder brother.
Eventually tiring of the infighting, Tūhoe-pōtiki left Rūātoki and travelled north. He lived for a time at Ngongotahā, Rotorua, near a spring, Te Puna-a-Tūhoe (known today as Fairy Springs). Later he left for Waikato, some say in search of his uncle, Māhanga. Tūhoe lived the remainder of his days at Kāwhia on the west coast of the North Island. There is a cave in the vicinity of Rangitoto called Te Ana-a-Tūhoe (Tūhoe’s cave). His descendants remained in the eastern Bay of Plenty to stake their claim to the land.