The people of Ngāti Apa live in the Rangitīkei region, towards the south-west of the North Island of New Zealand. Their traditional lands extend between the Mangawhero, Whangaehu, Turakina and Rangitīkei rivers. This area is bounded by Whanganui River in the north-west, and Manawatū River in the south-east.
The Kurahaupō canoe
Ngāti Apa trace their ancestry to Ruatea, captain of the Kurahaupō canoe. It sailed to New Zealand from the Pacific islands 22 generations ago. In one popular tribal account, the Kurahaupō was badly damaged off the Pacific island of Rangitahuahua. Many of those on board transferred to the Aotea canoe, which had set out at the same time. It is believed that Ruatea and others remained at Rangitahuahua and repaired the canoe before continuing the voyage. Where the canoe landed and what became of its people is debated by Ngāti Apa, but there is strong evidence that they lived first in the district around Pūtauaki mountain (Mt Edgecumbe) in the Bay of Plenty.
A tribal saying
Ngāti Apa ancestry is outlined in this saying:
Kurahaupō is the canoe
Ruatea is the ancestor
Ngāti Apa is the tribe.
The ancestor Apa-hāpai-taketake
Ngāti Apa take their name from the ancestor Apa-hāpai-taketake, who was the son of Ruatea. Stories of Apa’s deeds place the iwi's origins in the Bay of Plenty. To the west of Pūtauaki mountain is a place known to Māori as Te Takanga-a-Apa (the place where Apa fell), so named because, according to one account, it was where Apa was kicked to the ground by the pet moa of a man called Te Awatope. Because he limped after this incident, he was named Apa-koki (Apa with a limp). One explanation for the place name is that Apa fell to his death there. Another account says he was banished from the district after slaughtering Te Awatope’s moa.
The mana (prestige, authority) of the Ngāti Apa ancestor Apa-hāpai-taketake is remembered in the following saying:
Apa-wetewete tapiki i te takiritanga o te ata!
Apa the destroyer who rises before the break of dawn!
Some descendants of Apa travelled south to Kāpiti and Porirua, and across Cook Strait, where the Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō tribe now occupy Nelson, Golden Bay and the West Coast. Another group of descendants, Ngāti Manawa, remained in the Whirinaki area. Although they are related to Ngāti Apa of Rangitīkei, these groups have separate identities and accounts of their origins.
Descendants of Apa moved south from Mt Edgecumbe into the Rangitāiki area, and down through the Taupō and Rotoaira districts, before eventually reaching Rangitīkei and Ngā Wairiki (an ancient name for the Mangawhero, Whangaehu and Turakina rivers). This migration took place over many generations. South of Rangitīkei they became associated with others whose ancestors had arrived on the Kurahaupō canoe, and who had originally lived in Nukutaurua, on the Māhia Peninsula, and in Hawke’s Bay. Eventually, from these Kurahaupō descendants emerged the Ngāti Apa, Rangitāne and Muaūpoko tribes.
North of Rangitīkei, the migrants intermarried with the Ngā Wairiki people. Most of them were descended from Paerangi, who is better known as a founding ancestor of the people of the Whanganui River and the Ngāti Rangi tribe at the base of Mt Ruapehu. Many of the Ngā Wairiki people were also descendants of Turi, the captain of the Aotea canoe, through one of his sons, Tūrangaimua.
These descendants of Apa became integrated with other peoples of Manawatū, Rangitīkei and Whanganui, and co-existed with them until the early 19th century.