Ngāti Maniapoto derive their name from the ancestor Maniapoto. He was descended from the people of the Tainui canoe, who voyaged across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiki to New Zealand.
Ngāti Maniapoto belong to the Tainui confederation of tribes, who particularly claim lineage from the noted Tūrongo. His union with Māhinaarangi brought together both the Tainui and East Coast tribes – something still celebrated today. That line of descent is celebrated in the following chant:
Taku ara rā, ko Tūrongo;
I wawaea ki Te Tai Rāwhiti,
Ko Māhinaarangi! I au e!
Ko te rua rā i moe ai a Raukawa
Nā Raukawa ko Rereahu;
Nā Rereahu ko Maniapoto
He ara tau-tika mai ki ahau.
My pathway is that of Tūrongo;
He proceeded to the land of the sunrise;
None other than Māhinaarangi!
And I applaud: I au e!
For from that exquisite abode,
Came forth the great Raukawa!
Raukawa begat Rereahu;
Rereahu begat Maniapoto,
And here, I boast of this my noble line. 1
Tainui’s mana extended over much of the northern half of the central North Island. Ngāti Maniapoto’s traditional lands encompassed the expansive King Country, much of which was traditionally known as Te Nehe-nehe-nui (the great forest).
The western coastline forms the boundary from south of Kāwhia down to the Mōkau district. It was here that the Tainui canoe landed, and its anchor can still be seen there today.
The northern margins extended to Lake Ngāroto. Around the beginning of the 19th century this was the scene of a major battle known as Hingakākā. It involved several thousand combatants, with Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto tribes successfully resisting their foe, Ngāti Toa.
The eastern side runs along the Rangitoto and Hurakia ranges, with the Tūhua Ranges forming part of the southern boundary. It is said that lightning seen over the Rangitoto Range is a sign of a death.
Settlements were often small and concentrated around the coastal harbours, or along the major waterways and tributaries, such as the Mōkau River and the fertile Waipā River valley. Tradition holds that the tribal monster, Waiwaia, resides in one of his many lairs along the Waipā River. The summits and ridges of the ranges abound with ancient fortifications and many other sacred sites.
One of the principal strongholds of Maniapoto was Hikurangi, north-east of Ōtorohanga. Maniapoto’s sister Te Rongorito and her husband Tamatehura lived nearby at Te Waka, on the eastern side of the Māhaonui swamp. Maniapoto forbade any conflict to take place in the vicinity, giving rise to another famous saying: Kei hewa ki te marae o Hine (Do not desecrate the courtyard of Hine [Te Rongorito]).
At the heart of Ngāti Maniapoto territory is Te Kūiti, an abbreviation for Te Kūititanga (‘the narrowing’). This is not only a reference to the narrow gorge, but also testament that it was an assembly point for Ngāti Maniapoto. Of Te Kūiti it is said:
Te Kūititanga o Ngāti Maniapoto
Te Kūititanga o ngā maunga
Te Kūititanga o ngā whakaaro.
Within the shelter of converging mountains
Where the decisions were discussed and set
In the stronghold of the tribe of Maniapoto. 2