In the early 19th century, a significant portion of Ngāti Raukawa migrated from the Maungatautari and Wharepūhunga districts to the southern reaches of the North Island. These people eventually settled in the Rangitīkei, Manawatū, Horowhenua and Kāpiti districts.
The movement was in reaction to ongoing conflict in the north. There were also close ties with Ngāti Toarangatira, who had already left their home of Kāwhia to move to the south.
In the early 1820s, word arrived at Maungatautari that a calamity had befallen the Ngāti Toarangatira tribe, and a travelling group was sent out. Among the leaders of this group, known as Te Heke Karere (the company of messengers), were Ngārangiōrēhua, Te Horohau, Mātenga Te Mātia and Te Ahukaramū. Arriving in the south, they found that tragedy had indeed struck, resulting in the deaths of a number of children.
When the travellers prepared to return to Maungatautari, Te Rauparaha invited Ngāti Raukawa to settle in the south. However, the group did not take up his offer. When Te Rauparaha’s sister Waitohi heard this, she repeated the invitation, and this time the departing chiefs accepted. On returning to Maungatautari one of the chiefs, Te Ahukaramū, presented the proposal to migrate. When the people remained unconvinced, Te Ahukaramū sent his men to burn their pā and adjoining areas.
The three migrations
This led to the first major Ngāti Raukawa migration to the south, known as Te Heke Whirinui. The name commemorates the large weavings on the mats they carried. Te Ahukaramū led this group.
The second large migration was called Te Heke Kariritahi, after the type of muskets carried. This group was led by Nēpia Taratoa.
The final migration was called Te Heke Mai-i-raro (migration from below: in the legend of Māui, New Zealand’s northern region forms the tail, or lower part of the ‘fish’). Te Whatanui was the chief of this group.
These migrations brought Ngāti Raukawa into a number of conflicts with the people of the south. Together with Ngāti Toarangatira, they secured tracts of land from Rangitīkei to Kāpiti and settled a large number of sub-tribes. This settlement is reflected in the large number of Ngāti Raukawa marae today, some of which stand on land blocks and entitlements negotiated in the early 19th century.