Te Whakatōhea territory includes Ōhiwa Harbour in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Ōpōtiki lies at the centre.
The area was rich in food resources. Mussels and crayfish abounded in Ōhiwa Harbour, and in the forests it was easy to catch fat kererū (New Zealand pigeons) and other native birds.
There are many important ancestors:
- Tarawa was the first to arrive from Hawaiki (the Polynesian homeland) – it is believed that he swam from Polynesia to Paerātā.
- Tautūrangi came in the Nukutere canoe, which he moored to a white rock named Te Rangi.
- Muriwai, a female ancestor, arrived in the Mataatua canoe. Ōpōtiki tradition says she seized the paddles and saved the canoe from drifting out to sea, calling out, 'Me whakatāne au i ahau!' ('I must act like a man!') Whakatāne is named after her act.
- Kahuki was a celebrated leader of the Whakatāne sub-tribe.
There was much bloodshed as the people fought neighbouring tribes. In one of the last attacks, Te Whakatōhea warriors exchanged the head of an enemy chief killed in battle for the return of a prized greenstone adze. The adze, named Waiwharangi, is now held in the Whakatāne Museum.
When European missionaries arrived in the 19th century, there was a period of peace.
The killing of Carl Völkner
Völkner was a German missionary at Ōpōtiki. He became unpopular among Te Whakatōhea, who believed he was a government spy. When he was killed in 1865, the government took large areas of Te Whakatōhea land. Nearly 100 years later the people received some compensation for this injustice.
Te Whakatōhea today
The tribe consists of six sub-tribes: Ngāti Ruatakena, Ngāti Patumoana, Ngāti Ngahere, Ngāi Tamahaua, Ngāti Ira and Te Ūpokorehe. The Whakatōhea Māori Trust Board holds farmland and provides training in horticulture and other skills. In 2013, Te Whakatōhea had more than 12,000 people.