The Rangitāne story begins with the arrival of the Kurahaupō waka (canoe or migration). One of the principle chiefs aboard this waka was Whatonga. His descendants eventually migrated south from Mahia Peninsula to settle much of the lower North Island and the top of the South Island. The tribes associated with this waka include Rongomaiwahine (Mahia), Te Ati Haunui a Paparangi (Wanganui), Rangitāne (Manawatu, Tamaki Nui a Rua, Wairarapa, and Wairau), Ngāti Apa (Rangitikei and Marlborough), Muaupoko (Horowhenua), Ngai Tara (Wellington and Kapiti), Ngāti Kuia (Pelorus), and Ngāti Tumatakokiri (Golden Bay).
Whatonga moved to what we know as the Hawkes Bay area and built a pa, which he named Heretaunga. This later became the name adopted for the larger Hawkes Bay area. Oral tradition speaks of Whatonga embarking on a journey of discovery after displeasing his wife, Hotuwaipara. She had cut her hand on a nohu (rock cod) that he had caught on a fishing venture. This incident led to their first son being named in remembrance of the event – Tara Ika, meaning ‘fish spine’. Whatonga’s journey brought him to the Wairarapa for the first time. He settled for some time at Rangiwhakaoma (Castlepoint) where he built a pa called Matirie or Matira, which was situated where the current lighthouse stands. From here he journeyed down to Whanganui a Tara (Wellington) up past Kapiti Island and Horowhenua before moving inland up the Manawatu River and Te Apiti (Manawatu Gorge). It was at this point that he first laid eyes upon a vast virgin forest that stretched beyond his view filled with giant native trees. It was of such splendour that he gave it his own name – Te Tapere Nui o Whatonga or ‘the great domain of Whatonga. It is from this once great forest that Pukaha Mt Bruce remains as one of the last significant stands of native bush.
Tara and Tautoki
Whatonga had sons to two separate wives and it was the descendants of these two half-brothers that eventually spread to occupy the lower North Island or Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui (The Head of the Fish of Maui). The first born son was Tara Ika, known more commonly as Tara. Tara gave rise to the tribe known as Ngai Tara that lived for many centuries in the Wellington and West Coast area. Tara gave his name to the Wellington Harbour, which is known as Te Whanganui a Tara or the Great Bay of Tara. His name is also commemorated in the Tararua Mountains that divide the Wellington Region and is taken from the saying “Nga waewae e rua a Tara” or “the spanned legs of Tara”, meaning that his people had a foothold on either side of these ranges. The second son of Whatonga was Tautoki, born to Reretua. Tautoki gave birth to a son called Tanenuiarangi otherwise known as Rangitāne.
Not much is known about this ancestor although his progeny spread to cover a wide area. Rangitāne had two wives. His first wife, Mahue bore a son called Kopuparapara and it is from this ancestor that Hamua is derived.
Four generations after Rangitaane came Hāmua. Hāmua became the eponymous ancestor or originator of the Ngāti Hāmua hapū (sub-tribe), which was and remains the paramount hapū of Rangitāne o Wairarapa. Ngāti Hāmua has survived through to today along with other Rangitāne hapū to remain the tangata whenua of the Wairarapa.
Of course, Rangitāne is not the only iwi to lay claim to the Wairarapa. Ngāti Kahungunu shares the role of tangata whenua in the Wairarapa. Ngāti Kahungunu hapū trace their lineage back to the Takitimu waka that arrived, also at Mahia sometime after the Kurahaupō waka. Over time these people moved into the Wairarapa area from Heretaunga and integrated with the Rangitāne hapū. Today many of the Maori people living in the Wairarapa can trace their whakapapa or lineage back to both tribes.