Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wellington's early Maori history

The earliest name for Wellington, from Maori legend, is Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui. In Maori it means ‘the head of Maui's fish’. Caught and pulled to the surface by Polynesian navigator Maui, the fish became the North Island.

The Polynesian explorer Kupe is credited with the initial discovery of Wellington Harbour. From Maori tradition it is estimated he arrived with his followers around the 10th century. Several places around the Wellington peninsula were named by Kupe - for example Matiu (Somes) Island and Makaro (Ward) Island. People have lived here since Kupe's discovery.

Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara) is another Maori name for Wellington. Tara was the son of Whatonga, another Polynesian migrant, who had settled in Hawke’s Bay. Whatonga sent Tara on a tour of inspection of the lower North Island in the 12th century. After a year Tara returned and reported that the best place he had seen was ‘at the very nostrils of the island’. As a result Whatonga and his followers shifted south - the first iwi (tribe) in Wellington was thus Ngai Tara. Ngai Tara eventually amalgamated with another iwi, Ngati Ira. Other iwi associated with the area were Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tahu, and Ngati Mamoe. Since the beginning of the 19th century iwi including Ngati Mutunga, Ngati Tama, Te Atiawa and Ngati Toa have migrated to the Wellington region.

Today the manawhenua (local guardianship) interests in Wellington city are administered by the Wellington Tenths Trust/Nga Tekau o Poneke, which comprises descendants from Taranaki iwi, of which Te Atiawa is the largest. Ngati Toa, by virtue of its boundary to the west, also has an interest within Wellington city. In addition, Maori with tribal affiliations stretching from the Far North to the Deep South live and work in Wellington and contribute to the cultural diversity of the city. Evidence of early Maori settlement and cultivation can be found at sites all around the Wellington peninsula.

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