About Te Arawa

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Who are Māori?

Sometime prior to 800AD, New Zealand was discovered and settled by Polynesian people who had travelled on epic voyages from the group of islands known today as East Polynesia.

They were the descendants of an ancient culture which originated in South East Asia some four thousand years ago.

Māui, Kiwa, Kupe and Ngāhue reached out to all corners of the Pacific. The Polynesian ancestors were expert at travelling vast distances, even reaching South America.

Systematic migration and colonisation of the new land, Aotearoa New Zealand, took place over a number of generations until around the 14th century.

Contact with their Polynesian homelands (Hawaiki) ceased as the people settled into the new environment and found uses for the rich natural resources.

They developed into numerous territorial and iwi (tribal) groups under common ancestors. Te Arawa, first inhabitants of the Rotorua region, is one such iwi.

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Who are Te Arawa?

Te Arawa refer to their tribal area in the saying “Mai I Maketū ki Tongariro, Ko Te Arawa te waka” which places the prow of the Te Arawa canoe at Maketū on the Bay of Plenty coast, and the stern at Mount Tongariro.

Some 20 generations ago a great leader named Houmaitawhiti lived in the Polynesian homelands called Hawaiki. Saddened by a long history of warfare and the lack of resources, Houmaitawhiti decided it was time to send his people in search of new lands.

His eldest son Tama-te-kapua, along with the powerful tohunga (navigator-priest) Ngātoro-i-rangi and other members of the tribe, set out on a 40-metre, twin-hulled sailing vessel (waka) in search of a new homeland.

Their ageing leader Houmaitawhiti said goodbye to his people as he was too old to travel.

Using stars, ocean currents and wave patterns they navigated the waka to the south-west Pacific.

When the waka arrived in New Zealand its passengers selected Maketū in the Bay of Plenty as its final resting place. The Arawa tribe takes its name from this great ancestral canoe.

Ihenga, the grandson of Tama-te-kapua, discovered the Rotorua lakes region and is responsible for many of the place names we still use today.

Ngātoro-i-rangi, explored the volcanic plateau and climbed the great mountain of Tongariro.

A new Arawa leader called Rangitihi emerged four generations later. He and his eight children and their extended families (hapu) moved to the Rotorua region to live. In time the descendants of the eight children formed their own tribes and became known as Ngā pūmanawa e waru o Te Arawa – The eight beating hearts of Te Arawa.

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Ngā Pūmanawa o Te Arawa

In this exhibition explore the stories of the Te Arawa Maori tribe, from their origins far across the Pacific to their lives in Rotorua today.

Enter the amazing world of Te Arawa, the first people to live in the Rotorua region, and discover the legendary stories that have shaped this area – including the world-famous Pink and White Terraces and the explosive 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera and its tragic aftermath.

Explore stories of the many beautiful taonga (treasures) that connect Te Arawa to their ancestors and guide them into the future. A number of significant Te Arawa taonga, from institutions across New Zealand and around the world, are now on long term display in this exhibition.

Meet famous leaders and heroes, and learn about the epic stories of the Arawa people.

The Museum cares for more than 2,000 taonga in a kaitiaki role, in liaison with Te Pūkenga Koeke o Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa (Te Pūkenga Policy PDF).


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