Short History of Ngāti Wai – Aotea Store

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Short History of Ngāti Wai

Māori histories of Aotea 

Aotea is the Māori name for Great Barrier Island, the 285 square kilometre island of perfect coasts, lush native forest and supportive, outgoing, friendly people. For centuries, it has been the tribal home of members of the Ngāti Wai iwi, whose tribal territory is over Northland’s east coast. How they came to inhabit Aotea is a fascinating story.

Ngāti Wai descends from Manaia. Manaia is reputed to have voyaged to New Zealand from Hawaiki. When he arrived in Aotearoa, he first stayed in Motu Kokako (Cape Brett) and various locales on and off the east coast of Northland, such as Maunganui, Whangaruru, Mimiwhangata, Whangarei Terenga Paraoa ("the meeting place of the whales"), Whananaki and Tawhiti Mahi (Poor Knights).

A great battle took place at Mimiwhangata between Ngāti Manaia and Ngā Puhi after the killing of a member of Ngāpuhi, Te Waero. 

Ngāpuhi were dominant in this battle and afterwards, members of Ngāti Manaia fled to places off the east coast of Northland including Whangarei Heads, Pakiri, Auckland, and of course, Aotea, and some of them became Ngāti Wai. Today, the Māori land on Aotea is predominantly in the northwestern part of the island in Katherine Bay where two marae stand, Te Kawa (south) and Te Motairehe (north).

Ngāti Wai iwi’s symbol is Te Tukaiaia, the sea-hawk, who is seen to rest at locales preceding the seaborne arrival of Ngāti Wai. 

In ancient times, Ngāti Wai would visit the cave Manawahuna before battle, to attain good luck. If they got wet, it was a good omen for the battle. Furthermore, the mana of Ngāti Wai stems directly from the waters, and from the taniwha and other spirits of the water. Their vision is to have all people fulfill their potential through having excellent health and a sense of personal wellbeing. This is expressed in their whakataukī or proverb:

Ma te whakaatu ka mohio
Ma te mohio ka marama
Ma te marama ka matau
Ma te matau ka ora
Tena Tātou 

Observe, understand, learn, live