An amazing character from the
History of the
Ngāti Kahungunu Tribe
Here is a story, one in many, of Kahungunu, the favourite child of Tamateapokaiwhenua, ancestor of the Nuhaka Marae. Kahungunu was not a warrior but a man of amazing character. He had personality, versatility and was able to win his way into favour of tribe after tribe as he journeyed down the East Coast from his Northern home. He was a giant of a man, with a big frame and handsome. Perhaps his physique made him so attractive to the opposite sex. He was also an industrious man excelling in pastoral pursuits, and he was an excellent fisherman. All of these qualities captivated women of fame and rank, and as he married into tribe after tribe, he became provider and protector.
Our story begins as Kahungunu visited a pa on the hill known as Titirangi above the Gisborne Harbour. From there he observed the smoke from the fire of a large settlement inland, on the opposite side of the Waipaoa river. He was told that the pa was Poipoia, owned by RUAPANI, principal chief of the whole district. Our hero journeyed there and was so well thought of that Ruapani gave his daughter Ruareretai as his wife.
Kahu settled there but after some time he grew tired of the settled life and proceeded to Whareongongo — Here he fell in love with Hinepuariari, daughter of Panui, and they became man and wife. He also married his wife's sister, Kahukurawairaia. These two wives bore him four children. But Kahungunu had not forgotten the challenge of Rongomaiwahine, and the fame of her beau-ty led him to prepare for yet another journey down the Coast to Tawapata, on the Mahia peninsula. When he arrived at Tawapata he found that Rongomaiwahine had married Tamatakutai, a skilled local carver. This did not deter Kahungunu. He decided he would have her as his own. Cleverly, Kahungunu, in a subtle way, sought to discredit the husband by persuading the people that the gathering of food was the most useful accomplishment any man could have. He found that he could hold his breath longer than the birds stayed under the water. "Pepe tahi, pepe rua, pepe toru, pepe wha." Yes, he would be able to show the people what a good provider he could be. He set the people to weaving and plaiting long lines. Then he returned to the sea and showed his expertise by submerging and sending to the surface, basket after basket of paua. Finally, he arose from the sea, his body covered with the shellfish.
One day Kahungunu was in his favourite spot on the cliff. Looking down to the beach below, he saw Tamatakutai preparing his surf-ings canoe for Whakahekengaru or "Riding The Crest Of The Waves". Kahungunu wat-ched as Tamatakutai indicated that he should accompany him on his next ride. Good fellow that he was, he took Kahungunu as a passenger in the bow of the canoe. Eventually, Kahungunu asked if he might steer the canoe, and the man changed places. They took the canoe well out until they saw a big wave rolling towards them. Tama shouted "Here is a big wave". But Kahungunu was looking for a very big wave, and they rode the roller to shore. Kahungunu made light of their feat in riding such high breakers, but as they caught the next great wave, it bourne them swiftly shoreward. Kahungunu pulled his steering paddle sideways. The canoe broached over and was swamped. His companion could not swim and he had drowned. No inquest had been held and Kahungunu the provider took Rongomaiwahine as his wife. This was one of the most important love matches of the East Coast, not only because of the intrigue surrounding it, but because it undoubtedly changed the whole of the Maori history of the East Coast.
Back at Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty, the news was received by Kahungunu's father, Tamateapokaiwhenua that his son and his wife were expecting a child. He decided to visit the pair. Farewelling his two wives, Iwipupu and Ihuparapara, Tamateapokai-Whenua journeyed down the Coast towards the Mahia Peninsula. He bore gifts for the people and his new grandchild. After many days, as he drew near to that place, he was met by messengers who told him that the child born to Rongomaiwahine was not Kahungunu's blood child after all. Poor Tamateapokaiwhenua. He did not venture into the village. Instead, he placed the gifts he had brought upon a bush. He felt very sad and very lonely and longed to be home with his wives Iwipupu and Ihuparapara. He continued his journey along the Coast, and he climbed to a hilltop and, sitting there, he took his flute and played a long, sad tune. A chant of longing for his wives and his marae. So came about the longest word in the world: (there are two other versions).
Te whakapapa o Kahungunu
Toto - Tamatea Ariki nui o t e waka Takitimu
Rongokako - Muriwhenua
Tamatea ure haea - Iwipupu te kura
Kahungunu - Rongomaiwahine
Rakaipaaka o Nuhaka
The War Memorial Carved Meeting House at Nuhaka is named for the paramount Chief Kahungunu—the eponymous head of the Ngāti Kahungunu.
His marriage with Rongomaiwahine of Nukutaurua (Te Mahia) saw the establishment of the Ngati Kahungunu.
Kahungunu was a chief of great mana. And his diplomacy and industry were well-known and respected. A union with one who could trace a direct line back to Kahungunu was much favoured. And many of the important tribes of NZ are linked to Ngati-Kahungunu in this way.