The Muaūpoko people – formerly known as Ngāi Tara – were named because they lived at the ūpoko (head) of Te Ika-a-Māui – the fish of Māui, or the North Island. Over time, they lost much of their land. Today, the tribe is working to restore Lake Horowhenua and revive their culture.
Full story by Darren Reid
Main image: Replica of the Kurahaupō canoe
The Short Story
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The ancestor Tara
The people of Muaūpoko were originally called Ngāi Tara, after their ancestor Tara. His parents, who lived in Hawke's Bay, were Whātonga, chief of the Kurahaupō canoe, and Hotuwaipara. Just before she gave birth, Hotuwaipara accidentally pricked her finger with the tara (spine) of a fish, so her son was named Tara.
Later the family moved to the Wellington region. Tara’s name was given to the harbour there, which became known as Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara). The Ngāi Tara people eventually took the name Muaūpoko, to indicate that they lived at the head (ūpoko) of Te Ika-a-Māui – the legendary fish of Māui, or the North Island.
At first Ngāi Tara lived around Wellington Harbour and on the Kapiti coast, sharing the land with other tribes. But from the 1820s Ngāti Toa, Te Āti Awa and other tribes moved in from the north. After battling with Ngāti Toa, Muaūpoko were forced to move to Horowhenua and Manawatū.
Loss of land
In 1839 the Te Āti Awa chiefs sold land around Wellington Harbour to the New Zealand Company, who wanted it for the first European settlers. Although Muaūpoko also had interests in the land, they were not consulted. Other tribes challenged Muaūpoko over their land at Horowhenua, and they lost even more. When the settlers arrived, the tribe’s wealth and power dwindled further. Farming and forest clearing spoilt the water and reduced the numbers of fish in Lake Horowhenua.
The Muaūpoko Tribal Authority, based at Levin in the Horowhenua region, provides health and welfare services. It is also reviving the traditions, history and culture of the tribe. Muaūpoko have formed the Lake Horowhenua Trust, which is working to improve the lake’s water quality and fill it with fish, and to restore the bush on the lake's edges. In the 2006 census, 2,499 people claimed Muaūpoko descent.