The people of Ngāti Ruanui have a traditional saying:
Ko Aotea te waka
Ko Turi te tangata ki runga
Ko Taranaki te maunga
Ko Waingongoro te awa
Ko Ngāti Ruanui te iwi.
Aotea is the canoe
Turi is the ancestor
Taranaki is the mountain
Waingongoro is the river
Ngāti Ruanui is the tribe.
From Rangiātea to New Zealand
There are many islands scattered across the Pacific Ocean like tiny emerald specks. One of these is Rangiātea, about 200 kilometres from Tahiti. Around 30 generations ago the Ngāti Ruanui ancestor Turi lived there.
How Ruanui’s parents met
A proverb of Pātea River goes: ‘Pakupaku noa koe, e Pātea, me hoki a Rau i konei’ (Shallow though you are, Pātea, you caused Rau to turn back).
Hearing of the beauty of Turi’s daughter Tāneroroa, two well-born young men, Uenuku-puanake and Rau, travelled north to seek her hand. When they came to Pātea River, Uenuku began to wade across. To his dismay he found that it was shallow. To fool his friend he dropped to his knees so that he went under water. Rau, not being a strong swimmer, lost his nerve and returned home. Faint heart never won fair lady. So it was Uenuku-puanake, rather than Rau, who would become the father of the tribal ancestor Ruanui.
Turi became embroiled in a vicious blood feud with Uenuku, a neighbouring rangatira, and had to flee Rangiātea to save his life. Fortunately for Turi his father-in-law Toto had felled a huge tree, from which were carved two great canoes: Aotea and Matahourua.
In the dead of night Turi and his companions rowed away from Rangiātea in the canoe Aotea-utanga-nui (richly laden Aotea), so named for the number of new species of plants and animals it carried. After a long and dangerous voyage they landed in Aotea Harbour at Kāwhia. Tradition says that Turi and his people then travelled overland until they reached Pātea. On the south bank of Pātea River they built Turi’s pā, Rangitāwhi, and his whare, Matangirei.
Turi’s daughter Tāneroroa married Uenuku-puanake of the Tākitimu canoe. The people of Ngāti Ruanui are descendants of their son Ruanui, named after his ancestor on Rangiātea.
Within a few generations Ruanui’s descendents dispersed to become the main tribe in south Taranaki, in the area between the Whenuakura River and the Ōeo Stream.