Waikato is a tribal confederation which takes its name from the Waikato River and region. The Waikato people are one of the major groups descended from the voyagers of the Tainui canoe – like Ngāti Maniapoto they are a Tainui people. They are often referred to as Pare Waikato (those within the boundaries of Waikato).
The confederation includes the tribes Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Māhanga, Ngāti Tamainupō, Ngāti Wairere, Ngāti Te Ata, Ngāti Te Wehi, Ngāti Tīpā and many more. Early Waikato history is intimately linked with the first settlements of the Tainui peoples around Kāwhia on the North Island’s west coast. It was at Kāwhia that the Tainui made its final landfall, some time in the 13th century.
The King movement
A particularly important source of unity for the Waikato people is the King movement. The movement’s formal centre is Tūrangawaewae marae at Ngāruawāhia. Since its inception in the 1850s, the King movement has always been located in Waikato. The first king was the Waikato chief, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, and all succeeding kings and the late queen are his descendants.
The region of the Waikato peoples is described in the following saying:
Ko Mōkau ki runga
Ko Tāmaki ki raro
Ko Mangatoatoa ki waenganui.
Pare Hauraki, Pare Waikato
Mōkau is above
Tāmaki is below
Mangatoatoa is between.
The boundaries of Hauraki, the boundaries of Waikato
To the place called ‘the long armpit of Pātetere’.
Mōkau refers to the river in north Taranaki, and Tāmaki to the isthmus on which the city of Auckland now stands. Mangatoatoa is a small village south of Te Awamutu. Pare Hauraki is the Hauraki region including the Piako, Ōhinemuri and Coromandel districts. Pare Waikato is the region north of Kāwhia to the Manukau Harbour and across to the Hūnua and the Hapūakohe Range. Hence, the Waikato region today includes cities and towns such as Te Awamutu, Cambridge, Hamilton and Huntly.
The Tāmaki district is sometimes referred to as the kei (stern) of the Tainui canoe and the Mōkau district as the tauihu (prow). The Coromandel Peninsula is referred to as the canoe’s ama (outrigger).