Q & A: Who are the Tuhoe people?

By James Ihaka

The Tuhoe iwi descend from two groups known as Nga Potiki and Hapu Oneone. They lived in Te Urewera before the arrival of the great Maori migration from Hawaiki.

The descendants of the Mataatua waka cohabited with these peoples upon their arrival around 1300.

Tuhoe Potiki is the eponymous ancestor of the tribe. He was embroiled in political struggles and fought several battles throughout his lifetime.

A whakatauki or proverb which summed up the destruction in his lifetime was uttered when Tuhoe decided to retire.

Tuhoe moumou kai, moumou taonga, moumou tangata ki te po.

(Tuhoe extravagant of food, resources and lives.)

Where do they live?
The tribal boundaries extend from Taneatua north towards Whakatane across to Kutarere down to Maungapohatu and Waikaremoana. The tribal area also includes the Whirinaki, Minginui, Te Whaiti and Waiohau areas and Te Urewera National Park.

How many Tuhoe are there?
About 45,000 in New Zealand and abroad - at least 5000 live in Australia. The average age is about 28. More than 80 per cent of all Tuhoe live outside their ancestral lands.

Are Tuhoe signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi?
Tuhoe historian and lecturer Tamati Kruger said the iwi was never petitioned to sign. Trader James Ferdab, who was asked to take copies of the Treaty to the people, was told he would be wasting his time and his life could be in danger by going to the area.

Mr Kruger said it would have been a waste of time because copies of the Treaty were bought to the area in late May after Governor William Hobson declared New Zealand was a colony of Great Britain.

Ferdab began collecting signatures one week after this declaration and in 28 days he had collected 26 signatures from the coastal tribes of the Eastern Bay of Plenty except Tuhoe.

How is the iwi's relationship with the Crown?
Mr Kruger describes it as "weak". He said Tuhoe came to the attention of the Crown in the 1860s when they fought alongside other Maori against government forces in the Waikato.

Mr Kruger says Tuhoe were wrongly implicated in the death of Rev Karl Volkner in Opotiki in the early 1860s and were punished by the Crown for supporting fugitive Te Kooti.

The Crown moved in on Tuhoe lands destroying cultivations, burning houses and imprisoning people suspected of insurgency and confiscated lands. Mr Kruger said there were never any court cases over the Crown's allegations and charges were not proven.

Famous Tuhoe activists
Rua Kenana claimed to be a prophet who wanted to remove the Tuhoe people from European influence. He established a community at Maungapohatu in Te Urewera, which included a bank and a two-storeyed temple.

Tame Iti has had a long involvement in protest. He has participated in land occupations and adopted techniques such as setting up a tent outside Parliament and calling it the Maori embassy to New Zealand.

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