Pre-European Governance Structure

"[T]he Present is the living sum-total of the whole Past."

- Thomas Carlyle, Characteristics

Image showing Te Rauparaha.
Te Rauparaha.
Image from New Zealand Electronic Text Centre from The Southern Districts of New Zealand: a Journal, with Passing Notices of the Customs.

Early Maori Governance

To understand the structure of governance in pre-European times, some knowledge of the Maori system is necessary.

Governing organisation with authority over Porirua territory was based on tribal structure with the Iwi (tribe) being the largest political unit in Maori society – one iwi is composed of many hapu (sub-tribes). When several families increase in size, a new hapu is formed. Tribal unity comes through lines of descent.

An ariki or paramount chief is leader of the tribe.

Tribal structure was an extended family hierarchy, elders, wife/wives, children, grandchildren. The tribe lived in settled communities (kainga) near fortified pa, using the surrounding areas to grow food.

Ownership was derived from possession/use of resources - settlement rights determined by tribal hierarchy – land administered by family heads at hapu level and hapu elders at tribal level.

The following are concepts that have relevance to the idea of authority over territory:

Arikitanga (Chieftainship)
Supreme power or status achievable in Maori world – three aspects were power of the gods, chiefly lineage and territorial possession. Person who possessed these attributes was known as ariki – the paramount chief who has respect and allegiance of their subjects when leading/directing the people.

Ariki is the supreme authority and power of a tribe or group, by virtue of direct lineage to the gods in accordance with human genealogies. Ariki is intermediary of the gods on earth.

Mana whenua:
Power associated with possession of lands & ability of land to produce bounties of nature – a person who possesses land has the power to produce a livelihood for family and tribe

Kotahitanga (tribal unity):
Everyone contributed to the well-being of the tribe – living in close knit communities, working together and planting food together. – equal share of resources.
In time of war, a tribe would call various sub-tribes to support their people against attack.
  • “Tikanga whakaaro : key concepts in Maori culture” Barlow, Cleve (1991)
  • “Maori land tenure” Kawharu, I.H. (1977)


circa 1400s:

Arrival of Ngai Tara – paramount chief Whatonga gave his son Tara-ika control of land from Wellington to Otaki, including Kapiti and Mana Islands

after 1500:

Ngati Ira, descendants of Ira-Kai-Putahi, migrate from Hawkes Bay, intermingled with Ngai Tara by 1650. Paramount chief was Whanake, settled in Porirua region

Muaupoko in Kapiti coast region, Ngati Apa & Rangitane covered Horowhenua and Manawatu regions


The Porirua Basin was acquired by Ngati Toa in 1820-26. The way had been prepared after Te Rauparaha succeeded in capturing the major Pa of Ngati Ira at Pukerua Bay in the first expedition with Ngapuhi in 1819/20. With the fall of that Pa, most of the original inhabitants appear to have fled to the Wairarapa.

Initially there appears to have only been a small Ngati Toa settlement in Porirua Harbour itself. However the area because of its relatively close location to both Kapiti and Mana Islands seems to have been frequently visited by Te Rauparaha, and in the 1840s Te Rauparaha had a significant settlement at Taupo Pa at what is now the Ngati Toa domain.

After the Wairau affray, the numbers of people living in Porirua Basin seemed to have increased significantly. In fact the settlement is supposed to have gone from 60 in 1840 to 252 people in 1849. The harbour had major attractions for settlement because of the rich fish resources. Certainly by 1849 Kemp's census shows Takapuwahia as the largest settlement until Otaki.

Te Rauparaha himself was captured at Taupo Pa and it is significant that Rangihaeata in his waiata lamenting Te Rauparaha's capture specifically refers to Porirua, which can be read in the History of Taupo Pa section.

Division of conquered lands after Te Rauparaha defeated resident tribes:

Land north of Kukutauaki Stream (near Otaki) to the Manawatu River given to Ngati Raukawa, Te Atiawa had the land south of Kukutauaki Stream – encompassed Waikanae, Otaki and Heretaunga (Hutt Valley). Ngati Toa had islands of Kapiti and Mana, mainland settlements of Pukerua Bay, Plimmerton, Paremata, Porirua and Titahi Bay.

Te Ati Awa also settled at Wellington, Petone and Nelson.


Taku Parai in the present term of office of Council is the only person ever appointed as a Kaumatua. While Ken Arthur and predecessors were doing the job, they were never appointed as such because the strong representation from Ngati Toa over the years as Councillors, did not warrant such an appointment.

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