Māori History in Tasman District

Legends tell of Uruao, the first of the Polynesian voyaging canoes to land in Nelson.  Although the archaeological record is sketchy and the first settlement date debated, carbon dating indicates that, like the rest of New Zealand, Nelson was first settled around the ninth century. 

Gardens were quickly established throughout the region, including alongside the Waimea River, and in Motueka and Riwaka, Mapua and Parapara.  Hunting and gathering, along with cultivation of kūmara (sweet potato), were vital to these early settlers and excavations show that a variety of fish were also consumed.  Seabirds, ducks, pukeko, kaka, tui and kakariki were just some of the birds that provided sustenance.  The abundance of seafood, birds and favourable gardening conditions for kūmara made this land sought after.

Most villages were on the coast, close to river valleys.  The location of each settlement was planned with both transport and food in mind. Waka (canoes) were used around the coast and up river valleys. Information on the traditions of tribes who lived in the region before and up to the 1820s has been difficult to document in detail, in part due to the displacement of tribes.  Ngāti Tumatakōkiri were settled over the whole district from Whakapuaka to Karamea by the time Abel Tasman arrived in 1642.

The succession of tribes into the area suggests considerable warfare interrupted their lives. Around 1828, Ngati Toa under Te Rauparaha and the allied northern tribes of Ngati Rarua, Te Ātiawa and Ngati Tama, started their invasion of the South Island.  They had travelled from Kawhia and North Taranaki to conquer the region between 1828 and 1834, and had settled their people on the lands in the Nelson region.  They took over much of the area from Farewell Spit to the Wairau River.

The ancestors -  Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Tama and Te Ātiawa - held authority over the Nelson-Motueka-Golden Bay lands at the time of European settlement in 1841.  Ngāti Koata was based at Rangitoto (D'Urville Island) and Croisilles, Ngāti Tama at Wakapuaka, Motueka and Golden Bay, and Ngāti Rārua and Te Ātiawa were both at Motueka and Golden Bay.  The tribes had large cultivations from which they supplied the whaling industry in Marlborough which was in its heyday in the 1830s and the new colonial settlers arriving in the 1840s.

Nelson and Tasman Māori generally welcomed European settlement as an opportunity to expand their trade, although it is unlikely that they realised just how many new-comers would pour into their lives and they would not have foreseen a time when they would become a minority in their own country.

Source of Information

The information here is from the overview given in ‘Nelson:  A Regional History’ by Jim McAloon.  The two volumes of ‘Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka:  A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough’ published by Hilary and John Mitchell in 2004 and 2007, provide the most in-depth study of pre-European and early colonial times.