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In Māori tradition, Ngātoro-i-rangi (Ngātoro) is the name of a tohunga (priest) prominent during the settling of Aotearoa (New Zealand) by the Māori people, who came from the mythical homeland Hawaiki.
Ngātoro-i-rangi was the son of Rakauri and Hineruarangi and was raised at Te Vaitoa in Rangiātea. He was descended from the Ngāti Ohomairangi tribe and was direct successor to the high priest of Taputapuatea marae at Rangiātea. He also had ancestral connections to Aitutaki, Rarotonga, Rangiātea (Raiatea) and other islands in the area.
He was trained at Taputapuātea marae as a priest and navigator and was renowned for his skills and status. He made a number of journeys around the islands of Hawaiki and eventually rose to become a powerful high priest with the mana (authority or right) to carry the most powerful of deities.
The people of Ngāti Ohomairangi formed two divisions. After the various battles in Hawaiki these two divisions decided to participate in the migration to Aotearoa (New Zealand), and set about building the two great waka (ships) Tainui and Te Arawa.
Journey to Aotearoa
When the Tainui waka and Te Arawa waka were constructed it was intended that Ngātoro-i-rangi should command the Tainui canoe in its journey from Hawaiki to New Zealand. The two waka were anchored together for the initial sea tests before launching.
However, Ngātoro-i-rangi was persuaded by Tama-te-kapua to come aboard Te Arawa with his wife to perform the final rituals that would allow the waka to make for open water. While this was happening Tama-te-kapua ordered his crew to head for open water, and thus Ngātoro-i-rangi and his wife were kidnapped.
During the course of the voyage Kearoa, the wife of Ngātoro-i-rangi, had been insulted by Tama-te-kapua. So, Ngātoro-i-rangi called upon a storm to drive the Arawa into Te Korokoro o Te Parata (The throat of Te Parata), a mid-ocean whirlpool. It was only when the shrieks of the women and children moved his heart with pity that he Ngātoro-i-rangi relented, and let the canoe emerge safely.
Central North Island
Upon reaching Aotearoa Ngātoro-i-rangi left the waka at Te Awa o te Atua (near Matatā) and headed inland. As he went about, springs of water appeared where he stamped his foot. These springs are stills seen all over the area, such as around the Rotorua Lakes district, through to Tokaanu. He also placed patupaiarehe (human-like spirit beings) on the hills.
As he was crossing the plains near Tarawera, Ngātoro-i-rangi came across a strange figure named Te Tama-hoi. He was a demon (atua) who was directing evil spells towards Ngātoro-i-rangi. Ngātoro-i-rangi struggled against the demon and eventually overcame him. Ngātoro-i-rangi stamped his foot opening a chasm in the mountain into which Te Tama-Hoi was buried. The chasm became the volcanic rent of Mount Tarawera.
Ngātoro-i-rangi eventually arrived at Taupō-nui-ā-Tia (Lake Taupō, also called Taupō Moana), and, looking southward, decided to climb the mountain nearest to him, Tauhara and looked out across Taupō-nui-ā-Tia to claim the land he saw. He reached and began to climb the first mountain along with his slave Ngāuruhoe, who had been travelling with him, and named the mountain Tongariro (the name literally meaning 'looking south'), whereupon the two were overcome by a blizzard carried by the cold south wind.
Near death, Ngātoro-i-rangi called back to his two sisters, Kuiwai and Haungaroa, who had also come from Hawaiki but remained upon Whakaari (White Island) to send him sacred fire which they had brought from Hawaiki. This they did, sending the geothermal fire in the form of two taniwha (powerful spirits) named Te Pupu and Te Haeata, by a subterranean passage to the top of Tongariro. The tracks of these two taniwha formed the line of geothermal fire which extends from the Pacific Ocean and beneath the Taupō Volcanic Zone, and is seen in the many volcanoes and hot-springs extending from Whakaari to Tokaanu and up to the Tongariro massif. The fire arrived just in time to save Ngātoro-i-rangi from freezing to death, but Ngāuruhoe was already dead by the time Ngātoro-i-rangi turned to give him the fire.
Ngātoro-i-rangi named a large number of places in the Central Plateau of the North Island in order to claim the area on behalf of his descendents, who would eventually return under the mantle of the tribe Ngāti Tūwharetoa. Due to the clouds that swarmed around the mountains Pihanga, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngaruahoe the desert road side was unknown to Ngātoro-i-rangi at this time which is why the borderlines of Ngati Tuwharetoa are one side of Mt. Ruapehu.
Ngātororiangi eventually left the Central North Island and returned to Maketū to conduct the rituals to bring Te Arawa waka to rest, before finally settling at Motiti Island.
However, on account of a curse uttered by his brother-in-law Manaia, Ngātoro-i-rangi led an expedition to Hawaiki, and defeated Manaia in the battle of Ihumoto-motokia. Ngātororiangi also left a son at Tongareva Island. Ngātoro-i-rangi then returned to Aotearoa and fortified Motiti Island, where he was attacked by Manaia, who, with all his host, perished when by mighty spells Ngātoro-i-rangi raised a huge storm called Te Aputahi-ā-Pawa.
It is said that as an old man Ngātoro-i-rangi attempted to travel to Kāwhia to visit his cousin Hoturoa who had taken command of the Tainui waka, but he never arrived. Many years later his bones were recovered from the Waikato River with his tāmoko (facial tattoo) still identifiable. It is uncertain where his remains were finally buried with both Kāwhia and Motiti island being possible sites.
- R.D. Craig, Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York, 1989), p185.
- E.R. Tregear, Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair: Lambton Quay 1891), pp280–281.
- Waitangi Tribunal, He Maunga Rongo: Report on the Central North Island Claims Vol.4, (Legislation Direct: Wellington, 2008), p1282, pp1468–1469.