Whiti Te Rā! The story of Ngāti Toa Rangatira

Explore the successes, dramatic setbacks, and extraordinary resurgence of Ngāti Toa Rangatira, the local iwi (tribe) in the Wellington region and the top of the South Island.

  • When Long-term exhibition
  • Where Level 4
  • Cost Free entry
  • Type Māori

Te Heke Mai Raro 
The Southern Migration

Around 200 years ago, Ngāti Toa’s homelands around Kāwhia were beset by strife. After decades of increasing tension and outright warfare with their neighbours, the iwiiwi tribe took bold action.

\"Tuhiwai\" mere pounamu (nephrite weapon), 1500-1800, Otago, maker unknown. Gift of the Wineera family, 1963. Te Papa (ME010922)


"Tuhiwai" mere pounamu (nephrite weapon), 1500-1800, Otago, maker unknown. Gift of the Wineera family, 1963. Te Papa (ME010922)

In 1821, under the leadership of the great chief Te Rauparaha, Ngāti Toa left their homelands for ever –  heading south to pursue brighter fortunes in the Cook Strait region. The first section of the exhibition explores their journey.

Te Raparaha [Te Rauparaha], chief of the Kawias [Kāwhia], 1843–49, by R Hall, watercolour. 
Alexander Turnbull Library (A-114-047)

Te ao hurihuri 
Shifting power

The second section focuses on Ngāti Toa’s spectacular economic rise of the 1820s and 30s – and the equally dramatic setbacks they suffered under the colonial government of the 1840s.

In the 1830s, Ngāti Toa built a flourishing trade in harakekeharakeke flax and other commodities that European traders hungered for.

Kāpiti Island. Photograph by Norm Heke. Te Papa


Kāpiti Island. Photograph by Norm Heke. Te Papa

But bitter conflicts over land spurred the government to severely undermine the iwi’siwi’s tribe’s leadership and land holdings. By 1850, the economic glory days were over. A new generation of chiefs used their thorough understanding of British-style government to promote the iwi’siwi’s tribe’s  interests in the second half of the century.

Te ao mārama 
The world of light

The final section of the exhibition explores the 20th century, following the iwiiwi tribe through two world wars and other international conflicts.

By the century’s end, Ngāti Toa were fighting a different battle – for redress over past injustices. The vehicle for this was a major claim over breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi (New Zealand’s founding document).They also sought to protect their rights over Te Rauparaha’s famous haka (chant) Ka Mate, the last line of which lends itself to the exhibition’s title, Whiti Te Rā!

In this section, we also celebrate the notable successes of Ngāti Toa in the arts, literature, sports, and many other arenas in which they thrive.



Video – Watch Ngāti Toa carvers create a beautiful waharoa

This major exhibition reflects a long-term partnership between Te Papa and Ngāti Toa Rangatira – and marks the beginning of their two years as IwiIwi tribe in Residence here at the national museum.

Sponsored by

Iwi Development partner

Te Puni Kokiri logo 300x300

Paint partner

Dulux - Colours of NZ - logo 300x300

Flooring partner

INZIDE Commercial - logo 300x300

Media partner

Maori television - logo 300x300