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Ngāi Tūhoe
Iwi of New Zealand
Ngāi Tūhoe.png
Rohe (location) Te Urewera
Waka (canoe) Mataatua, Nukutere
Population 29,259
"United Tribes" number 51

Ngāi Tūhoe (IPA: [ˈŋaːɪ ˈtuːhoe]), a Māori iwi ("tribe") of New Zealand, takes its name from an ancestral figure, Tūhoe-pōtiki. The word tūhoe literally means "steep" or "high noon" in the Māori language. Tūhoe people also bear the sobriquet Nga Tamariki o te Kohu ("the children of the mist").


Traditional lands

Tūhoe traditional lands lie in Te Urewera and Te Urewera National Park in the eastern North Island, a steep, heavily-forested area which includes Lake Waikaremoana. Tūhoe traditionally relied on the forest for their needs. The tribe had its main centres of population in the small mountain valleys of Ahikereru and Ruatahuna, with Maungapohatu, the inner sanctum of the Urewera, as their sacred mountain. The Tūhoe country had a great reputation among the neighbouring tribes as a graveyard for invading forces.[1]

The colonial period

Tūhoe had little direct contact with the early European settlers.[1] The first major contact occurred when the iwi fought against the settler government in the battle of Ōrākau in 1864. The following year authorities falsely accused Tūhoe of involvement in the killing of missionary Karl Volkner in the Volkner Incident and confiscated the iwi's fertile lands. Tūhoe lost 5700ha of land on its northern border from a total of 181,000ha of land confiscated by the Grey government from Tūhoe, Te Whakatōhea and Ngāti Awa. The Crown took Tūhoe's only substantial flat, fertile land and their only access to the coast. The Tūhoe people retained only harsh, more difficult land, setting the scene for later famines.[2]

In 1868, Tūhoe sheltered the Māori leader Te Kooti, a fugitive who had escaped from imprisonment on the Chatham Islands, and for this the government punished them during the manhunt. Te Ara, the Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, notes:

"Old enemies of Tūhoe fought on the side of the government; they carried out most of the raids into Te Urewera during a prolonged and destructive search between 1869 and 1872. In a policy aimed at turning the tribe away from Te Kooti, a scorched earth campaign was unleashed against Tūhoe; people were imprisoned and killed, their cultivations and homes destroyed, and stock killed or run off. Through starvation, deprivation and atrocities at the hands of the government’s Māori forces, Tūhoe submitted to the Crown."[3]

After these events, Tūhoe isolated themselves, closing off access to their lands by refusing to sell, lease or survey them, and blocking the building of roads. Belich describes the Urewera as one of the last zones of Māori autonomy[1] and the scene of the last case of armed Māori resistance: in 1916 the New Zealand Police Force arrested the Tūhoe prophet Rua Kenana on dubious charges after a gun-battle in the Urewera left 10 people killed or wounded.[1] The police conducted the raid "like a military operation" entering alien territory.[4] Belich states that significant European penetration did not occur in the Urewera district until the 20th century.

Tūhoe today

Tūhoe people have a reputation for their continued strong adherence to Māori identity and for their unbroken use of the Māori language, which 40% of them still speak (2001 figure).

Of the Tūhoe people, estimated to number between 33,000 and 45,000, about 19 per cent still live on their tribal lands; most of the rest live in towns on the fringes of Te Urewera and in the larger North Island cities. At least 5,000 live in Australia.[5] Tūhoe continue to maintain camps in Te Urewera and help run conservation programmes for endangered birds such as the kiwi and the kokako. Many Tūhoe return to their homelands every two years for the Te Hui Ahurei ā Tūhoe (Tūhoe Festival), which features kapa haka, debates, sports competitions, and fashion shows. The event provides an important opportunity to maintain ties between friends and relatives.

From the late 1990s some Tūhoe started referring to themselves as the "Tūhoe nation".[2] Observers note that Tūhoe and the Crown have long had a strained relationship, with widespread rejection of Pākehā rule. Some Tūhoe people say they have never signed the Treaty of Waitangi and never gave up their sovereignty.[6]

Tamati Kruger of Tuhoe often speaks for the Tuhoe iwi.

Waitangi Tribunal

Tūhoe and other local iwi have brought the Urewera claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, a commission of inquiry set up in 1975 to compensate Māori for past land-confiscations on the part of the New Zealand government. The Urewera tribunal, set up in 2002, accepted submissions until 2005 and expected to report in 2007[7]

2007 Urewera police raids

A major armed-police raid in the Ureweras on 15 October 2007 focused attention on the Tūhoe people, and claims emerged that some Tūhoe had run terrorist training-camps in the Ureweras.[8] The New Zealand Police arrested 17 people nationwide — three of them Tūhoe — and charged them with firearms offences.[9] Solicitor-General David Collins rejected a bid by police to lay charges of terrorism against 12 of those arrested because of concerns over inadequacies of the Terrorism Suppression Act, but said the raids had stopped some "very disturbing activities".[10]

Police Commissioner Howard Broad publicly apologised for the actions of his officers during the raid, acknowledging they had set back relations between police and Tūhoe people. He said:

"We regret the hurt and stress caused to the community of Ruatoki and we will seek an appropriate way to repair the damage done to police-Maori relations. History tells us that episodes such as this can and do take decades to heal."[11]


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