Pā and Kāinga


Ancient pā and kāinga are scattered across Te Tau Ihu o Waka. European settlers certainly did not arrive in a "barren social and cultural landscape..."1

Webber, John:The inside of a hippah in New Zealand.Webber, John, ca 1750-1793 :The inside of a hippah in New Zealand. Alexander Turnbull Library, B-098-023 [possibly on Motuara Island]
Click on image to enlarge

Māori lived communally, usually in kāinga or in fortified pā. In more settled times communities lived close to cultivations, tauranga waka, water supply, and food and other resources (in rivers, estuaries, forests and the sea). When their security was threatened they resorted to pā, on sites chosen for their view of the surrounding countryside and/or sea, their defensibility, and their strategic value. Access to food, water, and waka transport was still important, but adaptations, such as storage pits for food and waka hulls to collect water, could be made.

There were various reasons why pā or kāinga could be left to decay. Habitations taken in battle might be occupied by the victors, or they could be left deserted and a new settlement created some distance away. A whole village could be abandoned and declared tapu on the death of a chief of high mana, and some actions or events warranted the burning of houses. Long-abandoned ancient pa sites are still known through oral tradition and archaeology.

A strong characteristic of traditional Māori lifestyle was its mobility. Whole communities would move for harvests at certain times of the year, for fishing and hunting seasons, for planting crops (sometimes at a better location), for whānau or political reasons, and, of course, because of conflict or scarce resources. The customary practice of whakarahi  to maintain ahi-kā-roa , and to confirm tribal dominance of territories, was expressed through this itinerant lifestyle.

As European visitors arrived, and whalers took up at least seasonal residence, Māori often shifted to be close to trading opportunities. The missionary base of Rev. Samuel Ironside at Ngakuta, Port Underwood, influenced residential patterns, and the great influx of New Zealand Company settlers from 1842 caused further moves, so that Māori could take advantage of the new economy.

At the time of European settlement, major Māori communities of Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Rarua, Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Tama were recorded at:

  • several pā near the mouth of the Wairau River
  • a number of bays in Port Underwood close to onshore whaling stations
  • almost every bay in Tory Channel (another whaling base), and Moioio Island
  • various sites on Arapaoa Island
  • Waitohi (Picton)
  • many bays throughout Totaranui (Queen Charlotte Sound) from Anakiwa to Port Gore
  • a number of sites in the Pelorus Valley and Sound to as far out as Titirangi on the southern coast of Cook Strait
  • Rangitoto (D'Urville Island) several
  • Whangarae (Croisilles)
    Messenger, Arthur:Taupo [Pa], Massacre Bay. 1921 [i.e 1844]Messenger, Arthur Herbert 1877-1962 :Taupo [Pa], Massacre Bay. 1921 [i.e 1844], Alexander Turnbull Library, A-173-015
    Click on image to enlarge
  • Motueka (with an estimated population of 500 Māori)
  • Marahau
  • Whariwharangi, Taupo, and three sites at Wainui
  • Tata, Ligar Bay, Pohara, Motupipi, and Takaka
  • Pariwhakaoho, Tukurua, Parapara
  • Aorere (Collingwood)
  • Tomatea, Pakawau, Te Rae
  • West Whanganui and Te Tai Tapu (three sites).

There were also small groups of Kurahaupo people at Waihopai, Kaituna, Pelorus and near Wakefield. Rangitāne lived with Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Rarua at the Wairau.

Many of these locations were set aside as Occupation Reserves for the inhabitants when land was purchased by the New Zealand Company or the Crown.


Updated April 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Mitchell, H&J (2007) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough" Vol II, p20.  

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  • very good but how is the food protected so it dosent go off?
    We have added some further sources to answer this question. Ed.

    Posted by nadia hill, ()

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Further sources - Pā and Kāinga




Unpublished sources (NPM= Nelson Provincial Museum; ATL = Alexander Turnbull Library; MM = Marlborough Museum)

  • Barnicoat, J.W. (1843) Journal qMS typescript [NPM] ; [ATL]: Manuscript copy.
  • Brunner, T (1848) Daily Journal. UMS Typescript [NPM]
  • Campbell, A. Daily Journal and sketchbook. UMS 37: CAM [NPM]
  • Eyles, J. Papers. [NPM]
  • Reay, CL Church Register of Population. MS Papers 1925:54/5 [ATL]
  • Tucket, F (27.4.1843) Diary, Hale Clearfile V9, 42d-f [MM]
  •  Simmonds, J. Narrative of events in the early history of Nelson, New Zealand. qMS: SIM [NPM]
  •  Stephens, S. Letters & Journals. [NPM] Bett qMS (4 vol typescript)
  •  Wakefield, A. (1841-42) Diary. qMS NZ Co. Papers. Bett Collection [NPM]
  •  Weld, F (n.d.) Diary and letter extracts. In Marlborough Express. Hale Clearfile vol 10: 129 [MM]

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