He iti whetu! A small star indeed ..

He iti whetu! A small star indeed ..


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Entrance to Kanohi Kitea Maori & Pacific Encounters : Ngāti Toa Portraits He iti whetū. Gottfried Lindauers’ portraits of Wi Parata and wife Unaiki Pūkehi can be seen centre left, while on the wall to the right are hand coloured lithographs by George French Angas and original watercolours by Isaac Coates.


Ahakoa he iti whetū ki runga ki te rangi nui pōkēkēao ūhia kia ngaro, e kore e ngaro.

Even though the stars shining in the nights sky might be obscured by a passing cloud, they will never be obliterated!

This whakataukī (proverb) was spoken by Marangaipāroa, son of the tribes’ eponymous ancestor Toa Rangatira, as he stood upon the battle ground with his sons and 140 handpicked warriors (a standard battle group known as Te Hokowhitu-a-Tū) ready to engage the numerically superior Ngāi Te Rangi tribe of Tauranga.

As one descendant put it, ‘throughout our history Ngāti Toa are remembered as a small tribe who punched well above their weight!’ The Ngāti Toa story is one of overcoming adversity, a sentiment captured in the exhibitions opening whakatauki of the exhibition He iti whetū Ngāti Toa portraits, currently on show in Ngā Toi Arts Te Papa.

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On the wall to the left are original portraits of Te Rauparaha, his son Tamihana and wife Ruta. The case centre-foreground holds taonga from the Parata family associated with Wi Parata and Unaiki.

When Marangaipāroa was petitioned by the Ngāti Raukawa chief Korouaputa – Te Rauparaha’s maternal grandfather – to help avenge the recent death of his uncle Te Autūroro by Ngāi Te Rangi, Marangaipāroa told him to return home and await his arrival. But when Marangaipāroa arrived with 140 carefully selected warriors Ngāti Raukawa derided him for bringing such a small troop of ineffectual men. Marangaipāroa responded by saying:

Ahakoa ahau he itiiti pōkerekere tuku mai i runga o Moeātoa, tēnā koe e kite.

Though I am but a small cloud passing over the mountain Moeātoa, soon you will see that even a small cloud can obscure the bright light of day!

This pencil sketch of Te Rauparaha was drawn from life in 1845 by government surveyor Edward Abbot, and later purchased by Governor Sir George Grey for £15. Grey presented the portrait to the reverend Octavius Hadfield, later appointed as the third Anglican Primate of New Zealand. Hadfield and Archdeacon Samuel Williams, who managed the Ōtaki mission, knew Te Rauparaha well declared the portrait to be ‘a perfect likeness.’ Edward Abbott (?–1849), England/New Zealand. Te Rauparaha 1845. Pencil on paper. On loan from the Hadfield family

But when Marangaipāroa led his small band onto the battlefield with Ngati Raukawa, it only provoked the bold Ngāi Te Rangi who now emerged from their fortifications eager to engage the enemy in combat. Korouaputa pointed to the overwhelming multitude of Ngāi Te Rangi and told Marangaipāroa to spare himself and his men and return to Kawhia. Maranagaipāroa replied with the blogs opening whakataukī ,

Ahakoa he iti whetū ki runga ki te rangi, nui pōkēkēao ūhia kia ngaro, e kore e ngaro.

Even though the stars shining in the nights sky might be obscured by a passing cloud, they will never be obliterated!

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The case centre-foreground contains original deeds of purchase for Waiōrua, Kapiti Island (1831), and Wairau, Cloudy Bay (1832). Both deeds have been appended with hand drawn facial moko (tattoo) representing the signing chiefs. Land deed for the village of Wyarrua (Waiōrua, Kāpiti Island) between Captain Samuel Ashmore and Ngāti Toa chiefs 1831 On loan from Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga (OLC1 Box 3 OLC43) Deed of sale of Cloudy Bay from Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata, et al to John Blenkinsopp October 1832 On loan from Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga (NZC133 24/1)

As Marangaipāroa and his sons advanced against the enemy, his two youngest sons, Tūhaha and Te Haunga, threw themselves recklessly into the battle and their aggression caught the Ngāi Te Rangi off-guard causing confusion. Marangaipāroa’s force routed the enemy and won the day.

Toa Rangatira’s brave son and grandsons had lived up to their ancestors noble appellation, the brave sons of a warrior chief indeed!

Kanohi Kitea Season Four


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The Whanau Wall. This ensemble of photographs is inspired by the ancestral images that can be found on the walls of Ngāti Toa homes. For Māori images of tūpuna (ancestors) are an affirmation of identity through whakapapa (genealogy), shared familial relationships and common descent.

Season four of Kanohi Kitea module in Ngā Toi Arts Te Papa gallery, He iti whetū Ngāti Toa portraits, focuses primarily on portraits of Ngāti Toa ancestors. These images explore moments of encounter between the pioneering artists, professional painters and photographers of New Zealand’s early colonial period, mid-19th and 20th centuries, and the people of Ngāti Toa.

The exhibition has been designed as a companion to the current Ngāti Toa Rangatira iwi-in-residence exhibition programme, Whiti te rā!, which can be seen on Level 4.


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These family portraits have been set in beautifully carved frames and depict members of the Wineera family. The family patriarch, Wineera Te Kanae (far left), was the great-grandson of the famous Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha (about 1769-1849).

More to come as we explore some of the stories behind these tūpuna, and some of the surprising relationships between the people depicted in Ngāti Toa Rangatira : He iti whetū….


  1. Thank you for teaching me more about my ancestors today Matiu. I was very grateful for your generous time.
    Nga mihi nui,

    1. Author

      You’re welcome Sarah, it was a pleasure to meet you and walk and talk our way through the exhibition. I wrote a follow-up blog to this, a two-part blog about the 1843 Wairau Incident that I think will interest you given your whanau association with the district. I’ve attached the link below.

  2. Kia ora Matiu

    What a lovely way to start the week admiring & enjoying our tipuna photos & artwork.

    Beautiful….thank you….

    Nga Mihi


    1. Author

      I’m really pleased you enjoyed it. Thank you Dawn.

  3. This is awesome, informative info Matiu. Nga mihi nui.

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