Whiti Te Rā! The story of Ngāti Toa Rangatira 

Long-term exhibition
Level 4
Free entry
Maori; People and history 

Ngati Toa exhibition logo

Explore the stellar 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.


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 tribe took bold action.

‘Tuhiwai’ mere pounamu (greenstone weapon), owned by Te Rauparaha.

‘Tuhiwai’ mere pounamu (greenstone weapon), owned by Te Rauparaha. Te Papa, gift of the Wineera family, 1963 (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 Chief of the Kawias

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 flax and other commodities that European traders hungered for.

Kāpiti Island. Photo Norm Heke, Te Papa

Kāpiti Island. Photo Norm Heke. Te Papa

But bitter conflicts over land spurred the government to severely undermine the 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 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 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 the tribe’s two years as Iwi in Residence here at the national museum. 

Iwi Development Partner

TPK logo



Paint partner

Dulux logo

Flooring partner

Inzide commercial logo

Media partner

Maori TV logo

Our Flooring Partner, Inzide Commercial, has used a carpet-tile collection called Net Effect™ in Te Papa’s exhibition Whiti Te Rā! The Story of Ngāti Toa and in the Te Huka ā Tai Discovery Centre.
View the YouTube video to find out how this collection connects impoverished fishing communities with the global manufacturing community to help protect an environment at risk.