Hāwea, Rapuwai and Waitaha
According to Māori oral traditions the earliest peoples to inhabit Te Waipounamu were tribal groups known as Hāwea, Rapuwai and Waitaha who inhabited the island for centuries before the arrival of more recent tribal migrations of Ngāti Māmoe, Ngāti Wairaki and Ngāi Tahu. The early moa hunting tribes are believed to have been established in Canterbury about one thousand years ago.
Today, little is known of the traditions of Hāwea and where they originated from.
Rapuwai or Te Mano-ō-Rapuwai originated in the North Island, however their history and traditions have not persisted and it is believed that over time they were readily absorbed into Waitaha.
It is known that the more recent tribal grouping of Waitaha originated from the east coast of the North Island. Major Waitaha settlements in Canterbury were established at Puari Pā and at Pegasus Bay.
Recent excavations have been carried out at the site of a new township called Pegasus which is being built near the Ashley (Rakahuri) River. The archaeological work carried out has revealed an extensive site believed to be 500 to 600 years old. Hundreds of artefacts have been found including numerous pounamu items, which indicate that this area was a significant pounamu working site over a long period of time. This Waitaha pā is close to Kaiapoi Pā the home of the Ngāi Tūāhuriri chief Tūrākautahi.
Today, Waitaha traditions remain an integral part of Te Waipounamu through the names given to geographical features, rivers and coastlines of this large island by these inhabitants.
On the west coast another tribal grouping to take up residence was Ngāti Wairaki. This tribal grouping from the North Island was closely related to Ngāi Tahu but had arrived earlier and took a different route through Taranaki to get to Te Waipounamu.
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