The epic story of Ngāpuhi unfolds down the generations, beginning in a distant time and place, with an incident that is both ordinary and extraordinary.
The time was approximately 20 generations before Kupe, the great Polynesian navigator who discovered Aotearoa, with another two or three generations before the great migration to these shores. The place was Hawaiki, which is sometimes described as a mythical place, although it most certainly existed even if we no longer know its exact location.
The incident involved Kareroariki, a mother-to-be who craved a special food; common enough for pregnant women.
What made it extraordinary was that she did not crave some special kai moana or fruit. No, Kareroariki hungered for the taste of the human heart. As an ariki, or chieftainess, she had the authority to demand her wish be granted and a highborn young maiden, of a similar rank, was sacrificed to satisfy this desire.
This is the beginning of the esoteric knowledge that has been passed down, in oral tradition, from our forbears and is taught today in our wananga.
Three names emerge from the birth of the child of Kareroariki, - they are Puhikaiariki, Puhimoanariki and Puhitaniwharau - which collectively give rise to the plural, ngā, or many - Ngāpuhi. All three feature significantly in Ngāpuhi history.
The fact that we take our name from an event - rather than an ancestor, as is the case with most tribes - is highly unusual. Indeed there are orators who would deny this entirely, referring to Puhimoanariki of the Mataatua waka, as the original ancestor of Ngāpuhi. There is however no korero, or oral tradition, to support this.
All waka with Ngāpuhi whakapapa - that is to say genealogical lines - landed in Hokianga and spread out from there. So it is that we Ngāpuhi claim a tribal area with boundaries described in this whakatauki or proverb:
"Te Whare O Ngāpuhi, Tāmaki Makaurau ki Te Rerenga Wairua. Ko ngā paatu ko Ngāti Whātua, Te Rārawa, Te Aupouri, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāpuhi ki roto. Ko ngā Rarangi Maunga ngā Poutokomanawa i hikia te Tahuhu o Te Whare O Ngāpuhi."
(The house of Ngāpuhi stretches from Tāmaki Makaurau in the south to Cape Reinga in the north, its walls are the sub-tribes: Ngāti Whatua in the south, Te Rārawa in the west, Te Aupouri in the north and Ngāti Kahu in the east, Ngāpuhi holds the centre of the House, and the mountains of significance within Ngapuhi are the pillars or poupou, which hold the ridgepole aloft.)
Another mark of Ngāpuhi is that we are fiercely loyal to our whanāu and hapū. Our traditional, communal way of life, focused around our marae, seeks to remain as strong today as in the time of Kareroariki.
Our history reminds us that we too often bickered among ourselves, but when facing a common enemy we would set aside our differences, our rangatira would gather, agree on a battle plan and then fight as one. In this way many a dreadful enemy was defeated.
Today we must act in a similar manner, always mindful of the needs of individual whanāu and hapū within our takiwā. Yet equally determined to act with common purpose for the collective good. We must seek true tino rangatiratanga - economic, cultural and social freedom - for the Ngāpuhi nation as a whole. Once again we must face the challenges that confront us together.
This is the knowledge handed down to Rāniera Tei Ringa (Sonny) Tau from his ancestors.