The Ngati Whatua iwi (tribe) has occupied the Tamaki isthmus since the seventeenth century. For generations, one of its hapu (sub-tribes) cultivated land at Horotiu (now lower Queen Street in downtown Auckland). In the 1840s, the fledgling settler town of Auckland relied for its survival on the goodwill and protection of Ngati Whatua chief Apihai Te Kawau, who had negotiated with Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson the sale of 3000 acres to the British Crown.
When Te Kawau died in 1868, his nephew, Paora Tuhaere, became Ngati Whatua's acknowledged leader. Born at Orakei about 1825, Tuhaere became a Christian early in life, taking the baptismal name Paora (Paul) in honour of the Apostle. Throughout his life he consistently chose a path of peaceful negotiation rather than warfare in his dealings with both the Government and other iwi. In his later years he was a dominant force in the intertribal movement known as Te Kotahitanga, which hoped to gain greater political control by Māori of their own affairs. He died in 1892.
Among the Library's collection of Māori manuscripts amassed by Sir George Grey there is a nine-page whakapapa (genealogy) of Ngati Whatua compiled by Tuhaere, at Grey's request, in 1881. He traces lines of descent from various ancestors, including the legendary Tumutumuwhenua, described as a being ‘not of this world’ who came from the interior of the earth and married Te Repo, one of the mystical ancient race of Patupaiarehe. He also discusses the migration of the Ngati Whatua people from Muriwhenua in the far north, their settlement at Kaipara and their battles with – and ultimate triumph over – another iwi, Te Waiohua, on the Tamaki isthmus.
Part of the narrative is concerned with the feats of the giant Kawharu, who is said to have been four times the size of an ordinary man. The surname of one of the most eminent Ngati Whatua families is derived from this remarkable figure. The renowned anthropologist and Māori scholar Sir Hugh Kawharu was paramount chief of Ngati Whatua from 1978 until his death in September 2006.