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The earliest accounts associated with Te Atiawa iwi ancestors precede the coming of Taranaki to the western seaboard. They were known as the Kāhui people, some of which were known as Te Kahui Ao, Kāhui Rangi, Kāhui Pō, Kāhui Atua and Kahui Toka collectively called Te Kāhui Maunga. They occupied Mimi Maunganui (the mountain preceding Taranaki), Ruatupua (Pouakai), and Ruatawhito (Kaitake) ranges and various places along the Taranaki coast.
The journey of mount Taranaki from the central plateau has been recounted for centuries. It is an account that describes cataclysmic volcanic activity and the movement of people.
Taranaki was formerly known as Pukeonaki and Pukehaupapa and stood in the area around Lake Rotoaira near Tūrangi, with Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Pihanga. Pukeonaki and Tongariro both loved Pihanga and fought over her. Following the conflict Pukeonaki, bearing the scars of battle, withdrew underground and down the Whanganui River valley. Led by his companions Te Ra-uhiuhi, Wheoi and the guide stone Rauhoto they entered the sea. When Taranaki surfaced he saw Pouakai Mountain inland. Pukeonaki then followed Rauhoto up the Hangatahua River and resurfaced beside Pouakai. Rauhoto continued her flight on the North eastern side of Pouakai where she then turned westward at the gap between Pouakai and Kaitake. Her flight path went through the sweeping saddle between Kaitake and Pouākai and ended near the mouth of the Hangatahua River by the sea. Pukeonaki remained there with Pouakai and their offspring became the trees, plants, birds and rivers that flow from their slopes.
The settlement of Taranaki is best described in two eras. The original inhabitants were known as the Kāhui people. The Kāhui people established knowledge systems in and around the wider Taranaki area. They held mana over the lands and gave meaning to many of the Kainga along the coast.
When the Polynesian groups arrived from Hawaiki, marriages soon produced a mix of Kāhui Maunga and polynesian people. The influx of new migrants also created tension and many conflicts ensued. The key marriages however, have become the source of dual identity for Te Atiawa and other Taranaki iwi today.