How Mitimiti got its name

Mitimiti literally means to lick. Apparently there is more than one version of how Mitimiti got its name. So if you have one, do send it to us!

The first comes from the school homework of Stephanie Martin some years back in the 1990s. She apparently got it from Ben Turi (aka Te Wake). Here is Ben’s version.

A sperm whale


“As it happens, quite often whales of all sizes become stranded on beaches for reasons unknown. Very many years ago, a tupuna by the name of Te More noticed one whale stranded and quite dead on the beach near Taikarawa of today. After inspecting the whale quite thoroughly for any finder’s marks (which is generally a practice even today. Any article that someone finds on the beach brought in by the tide, if wanted, the finder at most times, if unable to move it immediately, will leave their initials or some identifying marks to prove that there are owners around) such as the whale.

Te More could not find any positive marks of ownership other than from where the whale had been thrashing. Te More and his slaves then proceeded to cut up the meat and haul what they could to their Pa.

But not for long. They had unwittingly trespassed. Other people had found the whale before Te More. An argument of ownership began. Then of course a fight to death. Te More was a brave and great fighter. After a long running battle Te More, overcome by overwhelming numbers, was killed.

For his strong resistance and great bravery his body was taken to a stone near the west end of Taikarawa beach (still there today) where it was hacked (mea hae hae) to many pieces and distributed amongst those that killed him, to be eaten. Such was the belief then, that should one eat the body of your foe, if he was very brave and great one would get all his mana after he’s been eaten.

After Te More’s body was distributed, it was noticed that many did not get a piece to eat. They were then told to lick the crumbs or left overs that were still adhered to the rock. “Mitimiti kau ana i nga toenga a Te More.”

BUT WAIT … there is more. Read this version by Zoe Marler who tells the story from the point of view of the other party. She also wrote hers as school homework in 2002.

Just so you know how big the sperm whale can be!

If you can’t eat ’em, lick ’em!

At Mitimiti, on the wild west coast of the Hokianga harbour, I spoke with my great, great, great grand grandfather Atama (Adam) Papaarangi, chief of the Te Rarawa tribe at his marae Tu Moana [Editor’s note: The marae is called Matihetihe but the wharenui is called Tumoana]. I asked him how the area came to be known as Mitimiti, which in English means ‘lick lick’.

“Once, there was a great storm and there was much damage to the village. In the morning, the chief, my ancestor, sent a party to collect materials to repair the houses. On their way along the beach, they came across a large sperm whale which had beached itself during the night. Since it lay close to our village it rightfully belonged to my people, who returned at once to tell the chief and to get their knives to remove the flesh and bone.”

“While they were gone, a trading party from the north found the whale and foolishly decided to remove the best parts for themselves. They fled back to their village, knowing the consequences if they were caught.”

“When my ancestor discovered what had been done, he was outraged at this insult to his mana. Taking his fiercest warrior, he chased the thieves who were travelling slowly with their heavy load. They were quickly overtaken and killed, except their chief, who was taken back to the village where he was killed and his body cut to pieces on the rock to be divided among my people. Since there was not enough to go around, those who got none were told to lick the blood of our enemy from the rocks to extinguish his mana completely.”

And that is how this seemingly tranquil seaside settlement earned its bloody name.

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6 Responses to How Mitimiti got its name

  1. savannah says:

    my koro aways talked about this story it broke my heart the first time

  2. Peter martin says:

    my papa mingo said that one of our tupuna licked a rock with blood on it it was human blood i think

    • Tom says:

      Tena koe. More Te Korohunga, the father of Wheeru, Te Ikanui, Kupe, Te Kakati and Uruhapainga, was killed during a battle in that general area. Most likely against Ngati Tumamao. More Te Korohunga had great mana and as was the custom of that time, his body was placed on a flat rock and he was cut up and eaten. There was not enough of him to go around the victorious warriors so his blood was licked from the rock. The rock is still there and can be seen near the Taikarawa stream. Kia ora.

  3. Margaret says:

    Kia Ora Tom,
    I too have heard this korero as well, as a child we use to have our school camps either at Rangi Point or Mitimiti and they were actually the best school camps I went on. It was at one of these camps that the story was told to us, sorry I cannot remember who it was that told us.

  4. Tom says:

    The word mitimiti can also mean shallow water, but I have never heard of anything in this area that related to this meaning. I have heard however of another story as to how Mitimiti got the name. The area contains one of the ara wairua (there are a few others). There once was in the vicinity a spring that has long since dried up. The wairua who were travelling this path on their way to Te Reinga Wairua would stop at this spring and drink before traveling the long distance of Te Wharo Oneroa A Tohe.

    • Mon says:

      There is a small river nearby that leads from the hills to the ocean at Mitimiti, it is beautiful fresh water, perhaps that could be the spring? I love Mitimiti and the maori there are so welcoming and friendly (well maybe not back then! Haha) I ate the best seafood chowder of my life at that marae – and such a beautiful place.

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