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The first part of Te Wherowhero's adult life was spent almost constantly at war as his Waikato tribe drove Te Rauparaha's Ngāti Toa out of its Kāwhia homeland, defended its own land against repeated attacks from Northland's Ngā Puhi and made repeated attacks on the Taranaki tribes. (Read more about the 'Musket Wars').
The Ngāti Toa chief's name is a taunt to an enemy Waikato chief who, when he was an infant, threatened to kill him and roast him with edible rauparaha leaves. Kāwhia-based Te Rauparaha (? -1849) led Ngāti Toa in a lengthy war with the Waikato tribes before defeat forced his tribe out of the area.
In his recruitment waiata, 'Te ope tuatahi', Ngata made it clear that the replacement recruits that he and his colleagues had raised all came from the East Coast tribes of Mahaki, Hauiti, Ngati Porou, Te Arawa and Kahungunu.