Māori oral histories from the northern South Island of Aotearoa – New Zealand provide details of ancestral experience with tsunamis. Exchanges with key informants from the Māori kin groups of Ngāti Koata and Ngāti Kuia reveal that these histories, recorded in a narrative form, are not merely another source of information about past catastrophic saltwater inundations but, rather, reference multiple layers of experience and meaning, from memorials to ancestral figures and their accomplishments, to claims about place, authority and knowledge.