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The Coming of the Maori

The Landfall

The Landfall

Some of the canoes of the Fleet made their landfall in the Bay of Plenty near Cape Runaway, the part termed Whangaparaoa. Grey (45, p. 63) records an incident connected with the Arawa. As the canoes had left Hawaiki at about the end of November, the pohutukawa trees along the coast were a mass of red blossoms. A chief named Tauninihi, who evidently wore a red feather headdress cried out, "Ah, there are more kura in this land than there are kura in Hawaiki; I will cast my kura into the water." The name of the kura is given as Taiwhakaea. When they landed, they found that the kura of the trees were flowers which crumbled when touched. The chiefs were greatly concerned at their kura having been cast away in the sea. Shortly after, the kura of Tauninihi page 50was found at Mahiti by a man named Mahina. He refused to return it, saying it was the drift kura found by Mahina. Hence arose the saying, "te kura pae a Mahina" (the drift kura of Mahina) which is the equivalent of "Finding is keeping."

The term kura means red throughout Polynesia and also in New Zealand. In central Polynesia, it applied particularly to the red feathers obtained from parakeets which were valued for decorating the symbols of the gods and headdresses and belts for high chiefs. The term kura also came to mean anything precious. In the story, it seems probable that the kura of Tauninihi was a red feather headdress and improbable though it seems, the idea conveyed by the tale is that the voyagers in the canoe mistook the distant red of the pohutukawa for birds with red feathers. It must have been some such inference that induced a chief to cast his headdress overboard. The kura incident is important as showing that the kura headdress had become established in central Polynesia in the 14th century. It also gives botanical evidence that the canoes reached New Zealand when the pohutukawa were in bloom which means December.

A distorted version of the kura incident was introduced into the Aotea tradition by Grey's informant. The informant was from south Taranaki where the pohutukawa does not grow but where the rata of the same genus with similar flowers, is in abundance though not on the coast. The informant evidently mistook the unknown pohutukawa in the shortened form of hutukawa for the kura ornaments of the original story and thus threw the hutukawa into the sea when the rata flowers were seen on the shore. The translator made it worse when he expanded four words of the Maori text into 27 words of his own interpretation as follows:

Maori Text (45, p. 98) English Text (44, p. 217)
Ka whiua te hutukawa. (the hutukawa was thrown away.) They foolishly threw away the red ornaments they wore on their heads (named Pohutukawa) into the sea, these being old, dirty, and faded, from length of wear, …

The interpreter evidently thought that the ornaments were flowers and volunteered the additional information that the full name was pohutukawa, that they were worn on the head, and that they were old, dirty, and faded. Here as in other examples, the interpreter's extra details multiply the errors.

When the Tainui canoe landed in the Bay of Plenty, a whale was found stranded on the beach and the place was accordingly named Whangaparaoa (Spermwhale Bay). The crew tied a rope to the whale for the flesh provided food and the teeth were valuable for making ornaments. They then dispersed temporarily to view the country. The Arawa canoe arrived while the Tainui people were away, and her crew also page 51tied a rope to the whale. On the return of the Tainui crew, an argument arose as to the ownership of the whale. Grey's version (45, p. 64) of the Arawa claim states that the Arawa claimants finally acknowledged that their opponents' rope appeared older and hence relinquished their claim. The Matorohanga version (81, p. 266) of the Arawa claim states that the Arawa people scorched some flax over a fire to make it appear old, plaited a rope, and tied it to the whale under the turns of the Tainui rope. When the argument subsequently followed, the Arawa rope was shown to be older in appearance and it was evidently tied first because the turns of the Tainui rope passed over it. The Tainui people gave up the whale and voyaged off towards the norm. The second version of the fish story was probably based by the Matorohanga school on the various thefts with which Tamatekapua was associated. The whale story has also been inserted in the tradition of the Tokomaru canoe (45, p. 102) but its claim may be discharged on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

Practically all the canoes, except the Aotea, made their landfall on the east coast of the North Island in the Bay of Plenty area. The Horouta made Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island) before proceeding to Whakatane. The Aotea appears to have landed on the west coast. She had an argument at sea as to the correct direction, and it appears that she got to the west of the more direct course followed by the other canoes. After making the land, the canoes followed the coast line to seek some suitable place to setde permanently. After the recent wars in Hawaiki they evidently had no desire to commence fresh conflict among themselves.