Tama-te-kapua was the commander of the Te Arawa canoe, which left the western shore of Tahiti Island with the Main Fleet of 1350. He was said to be the second tallest man to Rongo-kako, being nine feet in height and built in proportion. It was related that the reason of his leaving his homeland was the theft by his brother Whakaturia and himself of fruit (poroporo) from a tree belonging to the high Chief Uenuku, Rakau whaka-marumaru o Uenuku (Sheltering tree of Uenuku).
During the preparations for the voyage, while the two canoes Te Arawa and Tainui were moored close together, and the passengers were taking the places allotted them by their commanders, Kearoa, the wife of Ngatoro-i-rangi, who was already seated in the Tainui canoe, was called to by Tama-te-kapua and asked to come ashore. When she reached Tama-te-kapua she was enticed to take her place on Te Arawa, Tama-te-kapua offering her a seat in front of him. Ngatoro-i-rangi, who had alreadybeen designated as priest of the Tainui, observing this, chargedTama with his high-handed action. Tama pleaded saying that his canoe was priestless, and begged Ngatoro to have compassion on him and become the high priest of Te Arawa. To this Ngatoro consented. When the chosen passengers and crew had taken their seats, and were nearly ready to depart, Tama-te-kapua allured Whakaoti-rangi to take a seat next to his in the canoe. When Reao, the husband of Whakaoti-rangi, saw this, he questioned the action of the Chief. Tama having soothed the excited husband by promising him a passage also, asked him to page 63go and fetch his comb. This he had forgotten, and had left stuck in one of the rafters of his house behind a low ridge some 40 chains away. On reaching the house, the comb could not be found anywhere. While searching for it Reao heard the people crying out their last farewell to the voyagers. Running to the top of the ridge he saw, to his horror, that his loved one was well out to sea with Captain Tama sitting alongside her.
The voyage met with no mishap until about midway between Rarotonga and New Zealand, when Ngatoro-i-rangi learned that his domestic life was being interfered with. It turned out that while the high priest was faithfully carrying out his duty, Tama was amusing himself with the women. In his anger Ngatoro-i-rangi called on the parata. This was the huge sea monster which the Maoris believed swallowed the waters of the ocean only to spit them out again, thus causing the low and high tides. As the canoe was being engulfed by the parata, the voice of the grand daughter of Ngatoro-i-rangi was heard crying out: E Toro e; Tukua ra te iwi kia puta ki te ora (O Toro; Let the people be carried to safety). Ngatoro-i-rangi, hearing the cry of his grand daughter, succeeded by a powerful incantation in drawing the canoe to the surface from the mouth of the parata.
The concluding part of the incantation is as follows:
"She lifts, she ascends,
She glides into safety.
Hui e, taiki e e."
Te Arawa landed at Maketu, where Tama-te-kapua settled. His descendants peopled this part and the Hot Lakes region, while those of the Priest Ngatoro-i-rangi spread on to Lake Taupo. Today their descendants say of Te Arawa canoe that the bow-piece is Maketu and the stern-piece is Mount Tongariro.
Subsequently, through some quarrels, Te Arawa canoe was burnt by Raumati.
In order to commemorate and preserve this historic landing place, the Arawa people, through the Arawa Trust Board, have purchased the site.
The Carroll Memorial Marae at Waihirere is greatly indebted to the Arawa people for their magnificent gift of the most elaborately carved flag-pole which now stands majestically on the Marae.
In recognition of this noble gift, the figure that stands at the foot of the pole is named Tu-Tanekai, in honour of the brave whose name is coupled with that of Hinemoa in the famous Rotorua love story.