Turi, the great ancestor of the Taranaki, Ngati-Ruanui, Nga-Rauru and Whanganui tribes of the West Coast, New Zealand, was the commander of the Aotea canoe. It is well known that he arrived here about twenty-four generations ago, at the same time as the Fleet, of which, however, the Aotea did not form a part. This would be about 1350. The following is what has been related of him, and though the stories are much mixed up with the supernatural, as so often occurs with distinguished Polynesian heroes, the historical part is easily sifted: Turi, who was born at Mahaena on the north-east coast of Tahiti, was a great chief. Here he grew up to manhood, and married his first wife, Hina-raurea, of whom he was both very fond and very jealous. On one occasion, before going inland to procure wild bananas, he enclosed his wife's house in a hedge of prickly page 69thorns so that no one might go near her. Presently Turi's two sisters appeared, and declared that it was a shame that so pretty a woman should be shut out from all enjoyment, and finally persuaded Hina to go with them to the beach to indulge in the favourite pastime of whakaheke-ngaru (surf-riding). Hina was a novice at this amusement, but Turi's sisters were adepts. On coming ashore, Hina trod on a whe (cater-pillar) which had been endowed with supernatural powers by Turi, for the purpose of watching Hina, and to inform him of any infringement of his orders that took place during his absence. On Turi's return he was duly informed of Hina's disobedience, at which he was greatly enraged, so much so that he decided to leave Mahaena. He gathered together his people, and leaving Hina-raurea sailed away to Rai-atea, where many adventures happened to him.
According to Dr. Te Rangihiroa, the reason of Turi leaving the homeland was through a quarrel between him and the High Priest Uenuku. It was part of the law of the place that the lesser chiefs should contribute a certain amount of food annually as an offering to the ariki.
After the gathering of the crop, Turi sent his own son Potiki-roroa with the offering to Uenuku. Uenuku considered the quantity sent totally inadequate and killed Turi's son to augment it. Turi in return slew Hawe-potiki, son of Uenuku. Reprisals followed. After initial successes Turi found that Uenuku was assembling all his forces against him. Turi's wife in the night heard Uenuku reciting in his packed house an incantation, the theme of which was the total extermination of Turi and his tribe. Realising that the position was untenable, Turi dared the dangers of the deep rather than await the cruelty of man. In spite of early successes he realised that mere bravery could not avail against the forces and the power of the ariki. The tribe, therefore, decided to set out for a far land, remote from the tyrannv of Uenuku and make, for themselves new homes.
The Aotea canoe did not accompany the Fleet, but sailed at approximately the same period from Rai-atea Island. During the voyage she strained the lashing of her top-boards and the balers were kept busy until she beached on the island of Rangitahua (Kermadec Island). There they refitted her and killed a dog as an offering to the gods. The karaka tree (corynocarpus laezvigata) is generally held to have been brought on the Aotea canoe, as this tree, the kernels of whose berries subsequently formed a useful food supply, is found on Sunday Island, and some stone implements have also been found there. It seems page 70probable that the Aotea canoe actually landed on this island.
The Aotea canoe preceded the Fleet by a different route, and made her landfall on the West Coast at Patea. She was the only canoe to land directly on the West. It was there that Turi built his village, and planted the kumara seed brought in the double belt of his wife Rongorongo. From here their descendants spread to form the Ngati-Ruanui, Nga-Rauru and Whanganui tribes, as has been related above.
We have no other records of Turi's activities during his life residence in New Zealand. Probably this is in common with the rest of the immigrants of the Fleet, who met with very little opposition from the peaceful inhabitants of the land.
It is a very remarkable thing—explain it as you may—that Maori accounts are very persistent in saying that Turi's spirit, after his death, returned to Hawaiki. One of the stories says that Turi was living at his home, Matangi-rei, on the bank of the Patea River, when the news came of the death of his son Turanga, who had been killed in battle at Te Ahu-o-Turanga (named after him), Manawatu Gorge. The old man was sorely affected by the news, and went out of his house and was not seen again—hence the Maori belief in his return to Hawaiki.