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The Coming of the Maori

The Discovery

The Discovery

Most traditions, though they vary in details, award the honour of the discovery of New Zealand to Kupe. The genealogies which include the name of Kupe are confusing, for some are long and others are short. There may have been two men named Kupe, for the two names are separated by a mean of 15 generations. To fit with historical developments, Kupe, the discoverer, must have figured in the long genealogies which, according to Percy Smith (81 p. 53), average 39 generations setting the date at approximately the year 925 A.D.

The tradition related by Te Matorohanga (81, p. 53) commences with the cause of Kupe's voyage. Kupe, who lived in Hawaiki, and his people page 6went out fishing in their canoes one day. All the fishermen lost the bait from their hooks without feeling a bite and when all their bait was exhausted, they returned to shore completely mystified. After a repetition of a similar baffling experience, the fishermen consulted a priest. The priest recited a charm over their hooks and lines before they set out the next morning. The charm proved successful, for it revealed that the bait was removed by a myriad of small octopuses. A large octopus belonging to Muturangi, an enemy of Kupe, was seen floating on the surface and evidently inciting the others to continue abstracting the bait. Kupe complained to Muturangi about the conduct of his pet octopus and demanded that he kill it. Muturangi refused because the sea was its home. Kupe thereupon had his canoe, Matahorua, fitted up and set out with other canoes to kill Muturangi's pet. On reaching the fishing ground, the men let down their lines but hauled them up again before the sinkers touched bottom. The octopuses followed the hooks up to the surface where Kupe and his men proceeded to slaughter them. The great octopus of Muturangi watched from a little distance away, but any attempt to approach it was baffled by the octopus moving out towards the open sea. Thereupon Kupe detailed his friend Ngake (or Ngahue) in the canoe Tahirirangi to watch the octopus while he returned to land to provision his ship, for he had sworn to follow it until he killed it. Kupe evidently anticipated a long chase for he embarked his wife and five children, as well as a crew of 60, on board the Matahorua. He overtook Ngake at sea and both followed in the wake of the octopus which waited for them at times and then sped on in the direction of what Kupe assumed would be some land mass. And thus the octopus of Muturangi (te wheke a Muturangi) eventually led them to the land we now know as New Zealand.

The pursuit led down the east coast of the North Island and finally Kupe caught up with the octopus in Cook Strait. The canoes of Kupe and Ngake separated to allow the approaching octopus to pass between them, when men on both canoes thrust spears into its body. The octopus threw out its powerful tentacles and almost capsized Ngake's canoe. At the same time, it grappled Kupe's canoe, but Kupe kept severing the ends of the tentacles against the gunwale of the canoe with his adze named Rakatuwhenua. As the octopus kept grappling afresh, Kupe ordered a bunch of calabashes to be thrown at the head of the octopus. The monster, evidently thinking that the calabashes were human heads, let go the canoes and clasped the calabashes with its shortened tentacles. Kupe drew close and struck the octopus between the eyes with his adze. Thus, Kupe redeemed his oath and killed the Wheke a Muturangi.

Kupe made a short stay in what is now Wellington Harbour, and the two islands now known as Somes and Ward Islands were named after his daughters Matiu and Makaro. He was the first to sail through the page 7strait which separates the two islands and which was later named Raukawa and later still, Cook Strait. He sailed up the west coast of the North Island between the islands of Mana and Kapiti and the Coast. Hence the old song which refers to these two islands by name and to the northern part of the South Island as Aropawa is figuratively correct:

I will sing, I will sing of my ancestor Kupe!
He it was who severed the land.
So that Kapiti, Mana and Aropawa
Were divided off and stood apart.

He finally departed for the homeland from an inlet on the North Auckland peninsula which from the event was named Hokianga nui a Kupe (Great returning place of Kupe) and Hokianga it remains to this day.

Kupe reached Hawaiki safely and was credited with giving information to the home people about the great land with the high mists which he had discovered in the southern sea named Tiritiri o te moana. When asked if it was inhabited, he said that all he saw was a weka (wood hen) whisding in the gullies, a kokako (bell bird) tolling on the ridges, and a tiwaiwaka (fantail) flitting about before his face. This reply is a typical example of the Polynesian form of indirect answer which is more poetic than the abrupt answer "No." The soil smelt good and food abounded in the streams, sea, and margin of the ocean. The sailing directions he is reputed to have given were that the canoe must be steered to the right of the setting sun, or the moon, or Venus on the Orongonui (28th) of Tatau-uruora (November). Some traditions say that the correct sailing directions were to the left of the setting sun and others toward the rising sun. Whatever they were originally, later voyagers found their way to New Zealand in spite of them. When asked if he would return, Kupe replied, "E hoki Kupe?" (Will Kupe return?). To this day, Kupe's reply is quoted as an indirect but definite refusal.

Te Matorohanga's version includes the exploration of the South Island, which I doubt, and the naming of a number of places around the coast to commemorate events that occurred there. Percy Smith (79, p. 40) lists no less than 27 names associated with Kupe. The places that were credited with having been named in 925 A.D. have been so accurately located centuries later that I believe most of them were given by the later inhabitants of those parts to serve as local memorials to a celebrated ancestor. Confusion has resulted from the shorter lineages of the second Kupe and the traditions of the Aotea tribes that Kupe gave the sailing directions in person to Turi, who came with the Fleet. When Turi arrived in New Zealand, the country was occupied by a fairly large population which does not fit in with Kupe's statement that he saw only birds. I believe that the Aotea story is due to a short circuit in the lineage and perhaps page 8a tendency to use direct conversation between widely separated ancestors as a narrative style in conveying information from the past to the present. In associating the introduction of the karaka with Kupe, Te Matorohanga has anticipated by four centuries what has usually been credited to Turi.