Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Coming of the Maori

1 — The Discovery of New Zealand

page 4

The Discovery of New Zealand

New zealand was fished up out of the ocean depths by Maui, the youngest of a family of five brothers. Maui, the youngest, was born prematurely and, because he was wrapped up in hair from the topknot (tikitiki) of his mother, Taranga, he was named in full Mauitikitiki a Taranga. In some Polynesian myths, Taranga was the name of the father. I have wondered why Maui's mother should have a topknot when women were supposed to have short hair, whereas the men wore their long hair tied in a knot on top of the head. It almost seems as if the mother stole her husband's topknot as well as his name.

Maui became a culture hero whose exploits are known throughout Polynesia. Among his miraculous feats were procuring fire from the underworld and snaring the sun to enforce what may be regarded as the earliest daylight saving enactment in the Pacific area. He played so many mischievous pranks that his brothers were afraid of him. In planning a deep sea fishing expedition, they endeavoured to keep it secret from Maui, as they did not want him to accompany them. However, Maui found out and stowed himself away in the canoe at night. The brothers embarked in the early morning chuckling to themselves at outwitting Maui. After the canoe was well out to sea, Maui emerged smiling from his concealment. In spite of opposition, he seems to have assumed command and forced his brothers to continue the course of the canoe until they evidently sailed out of Polynesia into the unknown waters of the south. They had no provisions or water for such a long voyage. But remember, this is a myth. He at last decided where they should fish. He evidently had a line but no hook and no bait. As his brother refused to give him either, he used as a hook the lower jawbone of his grandmother Murirangawhenua, which he, curiously enough, happened to have with him. Nothing daunted by lack of the usual bait, he struck himself smartly on the nose and smeared his hook with the issuing stream of blood. With such a hook page 5and bait, symbolic of supernatural power, he hooked a fish that broke all records and, by means of a magic incantation, hauled it up through the seething waters to the surface. This huge fish termed Te Ika a Maui (The Fish of Maui), which became the North Island of New Zealand, raised the canoe high into the air on the peak of Mount Hikurangi. According to the myth, Maui left the fish in charge of his brothers while he returned to Hawaiki to get priests to divide the fish with the correct ritual. However, his impatient brothers cut up the fish without priestly assistance. The fish writhed and squirmed with the result that inequalities were produced that became mountains and valleys when rigor mortis set in. The Maori say that the North Island would have been perfectly level had his brothers waited for Maui's return. It is fortunate that they did not.

To balance the tale, some traditions state that the South Island was named originally Te Waka o Maui (The Canoe of Maui), which carries the implication that the fish was caught from that canoe. If we combine the two myths, the South Island must have fallen off the peak of Mount Hikurangi and drifted to its present position. Against such an assumption is the statement by the Ngati Porou tribe that Maui's canoe is still perched on Mount Hikurangi in a petrified state. Furthermore, how did Maui return to Hawaiki? However, myths are myths and, like axioms, they require no proof.

The Maui myth of fishing up islands is widely spread throughout Polynesia. It is probable that Maui was an early navigator and explorer who lived so far back that he formed a link between the supernatural and the natural, between the gods and man. The fishing up of islands is a Polynesian figure of speech, for the discoverer of an island did fish it up out of the ocean of the unknown. The story, combined with other Maui feats, became popular and it was spread by later voyagers to regions Maui never knew. Also, it is Polynesian story-telling technique to localize past events to gain greater effect with a local audience, and the Maori story tellers were no exception to the rule. So, Maui fished up New Zealand.

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.