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The Coming of the Maori

Return Voyages to Hawaiki

Return Voyages to Hawaiki

A voyage back to Hawaiki during the second settlement period was recorded by Best (11, p. 130), the purpose being to obtain the sweet potato. While Tamakihikurangi, a descendant of Toi, was living at Kaputerangi, Whakatane, two castaways from a wrecked canoe were discovered by his daughter, Kurawhakaata. They were two brothers named Taukata and Hoaki, sons of Rongoatau of Hawaiki. They stated that their canoe, Nga Taiakupe, was a waka pungapunga (a canoe of pumice), which sounds somewhat evasive. They were taken to the village and treated hospitably. On placing the local foods, before them, Taukata expressed dissatisfaction with the menu. He asked for a bowl and some water. Taking some dried, cooked sweet potato (kao) from a double belt he wore around his waist, he proceeded to mash the kao with his hands in the water in the bowl to produce a thick gruel. He offered the bowl to his hosts to taste the gruel, and relishing its sweetness, they asked what it was. They were told that it was the sweet potato (kumara) which grew in Hawaiki at Parinuitera and Ngaruru-kaiwhatiwhati. When asked how it could be obtained, Taukata replied that they must build a seagoing canoe and voyage to Hawaiki to obtain the seed. A totara log opportunely drifted up on the beach, and from it, a canoe named Te Aratawhao was built under the direction of the castaways. Under the leadership of Tamakihikurangi, a crew was selected and the names of 20 of them are given in the story. Hoaki was included as the pilot but Taukata was left with the home people. The canoe duly reached Hawaiki, and Hoaki obtained the required seed potatoes from Marutairangaranga. The chants used on the voyage are given in full in the native words. They consisted of four types: the roti for calming the wind, the tata for bailing the canoe, the awa for facilitating the course, and the ruruku to keep the lashings firm and the canoe seaworthy. Such details would carry conviction were it not that the Maori repertoire contains a wealth of chants and songs which can be readily deflected to illustrate any subject.

The continuation of the narrative is not so impressive for Te Aratawhao never returned with the desired freight. Her crew, however, are said to have found their way back to New Zealand as passengers on the Matatua, which formed one of the Fleet of 1350. The sweet potato, therefore, arrived by the Matatua, the seed tubers were duly planted, and the page 34crop was harvested. The potatoes were carefully handled to prevent bruising, and were stored to be kept warm. A tragic event added some continuity to a disconnected story when Taukata was killed and his blood sprinkled on the door of the storehouse to prevent the living principle of the sweet potato from returning to the sunnier clime of Hawaiki.

The story is interesting, for it confirms the statement that the people of the Toi migration and the early tangata whenua did not have the sweet potato and that it was not introduced until the period of the Fleet which brought the third wave of settlers to New Zealand.

Another tradition of a voyage back to Hawaiki for the sweet potato is associated with the Horouta canoe. The story was dictated by an old tohunga of the Ngati Porou, named Pita Kapiti, to Mohi Turei (55, p. 152) at Waiapu. It resembles the preceding story, in that two men from Hawaiki arrived in New Zealand by unorthodox transport. The two men were Kahukura and Rongoiamo, who crossed over on a human dorsal arch formed by a number of people whose feet were imbedded in Hawaiki with their hands touching the North Island, evidently in the vicinity of Whakatane. The event was post dated by the statement that the two visitors were received at the home of Toi where local foods of Cordyline roots (ti), tree fern pith (mamaku), and fern root (aruhe) were placed before them. Like Taukata, Kahukura did not relish the food and he asked for some bowls with water. Rongoiamo emptied part of the contents of his belt into the bowls, which were stated to be 70 in number. When the mixing was completed, Toi was instructed to dip his forefinger in the bowl and taste. As he licked his finger an incantation was recited. He was then allowed to use all his fingers and "the sweetness of the food tickled his throat." On being told that the delicious food was the kumara which could be obtained in Hawaiki, an expedition was planned immediately. The Horouta canoe belonging to Toi was lying in its shed and it was launched next morning with a crew of 70, Rangituroua being the priest.

After appropriate chants of which the full Maori texts are given, the Horouta arrived in Hawaiki. The kumara crop had already been dug up and stored in the rua (store pits) in the village named Huiakama, and a sentry in the village kept reciting a watch alarm. Evidently interpreting this to mean that the people might prove hostile, Kahukura ordered the canoe to be poled to the side of a cliff where the sweet potato grew in abundance. Kahukura struck the side of the cliff with a digging stick (ko) named Penu and recited an incantation. The sweet potatoes poured down the cliff and filled the hold of the canoe. Kahukura recited another incantation and removed the digging stick to stay the inundation. Some rats and swamp hens (pakura) fell into the hold with the sweet potatoes and thus added variety to the freight of the Horouta. As the canoe page 35returned during the period of the Fleet, its return voyage will be described with the canoes of that period.

Apart from the supernatural bridge and the exaggerated 70 bowls filled from part of the contents of a body belt, this story is very similar to the preceding one in its plot. They are probably different tribal versions of the same tradition with local details varying as regards the names of the canoes and the two visitors from Hawaiki. Toi was probably meant for a descendant of Toi whose name had been forgotten. The rua store pits and the sentry's watch alarm are local interpolations, for both these cultural elements were developed in New Zealand later than the period of the story. The two stories support the Maori belief that the dried, cooked kumara (kao) was used as provisions on long sea voyages. I am not sure that kao was prepared in Polynesia, but perhaps this detail was used to provide a theme for the stories. The acceptance of the two stories, however, does not bring the sweet potato to New Zealand before the period of the Fleet.