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The Coming of the Maori

Causes of Migration

Causes of Migration

Migrations of people were caused by a push from behind or an attractive prospect in front or, in some instances probably, by a combination of both. Practically all the canoe traditions give accounts of the bitter fighting that took place before their departure. Usually our Maori ancestors had the best of it at first, but eventually they had to leave to avoid extermination at the hands of superior forces. In some accounts, the ariki, or high chief, Uenuku, was a dominant figure on the opposing side. There is little doubt that in the fourteenth century the population in Hawaiki had increased to such an extent that frequent hostilities occurred through family jealousies with regard to the prestige of ruling over districts and in regard to land and food supplies. In Polynesia, the higher chiefs leased parts of their territory to lesser chiefs, who paid rent (atinga) for the use of the land with part of its produce. The quarrels over food are illustrated by the causes which led to the departure of the Aotea and Te Arawa canoes.

The Aotea canoe left as a result of the shortage of material for rent paid to the overlord. The chief Turi, after getting in his crop, sent his son with his food tribute to the high chief Uenuku. Uenuku regarded the contribution as so inadequate that he butchered Turi's son Potikiroroa to augment the supply. Reprisals followed in which Turi killed Uenuku's son Awepotiki. After this, Turi found that Uenuku was assembling a large force against him. His wife, Rongorongo, in trying to soothe her crying daughter at night wandered near Uenuku's packed house where she heard a death dealing chant being recited to exterminate Turi's tribe in the impending battle. On hearing the tale from his alarmed wife, Turi realized that he could not hold out against the temporal and supernatural power of Uenuku. Turi's father-in-law, Toto, who was a master builder, had just completed building a voyaging canoe named Aotea. Turi procured the vessel, provisioned it, and sailed forth with his family group and supporters to seek the traditional land in the south that had been discovered by Kupe.

The Arawa canoe left as the result of food stealing. The story goes that Tamatekapua and his brother stole fruit from a tree that sheltered the house of the great chief Uenuku. They went on stilts at night to avoid making footprints. They were discovered and finally fled the page 39country in the canoe named Te Arawa. In the popular story the tree is referred to as "te poporo whakamarumaru o Uenuku" (the sheltering poporo of Uenuku). In New Zealand, the poporo occurs as the name of the Solanum aviculare, a leafy, soft-wooded shrub which bears a long, yellowish berry. The berry is eaten by children, but it is not important as a food. As the plants termed poroporo in central Polynesia are even smaller members of the Solanaceae, the theft of fruit from such plants seems a childish reason for grown men to become embroiled with a chief possessing the power of Uenuku. Fortunately the following quotation from an Arawa lament sheds light on the problem:

Rakau tapu o Hawaiki Sacred tree of Hawaiki
No tera taha o Tawhitinui, On the other side of Great Tahiti,
Ko te kuru whakamarumaru o te whare o Uenuku. It is the kuru that sheltered the house of Uenuku.

In the lament, kuru occurs instead of poporo and immediately the story changes from a childish tale to an important historical event. Throughout central, western, and northern Polynesia, kuru with its dialectal variations is the name of the breadfruit, one of the most important Polynesian foods. If brought to New Zealand with other tropical food plants, it did not survive the climate, and narrators in telling the story of Tamatekapua must have found it increasingly difficult to answer queries regarding the nature of the kuru. There was nothing in the New Zealand flora to which it could be compared and thereby satisfy inquisitive grandchildren, so grandparents substituted the poporo that they knew for the kuru that they could no longer describe. The poporo displaced the kuru in popular versions of the story, and kuru became an archaic word fortunately preserved in a classic lament.

The Takitimu left as the result of a quarrel that broke out over the ownership of two cultivations, named Tawarua a raro and Tawarua a rangi.

Other groups of people had their troubles over land and women and left for other parts of Polynesia. Here we are concerned with those who made the long voyage south to a land that had been previously discovered.