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The Coming of the Maori

The Canoes of the Fleet

The Canoes of the Fleet

The names of the voyaging canoes have been rendered famous in song and story by Maori poets and orators. Their fame was so great that it was supposed to penetrate even to the realms of the dead. Thus the poet Peau, of the Ngati Raukawa tribe, pictured the soul of Te Tahuri arriving at the Spirit-land and being questioned as to his lineage. He advises in his lament as to how the soul may receive a favourable reception.

page 40

If thou art asked in the Spirit-land
To recite thy genealogy,
Thou shalt reply,
"I am but a child,
A child of little knowledge;
Yet this have I heard,
Tainui, Te Arawa, Matatua,
Kurahaupo and Tokomaru;
These were the canoes of my ancestors
In which they paddled
Across the Great Ocean of Kiwa
Which lay stretched before them."

Such a recital, so the poet deemed, would open the way to the Elysian Fields of the Maori aristocracy. Another lament adds the Takitimu and the Aotea canoes to the five named by Peau and refers to the seven as follows:

These are the canoes of Uenuku,
Their fame resounds unto the heavens.

The Tainui, Te Arawa, Matatua, Kurahaupo, Tokomaru, Aotea, and Takitimu are all so well known that there is little doubt about them, their commanders, or the tribes descended from them. Another outstanding canoe is the Horouta, commanded by Pawa, claimed by the Ngati Porou, who also claim the Nukutere as the canoe of their ancestor Porourangi. The tribes of the north Auckland peninsula have traditions of the Mahuhu, Mamari, and Te Mamaru canoes as landing in their territory. The Ngaitahu of the South Island claim descent from the Takitimu, but they also have a tradition of the Araiteuru canoe which was wrecked in the South Island. The round boulders on the Moeraki beach in North Otago are said to be the petrified calabashes from that canoe.

The Ngati Ruanui, Ngarauru, Atiawa, and Ngati Hau (Whanganui) tribes of the west coast have some old laments which mention canoes associated with ancestors who lived in the period before the Fleet. Some were supposed to have visited New Zealand. The following seven are practically unknown to other tribes.

Canoe Commander
Motumotuahi Puatautahi
Pangatoru Rakewanangaora
Wakaringaringa Mawakeroa
Ringauamutu Tamatearokai
Tahatuna Manaia
Tairea ——
Arikimaitai ——
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The people living at Patea on the arrival of Turi were said to have come by the Arikimaitai. Other tribes have references to less well-known canoes which remained in obscurity through lack of attention from tribal bards and historians.

The five canoes mentioned in Peau's lament have been generally regarded as having sailed at about the same time, though their association together may have been rendered stronger by a poet's fancy. However, there are a number of incidents mentioned in the traditions that indicate that some of them met during the voyage and on landing. The Kurahaupo, in one tradition, was wrecked at Rangitahua (Kermadec Islands) and its crew and freight transhipped to the Aotea, whereas another tradition states that part of the crew was transhipped to the Matatua. The Aotea and Te Ririno had an argument at sea about the course to be steered to reach New Zealand. The Aratawhao is said to have sailed from New Zealand to Hawaiki, her crew returning in the Matatua. The Tainui and Te Arawa had an argument about a stranded whale after they landed at Whangaparaoa. Thus, there are sufficient traditional rumours to indicate that some of the principal canoes were at sea at the same time. Though all may not have travelled together, it is convenient to celebrate such a historical event by alluding to them collectively as the Fleet.

The accounts concerning individual canoes vary a great deal in details, and it is natural that the second-hand accounts which have diffused to other tribes should differ. The Ngati Ruanui tribe of south Taranaki held that the captain of the Matatua canoe of the Bay of Plenty area was Ruauru. The Ngaitahu of the South Island have listed a canoe named Toroa instead of Matatua. The Ngati Awa and other tribes of the Bay of Plenty have genealogies showing direct descent from Toroa, the commander of the Matatua. Thus, when various versions are confused and contradictory, the version of the tribe which can show direct descent from a particular canoe should be given preference.