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The Coming of the Maori

Canoe Structure

Canoe Structure

Canoe traditions give little detail as to the structure and size of the canoes, with the exception of the Takitimu as described by Te Matorohanga (81, p. 205). The tree trunk (puwhenua) after being roughly shaped in the forest was buried in a prepared ditch to season the wood and prevent it from splitting. Two extra end lengths (haumi) for the hull, six wash strakes (pairi or rauawa), two masts (toko), seats (taumanu), sprits (tokowhiti), beams for the deck (hua-pae), the deck (karaho), and the bow-piece (tauihu) were also buried in the ditch to season, the requisite time being six to 12 months. The timber was exhumed and laid on a platform for exposure to the air and rain. The hull and parts were then dragged down to the shore, often with great difficulty in rough country, page 42but incantations and hauling chants lightened labour. At the shore, the hull and parts were left under a high canoe shed (wharerangi) to thoroughly dry. When ready, the various parts were trimmed and lashed in position on the completed hull after the two end pieces (haumi) had been lashed to the bow and stern ends with straight transverse joins (haumi tuporo). A coating of tree gum (ware pia rekau) was applied to the hull, which was afterwards painted with red ochre (horu or kokowai) obtained usually from haematite earth and mixed with shark oil. The canoe was then floated in the water to test its balance, and a kind of wash-board (korewa moana or popoki) 18 inches wide was fastened along each side to the top of the gunwale (niao) and inclined at an outward angle to fend off (paewai) the breaking sea. The construction of an awning is thus described in the native text:

Ka poua nga tokowhiti The lower ends of arched rods were fixed
he whariki, he aute, … mats, and bark cloth,
nga uhi o nga whiti. formed the covers of the arches.

This awning or shelter over the hold of the canoe was termed a mahau.

In the above description, there is no clear indication as to whether Takitimu was a double canoe or a single outrigger canoe, the two types of voyaging canoes used in Polynesia. The description of only one tree trunk (pu whenua) implies that Takitimu had only one hull. The use of terms such as beams (huapae) for the deck and deck (karaho), however, This awning or shelter over the hold of the canoe was termed a mahau. In the above description, there is no clear indication as to whether might be regarded as evidence of a Polynesian deck built on the connecting booms between two canoes, but karaho is the name of the deck grating in the hold of the Maori single canoes and huapae could be applied to the beams supporting the grating. The reference to an awning or shelter (mahau) also brings up the possibility of a house, built on a deck between two canoes. However, the description of arched rods (tokowhiti) with a cover (uhi) of mats and tapa seems to indicate that the shelter was built over the hold of a canoe hull. It is probable that the Takitimu was a single canoe with an outrigger. The evidence for an outrigger rests on the interpretation of three terms: korewa, huapae, and korere. Best (17, p. 288) regarded korewa as meaning outrigger float which is supported by Williams's dictionary. He interpreted huapae as meaning the poles or booms connecting the outrigger float with the hull. However, Te Matorohanga also described the korewa moana or popoki as a wash-board attached to the edge of the gunwale and huapae as supports of the sails. The term korere occurs in the statement that two korere were fixed, one on each side of the hull. Best regarded korere as a name for the outrigger as a whole and therefore inferred that the Matorohanga description, if correct, meant that the Takitimu was a double outrigger canoe. However, there is no true evidence that the double outrigger canoe page 43was ever used by the Polynesians and the evidence that the Takitimu was a double outrigger canoe is too flimsy for acceptance. In Polynesia, there was no one term for the outrigger as a whole, and if korere was used as an inclusive term for the outrigger float and the connecting booms, it was a post hoc term coined in New Zealand. It is peculiar that a school of learning which professed to remember so many details, should have forgotten such widely spread Polynesian terms as ama for the outrigger float and kiato for the connecting booms. On the evidence, the Matorohanga description of the Takitimu canoe, in spite of its detail, is confused and unreliable.

In marked distinction to the lack of memory of the ancient names of the parts of the outrigger is the extraordinary retention of the proper names applied to the two sails, the two braces and the yard of the aft sail, one brace and the yard of the bow sail, the anchor and two cables, making ten proper names in all. Even more surprising is the fact that the 26 thwarts of the canoe all received proper names and, starting from the first thwart aft, the names of 22 in their respective order were remembered together with the names of 21 men allocated to particular thwarts. No other traditional canoe has such a pretentious list of proper names as that retained by Te Matorohanga's school for some of the accessories of the Takitimu. The school either found it easier to remember proper names than technical terms or easier to improvise them.

Before the Takitimu sailed, the various duties were assigned to the men who should take charge of the steering paddles, the bow paddles, the bailers, the sails, and the anchors. The canoe was then hauled up beside the latrines (turuma) at Titirangi to render it tapu in order that Kahukura and other gods could be embarked. The canoe which had been described as the Puwhenua was dedicated by the priests with the appropriate incantation to receive its later official name of Takitimu. It was then launched, and men, women, and children went aboard. Raw food was loaded for the voyage, because cooked food could not be carried on a vessel that had been rendered tapu. According to the scribe Te Whatahoro, the food was largely dried fish and the water was carried in sea-weed bags which were towed overboard during the night to keep the water cool. And so Takitimu sailed on her eventful voyage.

In the preceding paragraph, two local interpolations are introduced. The latrine (turuma) as a sacred shrine was a local development in New Zealand and the tapu ceremonies connected with it were unknown in Polynesia. Sea-weed large enough to make water bags, while present in New Zealand, did not grow in the tropical waters of central Polynesia. The water containers on the Takitimu were gourds, coconut shells, or hollow lengths of bamboo but they could not possibly have been made of sea-weed. The statement that dried fish formed part of the provisions page 44is more than doubtful for outside of New Zealand such a method of preserving fish has been reported only from Hawaii.

The fact that double voyaging canoes may have been used for the voyage as well as single outrigger canoes receives some support from the traditional account of the Arawa canoe as recorded by Grey (45, p. 60). Tamatekapua, the commander of that vessel not only kidnapped Ngatoroirangi to serve as priest and navigating officer but he also abducted Whakaotirangi, the wife of Ruaeo, by sending her husband ashore on a pretext and sailing without him. Ruaeo used magical powers in the evening to change the appearance of the stars and confuse the navigator of the Arawa and delay its passage. Ngatoroirangi, who had unwillingly assumed the position of the navigator, realized that the canoe was being delayed, and he said to himself (45, p. 61):

Tena ka piki atu au Now I will climb
ki runga i te tuanui up on to the roof
o te whare nei, e, of this house, so,
kia kite koa au i that I may see
te tuapae o uta, the outline of the shore,
i te tatanga, i te hoitanga. its nearness, or its distance.

He accordingly climbed up (piki atu ana). Knowing the amorous disposition of Tamatekapua, he first tied a long cord to his wife's hair and carried the other end with him. In his absence, Tamatekapua unfastened the cord, tied it to a kiato of the canoe, and ravished Ngatoroirangi's wife. (The word kiato has been translated as thwart but the original meaning in Polynesia is the cross-boom of an outrigger canoe or the booms connecting the two hulls of a double canoe.) On his return, Ngatoroirangi found out what had happened and he determined to punish Tamatekapua by loosing the elements against him. The native text continues:

Katahi ka puta ki runga Then he went out and up
o te tuanui o te whare on to the roof of the house
tu ai. where he stood.

From this position, he called up the adverse winds, which drove the canoe into a whirlpool named the Throat of the Parata (Te Korokoro o te Parata). However, his heart was softened by the supplications of the people, and he extracted the canoe by another powerful chant.

The type of roof that would bear the weight of a man must have been that of a properly constructed house with a strong framework and totally different from the awning type described in the Takitimu tradition. It is possible that the house was built on a deck constructed on kiato booms between two canoes and on this possibility rests the evidence that Te Arawa was a double canoe.

page 45

Grey's English translation of the Aotea tradition states definitely that the Aotea was a double canoe but the original Maori text contains no such information as may be seen from the following comparison of two texts to which I have added my own literal translation in parentheses:

Maori Text (45, p. 93) Grey's Translation (44, p. 212)
Na, ka mānu te waka, (When the canoe floated off) At last away floated the canoe whilst it was yet night.
ka noho a Tuau ki te kei, (Tuau sat in the stern) and Tuau sat at the stern,
ka mau ki te hoe, (and began paddling) gently paddling
a ka puta ki waho, (until they were outside) as they dropped out from the harbour; but when they got to its mouth,
ka mea atu a Turi ki a Tuau, (Turi said to Tuau,) Turi called out to his brother-in-law,
"Nau mai hoki koe, (You come) "Tuau, you come and sit for a little
ki waenganui nei, (to the middle here) at the house amidships, on the floor of the double canoe,
kia whanatu hoki au (that I may come) and let me take the paddle
kia whakamatau hoe" (to try paddling.) and pull till I warm myself."

The translation of a Maori text should be as literal as possible in order to retain the correct meaning, but some allowance must be made for the different grammatical style of the two languages. The Maori word waenganui means the middle or amidships as applied to a canoe but to translate that one word as "the house amidships on the floor of a double canoe" is a literary atrocity for which there is no excuse. The Aotea may have been a double canoe but there is absolutely no evidence of it in the Maori text.

The length of the voyaging canoes was probably 60 to 100 feet. Some Polynesian canoes seen after European contact measured 100 feet and more. The only Maori information was recorded by Best (17, p. 282) as follows:

Ko Tainui waka The Tainui canoe,
e kiia ana te roa it was said that the length
tekau ma rua takoto was twelve prone lengths
o nga tangata roroa. of tall men.

The takoto measure was the prone length of a man with the arms stretched forward. For a tall man this would be about 7.5 feet thus page 46making the length of Tainui about 90 feet, according to this tradition. However, the Tainui canoe, when her adventures were over, was drawn up into a grove of manuka on the side of a low hill below the sacred shrine (tuahu) of Ahurei, near Maketu on the shores of Kawhia Harbour. A stone was erected at each end to mark her length. The stones are still there and the ground between them is bare of shrubs. When I had the chance of visiting the spot, I took a chain tape with me to make an accurate measurement of the reputed length of Tainui. It was 70 feet, which goes to prove how inaccurate traditional accounts may be on occasion. However, 70 feet is a good average length for a voyaging canoe.