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Hawaiki: The Original Home of the Maori; with a Sketch of Polynesian History



We next come to Wawau, the Maori form of this old name, which has evidently been a very ancient one referring to some distant land in which the ancestors of the Maoris once dwelt. It is to be found in some of the ancient chants, often with an adjectival termination, as Wawau-atea a qualifying term which is also applied to other old names, and the meaning of which I think is best rendered by "happy," "free from cave," though it has also the meaning of "open," "spacious." The name often occurs in the karakia whakato kumara, or incantations said at the time of planting the kumara (Batatas). In another old chant descriptive of the original formation "of various lands, it is coupled with Whiwhi-te-rangiora, a term synonymous with Hui-te-rangiova already alluded to as Paradise, thus showing it to be very ancient. Like other ancient names it has been applied as a place name to various stages in the migrations of the Polynesians. Fornander considers it to be identical with "Babao, an ancient name of Coupang, Isle of Timor; also a village and district there, and probably the name of the whole island before the Malays conquered and settled it, and named it Timor."* That there was such an island, or land, westward of New Guinea is shown by the fact that the spirits of the Motu people of New Guinea, went to Lavau,

* The Polynesian Race, Vol. 1, p. 10.

page 54to the west; and the latter name, like Navau, is a mere variant of Vavau or Wawau. We next find it in the track of the migrations as an island now unknown, to the north of the Fijis, and in Vavau, one of the northern islands of the Tonga group, whose beautiful harbour of Niuafou is well known to tourists. In Samoa, so far as I am aware, it is not retained as the name of a traditional land, but it there means "old, ancient "—significant meanings which it is permissible to suggest meant originally, "Old as Vavau."* We must pass now to Eastern Polynesia to find the name again, and in Porapora of the Society group learn that the ancient name of that island was Vavau. It was from this Vavau, I have little doubt, that the ancestors of the Ngati-Whatua tribe of Kaipara came to New Zealand in their canoe, the "Mahuhu," long before the fleet in 1350. To the eastward of Tahiti, the name is found as Mature-vavao, the native name of the Actaean group, and in Vavau, another name for Rangiroa or Deans Island. Still further to the east, the Marquesans have recorded in their traditions the name of one of their stopping places, an island named Vevau, which apparently lies to the north of the Fiji group, and which I am inclined to identify with New Britain.

The Tahitian traditions mention a Vavau in connection with Samoa (besides the old name of Porapora) which is probably the Tongan island of that name—it is shown on Tupaea's chart, which that old Tahitian priest drew for Captain Cook in 1768. The name, as Wawau, was also known to Hawaiian traditions.

A Maori variant of this name is Ta-wau, and Ta-Avawau, which is said in tradition to be an island near Tawhiti (or Tahiti) and is probably Vavau, or Porapora.

* Mr. John White gives the meaning of the word in Maori, as "oblivion," possibly derived from the same source as the Samoan word. But I do not know it with that meaning in Maori.