In Māori tradition
was one of the great ocean-going, voyaging canoes
that was used in the migrations that settled New Zealand
. It was formed from a great tree in Rarotonga, a place "which lies on the other side of Hawaiki" (Grey 1956:107). The canoe belonged to Tama-te-kapua
, son of Houmai-tawhiti
. When his father and brother had been killed in a series of battles between his family and the high-chief Uenuku
, Tama collected his possessions and family, kidnapped Ngatoro-i-rangi
, the navigator of the Tainui
canoe, and set out in the canoe Arawa
. The Arawa landed in New Zealand near Cape Runaway
. Following his death, Tama was buried on the summit of Mount Moehau at the northern tip of the Coromandel Range
. The modern descendants of the Arawa settlers live in the Bay of Plenty
Volcanic Plateau region.
The Arawa waka
tradition begins in Hawaiki
with a woman by the name of Te Kuraimonoa. Because of her great beauty and spirituality she was admired by Puuhaorangi, a spiritual being who later adopted the form of a human and had a sexual liaison with her. This resulted in the birth of a son named Ohomairangi. Ohomairangi, in turn, became the eponymous ancestor of the Ngāti Ohomairangi people, who much later came to be known as the Te Arawa Confederation of Tribes
(Stafford, 1967, p. 1).
Seven generations after Te Kuraimonoa and Puuhaorangi, the famous Arawa ancestor Tamatekapua was born. He was a highly ranked chief and mischievous person, to say the least. Tamatekapua, whose name is inextricably linked to the Arawa waka, was born into a time of much famine and strife due to overpopulation (Jones, 1995, p. 16). Many of his well-known exploits occurred within this stressful setting..
Tamatekapua had a dog named Pootakatawhiti, which unfortunately was put to death because it transgressed the laws of tapu in the village of a neighbouring tribe. This led to Tamatekapua and his brother using stilts to steal fruit from village chief Uenuku's sacred poroporo (breadfruit) tree as a way to avenge this insult. However, one night, Uenuku and others caught them in this activity. They eventually both managed to escape Uenuku's clutches but a battle ensued shortly thereafter due to these events in which Houmaitawhiti and his two sons routed the army of Uenuku. After this fight, it was decided that Tamatekapua and others would migrate to another land (Stafford, 1967, pp 2-5).
Construction of the canoe
Eventually, a large tree was felled and from this the waka which eventually came to be known as Te Arawa
was formed. The men who turned this log into a beautifully decorated canoe were Rata, Wahieroa, Ngaahue and Parata. "Hauhau-te-rangi" and "Tuutauru" (made from New Zealand greenstone
brought back by Ngaahue) were the adzes they used for this time-consuming and intensive work (Stafford, 1967, p. 5). Upon completion, the waka was given the name Ngaa raakau kotahi puu a Atua Matua
(also known as Ngaa raakau e rua maatahi puu a Atua Matua
The waka was eventually completed and berthed in Whenuakura Bay while Tamatekapua, in his capacity as rangatira (chief) of the canoe, set about trying to find a tohunga (priest) for the journey. Ngaatoroirangi and his wife Kearoa were persuaded by Tamatekapua to come on board the canoe to perform the necessary appeasement incantations to the gods prior to the canoe's departure. However, while they were on board, Tamatekapua signalled his men to quickly set sail, and before Ngaatoroirangi and his wife could respond they were far out to sea (Stafford, 1967, p. 14).
Voyage to Aotearoa
One of the more dramatic stories pertaining to the voyage to Aotearoa
occurred because Tamatekapua became desirous of Kearoa. Ngaatoroirangi noticed the glint in Tamatekapua's eye and took precautions to protect his wife during the night while he was on deck navigating by the stars. This was done by tying one end of a cord to her hair and holding the other end in his hand. However, Tamatekapua untied the cord from Kearoa's hair and attached it to the bed instead. He then made love to her, following this pattern over a number of nights. One night however, he was nearly discovered in the act by Ngaatoroirangi, but just managed to escape. Unfortunately in his haste he forgot the cord. Ngaatoroirangi noticed this and therefore knew that Tamatekapua had been with Kearoa. He was furious and, in his desire to gain revenge, raised a huge whirlpool in the sea named Te korokoro-o-te-Parata
("The throat of Te Parata"). The waka was about to be lost with all on board but Ngaatoroirangi eventually took pity and caused the seas to become calm (Steedman, pp 99-100).
One incident that occurred during this drama was that all the kūmara carried on the waka were lost overboard, save for a few that were in a small kete being clutched by Whakaotirangi (Stafford, 1967, p. 15). Immediately after the calming of the seas, a shark (known as an arawa) was seen in the water. Ngaatoroirangi immediately re-named the waka Te Arawa, after this shark, which then accompanied the waka to Aotearoa, acting in the capacity of a kai-tiaki (guardian).
The Arawa waka then continued on to Aotearoa without incident, finally sighting land in the vicinity of Cape Runaway, where feather headdresses were foolishly cast away due to greed and due to the beauty of the pohutukawa bloom. From there it went on to Whangaparaoa, where an argument took place with members of the Tainui canoe over a beached whale and the ownership thereof. Tamatekapua again resorted to trickery and took possession of it despite rightful claim of the Tainui. The canoe then travelled north up the coast to the Coromandel Peninsula, where Tamatekapua first sighted the mountain Moehau, a place he was later to make home. Heading south again, it finally came to rest at Maketu, where it was beached and stood until being burnt by Raumati of Taranaki some years later (Stafford, 1967, pp 17-18, 47).
Some items of note that were brought to Aotearoa on the Arawa, other than the precious kūmara saved by Whakaotirangi, were the tapu koohatu (stone) left by Ngaatoroirangi on the island 'Te Poito o te Kupenga a Taramainuku' just off the coast of Cape Colville. This stone held the mauri to protect the Te Arawa peoples and their descendants from evil times (Stafford, 1967, p17). In addition, the waka brought over two gods, one called Ituopaoa, which was represented by a roll of tapa, and another stone carving now possibly buried at Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua (Stafford, 1967, pp 11-12).
- Best, E. (1982). Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
- Craig, R.D. Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York, 1989), 24.
- Grey, G. Polynesian Mythology, Illustrated edition, reprinted 1976. (Whitcombe and Tombs: Christchurch), 1956.
- Jones, P.T.H. (1995). Nga Iwi o Tainui. Auckland University Press. Auckland.
- Stafford, D.M. (1967). Te Arawa: A History of the Arawa People. A.H. & A.W. Reed. Rotorua, New Zealand.
- Steedman, J.A.W. He Toto: Te Ahu Matua a Nga Tupuna. (Date of publication and publisher unknown)
- Taiapa, J. (2002). 150.114 He Tirohanga o Mua: Maori Culture - Study Guide. School of Maori Studies, Massey University, Albany.
- Wilson, J. (Ed). (1990). He Korero Purakau mo Nga Taunahanahatanga a Nga Tupuna: Place Names of the Ancestors: A Maori Oral History Atlas. N.Z. Geographic Board, Wellington.