Saturday, 9 July 2016

Kupe and The First Maori Settlers.

        Here is the story of Kupe and the First Maori Settlers of Aotearoa (New Zealand). It is a story of the voyage of the great waka (canoe), Matawhaorua, and the voyage of its successor Ngä-toki-matawhaorua; journeys across vast dangerous oceans to reach this land of Aotearoa. In the words of this story, we will meet the legendary voyager Kupe and others who sailed with him or after him. Mighty taniwha (dragon-like) and great ariki (great men of descent) had roles to play in this story as well. Finally, I hope to show you how closely this story is connected with the modern New Zealand of today.

        This post was something very different for me. While researching for other Maori stories that are featured on New Zealand postage stamps, I began to realise that there were a number of stories set around the legendary Kupe. I wondered if it might be possible to put these together into a single post, illustrated with postage stamps, while still being respectful to the oral traditions of the Maori People.

        There are a few variations in the stories of Kupe so I have decided where possible to follow the versions and histories recorded by the Northland iwi (tribes), in particular, Te Rarawa, Te Aupöuri and Ngä Puhi. I have also drawn on information and stamps that can be found in other posts on this blog, but I make no apology in repeating myself here if it adds to the story we are considering.

The illustration above - Kupe and his wife Kuramärotini discovering Aotearoa.  
By Paul Lloyd - Flickr: Kupe Group Statue, CC BY-SA 2.0,
For other posts on Maori culture visit of Index on Maori Posts.

The Beginning of Things.
         In the beginning, Papatuanuku (Earth Mother - Papa) and Ranginui (Sky Father - Rangi) were once two halves of a single entity. When the gods decided to separate them, several of their many children tried and failed. Eventually, Tane, the Forest God, pressed down against Papa while pressing his feet up against Rangi, in this way parting heaven (Rangi) from the earth (Papa), giving space and light for the people to live. When the children saw the pain they had caused their parents they were horrified at what they had done. But what was done could not be undone. Today Rangi and Papa grieve ceaselessly for each other - hence the rain from the sky, the dew and soft mists that rise from the earth. This was the beginning of things, the beginning of the world as we know it today.
This story was the feature of 2014 Matariki - Papatūānuku and Ranginui.

$1.20 - Tane Separates Rangi (Sky) and Papa (Earth).

       Then came Maui, man/god of great feats. He captured and slowed the sun's race across the sky; he captured and killed Tuna, the giant eel who had eaten his children. 
On one fishing voyage with his older brothers, Maui casts his magic hook, a jawbone of his grandmother, and pulls up Te Ika-a-Māui (The Fish of Māui). Calling for help, he and his brothers strained to haul up what we know today as the North Island of New Zealand.

$1.00 - A carved meeting house panel depicting Maui, his fish hook and Cape Kidnappers are shown on the stamp.
1997 - Millennium Series I - Discoverers.
45c - Maui pulling Te Ika-a-Māui from the depths of the ocean.
1994 - Maori Myths and Legends.

The Fish of Maui.
This story is the theme of the issue 2018 - Maui and the Fish.

Kupe Discovers Aotearoa.
50c Te Moana Nui A Kiwa.
I love this stamp! That wave breaking against the dawn sky makes for a great photograph but when the prow of the wake (canoe) is added, this stamp becomes one of those that must stand out as all-time greats. 

        The scene is Te Moana nui a Kiwa (The Great Ocean of Kiwa), the Māori name for the vast Pacific Ocean – crossed by their Polynesian ancestors who founded settlements in island groups wherever they travelled until they finally came to Aotearoa (New Zealand). Our stamp features the tauihu (decorated prow) of a waka, thrust forward into the Ocean’s mighty waves – a symbol of discovery and adventure, the human need to see beyond the horizon and the spirit that drove Māori forefathers to set out into the unknown.

        Legendary explorer Kupe left his homeland of Hawaiki aboard his waka, Matawhaorua, and travelled in search of the fish of his ancestor, Te-Ika-a-Mäui. He was accompanied by Ngake (or Ngahue) who commanded the waka called Tāwhirirangi. They chased Te Wheke Muturangi (a great octopus) that had been attacking Kupe's people and eating the fish, their food.

Aotearoa / New Zealand.
        One day during this voyage, Kupe’s wife, Kuramärotini, saw the Southern Alps (South Island of New Zealand) from a distance. Rather than snow-capped mountains, she thought they were a long white cloud (an indication of land) and exclaimed "He ao! He aotea!, He aotearoa!" (A cloud. A white cloud. A long white cloud!). From this, the name given to this new land was Aotearoa; referring to the "land of the long white cloud" as seen by Kuramärotini. 

"He ao! He aotea!, He aotearoa!" (A cloud. A white cloud. A long white cloud!).
Aotearoa - The Land of the Long White Cloud - The Southern Alps.

        The word Aotearoa is used alongside New Zealand as the name for the country we live in or maybe more correctly, the group of islands we live on. It is the word used for ‘New Zealand’ when people are speaking Māori but is often used in English conversation too. In the 1835 Declaration of Independence, the term Niu Tireni is used as the name for New Zealand, as it is in the Treaty of Waitangi. Niu Tireni is now rare in speech, while Aotearoa features on our passports and our currency. Aotearoa appeared in a Māori language newspaper as early as 1854, and as Māori had no need for a word for all the islands that now make up our country, it can also be considered a ‘modern word’, even if an old one!

        Kupe confronted the octopus, Te Wheke in many places around Aotearoa finally defeating it at the entrance to Totaranui (Queen Charlotte Sound) at Kura Te Au (Troy Channel). This battle has lived on in history and is evident in the distinctly Northern carving style, in particular, Te Rarawa and Ngä Puhi. This is easily recognisable in the smooth round head shape on carvings which, it is said, derives from the head of Te Wheke Muturangi, that so gallantly fought Kupe.

Kupe features in the traditions and place-names of the Cook Strait area (such as the landform near Cape Palliser was known as Kupe's Sail). This landform is shown on this stamp, along with a 'rock-art' style drawing of Kupe and a double canoe of the type used for long sea voyages.

         The taniwha Tuhirangi accompanied Kupe on his voyage of discovery to New Zealand. It was reputed that Kupe placed Tuhirangi in Te Moana-o-Raukawa (Cook Strait) as a guardian. Tuhirangi guided and protected canoes, and was later believed to have reappeared in the form of a well-known dolphin named Pelorus Jack, which accompanied and guided ships through this dangerous stretch of water for a number of years.
2000 - Spirits and Guardians.
(The taniwha - Tuhirangi.)

        Kupe finally returned to the harbour that became known as Hokianga. At this place he turned his son Tuputupu Whenua into a taniwha and threw him into a spring which he called Te Puna o Te Ao Marama, to act as a guardian of this newly discovered land. He then uttered the famous whakatauki from which the harbour gained its name:-  
"Hei könei rä, e Te Puna o Te Ao Marama. Ka hoki nei tënei, e kore e hoki anga nui mai."
"Farewell, Spring of The World of Light. This one is going home and will not return again."

Nukutäwhiti and the Great Waka Ngä Toki Matawhaorua.
        On arrival of Kupe back in Hawaiki, there was a great war raging and Nukutäwhiti asked his grandfather Kupe for the great waka Matawhaorua to take his people away to safety in the new land of Aotearoa. Kupe agreed and Nukutäwhiti asked that the waka be re-fitted to take more people.
        Two toki pounamu (greenstone tools from Aotearoa) were used on the waka Matawhaorua to re-fit it for its return journey to Aotearoa. At the completion of the refit, karakia (incantations) were done to release the mana of Kupe from the Matawhaorua and to replace it with the mana of Nukutäwhiti. The waka then became known as the Ngä Toki Matawhaorua (Ngätokimatawhaorua) to recognise the original name and the contribution of ngä toki (greenstone tools) in its re-fit.
        The Ngätokimatawhaorua was made tapu (sacred, restricted) by Kupe and was not able to carry kai (food) and so a sister vessel to accompany it on the journey was found. This was the Mämari, commanded by Rüänui.
        Kupe also gave four great taniwha to Nukutäwhiti and Rüänui to accompany them on their journey to Aotearoa: Puhi Moana Ariki, Rangi Uru Hinga, Araiteuru, Niua.

40c - Polynesian Ocean Double-Hulled Canoe.

Kupe also gave instructions on how to find the Hokianga. 'Lay the bows of the waka to the cloud pillar that lies to the south-west. At nightfall steer towards the star Atua-tahi (Canopus). Hold to the left of Mango-roa (the Milky Way) and at daybreak continue towards the cloud pillar.' 

        When the two waka departed, Nukutäwhiti did a karakia to call up Ngaru-nui (large wave) to travel on. The two waka travelled to Aotearoa on Ngaru-nui with the taniwha Puhi Moana Ariki wandering back and forth in front to protect them.
        As a result of the wandering of the taniwha Puhi Moana Ariki across Ngaru-nui and the early warning that he was able to give the waka, Nukutäwhiti gave Puhi the new name of Puhi Te Aewa (Puhi the wanderer). Descendants of Nukutäwhiti took on these names as iwi (tribe) names generations after their arrival in Aotearoa - Ngä Puhi and Te Aewa. Te Aewa, generations later became known by the iwi name of Te Rarawa.
(The arrival of Maori settlers in New Zealand.)

The Arrival of the People in Aotearoa.
On their arrival in Hokianga Nukutäwhiti sent the taniwha Puhi Moana Ariki (Puhi Te Aewa) and Rangi Uru Hinga back to Hawaiki to let Kupe know that they had arrived safely. He then sent Ara-i-te-uru and Niua to the entrance of the Hokianga to protect them. To this day Araiteuru guards the south and Niua guards the north at the mouth of the harbour.
(The taniwha - Araiteuru.)

         Te Araiteuru (Araiteuru/Arai-te-uru) is the famed taniwha represented on this stamp above. Āraiteuru was a female taniwha, believed to have escorted the Māmari canoe on the voyage to New Zealand from Hawaiki.
        She arrived at her new home pregnant, and she gave birth very shortly after her voyage. She had eleven taniwha sons, all of whom turned out to be high-spirited and rather competitive in nature. Her eldest, Waihou, boasted that he could burrow farther than any of the others. Upon hearing his claim, she asked all of her children to go and see the new country in which they lived, burrowing as far as they could. Then they were to return and report what they had seen.  
         Each of her sons made a journey, but not all of them returned to tell the tale. However, on the way, they dug trenches and valleys – creating the many branches of the Hokianga Harbour and surrounding geography as part of their borrowing quests. Waihou burrowed far inland and lashed his tail about to form Lake Ōmāpere. Another, Ōhopa, was angered by the large number of rocks he encountered, his body throwing up the mountains and he came to hate all living things. He terrorised the people near the Panguru Mountains.
        Nukutäwhiti and Rüänui set about building whare wänanga (meeting houses). Rüänui, who built on the north side of the harbour, finished first and was asked by Nukutäwhiti, who was building on the southern shore, to delay the opening until both were complete. Rüänui agreed to this, but by the time Nukutäwhiti was finished all the food that Rüänui had stored up for the opening of his whare had been used up.
        Rüänui then decided to do a powerful karakia (incantation) to lure a tohora (whale) into the harbour for their häkari (feast). Nukutäwhiti took exception to this and recited another powerful karakia to send the whale back out to sea. Rüänui countered this with another karakia and this was again countered by Nukutäwhiti.
        This contest went on for many hours until both ariki (great men of descent) had exhausted all their karakia. From this incident, Hokianga has often been referred to in old whakatauki (proverbs) as "Hokianga Whakapau Karakia" (Hokianga which exhausts incantations).
How does this story link with today?
        The decent from Kupe, Nukutäwhiti and Rüänui are important because they represent a rejection of the "great migration fleet" theory, largely created by Päkehä (European) anthropologists last century. Although Te Rarawa accepts that waka migrated to these shores in groups of two or perhaps three, there is no talk among Te Rarawa kaumätua (elders) about a great migration fleet. The iwi groups are descended largely from individual waka and tüpuna on those waka; ie mana tüpuna and mana tängata (authority and influence of ancestors).
         Powerful ariki, mighty taniwha, potent karakia and internal conflict are all integral parts of traditional Te Rarawa oral history and have become part of the iwi character of today. There is much pride in the abilities and mana of these great ariki who migrated to the Hokianga, their supernatural powers which manifested themselves in potent karakia and the guardian taniwha they brought with them and were able to command.
         The mana that those tüpuna possessed has been handed down to form part of the mana that is Te Rarawa and is remembered with great affection by this iwi.

Ngatokimatawhaorua Rebuilt.
        The waka taua Ngatokimatawhaorua (Ngā Toki) was named after the original and built for the centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi held in 1940. The inspiration for its construction came from Princess Te Puea Hērangi, an influential leader in the Maori King movement, who in 1936 organised the salvage of the hull of the waka Te Winika from the mouth of the Waikato River. Te Puea saw the revival of waka on the river as a way of strengthening her peoples’ (Tainui) long-standing spiritual and worldly ties to the river. The reconstruction of Ngatokimatawhaorua was directed by Pita Heperi (of Te Tai Tokerau) and Piri Poutapu (Waikato).
         The new Ngā Toki can carry 80 paddlers and 55 other passengers. It is the largest canoe in Aotearoa in current use, measuring 35.7 metres long and up to 2 metres wide. It can be viewed in the grounds of the Treaty House at Waitangi. Note that Ngatokimatawhaorua (Ngā Toki) is not a replica of the original Ngatokimatawhaorua. The former canoe was believed to have been a doubled hulled, ocean-going vessel while this modern one is of the traditional single hull Maori design.

Cover carried in the Waka 'Nga Toki Matawhadrua'
In 1973 this waka (war canoe) 'Nga Toki Matawhadrua' was restored and re-launched for the 1974 celebrations. A bag containing mail, including this special cover, was carried on New Zealand Day, 6th Feb 1974. If you look closely you can see it was cancelled in Paihia on the 5th Feb 1974.

We have come to the end of this story following the voyages of some great men. We have met some mighty taniwha who journeyed with these men and helped them along the way. During the tale, I have diverted away to chase a few rabbits before returning again to my story. I enjoyed putting this post together and I hope those who take the time to read it will enjoy it too.

This post is based on the story of Kupe and the First Maori Settlers as told be Hector Matthews on his website below. While I do not claim this to be the only account, it appeared to me to be one of the most complete and readable I could find.

Some of the images in this post were used with permission from the illustrated catalogue of StampsNZ
You can visit their website and On-line Catalogue at,


  1. Well done Allan.
    There is such a lot of knowledge collected on one page. It has come a long way from what we discussed in the house of your Whanau all those months ago. I know you have put a lot of work and thought into this. This must surely be the biggest journey you have taken into the world of Maori. Stories of Ariki (great men of descent) and taniwha are always interesting and of value.

    Now including Tane and Maui was a new idea. I like it. I think it is important to include the beginnings here. In the case of Maui, in another post, you have already told more of this story of his great fish. Could you not include more of that here as well? Just a few sentences, a paragraph would be enough.

    Now in the part where Kupe began on his journey, there is more that could be added. In another post "Maori Myths and Legends" you told us that Kupe travelled with another waka. You know of this Allan, why not include the name and captain here?

    You have also linked the taniwha Araiteuru to Opo the dolphin again. As I once told you before, this is an unusual account I have not heard before so it might be useful if you provide a reference as to where you got this. Don't misunderstand me here, it is a lovely idea the female taniwha missing her children and playing with the human children, but we just need more information regarding the source of this story.

    Finally your fonts are still a problem, appearing in different styles in different bowsers. It would be better if you find someone who can fix this.

    Look forward to seeing you again in August.
    From Moa (Not my real name)

    1. Thank you Moa,
      Those changes you suggested make good sense so now have been completed. I've also added at bit more about Tane and another stamp depicting Maui. Looks better now and reads better too.
      As for the fonts, Asami thinks they can be fixed but will need a lot of coding work. She will get to it as she has time but for now it will need to remain as it is since they are about to start calving. Except for that, this post has turned out pretty well.
      As I said above, this was something different for me. A big project but I found the reading and research for it interesting too. Thank you for your help. That discussion with you was a major turning point for me. As you know, the project was about to be abandoned as being too hard but then you gave me the link to Hector Mathews site. That became the backbone for this page.
      Again thanks for your help.

    2. Interesting post Allan. I know nothing about these stories so enjoyed learning of them from you. It is hard to believe that these brave people made those dangerous voyages without knowing what was in front of them. The part I found most interesting was how Kupe's wife was first to discover New Zealand and name it. I like Aotearoa. Its a nice sounding name and has a nice meaning too. "Land of the Long White Cloud."

    3. It looks good Allan. Just rounded that section off well.
      The reading and researching of things Maori can only open your eyes to another side of New Zealand. Its been interesting for me to watch this Pakeha boy change his view point and open his eyes to many things.
      Re-reading above I notice a sentence about the "great migration fleet" theory, largely created by Päkehä (European) anthropologists last century. I do not believe these were your words but the fact you allowed it to stay shows you believe this theory to be false. Yes most large waka did not travel alone but there is no evidence of a great fleet. It was more returning canoes told of this new land inspiring others to make the journey. Yes at first the new people of this land did keep in touch with their former lands but as time went by this stopped, allowing the Maori people to become isolated and develop in their own way.

      Now I would like to ask you to drop the word "myth" from your writing. We have discussed this and agreed legend is a good word, a strong word. Personally I feel myth has a negative air. Just a request Allan, you must decide for yourself.

      Oh Miss Kimberley, as much as I like the idea, please don't start campaigning for "New Zealand" to be changed to "Aotearoa". We had enough trouble with putting a simple silver koru on our flag didn't we?

    4. To Kim
      Changing the name of New Zealand to Aotearoa. An interesting idea. I can see merit in it. It would make a very different and unique name for this country. But like Moa says above, I not sure if most of New Zealand would be in favour of it. Also New Zealand is a well-known name so I do not think we should give it up lightly.
      To Moa
      Yes I have come to question much of what was taught at school about Maori. For example the 'Great Fleet' idea was just so wrong. At first I believed that each canoe came by itself but recently I've come to the conclusion that this is not correct either. In both the voyages mentioned above there were at least two canoes so it safe to think others would be similar. There is also the idea of the main canoe being tapu would not be allowed to carry food. This would mean there would always be need of a support canoe.
      Interesting ideas Moa. I just wish that someone on those voyages could have written a diary of what happened.

    5. This is a good work Allan.
      Like those before me I have enjoyed reading you blog posts into Maori legends. In Japan we have many legends that are similar in explaining the things people could have no understanding of. I think many other cultures would also.

      Now I am become very interested in these waka canoes. I now have some questions to ask.
      1) Why did Maori change the design when they came to New Zealand? They had a design that worked well over the ocean and it looks like to me a backward step going back to single hulls.
      2) How were these canoes made when into the Pacific the biggest trees were the coconut trees?
      3) The houses they made onto these canoes. Were they as big as shown in the stamp illustrations? I'm thinking these were more almost shelters with hardly walls. The canoes shown look almost too top heavy.
      Thank you.

    6. I think you are on the right track Ayaka. Canoe design would very much depend on the materials available. Where the trees are larger in New Zealand large single hull vessels were the norm but in the Pacific where trees were smaller the hulls had to be smaller too. Side boards were added but this made the canoe more unstable so out-riggers or another hull had to be added. This gave room for a platform to be built between the hulls giving designs like are seen above.
      Where the heavy single hull Maori canoe sat deeper in the water the two hull vessel, being lighter, would ride over and surf on the waves. As for accommodation I can see sense in what you are saying but the design would depend upon the size of the canoe I suppose.

    7. So is it kind of like the America's Cup. The single hull boats with the deep keels and been replaced with the two hulled boats that skim across the water surface.
      This weekend when I'm into the city of Auckland I'm going to the Museum to have a closer look at that waka there. I'm sure I will understand more after that.

  2. No Ayaka, not really like the America's Cup boats. They are more aircraft than boats. I've found a good web site and some YouTube videos that will help us all understand.
    The web site of 7 double-hulled waka travelling the Pacific -
    Two trailers of the film they are making -

    1. There are other links to videos in U Tube about these modern canoes vaka they call them.
      We have been watching a few of them this morning.

    2. Those canoes look like they would be an adventure to sail on. Thank you for those links. There are some many videos to be seen. I just had time for a few.

    3. I appreciate how you allow readers to express their views in these comment streams. This one in particular has been extremely interesting. Andrew, I followed those links to some amazing videos. Some of which I them showed my class. I personally I have no knowledge of waka design so I've enjoyed the exchange between Ayaka and Andrew.

      Now I still think some improvements can be made to the story above. Words like 'iwi' and 'ariki' could be explained. I am concerned for many of the readers from other countries whom might struggle with words common in Aotearoa. The fact that we freely use New Zealand and Aotearoa to describe the same country must be confusing enough.

      I understand your computer expert is working on this page now. Will these comments be kept? Will you be able to include improvements into the new page?

    4. This post has just under-gone a major rebuild by my friend Jeremy. I wish to thank you Jeremy for the work you put into this. We took the chance to make many minor changes through-out the text, making it more readable here, adding an English meaning there. Those font problems mentioned above are now gone too.

      Anne and I have just finished a final re-reading of the entire post and Asami performed her little bit of magic too. Here it is finished (mutu). I now consider this a done deal. Time to move on (neke i runga i).

  3. A simple, well written account of what tends to be difficult subjects.
    I am of a southern iwi and we also have our oral stories of Kupe. My job is aboard one of the Cook Straight Ferries and I get to pass through Tory Channel a few times each day. A spectacular location. I often think of my ariki and his battle with Te Wheke in this place.
    Name with-held.

  4. Hi Allan and other writers.
    I have just come to read this post as I don't visit this blog every week. Yes this is different but any followers of this blog will have seen the two main writers going off into their topics of interest.
    Mary has spent a long time in her NZ Wine Post pages and now she is doing Antarctica by the looks. Allan meanwhile has really got into these Maori posts - Matariki and Maori Legends. Kim and Anne seem to be doing other posts here and there while it looks like Asami does special collections and fixing work. This makes an ever changing variety of posts to read each time.

    Now this post Allan. Yes I came here to enjoy the stamps. Like a big stamp collection but I also enjoyed reading this. Something I've never heard anything about this before because as you know, I come from France. Now one part of this story bothered me. Where Kupe changes his son into one of those dragon beasts, Taniwha I think. This seems a very harsh thing to do. And his wife would have been there too.
    Other than that its a great post. I enjoyed it.

    Oh my daughter is asking for the story on the birds Allan. She remembers you telling it but I can't remember the details.

  5. Thank you Rochelle. Glad you enjoyed this post.
    I didn't like the idea of Kupe turning his son into a taniwha either. I'm not sure we are getting the whole picture of what is happening here. It says to protect the area but likely there is much more than this. Other than that I really have no idea why Kupe did that. Maybe someone can help us with this.
    Good news is the story of the birds will be published soon. Its almost finished now.

  6. Hello again everyone.
    This stream of comments has continued for a while now. I am pleased for you Allan that such interest has been generated.
    Now Kupe's son Tuputupu Whenua. This could be looked upon as a problem for this story as we are unable to seek any explanation but there will certainly be reasons behind it. Perhaps he was willing to stay and guard this new land. Perhaps there was a sexy female taniwha to keep him company. Nothing more is said of this as far as I am aware so all here is just guessing.

    1. A sexy taniwha. LOL That is a new one. No heard that before. LOL

    2. I am not knowing Taniwha can be sexy. That boy up there doesn't look sexy to me.

    3. If you were Ayaka the Taniwha I'm sure you would find that guy up above totally hot.

    4. Ayaka, dear sister, don't you think we have got into enough trouble calling someone a dragon?

    5. Well who can say a taniwha can't be sexy to another taniwha. As far as I know they seem to be happier living alone but there are male and female. That female in your story did get pregnant.

    6. Of course she is 'hot', bright red in fact. LOL

  7. I had to laugh at this. You guys debating whether a taniwha could be considered sexy. Lara I think you have nailed it with your comment.
    I do like these Maori posts Allan. I know I got involved in this one but I enjoyed reading the final post once we finished with it. It doesn't appear such a mixture of stories as it did before.