HOTUROA: CAPTAIN OF THE TAINUI CANOE
THE Tainui genealogy pretty much begins with Hoturoa, the Captain or Chief of the Tainui canoe that landed at Whangaparoa near Cape Runaway. He was born in the fabled homeland, Hawaiki, generally believed to be in the Tahitian group of islands. However, our own ancestor, Arthur Sydney Ormsby, (1853 - 1926) a highly respected historian and pioneer, wrote a series of historical articles in the Waikato Times (1924) and in one of these suggested the Cook Islands as the more likely place. The article states:
Twenty-five generations ago the large canoes Tainui and Arawa, accompanied or followed soon afterwards (the information handed down does not make clear which) by a number of other canoes, left Hawaiki, Hawaii or Rarotonga, bound south-westward and eventually reached New Zealand. I mention Rarotonga because in the seventies of last century (1870's) Queen Makea of Rarotonga and her relatives visited New Zealand. They came on a ceremonial visit to the then Maori king, Tawhiao, at Whatiwhatihoe, and in converse claimed relationship to the New Zealand people. The Queen stated that they could point out in her country the stump of the huge tree Tainui, from which the canoe Tainui used in the migration was made.
Being born into Hawaiki nobility Hoturoa became an important chief. During his time he had to contend with tensions that frequently escalated into tribal skirmishes and bloodshed and being a peaceful man he strived to keep his people away from conflict and trouble. But it must have become too difficult because when Turi, one of his countrymen, announced that he and his people intended to leave Hawaiki, he determined to do the same. Tribal tensions and overpopulation would have been major factors in Hoturoa's decision to leave Hawaiki.
It should be noted that the early Polynesians were superb seafarers and had a good knowledge of the Pacific Ocean around them all the way to Aotearoa. Kupe, the renowned discoverer had made many journeys of exploration and brought back fascinating tales of distant places. One in particular stood out; Aotearoa (The Land of the Long White Cloud). Kupe's exploits would have been well known to Hoturoa and the Hawaikians, his descriptions of the lands he discovered becoming an integral part of their folklore. He told of the inhabitants of Aotearoa; ancient peoples he called Mamoe, Turehu, Tahurangi, Poke-pokewai, Turepe, Hamoamoa and Patupaiarehe. These ancient inhabitants were the descendants of Toi, who tradition claims sailed from Hawaiki and settled at Whakatane about 1150 A.D. There is a problem with this date because it is generally accepted that Kupe's voyage of discovery to Aotearoa was around 950 A.D., some two hundred years before Toi and his people. Here we have Kupe giving detailed descriptions of these people, two hundred years before they were supposed to be there! It seems more likely that Toi went to Aotearoa some time before Kupe and they might even have been contemporaries. It is likewise generally believed Kupe lived long before Hoturoa, but other accounts have Kupe and Hoturoa as contemporaries. However, even if the timing of these events and the lives of the leading characters have become confused over the centuries, one thing becomes clear, Kupe and others before and after him navigated their way around Te Moananui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) much more than we are inclined to give them credit for.
Kupe praised the skills of the tangata whenua (original inhabitants) of Aotearoa who were experts in the arts of bird snaring and fishing from the rivers, lakes, and ocean. They also knew all the good berries, herbs and fruits to be gathered from the forest. Among their favorite foods were the delicate parts of the various fern trees such as the nikau palm, punga and mamaku, earning them the title, Te Tini-o-Toi-kai-rakau, or, the tree-eating multitude of Toi, the principal ancestor of those people. Furthermore, these inhabitants were Polynesian in culture, another indication that the way to Aotearoa was well travelled even before Kupe who would have learned his navigational skills from others before him. This detailed knowledge would have been invaluable to anyone contemplating a one way voyage to Aotearoa and the anxiety of Hoturoa and his people would have been considerably alleviated knowing that they would be able to communicate with the tangata whenua and glean from them the skills and knowledge to survive in such a foreign land.
Needless to say, Hoturoa was himself an accomplished sailor and would have had a thorough understanding of the ocean currents, annual seasons, movements of the sun, moon and stars, and the migratory habits of birds and whales along the trail to Aotearoa. The ancient Polynesians had no sextant or compass so they used the things of nature to navigate their way across the Pacific.
However, such a journey was not something to be undertaken in haste. It would have taken a lot of talk and planning, not in the least being the need for a suitable ocean-going craft that could carry a sizeable group of people with their possessions and supplies. Hoturoa didn't have such a vessel. He had to build one.
The traditional stories of the construction of the Tainui are very interesting. Firstly, a suitable tree had to be selected. Fortunately, Hawaiki had forests that contained many large trees but the biggest and best always had strings attached; they either belonged to other tribes or were tapu (held sacred). Either way, to cut down such trees required permission and customary ritual that had to be absolutely 'tika' (correct).
The account of the selection of the tree and construction of the Tainui should be preceded by a few more words on the doings of the famous Kupe. One traditional story says that he and his folk landed in Aotearoa when the shores of the new land were ablaze with fiery red blooms. These were obviously the blossoms of the pohutukawa, a coastal tree that grew in great profusion in those days and set flowers in December. They continued to explore this new land and found people at various places. At one point they were attacked by a tribe at Karioi, near Raglan, on the western coast of the North Island. He retaliated and must have prevailed because when he left he deposited his slave Powhe-te-ngu and some companions with the tribe, known then as Ngati-Matakore. He then went south and left one of his daughters at Queen Charlotte Sound. Powhe was commissioned by Kupe to look after the northern land and his daughter to watch over the southern land. He did this knowing that others would come and lay claim to these places if he didn't name them and leave some of his own people there. By this we can confidently surmise that he had intentions of returning to these places he now considered his.
Powhe, however, was not a willing participant in Kupe's plans. He pined for his homeland and feared the hostility of the locals he was left in charge of. After a time, he built a large canoe on the pretext of using it for deep sea fishing. When it was done he and his companions loaded it with provisions and secretly set out for Hawaiki. What he hadn't factored into his scheme was the power of the 'kawa' (an incantation) Kupe had pronounced upon the place to prevent his escape. Consequently, as soon as he headed for open sea a storm broke out and capsized the canoe drowning Powhe and his companions. Powhe and his canoe were turned to stone and to this day can be seen at the entrance to Aotea Harbour.
Upon his return to Hawaiki Kupe told the people about Aotearoa and some decided they would set off for that land, Hoturoa being one of them. This traditional account is interesting in that it purports Kupe to be contemporary with Hoturoa.
Hoturoa's wife, Whakaoterangi, asked for the 'mauri' (emblem of divine help) of Puanga and was granted her request and the tohunga, Rata-o-Wahie-roa, undertook to build a canoe to take Hoturoa and his people to Aotearoa. Three sacred canoe-building adzes were procured; these were named Hauhautepo, Paopaotera, and Manutawhiorangi - the felling axe, the splitting axe and the smoothing axe.
Equipped with the sacred axes and the correct incantations, Hoturoa, Rata, Tia and others set out to build an ocean-going canoe that was capable of coping with the worst the Pacific could throw at them. A special tree was selected and once approval from the deities was obtained it was felled and work began. This was a sacred tree because an important ariki was buried at the base of it. His name was Tainui, making the tree was so enchanted that it had to be felled by the powerful priest, Tia, the only man authorized to use Hauhautepo, the sacred felling axe. The canoe was named Tainui in honour of the personage buried beneath it. The three sacred axes, along with some sacred mauri (life-essence) stones were later carried with them as treasures to Aotearoa; the stones to be concealed in secret places wherever the people settled to keep the life-essence flowing and ensure food, protection and prosperity.
How long it took to make the canoe is not known but the finished product measured approximately sixty feet. Old accounts describe the canoe as a big dugout hull built up on the sides by sideboards. An outrigger in the form of a smaller canoe named Takere-aotea was fitted to it forming a second hull. Two masts with sails gave Tainui her motive power along with a compliment of strong paddles.
How many crew and passengers boarded the Tainui is not exactly known, but twenty two men and ten women are listed in the genealogies for a total of thirty two; that's about two feet of space per person, not mentioning the storage space for supplies. It would have been a journey of at least one month, all things favourable, to reach Aotearoa from Hawaiki.
When the departure day finally arrived one can only imagine the emotions and feelings of the people. Obviously, not all Hoturoa's people could fit on the canoe, so this voyage would be for a selected group. The farewell cries must have been heart breaking, knowing that they were leaving forever. From their traditions we clearly sense the Polynesian love of home, so the forces that compelled them to leave everything they had ever known behind and sail into an uncertain future must have been extremely powerful. Then again, perhaps they were not so uncertain about their future. Without question they were superb mariners with an intimate knowledge of the ocean and more than adequate navigational skills for their corner of the world. Furthermore, they had developed sea going canoes capable of coping with the worst the Pacific could throw at them. Also, from some accounts it is evident they had a sound knowledge of their destination, being well aware of this land of great bounty, unlimited space, and verdant forests. Additionally, two landmarks in the new land were of particular interest to Hoturoa and it was to these he set his aspirations. They were two mountains named Tumaihihi and Tumaihaha, so named after the two sacred hills on Hawaiki. Hoturoa and his people wanted to possess them for themselves. These are the hills now known as Waihihi and Waihaha in the Otahuhu area. Further evidence that they knew their destination can be found in the song the Tainui tohunga, Rakataura, chanted as they pushed off the shores of Hawaiki. In that song he sang of Te Ika-a-Maui, the legendary name of the North Island of New Zealand.
However, the Tainui appears to have been a late starter because other canoes had already departed, and to make matters worse the weather was closing in. Seeing Hoturoa still making preparations he was advised to delay the sailing in these words, "E Hotu, taihoa e haere. Ko Tamatea tenei!" or, delay your departure, Hotu. It is Tamatea (Tamatea being the name of the day that signalled the onset of bad weather). Showing his determination not be waylaid he replied, "Let me and Tamatea go to the ocean and fight there!" However, as it transpired he had more than Tamatea to contend with before the final departure of the Tainui for Aotearoa.
There was among them an ariki priest of high rank named Rakataura who was not popular with the people. It appears he was in the habit of helping himself to other peoples' things. Being a man of important rank he probably felt he had the right to take whatever he wanted. In those days communal property was an integral part of life but Rakataura must have taken it a bit too far because his antics were becoming too much to stomach. He also had a deformity; he was club-footed, something most people in those times of survival-of-the-fittest would have seen as a weakness. An even more serious problem was his aggressive pursuit of women, and when he set his sights on Kahukeke, (also known as Kahurere) Hoturoa's daughter, the scene was set for trouble. The prospect of his continued presence on the long voyage became increasingly disconcerting as departure time drew nearer.
According to some stories, the Tainui left Hawaiki (the Tahitian island of Havai'i - which another tradition claims to be Hawaii) for Tahiti, the first leg of the journey where they took on fresh supplies. Their navigator was the renowned Ngatoroirangi. From Tahiti they went on to Rarotonga where they had relatives, some of whom they invited to join them. These relatives declined, stating that many migrations had left their island so they had a good knowledge of Aotearoa and knew how to get there themselves if they ever wanted to leave their homeland. Before long the final preparations for what was undoubtedly to be the lengthiest part of the trip were complete and they were ready to push off.
However, another serious incident occurred that delayed the departure from Rarotonga. Other canoes were making the same trip at the time and one, the Arawa, was also at Rarotonga. For some reason the Arawa needed a navigator so the Arawa captain, Tamatekapua, approached Tainui's Ngatoroirangi, asking him to navigate them onto the open sea whereupon he was free to disembark and row back to shore in a smaller canoe. Ngatoroirangi agreed and taking his wife, Keataketake, joined the Arawa canoe. The story goes that once on open sea the Arawa captain reneged on his agreement and Ngatoroirangi and his wife were effectively kidnapped. This is unlikely because it seems odd that Ngatoroirangi would be gullible enough to believe such an arrangement. He would surely be well aware of the Arawa problem and the real reason for the invitation. It is also curious that he took his wife with him on what was to be such a brief job. It's more likely he decided of his own accord to join with Te Arawa. They may have offered him more rewards in the new land for his services. Perhaps with the problems Tainui was having he judged the Arawa as a better outfit to work for. Whatever his motives, the end result was that Tainui was left without a navigator, a serious setback. Fortunately, on board the Tainui was a younger, lesser tohunga named Riukiuta, and upon him fell the mantle of Tainui navigator with the task of guiding them to Aotearoa. With this vexing problem solved, Hoturoa could finally begin the fight with Tamatea and get under way before it was too late.
Before departing one of the tohunga's crucial duties was to prepare trail for the long and dangerous journey. This was done by the utterance of nine powerful incantations:
1. The incantation to the gods to warn of dangers.
2. The incantation for favourable winds.
3. The incantation for high cloud.
4. The incantation to have clouds form along the horizon to block unfavourable winds.
5. A cry to Paneiraira, the great taniwha, to lend assistance.
6. A call to the birds to guide them to land.
7. A prayer for fortitude and strength.
8. An incantation for successful bailing operations.
9. An incantation to keep the paddles in good repair.
With the incantations done the great sea taniwha, Paneiraira, answered the call and attached himself to the side of the Tainui to beat down the waves. A host of seabirds formed a great screen around her to to protect the people from the chill winds. The weather held, the winds blew, the bailers did their job, and the paddles kept their strength and Tainui rushed across the waves to Aotearoa, such was the mythological power of the tohunga.
The legends say they left on the day of Ouenuku, in the month, Hakihea (December) and arrived at Whangaparoa a month or so later. The timing of their departure would have been a crucial element in their planning because they would obviously desire to make landfall in their new home during the warm summer months in order to acclimatize to the different weather, learn all they could about life in the new land, and find a suitable place to settle before the cold closed in.
The final crisis prior to departure involved the troublemaker, Rakataura. Now thoroughly offside with Hoturoa and despised by the people, it was decided to leave him behind. When the Tainui set sail Rakataura was left standing on the shore. Mortified, he cried out, "Me pewhea atu ahau?" (What am I to do?). Hoturoa's unsympathetic reply was, "Cry to your ancestors for help!"
Whether or not he got help from his ancestors is not known, but the legends say he arrived at Aotearoa at the same time or even before the Tainui by using his priestly powers to summon up some supernatural help in the form of a great taniwha (sea monster) on whose back he sped through the seas. It is more likely he caught a ride with another migrating canoe or even was on the Tainui all the time and the altercations he had with Hoturoa and the others actually happened in Aotearoa, as some traditions say. Support for this comes in the form of another story where knowing he was about to be left behind he changed himself into a rat and stowed away under the deck boards, regaining his human form upon arrival in the new land. This may well have been a story-telling way of saying he remained on board but was likened to a stowaway rat.
The new navigator, Riukiuta, apparently did a satisfactory job because the Tainui sailed into Whangaparoa, safely and in good time. One can only imagine their joy and relief after so long at sea, and the sight of the coast covered in pristine forest must have been truly awe-inspiring.
After landing and taking time to refresh and strengthen their bodies, Hoturoa and his folk set off exploring with the intention of finding a place to set roots; an unpopulated space where there was food, shelter and room to grow.
Leaving Whangaparoa, they sailed north to Coromandel and Hauraki, then inland in search of the two landmarks, Waihihi and Waihaha. From there he moved to the Tamaki district where some of his people took up with the tangata whenua and remained. The land was good and there was room enough for all, but it was still too populated for Hoturoa. Noticing flocks of seabirds flying west each evening to roost, he knew there was a western coastline not too far away and wondered if it might be less inhabited than the eastern shores. At great trouble he and his crew dragged the Tainui over the narrow Tamaki isthmus and into the Waitemata Harbour. From there he set about exploring the western coastline, finally settling at Kawhia, a sheltered harbour with thick forests filled with bird life and an ocean abounding in sea food.
It was from Kawhia the people of Tainui multiplied and spread throughout the King Country, Waikato, and Auckland regions to become arguably the most influential and powerful entity in Maoridom.
It is not known exactly when Hoturoa died, but Bella Pease, one of our Kawhia born relatives whose family farm was situated at the northern end of Kawhia Harbour at Rangiahau, the ancient home of Hoturoa, says he is buried there. Some traditions say he was middle-aged when he came to Aotearoa. If we presume forty five to be middle age for those times and assign him another twenty years of life in his new homeland then he would have died aged sixty five. If the generally accepted year of 1350 A.D. is anywhere close to the truth, then he would have been born about 1305 and died around 1370. But this, of course, is nothing more than interesting speculation. There is just not enough information and too many inconsistencies in the existing genealogies. Even though the Tainui genealogies are excellent, some things are doubtful. For example, right at the start, the accepted Tainui tables have Hoturoa followed by his sons Hotuope and Hotumatapu, whereas Ngati Toa, another Tainui affiliated tribe, lists them as his brothers, thus eliminating two entire generations from the 'accepted' genealogy. Other tribes even add one or two more generations. The Ngati Toa table seems more logical and ties in better with other historical records.
Be all this as it may, such is the story of Hoturoa, our first ancestor to land on these shores and from whom arose a mighty people in the history of this nation. To him and those courageous pioneers from Hawaiki who braved the ocean to get here we owe a great debt.
Written by David Bell
1. James Cowan, The Coming of the Tainui. The Journal of the Polynesian Society Vol. 14, No. 2, June 1905 pages 96-99.
2. George Graham, The Account of Kupe and Tainui. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 1919, Vol. 28, No. 110, pages 111-116.
3. Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, Hoturoa, 1968.
4. Tainui-the Story of Hoturoa and His Descendants, Kelly, L. G. (1949) pages 67-69
5. The Coming of the Maori, Buck, P. (1958)
6. King Country Sketches; the Early History of Maniapoto by Arthur Sydney Ormsby, Waikato Times, 1924.