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Preamble to the Main Story

Preamble to the Main Story

Far back in the history of our Maori people is Hawaiki, so far back indeed, that it is only a name, a tradition, that cannot be shown on any map, nor localised in the world that we know to-day. Though spoken of with reverence it is not spoken of with emphasis on any particular century. So we leave Hawaiki for the present and proceed to Tahiti.

Here there came to manhood a restless soul named Kupe. Not for Kupe the indolent life of the South Sea island village. He was no beachcomber, but born to search beyond the far horizons, if haply he might find what lay beyond, and to dare the waves of Tangaroa if haply he should find those waves breaking upon other unknown shores.

Kupe, it is stated, was chief of Tahiti and Raratonga, but his home appears to have been in Rai-atea Island in the Society Group. He was on one of his periodical visits to Raratonga when circumstances arose which started him on his voyage of discovery to the south-west. The reason why he took this particular course, as in many other tales, savours of the miraculous. (It had been revealed to him in a dream by the Supreme God Io.) The true reason, however, is that Kupe had observed in his many voyages the flight of Kohoperoa, or the long-tailed cuckoo, year after year, always coming from the south-west, and wintering in the Central Pacific Islands. He and his compeers would know at once that this was a land bird, and consequently that land must lie to the south-west. By following the course preserved in the Whare Wananga (Maori College) in his time, viz:—"In sailing from Raratonga to New Zealand, let the course be to the right hand side of the setting sun, moon, or Venus, in the month of February", he would certainly strike New Zealand. These directions are quite correct, as may be proved on a suitable chart. According to our modern reckoning, it would be about the year 925 A.D. that Kupe fitted out the two canoes. One named page 18Mata-hou-rua he commanded, and his brother-in-law, Ngake, commanded the second named Tawhiti-rangi. They sailed southward to search for the new land. They are said to have sailed into the eye of the setting sun, and after traversing a long distance, were about to give up in despair through shortage of provisions, when the voice of Kupe's wife rang above the noises of the sea as she stood up in the bow of the canoe:—"Aue; E Kupe he aotea, kua u tatau" (O! Kupe, there yonder is a cloud, we have landed). The expression "Yonder" was done by pointing by the hand in ejaculation. Interpreters differ over the meaning of the word Aotearoa. One says "Long-Cloud", another "Long-day-light", and a third "Long-white-cloud". When one hears a Maori name the first impulse is to inquire what it means. Nine out of ten people will give a meaning and just about the same proportion will be wrong. It is astonishing that so many learned interpreters fall into this trap. So many of the place names take their meaning from some legend or circumstance connected with the particular place, that to take the literal meaning of the words is entirely misleading. Learn the legend or the circumstances which led up to the naming, then perhaps, you will know the meaning of the word, for the majority of the names originated from happenings. Coming to the naming of Aotearoa, the circumstances were as follows:—Kupe and his party set out to seek this unknown land. After a strenuous voyage, the starving voyagers saw the type of cloud which floats only above land. At once Kupe's wife knew that there was land below this cloud. Having left their Pacific islands with clouds floating above them, and seeing a new cloud, after travelling so far, a more apt interpretation of the exclamation would be "Distant-cloud."

After obtaining some food, and recuperating their strength the party circumnavigated the islands. Returning to Hokianga, Kupe laid in a stock of provisions for the return journey. Hokianga was the name given to the spot by the explorers—"Hokianga o Kupe", meaning "the returning of Kupe".

The party then went back, first landing at Rarotonga, then at Rai-atea, reporting their great discovery at both places. At Tahiti Kupe gave a description of all that he had seen, mentioning that he went right round the country and saw neither smoke, fire nor any sign of man. He returned to hand down to posterity the sailing directions that marked the ocean route to New Zealand. Then he rested on his laurels. To invitations to lead another expedition, he replied: "E hoki koia Kupe?" "Will Kupe page 19return?" The answer was in the negative, and to this day the saying is used as a definite and firm refusal.

The year 925 A.D. and other times mentioned in this account have been taken from those arrived at by the late Mr. Percy Smith and mentioned in his book Hawaiki. Mr. Smith took as his authority the genealogical tables recited to him by an aged Maori priest named Te Matorohanga. Mr. Smith it was, too, who for the purpose of compiling history, fixed the Maori generation at 25 years. Some would have preferred that a generation should be taken as 20 years, but reckoning back by Mr. Smith's calculations on Te Matorohanga's tables 39 generations back from the year 1900 brings us to place Kupe's discovery at the above year.

Whether or no New Zealand was inhabited at the time of Kupe's discovery may be matter for conjecture. However, it is certain that with the arrival of the expedition led by Toi-te-huatahi, about 1125 A.D., the land was well colonised by some previously unknown, and by all accounts inferior, type of people. However, the object of this book is not to try to unveil the intricacies of the earliest tangata whenua where others have already failed or at best only partially succeeded. Those wishing to solve the problem concerning the pre-Toi inhabitants and to explain just where Maui-potiki who "fished the island up out of the sea" comes in, must study the writings of Mr. Percy Smith, Dr. Peter Buck, Mr. Elsdon Best and others. Also to be guessed at is the origin of the now extinct people known as the Maoriori whose antecedents go back into the "limbo of forgotten things."