Kupe (c.900 - c.950) MP

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Kupe, Discoverer of Aotearoa (New Zealand)'s Geni Profile

Records for Kupe

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Birthplace: Hawaiki (Possibly Rarotonga), Cook Islands
Death: Died
Managed by: Warren Keith Rowe
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Kupe

According to tribal narratives, Kupe was the first Polynesian to discover the islands of New Zealand. His journey there was triggered by difficulties with fishing in Hawaiki, his homeland. Apparently the problem was a great octopus belonging to Kupe’s competitor, Muturangi. Kupe set out in his canoe to kill the octopus, and such was the length of the pursuit that it brought him to New Zealand. With a companion known as Ngake (or Ngahue) in another canoe called Tāwhirirangi, he pursued the creature all the way to Cook Strait (known as Raukawakawa), where it was finally destroyed. -------------------- Kupe

Te Matorohanga, recorded by H.T. Whatahoro, and translated by S. Percy Smith

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Kupe was a great chief of Hawaiki (Tahiti), whose father was from Rarotonga, and whose mother was from Rangiatea (Ra‘iatea), where her father lived. These were the three islands over which Kupe’s mana (power) extended.

One day Kupe’s fishermen went out with lines and hooks to their traditional fishing grounds. After a long time without any bites, the fishermen hauled up their lines and discovered that the bait had been taken. They put on fresh bait and lowered their hooks again, but the bait was taken again and again until all of it gone. They returned to shore and reported their lack of success to Kupe.

After a time, on another day, the fishermen went out again; the result was the same; their bait was taken from their hooks, and they returned home without a single fish. The fishermen reported their ill-luck again, and much discussion took place as to the cause of it. They finally decided to lay the matter before the priests (tohunga). The priests said that if the people planned to go fishing again, the lines and hooks should be blessed.

When morning came, the people decided to go fishing again, so the lines and hooks were brought to the priests, who said the proper prayers (karakia) over them. Then the canoes put out to sea. The fishermen now discovered numerous octopi were taking the bait from their lines; they also saw the great octopus of Muturangi floating on the surface of the sea. They realized Muturangi was causing the trouble and fearing him, they all returned to shore.

On arriving they reported what they had seen to Kupe; so Kupe went to Muturangi, who lived at Kahu-kaka, and told him, “O sir! You are the cause of our ill luck!”

Muturangi replied, “I know nothing about your problem.”

Kupe then said, “Restrain your great octopus; do not let it go to sea. The canoes plan to go out fishing again tomorrow.”

Then Kupe returned to his home at Pakaroa and told his people to prepare for fishing the next day, as food was getting scarce. The next morning the fishermen of Pakaroa went out, but the bait was taken again; the great octopus had not altered its conduct. The fishermen returned and reported that the octopus of Muturangi was still there. Kupe again went to the priests. He described the problem and asked the priests what should be done. They replied that they were not powerful enough to overcome the action of the octopus, so Kupe should ask Muturangi himself to stop its doings.

Kupe said, “I intend to slay Muturangi.”

The priests replied, “Even if you slay Muturangi, the octopus will still retain its power; it would be better to kill the octopus instead.”

Kupe then went to the house of Muturangi, and again complained of the evil conduct of the octopus; “I come to ask you to restrain your pet, or I will kill it.”

Muturangi replied, “I will not allow my pet to be killed. The sea is its home; the people are wrong in going there to fish.”

“If you will not restrain your pet, I intend to kill it.”

“You will fail.”

“So be it.”

Kupe then returned to Pakaroa, and said to his people, “Prepare my canoe for sea.” So the canoe Matahorua was carefully prepared-the washboards at the bow were lashed on; two endpieces were put in place, one at the stern, one at the bow; and two stone anchors were brought from his grandfather, Ue-tupuke, who had charge of them. One of these anchors was a tatara-a-punga (coral) from Maungaroa, a mountain in Rarotonga,1 and the other was a puwai-kura, a reddish stone like kiripaka (flint) or mata-waiapa (obsidian) from Rangiatea.

After the anchors were placed on board, Kupe went out to slay the octopus. On arrival at the fishing ground named Whakapuaka, the lines were let down. They were hauled up before reaching the bottom, and then it was seen the bait had been eaten. The octopi followed the lines to the surface, where Kupe and the sixty men of the canoe Matahorua began to slaughter them. They continued to do so till night fell, while the great octopus of Muturangi was all the time waiting a little beyond. The body of this octopus was eighteen feet long, while its feelers were thirty feet long when stretched out. Its eyes were the size of the papaua-raupara (a thin, flat shellfish, like the pearl oyster).

After the slaughter had continued for a very long time, Peka-hourangi, one of the principal priests said, “Stop killing the octopi; if you could succeed in killing Muturangi’s great octopus, the others would all disappear, for he brings them here, and Muturangi is inciting them by means of incantations (tuata) to take your bait from the hooks.” The fishermen therefore ceased slaying the smaller octopi and turned their attention to Muturangi’s octopus. But when the canoes tried to approach the monster, it made off to the deep sea. It was now night, so Kupe returned to shore, while Ngake (or Ngahue) followed the great octopus out to sea in his canoe, Tawhiri-rangi. On arrival ashore Kupe said to his men, “Put plenty of provisions on board our canoe, for we will follow this monster until we kill him.” The crew did as they were told.

On learning of Kupe’s proposal, Hine-i-te-aparangi, his wife, and her daughters, urged Kupe to remain and let his men pursue the octopus, lest he be overtaken by storms at sea and drowned. Kupe was annoyed at this and said, “Stop your wailing; you have prophesied ill luck to me (waitohutia), and it will end perhaps in my death. You must all board the canoe, so there may be one death for us all, and not me alone while you remain lamenting in safety ashore.” So his wife and five children consented to accompany Kupe and were with him when he discovered Aotearoa.

Matahorua was now launched and the voyagers departed. There were seventy-two people on board. After a time they reached Tuahiwi-nui-o-Hinemoana,2 where Kupe overtook Ngake and asked, “Have you seen the octopus?”

Ngake replied, “There! You can see him reddening (mura-haare) on the ripples of the sea.” Kupe looked, and it was so. They tried to approach the monster, but to no avail; the octopus only went on faster, directing his course toward this undiscovered island of Aotearoa.

Kupe said to Ngake, “The octopus is headed for some land apparently; by following it we shall be led to a strange country.”

Not long after this, an island was seen in the far distance, like a cloud on the horizon, toward which the octopus made straight. As the octopus drew near to Muri-whenua (the North Cape of North Island), it turned south along the East Coast. Kupe now said to Ngake, “Follow our fish; I will land here to rest and then come after you. If the octopus should stop anywhere, let it remain there until I come.”

So Ngake continued on in pursuit, while Kupe went on from the North Cape to Hokianga and stayed a while. In the course of his wanderings there in search of food, he came to a place where there was some soft clay (uku-whenua) into which his feet sank and left holes, as did the feet of his dog Tauaru. The clay eventually turned into rock, and both Kupe’s and his dog’s footsteps are to be seen there to this day. When Kupe and his children departed from Hokianga, they left the dogs behind because the dogs had wandered off into the forest to hunt birds. The dogs returned to the beach and howled; Kupe heard them, but he used a prayer to prevent them following, and they were at once turned into stone. [Two rocks at the mouth of the Whirinaki river, Hokianga, are still pointed out as Kupe’s dogs. Another account of these dogs is that Kupe decided to leave them there as guardians for the land, and he carved out of stone a male and female dog to represent them.]

After a long stay at Hokianga, Kupe sailed after Ngake and found him at Rangi-whakaoma (Castle Point), where Ngake was awaiting him. Ngake informed Kupe that the octopus of Muturangi was there within a cave giving birth to offspring. Kupe proceeded to the cave and broke it open, which caused the octopus to flee in the night towards the south. Kupe and Ngake then gave chase and came to Te Kawakawa (Cape Palliser, the southern point of North Island). This name was given by Kupe because one of his daughters here made a wreath of kawakawa leaves, and the name has ever since remained in memory of it. At this place is a kahawai spring where Kupe kept as provisions the fish of that name.

Near here the sail of the canoe Matahorua was broken, and Kupe, Ngake, and their friends proceeded to make another for the foremast. Kupe said to Ngake, “Which is the best kind of sail, yours or mine?” Hine-waihua, the wife of Ngake, “Ah! Your parents’ sail is the best; it can be made quicker; he has the dexterous hand for that kind of work.” So they set to work and continued on to daylight, all hands helping to make the sail-Kupe, his elder relatives, and younger brethren. When daylight came, the sail was to be seen hanging up on the cliff, which caused Ngake to say, “I am beaten by my friend.” [This enignmatic comment can be explained by the tradition that a competition in sail-making had taken place between Kupe and Ngake.3]

Near that spot is also a bathing place of Kupe’s daughters, one of whom, Makaro, was menstruating at the time, so the water remains red to this day. There also is a heap of stone, from the top of which Kupe recited his prayer to draw fish up for his daughters, among others, the hapuku, which ordinarily lives in deep water. He was gazing (matakitaki) on the multitude of fish; then raising his eyes, he saw beyond the sea the mountains of the South Island, the snows on Tapuae-nuku (“The lookers-on”) in the sun. Hine-uira, one of his daughters, asked Kupe what he was gazing at. He replied, “I was looking at the shoals of fish coming in; when I lifted up my eyes, I beheld an island lying there.”

Hine-uira said, “Let the name of these stones be Matakitaki” (“Gazing”), which remains to this day.

After this they started in pursuit of the octopus, going on to the mouth of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Port Nicholson), on the west side of which their canoes landed. Here Kupe went for a bath, and afterwards stretched himself out on a rock to dry himself in the sun, where he scratched himself, hence that place was ever after called “Te Aroaro o Kupe” (i.e., “Te Ure-o-Kupe,” “The penis of Kupe”-the rock on Barrett’s Reef at the entrance of Wellington Harbor).

From there, after going to Hataitai (Miramar Peninsula) they went on to Owhariu (Ohariu, west of Wellington, on Cook Strait) where the sails of Matahorua were hung up to dry, hence the name of that place. (Owhariu means “to turn aside.”)

The two islands in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, named Matiu (Some’s Island) and Makaro (Ward’s Island), were named after two of Kupe’s daughters to commemorate their visit to these islands. (The two islands are in Wellington Harbor.) Kupe approved of the names. When they arrived at Te Rimu-rapa (Sinclair’s Head), they proceeded to gather paua (Haliotis), shellfish, and other kinds of seafood, and there dried them, as provisions for their voyage. Then they got some large seaweed, and made receptacles for these provisions, so that the food would not be spoiled by dampness. Hence that place was named Rimu-rapa (“seaweed flattened”; bull-kelp is still used as bags for preserving birds, especially mutton birds.)4

They found Te Rimu-rapa a very disagreeable place because of the wind, so proceeded north to Porirua Harbor, where Mata-horua was anchored. Here, on the east side of the harbor, near the mouth, Kupe saw a stone which he at once desired as an anchor for the canoe; it was a kowhatu-hukatai (a white stone, probably volcanic). His daughters also had the same wish because of its excellence.5 The new anchor was named Hukatai (also Hukamoa).

Ngake now said to Kupe it was time they went after their enemy. So they left and went to Mana Island, where Kupe left his wife and his daughters for a while. Mohuia, one of Kupe’s daughters said, “Let this name, Mana, be retained for this island, in remembrance of our power and daring (mana) in crossing the ocean.” Kupe gave his consent to this naming, saying, “Yes! it is well, Mana shall be its name.”

After leaving his family there, Kupe and Ngake made a straight course for Te Wai-pounamu (South Island), and when they drew near it, they saw the octopus of Muturangi approaching their canoes. The two canoes of Kupe and Ngake separated to allow the octopus to pass between them, which it did, the head rushing forward drawing its tentacles behind, which spread out even beyond the canoes. From head to the end of its tentacles, it was two hundred and forty feet long, while the body was twenty four feet wide. Tohirangi stood up in the center of Kupe’s canoe with a long spear and lunged at the monster. He speared it twice, and when it felt the pain, it stretched out its tentacles to break the spear of Ngake, who was using his spear from the other canoe. The two spears crossed, and the tentacles of the octopus seized hold of the gunwale of Ngake’s canoe, Tawhiri-kura, from bow to stern, which so frightened the men on board that the canoe was nearly upset. Then the tentacles seized hold of Kupe’s canoe, and Kupe took his axe named Ranga-tu-whenua and began chopping off the tentacles; but the octopus would not let go. Kupe then shouted to Po-heuea, “Throw the bunch of calabashes at the head of the octopus!” This was done, and the monster, thinking perhaps that it was a man, let go the canoe, and encircled the calabashes with all his tentacles. Then with his axe Ranga-tu-whenua, Kupe made a fierce downward blow (paoa) at the head of the monster and smashed in its eyes. And so died this great sea creature, the “Wheke-o-Muturangi.”

Now from this incident came the name of the South Island Ara-paoa, from Kupe’s paoa, or downward blow, on the head of the octopus. The rocks Nga-whatu (“The Brothers” in Cook Strait) became tapu, for that is the place where the Wheke-o-Mururangi was laid to rest. An incantation (karakia) was said to conceal the octopus lest Muturangi should come in search of his pet and revive it. Immediately after the incantation ended, swirling currents began around the rocks, so that no canoe could land there. The name of these rocks, Nga-whatu, refers to the eyes (whatu) of the octopus, and the spot has remained tapu ever since. When canoes cross the Straits to or from Ara-paoa, the priests say, “Do not look on Nga-whatu; cover the eyes with a shade, lest, looking, a gale of wind comes on and the canoes will be capsized.” This is the rule even to this day.

Now the above story explains why Kupe, Ngake, and their companions crossed the wide ocean and discovered this country of Aotea-roa.6 How great was the mana (power, ability, prestige, etc.) of Kupe to accomplish this undertaking! Hence it was that his daughters wished to emphasize this mana by naming the island on which they stayed Mana, in honor of their father Kupe. The name of Porirua harbor is derived from the fact that the voyagers left their old anchor there and replaced it with a new one named Huka-moa (or Huka-tai). (“Pori” refers to the exchange of one anchor for another.)

Now after these events Kupe proceeded to the southern island to determine its resources, and to see whether or not any people were living there; he also intended to do the same as regards to the northern sland. He went down the west coast of the southern island until he reached Arahura River (a few miles north of Hokitika, a town on the west coast). He gave the river that name because he went to search out whether any people were to be found there. [Ara-hura, “the way opened up”].

Kupe was the first man to discover the valuable pounamu, or green stone, in Aotearoa. The first specimen he saw was that kind called inanga, so named because it was seen in a river together with many inanga, or white-bait, which he proceeded to net. When Hine-te-uira-i-waho stretched forth her hand into the water to get a stone as a sinker for the bottom of the net, the one she got was quite different from any she had seen before, and so it was called inanga.7

Kupe’s canoes then proceeded farther to the south, and finally reached the tail-end of the southern island, where Kupe said to Hine-waihua, the wife of Ngake, “O Hua! Leave your pets here to dwell at this end of the island, for behold there are no men here.” So the seals and the penguins were left to guard that end of Arapaoa, which is now called “Te Wai-pounamu.” It is well known that the proper salutation to the people of the South Island is “Welcome ye people of Arapaoa”-and Ngati-Tahu of the South Island welcomes us by saying, “Welcome ye people of the sunrise.” Nowhere did Kupe or Ngake see any people on either the southern or northern island.

On Kupe’s return to the northern island he went by way of the west coast to Hokianga. When he was off Whanganui he saw a very fine bay there,8 and so decided to land to inspect it. On entering the bay, the canoes landed on the west side and stayed a while. This place at the mouth of Whanganui, he named Kaihau-o-Kupe (“Kupe’s wind-eating”), because it was very windy while they were there.

Kupe paddled up the Whanganui River to see if any people lived there; he went as far as Kau-arapawa, so called by him because his servant tried to swim the river there to obtain some korau, or wild cabbage, and was drowned, for the river was in flood. So Pawa was drowned, and his name was applied to that place. (Kau-arapawa is about fifteen miles above the town of Whanganui.) Kupe heard some voices there, but as soon as he found these voices were only from birds (weka, kokako and tiwaiwaka), he returned to the mouth of the river, and then went on to Patea, where he planted some karaka seed of the species called oturu.9 While at Patea he tested the soil by smelling it, and found it to be para-umu-a rich black soil-and sweet-scented.

When Hine-te-ura, Kupe’s daughter, arrived at Hokianga, she said to him, “O Sir! let us take possession of this land,” to which both Kupe and Ngake consented. Then a feast (hakari) was made by his daughters at a place between Te Kerikeri and Whangaroa. At the end of the feast, Kupe, Ngake, and all their people proceeded to place the land under tapu (“uruuru whenua”; usually refers to “placating local gods”), prior to their return to Rarotonga, Rangiatea and Hawaiki. The stone of the uruuru-tapu is at the head waters of Hokianga, and is named Tama-haere, sometimes called Toka-haere; it is still very tapu. The feast was held at the place usually called Tarata-rotorua, where certain natural pillars of rock are said to have been the posts that held up the food at the feast. Hokianga means “Returning” in reference to the place from which Kupe left the island to return home.

Now, it must be clearly understood there were no people anywhere on these islands-not a single one. And Kupe left only his two dogs, named Tauaru, the male, and Hurunui, the female; none of their party remained here; everyone returned to Rarotonga.

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