Nukutawhiti, Captain of Ngatokimatawhaorua Waka

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Nukutawhiti, Captain of Ngatokimatawhaorua Waka

Maori: Nukutāwhiti, Captain of Ngatokimatawhaorua Waka
Immediate Family:

Son of Maahu and Māhu
Husband of Hineariki; Kahuoterangi Mahu and Aniwaniwa
Father of Rongomai (Uri no Nukutawhiti); Moerewa or Rewa; Papatuanuku; Papa-tāhuri-iho; Ngarunui and 3 others
Half brother of Niwa

Occupation: Captain of Ngatokimatawhaoroa
Managed by: Warren Keith Rowe
Last Updated:

About Nukutawhiti, Captain of Ngatokimatawhaorua Waka

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 the new land of Aotearoa.Kupe agreed and Nukutäwhiti asked that the waka be re-fitted to take more people. Two toki pounamu were used on the waka Matawhaorua to re-fit it for its return journey to Aotearoa. At the completion of the re-fit, karakia 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 in its re-fit.

The Ngätokimatawhaorua was made tapu by Kupe and was not able to carry kai and so a sister vessel to accompany it on the journey was found. This was the Mämari, commanded by Rüänui. Kupe gave four taniwha to Nukutäwhiti and Rüänui to accompany them on their journey to Aotearoa:

1. Puhi Moana Ariki.

2. Rangi Uru Hinga.

3. Ara-i-te-uru.

4. Niua.

Kupe also gave instructions to find Hokianga. 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 Puhi Moana Ariki wandering back and forth in front to protect them. As a result of the wandering of 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 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.

On their arrival in Hokianga Nukutäwhiti sent 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. Ara-i-te-uru guards the south and Niua guards the north at the mouth of the harbour.

Nukutäwhiti and Rüänui set about building whare wänanga. Rüänui finished first and was asked by Nukutäwhiti 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 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 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).

Key elements about the ethos of Te Rarawa come out of this story of relative antiquity. That of, powerful ariki, mighty taniwha, potent karakia and internal conflict. These elements persist today within Te Rarawa and iwi of the north. The decent from Kupe, Nukutäwhiti and Rüänui are important because they represent a rejection of the "great migration fleet" theory, largely created by Päkehä anthropologists last century. Although Te Rarawa accept that waka migrated to these shores in groups of two or perhaps three, there is no talk among Te Rarawa kaumätua about a great migration fleet.

The iwi ethos is derived largely from individual waka and tüpuna on those waka; ie mana tüpuna and mana tängata. Powerful ariki, mighty taniwha, potent karakia and internal conflict are all integral parts of Te Rarawa oral history and have become part of the iwi character as well. 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 the iwi.

Ngātokimatawhaorua and Māmari

After the Polynesian explorer Kupe returned to Hawaiki his canoe, Matawhaorua, was re-adzed and renamed Ngātokimatawhaorua (ngā toki – the adzes) by its new captain, Nukutawhiti. The Ngātokimatawhaorua, accompanied by the Māmari under Ruanui, returned to the Hokianga, where the two captains built whare wānanga (houses of learning).

Ruanui began consecrating his building first, without waiting for Nukutawhiti. A metaphysical battle followed, and Ruanui’s tohunga (priests) chanted incantations, compelling a huge whale to beach itself as a sacrifice. Nukutawhiti’s tohunga performed opposing incantations, attempting to push the whale back out to sea. Ruanui’s prayers were finally exhausted and the crew of the Māmari were forced to leave the Hokianga area.

The Māmari made landings at Ōmāmari and the Whāngāpē Harbour, where Ruanui’s descendants live today. The battle of the priests is remembered in the name Hokianga-whakapau-karakia (Hokianga where incantations were exhausted).

Ngātokimatawhaorua and Māmari are important canoes for the tribes of Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri.


Nukutawhiti was bitter over the marriage of Moerewarewa and Korakonuiaruanui and more so over her disappearance. He gave his death wishes to his other children. . He drowned in the whirlpools of Pipiraueru, at the mouth of the harbour when he was an old man. His instructions were carried out by his children. They cut off his head and replace it with that of his pet or slave called Kekeno (Seal) Moerewarewa learnt of the death of her father. The brothers and sister of Moerewarewa waited for her appearance in order to continue their father's vendetta against her. She came along the west coast and reached the harbour entrance. Her brothers began their incantations to overwhelm her canoe with storms and waves. Moerewarewa countered their spells with hers which calmed the seas and enabled her to cross safely. She entered the village of Pouahi, went unmolested to her father's corpse seated and propped in state on the taumata tapu or sacred funeral platform. When she saw that the head was not that of her father she vented her anger through a death avenging chant(pihe) which has survived these seven hundred or so years in manuscript and book formats.

http://from book "The HOKIANGA (from Te Korere to1840)" by Dr. Patu Hohepa © 2011

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