Arawa (canoe)

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Great Māori migration waka
Landed atTauranganui, Whangaparaoa
IwiTe Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa
Settled atMaketu ki Tongariro

Arawa was one of the great ocean-going, voyaging canoes in Māori traditions that was used in the migrations that settled New Zealand.

The Te Arawa confederation of Māori iwi and hapū based in the Rotorua and Bay of Plenty areas trace their ancestry from the people of this canoe.


Te Arawa's ancestors on board the Arawa were of the Ngāti Ohomairangi of Ra'iātea Island. Following a battle that broke out between them and Uenuku, in which their own Whakatūria fell in battle, Tamatekapua promised to captain the voyage to the islands of New Zealand, which had been discovered by Ngāhue of the Tāwhirirangi canoe.[1]

Construction of the canoe[edit]

A large tree was cut down by four men called Rata, Wahieroa, Ngāhue and Parata, to make the waka which came to be known as Arawa. "Hauhau-te-rangi" and "Tuutauru" (made from New Zealand greenstone brought back by Ngāhue) were the adzes used for the time-consuming and intensive work.[2] Upon completion, the waka was given the name Ngā rākau kotahi puu a Atua Matua (also known as Ngā rākau maatahi puu a Atua Matua, or more simply Ngā rākau rua a Atuamatua - the two trunks of Atuamatua) in memory of Tamatekapua's grandfather Atuamatua.[1]

The waka was completed and berthed in Whenuakura Bay while Tamatekapua, chief of the canoe, attempted to find a priest for the journey. Ngātoroirangi and his wife Kearoa were tricked by Tamatekapua into boarding the canoe to perform the necessary appeasement incantations to the gods before the canoe departed. However, while they were on board, Tamatekapua signalled to his men to quickly set sail, and before Ngātoroirangi and his wife could react they were far out to sea.[3]

Voyage to Aotearoa[edit]

During the voyage to New Zealand, Tamatekapua became desirous of Kearoa. Ngātoroirangi noticed this and took guarded his wife during the night while he was on deck navigating, by tying one end of a cord to her hair and holding the other end in his hand. However, Tamatekapua untied the cord from Kearoa's hair and attached it to the bed in order to have sex with her, repeating this over a number of nights. One night he was nearly caught in the act by Ngātoroirangi, but managed to escape, though forgetting the cord in his haste. Ngātoroirangi found the cord and deduced that Tamatekapua had been with Kearoa. In revenge, he raised a huge whirlpool in the sea named Te korokoro-o-te-Parata ("The throat of Te Parata"). The waka was about to be lost with all on board, before Ngātoroirangi took mercy and calmed the seas.[4]

During these events, all the kūmara on board the canoe were lost overboard, except a few in a small kete being held by Whakaotirangi.[5] After the calming of the seas, a shark (known as an arawa) was seen in the water. Ngātoroirangi renamed the waka Te Arawa, after this shark, which then accompanied the waka to Aotearoa, acting as a kai-tiaki (guardian).

The Arawa canoe then continued to New Zealand without incident, finally sighting land at Whangaparaoa, where feather headdresses were cast away due to greed and the beauty of the pohutukawa bloom. On landfall, an argument took place with members of the Tainui canoe over the ownership of a beached whale. Tamatekapua again used deceit to take possession of the whale despite the rightful claim of the Tainui. The canoe then travelled north up the coast to the Coromandel Peninsula, where Tamatekapua first sighted the mountain Moehau, where he later made his home. Heading south again, the canoe finally came to rest at Maketu, where it was beached and stood until being burnt by Raumati of Taranaki some years later.[6]

Items brought to New Zealand on the Arawa, other than the kūmara saved by Whakaotirangi, included a tapu kōhatu (stone) left by Ngātoroirangi on the island Te Poito o te Kupenga a Taramainuku just off the coast of Cape Colville. This stone held the mauri to protect the Arawa peoples and their descendants from evil.[7] In addition, the canoe brought over two gods, one called Itupaoa, which was represented by a roll of tapa, and another stone carving now possibly buried at Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tapsell, Paul (2005). "Te Arawa – Origins". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  2. ^ Stafford, 1967, p. 5)
  3. ^ Stafford, 1967, p. 14
  4. ^ Steedman, pp 99-100
  5. ^ Stafford, 1967, p. 15
  6. ^ Stafford, 1967, pp 17–18, 47
  7. ^ Stafford, 1967, p17
  8. ^ Stafford, 1967, pp 11–12


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  • Craig, R.D. Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York, 1989), 24.
  • Grey, G. Polynesian Mythology, Illustrated edition, reprinted 1976. (Whitcombe and Tombs: Christchurch), 1956.
  • Jones, P.T.H. (1995). Nga Iwi o Tainui. Auckland University Press. Auckland.
  • Stafford, D.M. (1967). Te Arawa: A History of the Arawa People. A.H. & A.W. Reed. Rotorua, New Zealand.
  • Steedman, J.A.W. He Toto: Te Ahu Matua a Nga Tupuna. (Date of publication and publisher unknown)
  • Taiapa, J. (2002). 150.114 He Tirohanga o Mua: Maori Culture - Study Guide. School of Maori Studies, Massey University, Albany.
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