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Carving at Whāngārā Marae of Paikea riding a whale

According to Māori tradition, Paikea is an ancestor of Ngāi Tahu[1] and Ngāti Porou, Māori tribes in the South Island and east coast of New Zealand's North Island. Paikea is the name assumed by Kahutia-te-rangi because he was assisted by a whale such as a southern right whale (Māori: tohorā)[2] or humpback whales (Māori: paikea) to survive an attempt on his life by his half-brother Ruatapu.

Ruatapu is shamed[edit]

Ruatapu became offended when his father Uenuku elevated his older half-brother Kahutia-te-rangi (later known as Paikea) ahead of him. When Ruatapu was about to use a comb belonging to Kahutia-te-rangi, Uenuku rebuked him, pointing out that Kahutia-te-rangi was of high rank while Ruatapu was of low birth (because his mother was a slave wife).[a]

Ruatapu's revenge[edit]

Angry and ashamed at his father's disparaging comments, Ruatapu built a canoe, or waka. When it was finished, he lured Kahutia-te-rangi and a large number of the other sons of Uenuku, all of them young men of high birth, aboard his canoe, and took them out to sea to drown them. He preformed a hole on the canoe flooring which he unplugged while out at sea drowning all members aboard - apart from Kahutia-te-rangi whom recited an incantation invoking the Southern Right Whale or the Southern Humpback whales (paikea in Māori) to carry him ashore.[b] Kahutia-te-rangi was the sole survivor of his brother's evildoing and assumed the name Paikea as a memorial of the assistance he received from the whales.[c]

The waves of Ruatapu[edit]

The episode where Ruatapu threatens to return as the great waves of the eighth month may explain other accounts which portray Ruatapu as having invoked a great flood. Such accounts or conclusions may result from Christian influence. According to Ruatapu's account in the Ngāti Porou accounts translated by Reedy (1993, 1997), Ruatapu shouted out to Kahutia-te-rangi that he would return to fight him: "The great waves of the eighth month, they are me! I am then approaching!"[3] In an endnote, Reedy writes:

In the eighth month of the Māori calendar, in the early summer, large waves known as ngā tai o Rangawhenua, Rangawhenua's waves, sometimes break upon the shore on the East Coast. In this episode Ruatapu announces that in the eighth month he will take this form, and follow Paikea.[4]

Paikea connection to Whāngārā[edit]

Descendants of Paikea, Ngāti Konohi is the hapū that is closely associated with Whāngārā[5], a small settlement located between Gisborne and Tolaga Bay. Oral history traditions of the hapū state that Paikea came to New Zealand from Hawaiki on the back of a whale following an event known as Te Huripureiata,[6] a slaughter of the first born sons of Hawaiki at sea[7]. According to tradition, the whale turned into stone, and is now the island of Whāngārā (also known as Te Toka a Rangi or Te Ana o Paikea), immediately offshore.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In other accounts, the rebuke came when Ruatapu dared to walk on the roof of Uenuku's house.
  2. ^ In some versions, Kahutia-te-rangi transformed into a whale; in others, he rode on a whale's back.
  3. ^ The murderous Ruatapu was himself drowned in some accounts.


  1. ^ "The ancestor Paikea - Ngāi Tahu". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  2. ^ "1. – Te whānau puha – whales". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 2006-06-12. Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  3. ^ Reedy 1993:143, Reedy 1997:85 is similar.
  4. ^ 1993:231, note 101.
  5. ^ Soutar, Monty (30 March 2015). "Story: East Coast places". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Ahuwhenua Trophy Field Day Handbook" (PDF). Ahuwhenua Trophy. 2019. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  7. ^ "History Turanganui a Kiwa". Te Runanga o Turanganui a Kiwa. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  • Craig, R. D. Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York, 1989), 198–9, 237.
  • Reedy, Anaru, Ngā Kōrero a Mohi Ruatapu, tohunga rongonui o Ngāti Porou: The Writings of Mohi Ruatapu (Canterbury University Press: Christchurch, 1993), 142–146.
  • Reedy, Anaru, Ngā Kōrero a Pita Kāpiti: The Teachings of Pita Kāpiti (Canterbury University Press: Christchurch, 1997), 83–85.

External links[edit]

  • Paikea, a Māori folk song, with English translation and discussion.