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In Māori tradition, Ruatapu was the second son of the great chief Uenuku, who belittled him for using the sacred comb of his elder brother, Kahutia-te-rangi. As revenge, Ruatapu enticed the children of the nobility into his canoe, sailed them in the ocean, and then sank it (Craig 1989:237). Kahutia-te-rangi survived with the help of a whale and was thereafter known as Paikea (Reedy 1993:142-146).

Meanwhile, Ruatapu convinced the gods of the tides to destroy the land and its inhabitants. Paikea fled to high ground and was saved through the intervention of the goddess Moa-kura-manu. One version of the myth holds that Ruatapu drowned in the flood and that his bowels became the first jellyfish (Craig 1989:237, Reedy 1989:142-146).

Flood myth[edit]

In a tradition of the Ngati Porou, a Māori tribe of the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, Ruatapu became angry when his father Uenuku elevated his younger half-brother Kahutia-te-rangi ahead of him. Ruatapu lured Kahutia-te-rangi and a large number of young men of high birth into his canoe, and took them out to sea where he drowned them. He called on the gods to destroy his enemies and threatened to return as the great waves of early summer. As he struggled for his life, Kahutia-te-rangi recited an incantation invoking the southern humpback whales (paikea in Māori) to carry him ashore. Accordingly, he was renamed Paikea, and was the only survivor (Reedy 1997:83-85).


  • R.D. Craig, Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York, 1989).
  • Reedy, Anaru, Ngā Kōrero a Mohi Ruatapu, tohunga rongonui o Ngāti Porou: The Writings of Mohi Ruatapu (Canterbury University Press: Christchurch, 1993).