Arawa (canoe)

In Māori mythology, Arawa was one of the great ocean-going, voyaging canoes that was used in the migrations that settled Aotearoa.

Great Māori migration waka
Landed atTauranganui, Whangaparaoa
IwiNgāti Tūwharetoa, Tapuika, Waitaha, Te Arawa
Settled atMaketu ki Tongariro, Bay of Plenty

The Te Arawa confederation of Māori iwi and hapu (tribes and sub-tribes) based in the Rotorua and Bay of Plenty areas of New Zealand trace their ancestry from this waka.[1]

Construction of the canoe

A large tree was felled and from this the waka which came to be known as Te Arawa was formed. The men who turned this log into a beautifully decorated canoe were Rata, Wahieroa, Ngaahue and Parata. "Hauhau-te-rangi" and "Tuutauru" (made from New Zealand greenstone brought back by Ngaahue) were the adzes they used for this time-consuming and intensive work.[2] Upon completion, the waka was given the name Ngaa raakau kotahi puu a Atua Matua (also known as Ngaa raakau maatahi puu a Atua Matua).

The waka was completed and berthed in Whenuakura Bay while Tama-te-kapua, in his capacity as rangatira (chief) of the canoe, set about trying to find a tohunga (priest) for the journey. Ngātoro-i-rangi and his wife Kearoa were tricked by Tama-te-kapua to board the canoe to perform the necessary appeasement incantations to the gods prior to the canoe's departure. However, while they were on board, Tama-te-kapua signalled his men to quickly set sail, and before Ngātoro-i-rangi and his wife could respond they were far out to sea.[3]

Voyage to Aotearoa

One of the more dramatic stories pertaining to the voyage to Aotearoa occurred because Tama-te-kapua became desirous of Kearoa. Ngātoro-i-rangi noticed the glint in Tama-te-kapua's eye and took precautions to protect his wife during the night while he was on deck navigating by the stars. This was done by tying one end of a cord to her hair and holding the other end in his hand. However, Tama-te-kapua untied the cord from Kearoa's hair and attached it to the bed instead. He then made love to her, following this pattern over a number of nights. One night however, he was nearly discovered in the act by Ngātoro-i-rangi, but just managed to escape. In his haste he forgot the cord. Ngātoro-i-rangi noticed this and therefore knew that Tama-te-kapua had been with Kearoa. He was furious and, in his desire to gain revenge, 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 but Ngātoro-i-rangi eventually took pity and caused the seas to become calm (Steedman, pp 99-100).

One incident that occurred during this drama was that all the kūmara carried on the waka were lost overboard, save for a few that were in a small kete being clutched by Whakaotirang.[4] Immediately after the calming of the seas, a shark (known as an arawa) was seen in the water. Ngātoro-i-rangi immediately renamed the waka Te Arawa, after this shark, which then accompanied the waka to Aotearoa, acting in the capacity of a kai-tiaki (guardian).

The Arawa waka then continued on to Aotearoa without incident, finally sighting land at Whangaparaoa where feather headdresses were foolishly cast away due to greed and due to the beauty of the pohutukawa bloom. Upon landfall, an argument took place with members of the Tainui canoe over a beached whale and the ownership thereof. Tama-te-kapua again resorted to trickery and took possession of it despite rightful claim of the Tainui. The canoe then travelled north up the coast to the Coromandel Peninsula, where Tama-te-kapua first sighted the mountain Moehau, a place he was later to make home. Heading south again, it finally came to rest at Maketu, where it was beached and stood until being burnt by Raumati of Taranaki some years later.[5]

Some items of note that were brought to Aotearoa on the Arawa, other than the precious kūmara saved by Whakaotirangi, was a tapu kōhatu (stone) left by Ngātoro-i-rangi 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 Te Arawa peoples and their descendants from evil times (Stafford, 1967, p17). In addition, the waka 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.[6]

See also


  1. "Te Arawa", Te Ara
  2. Stafford, 1967, p. 5)
  3. Stafford, 1967, p. 14
  4. Stafford, 1967, p. 15
  5. Stafford, 1967, pp 17–18, 47)
  6. Stafford, 1967, pp 11–12


  • Best, E. (1982). Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2. Museum of Australia Te Papa Tongarewa.
  • 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.
  • Wilson, J. (Ed). (1990). He Korero Purakau mo Nga Taunahanahatanga a Nga Tupuna: Place Names of the Ancestors: A Maori Oral History Atlas. N.Z. Geographic Board, Wellington.
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