The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Tangaloa, the god of art and invention, looked down from his sky home of Bolotu. “I am hungry. Hungry for fish.” He let his great turtle hook go down, down, down. Soon, something heavy pulled on the line. Tangaloa pulled and pulled, but he couldn’t pull up the hook. He had caught a huge rock, not a fish! He laughed and said, “Today, I won’t eat. Today, I’ll have fun making islands.” He pulled up the very bottom of the sea. When the rocks reached the surface, the line broke. The land split into lots of little islands.
Then Tangaloa let pieces from the wood he was carving fall to the water. He told one of his sons to become a bird and fly down to see what happened. After some days, the pieces of wood became a beautiful island! He told his son to plant a seed on the island. The seed grew into a vine. His son pecked at the root until it broke in two and rotted. A big white worm formed there. He pecked at that, and it split as well. The three parts became the first men – Kohai, Kuau, and Momo.
Tangaloa named the island Eueiki, the first place of men. The three men became the first tui Tonga (rulers of Tonga). The first true man (not from a worm) was Ahoei. He was born later to Tangaloa and a beautiful woman called Ilaheva Veepopua.
Lots of stories tell about the beginning of places and people. Like the archaeological account, many stories talk about flooding or lost lands … or islands being fished up from the sea. Others talk about canoe voyages from faraway places. Still others tell about people using spiritual powers to create new lands.
In Aotearoa GLOSSARY Aotearoa - New Zealand (New Zealand) alone, a range of stories are told. As in many Polynesian islands, there’s the story of the boy Maui. From his canoe (Te Waka a Maui, the South Island), Maui fished up the North Island (Te Ika a Maui). There’s the story of the navigator Kupe, who landed on the northwest shores. There are the stories of the canoes that navigated here from the island homeland of Hawaiki. And there’s the story of Paikea, who arrived on the east coast of the North Island on the back of a whale.
Click on the stories to find out more ...