The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Rapa Nui, Polynesia
Our homeland, Marae Renga, lies a long way to the west. Our king, Hotu Matua, was one of the chiefs there. Oroi was his enemy. There was a war between their tribes. Haumaka, the tattooer of Hotu Matua, had a dream: that six men went across the sea to a land covered in holes and white sandy beaches. So Hotu Matua sent six men to find that land. They travelled in their canoe Te Oraora Miro, taking yams, breadfruit, coconuts, and other things to plant.
And they found that land and arrived at Te Pu. There were no tall trees or streams. It was all rolling grasses. They climbed Rano Kao and saw the crater – the hole that Haumaka had dreamed about. They went along the coast and saw the white sands of Anakena. At Turtle Bay, one of the men was hurt when fighting a turtle. They carried him to Ihuarero cave so that he could heal. After three days, they left him. At the cave opening, they built five men of stone to care for him.
When they had come right around the island, they saw the double hull of Hotu Matua and another of Tuu Ko Ihu, the priest and navigator. Hotu Matua went along the south, and Tuu Ko Ihu went to the north. Hotu Matua’s canoe was the first to land at Hiramoko. As it landed, his son Tuu Ma Heke was born. Then the canoe of Tuu Ko Ihu landed at Hanga Ohio. There, his daughter Avareipua was born. Tuu Ko Ihu cut their navel cords with his teeth and sent them to sea in a gourd. Then all the mahingo came to shore – all the people from the canoe of Hotu Matua, the king.
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.
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