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Kupe and Te Wheke a Muturangi

According to the narratives, Kupe pursued an octopus known as Te Wheke a Muturangi from Hawaiiki to Aotearoa. Most tribal narratives acknowledge that the octopus was a pet of a Tohunga known as Muturangi who resided in Rarotonga. ‘Te Wheke a Muturangi’ which translates to Muturangi pet octopus caused antics for the people in Hawaiiki.

By suddenly always appearing when Kupe and his companions were fishing, Te Wheke filched the bait from their fish hooks and made it difficult to gather kaimoana, even for the islanders at the time. Kupe was furious so fashioned himself a double hulled canoe known as Ngātokimatahaorua in a bid to hunt and kill Te Wheke a Muturangi.

Kupe as it is known was from Tahiti. The canoe’s anchor stone however was collected at Maungaroa in Rarotonga where his mother was from. This was later replaced by the anchor stone Te Huka-a-tai which was collected from Mana Island in Aotearoa.

Both Kupe and his campanion Ngake departed Hawaiki on separate voyaging canoes using traditional navigation systems based on the navigational teachings associated with Maui, who was responsible for fishing up Aotearoa. Kupe took with him his crew, dog, whanau including his wife and children. He also took two birds known as Te Kawau a Toru and Rupe.

The Matahaorua canoe arrived just outside the Muriwhenua where he ventured to the North Island of New Zealand. It was his wife who voiced the name Aotearoa. He continued down the East Coast where he managed to strike Te Wheke a Muturangi at Castlepoint which resulted in the octopus hiding in a cave known as Te Ana o Te Wheke a Muturangi. And it was in the Wairarapa, Kupe began to name many landmarks and waterways which included Rerewhakaitu at Pahaoa, Mataoperu at Tuhirangi, Matiu and Makaro at Te Whanganui-a-tara (Wellington). These landmarks and places were named after his children (according to the narrators of the story of Kupe and the Wheke - NZTEC).

After some time exploring Raukawakawa (Cook Strait) he left his daughters in Te Whanganui ā Tara and continued his pursuit of Te Wheke. He was absent for some time and his daughters assumed he had been killed. They performed a mourning ritual which included lacerating themselves and this resulted in their blood staining the surrounding rocks in which they stood, at Sinclair Head. To this day, this popular landmark is known as Red Rocks.

Finally, after a long pursuit, Kupe killed Te Wheke a Muturangi in the Cook Strait and its eyes were placed upon the isles known as The Brothers. This place is considered tapu as considered a popular landmark among Māori when travelling to the South Island. The strong currents were placed there by Kupe and to this day many shipwrecks have occurred there.
On his return to Hawaiiki, Kupe ventured around the West Coast of the North Island and continued to name many more places, islands and landmarks including certain waterways and winds associated with his migrational route. This included Mana, Kapiti and Arapawa Islands.

Hokianga was his final destination before Kupe’s departure back to Hawaiiki. The name Te Hokianga a Kupe translates ‘Kupe Return’.

This is a brief version of the story of Kupe and a full version can be read Vol. 4 of the Memoirs of the Polynesian Society, pp. 41-68.

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