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History of Māori Culture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2340 words Published: 18th May 2020

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The history of Māori culture is often revealed through oral traditions and archaeological evidence. While there is still ongoing debate over many aspects and parts of Māori culture and history, the origins and migration of Māori people are thought to have been somewhat agreed upon. However, it is important to note that there are multiple versions of this migration and they are each seen as valid by members of its own community (Reilly et al 2018:66). The arduous and long journey of Māori people from their homeland, Hawaiki, to Aotearoa/New Zealand is quite complex and spans over many decades. These founding ancestors arrived be means of double-hulled canoes called waka. Waka were built by tohunga (priestly expert) and were made from the timber of trees (Heritage Te Manatu Taonga 2015). Once construction of the canoes was completed, a vital ceremony took place in which the vessel was named and launched, under the protection and powers of the sea and sky (Heritage Te Manatu Taonga 2015). Each waka tells an overall different story and reason for migration to Aotearoa, however, they also share a great deal of similarities (in regard to the journey) with each other as well. This essay will address the similarities between most waka traditions,but will specifically have an emphasis on the journey of the Ārai-te-uru waka and will address who was on the waka, reasons for migration, challenges faced during the voyage, and the general establishment of the members once they reached Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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The tapu (sacred) place of Hawaiki is known to be the ancestral homeland of the Māori people. The variants of the name Hawaiki have been given to three islands which include Savai’i in Samoa, Ra’iatea in the Society Islands, and the Big Island of Hawai’I (Thompson 2004:35). Regardless of the debate over whether or not Hawaiki is envisaged as a zone or a single island, it is crucial to understand that it is well-known to be a source of life, but also a place of separation and difficult times, thus prompting for the migration to New Zealand. The fleet of waka to Aotearoa is extremely important to the identity of the Māori people. Whakapapa (genealogy) is linked back to crew members of the canoes and can be used to initiate the beginning of certain tribes (Tarakawa 1894:66). Furthermore, the canoes are most commonly categorized by the different establishment of settlements in new regions of New Zealand. For example, the Mānuka and the Ārai-te-uru are both waka that are categorized under “South Island” waka, whereas the canoes of the Bay of Plenty include ones like the Mataatua, Te Aratāwhao, and Hīnakipākau-o-te-rupe.

Everything and everyone taken aboard waka is critical and necessary for the prolonged and grueling journey ahead. General leaders of all waka include rangatira (commander at stern), tohunga, (specialists, responsible for navigation, ritual protection from elements), kaihautu (person giving time to paddlers), kaiurungi (person steering boat), etc. (Reilly 2019). The crew aboard all waka comprises of families and friends of leaders, both men and women, and are usually between 22-70 people (Reilly et al 2018:77). When specifically talking about the Ārai-te-uru canoe, it can be noted that they brought the Ngāi Tahu iwi (people, tribe) over to the new land (Beattie 1922:75). Particular names of the chiefs aboard Ārai-te-uru include Kiri-kiri-ka-tata, Aroaro-kaehe, Manga atua, Ao-raki, Kake-roa, Te Horokoatu, Ri-tua, and many more (Evans 2016:26). The names of many of the members of this canoe are influential to current New Zealand landmarks and places. For example, a high mountain in Kaikoura is named after Tapuaenuku, and both Tarahaua and Hua-te-kirikiri are now the current names of mountains at Rakitata river (Beattie 1922:75). This represents the idea that there is a connection between the world of the gods and present day. In addition to carrying numerous influential people, Arai-te-uru carried a variety of cargo including tools and weapons and its most precious cargo items of kūmara (sweet potato), gourds, and taro seed (Evans 2016:25). Moreover, crew members brought along their esoteric knowledge which include karakia (incantations) and tikanga (customs) that were important for the mission of the journey.

It is extremely apparent that waka migration trips from Hawaiki to New Zealand were carefully planned and took a lot of time, and were overall assessed by leaders on behalf of their communities. Waka migrations are most often explanations that point to cultural problems. According to Reilly, some reasons for migration include, but are not limited to, to escape and avoid conflicts over land boundaries, gardens and fruit trees, or disputes between men of rank seeking to marry the same woman (2019). Nevertheless, in order to correctly analyze and discuss the narrative of the Ārai-te-uru waka and its reasons for migration, it is crucial to address the initial migration of the Mānuka waka as well. It is believed that the Mānuka canoe set out from Hawaiki first and was able to successfully return with kūmara, but ended up eventually taking a stab. According to tear, “the tubers failed to germinate because of the extreme cold in the South Island” (Taonui 2019:8). Due to the incomplete and failed mission of the Mānuka, the Arai-te-uru is really recognized as the “first” canoe from Hawaiki to Aotearoa, South Island. Their main mission was to plant the kūmara seed successfully, without the plant dying (Taonui 2019:8). The planting of this vegetable is influential to Māori culture and suggests the representation of the beginning of agriculture in New Zealand.

Travelling to Aotearoa was not an easy process for most waka. In fact, these voyages are considered to have been rather hazardous. In order for all members aboard to succeed in their expeditions, they chose to surround themselves with the security of spirit powers (Reilly et al 2018:77). A prime example of this would be the recitation of karakia by migrants. It is critical to understand that karakia is a way in which they connected and engaged with the gods and universe, and overall was a means for receiving and sustaining protection. However, karakia was not always enough to keep the migrants fully free from any hazards and/or danger. Ārai-te-uru was faced with challenges that were mainly presented by the monstrous seas. According to Evans, Arai-te-uru made its initial “landfall” at Whitianga-te-ra (2016:24). After spending some time here and unloading the valuable cargo of kūmara, the waka experienced the hazard of mother nature. Fierce storms and winds negatively affected the canoe, and forced it in the direction of the South Island (Evans 2016:25). In addition to disturbance of migration patterns, crew members and cargo of the vessel were negatively affected as well. According to Beattie, two crew members, Moko-tere-a-tarehu and Pohu, never made it fully across. Moko-tere-a-tarehu was said to have been washed overboard near the mouth of the Waitaki River, whereas Pohu became strayed from the group later into the journey. Evidence also shows that cargo was lost and believed to have been thrown overboard at Kai-hinaki, a beach near Hampden (Evans 2016:25). The continuation of this journey, even with all of the challenges presented from the massive seas, accurately shows how determined and serious this expedition was for them. 

The landing of all waka are key historical events and are told down through the generations of Māori people and is certainly crucial for understanding Māori culture. The main focus seen when reading waka stories is on the actions of the ancestors on their foremost landing in Aotearoa, and the early following years. Once voyagers made it to Aotearoa, members of all waka nearly did the same thing. The first actions upon landing were to erect a tuāhū (altar, sacred site). The importance of this was for the voyagers to acknowledge and express gratitude to the atua (spirit being), ultimately thanking them for the safety given to them on their strenuous journey (Tarakawa 1894:65). Additonally, karakia was performed to allow the newly established settlers to have protection from the tapu of the land, and for a chance to really claim their part of the land and to venture on to it (Reilly et al 2018:79).

 While there are no official recounts as to exactly when Ārai-te-uru landed in New Zealand, it is commonly understood that the waka was wrecked at Matakaea/Shag Point (Ngāi Tahu 1998). The majority accounts of the tradition mention that the crew became too exhausted and could manage to control the waka any longer. Although they had to cut their journey short, they still proved to show the dedication towards the journey, and managed to end up swimming to shore (Ngāi Tahu 1998). According to Evans, many of the possessions including kumara and hinaki are to be seen as the distinct boulders along the reef and coastline (2016:25). These are said to be the Moeraki Boulders that are seen today in Hampden, New Zealand. After arriving on land, settlers are determined to transform the state of the untouched and wild land, to one that is useful for their accustomed lives. A good way to do this is through the planting of seeds. According to the Reilly et al, “the Arai-te-uru unloaded food plants along Te Ika-a-Maui’s eat coast before depositng seed kumara at Kaikoura in Te Waipounamu” (2018:81). The crew ended up exploring other parts of the land, but eventually returned back “home” to their original landing place (Anderson 2009:16).

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Overall, it may be said that the arrival and settlement of the ancestors of Māori people will always be the key to the comprehension and appreciation of Māori history. There is a great deal of controversy over specific events in history and what exactly happened, but that is all up for interpretation and faith in each community and their iwi. Reinforcing tribal identity and continuity between generations seems to be the common ground for all iwi and was seen throughout the waka migrations to Aotearoa/New Zealand. Each waka is momentous andserved its own purpose in coming to Aotearoa from Hawaiki. The completed construction of each waka allowed for journeys to take place, each with very distinct crews and reasons for migration. This essay intended to examine the Ārai-te-uru waka and explored who and what was on the waka, reasons for migration, challenges and hazards faced during the voyage at sea, and the general establishment of the members once they reached Aotearoa/New Zealand. The journey of this canoe ended quite like no other. Oral traditions disclose that the Ārai-te-uru ended up wrecked and moved on shore by waves, cargo and crew turning to stone and forming some of the local and prominent landmarks that are seen here today in New Zealand (Reilly et al 2018:85). While this migration canoe was specifically important in regard to the Otago region, it can be said that all waka traditions ultimately represent a connection between the world of the gods and the present day.


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