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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.

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KUPE

(c.A.D. 950).

Legendary Maori voyager.

Many traditions describe the exploits of Kupe. He was a shadowy figure and there are therefore inconsistencies in the accounts of his activities. In Hawaiki Kupe is said to have coveted Kurumaro-tini, the wife of Hoturapa and possessor of the Matahorua canoe. After killing Hoturapa by a stratagem, the guilty couple fled in Matahorua to escape the vengeance of the murdered man's relations and, in the course of their wanderings, discovered New Zealand. Although Kupe was the principal ariki on the canoe, Matahorua was navigated by Reti, who thus must be credited with the success of the long voyage. Kupe named the new land Aotearoa. Off Castlepoint he encountered a giant octopus belonging to his enemy Muturangi. He followed this to Awa-iti (Tory Channel) where he killed it.

Following this event, Kupe stayed in Wellington before exploring the west coast as far north as Hokianga, which commemorates his departure to Hawaiki. His importance lies in numerous place names associated with his coastal voyaging. Kupe's accounts are taken as traditional evidence that New Zealand was uninhabited at the time of his visit, but one Wanganui tradition suggests otherwise. His sailing directions from Hawaiki are open to doubt, but they were said to be used by later Maori voyagers. According to tradition, Kupe was the only Maori voyager to make the return journey from New Zealand to Hawaiki, a fact that lends a certain credence to the modern belief that the Maori settlement was largely the result of accidental voyages. Certainly, the other voyagers to New Zealand of this period, Toi and Whatonga, did not make the return journey. Among the Maoris, however, Kupe enjoyed the highest mana of any ariki or chief.

by John Bruce Palmer, B.A., Curator, Fiji Museum, Suva and Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Polynesian Mythology, Grey, G. (1956)
  • Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific, Sharp, A. (1957)
  • The Coming of the Maori, Buck, P. (1962).

Co-creator

John Bruce Palmer, B.A., Curator, Fiji Museum, Suva and Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

Last updated 22-Apr-09