Letters: The Great Fleet is a great myth

Tuesday September 03, 2019 Published in Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor

The history of the colonisation of Aotearoa by our tupuna has been written about and discussed at length by generations of learned and not so learned people.


History tends to be written by those who have a vested interest in portraying a particular perspective or steering an idea down a particular path so that eventually it takes on a life of its own and is taken as gospel and inveigles itself into the cultural psyche of the people so that they absolutely and totally believe that it is true.

This fixation on the ‘Great Fleet’ of seven canoes is just such a fiction or myth passing itself off as the truth and being taught to our impressionable young, to the tourists and in fact to anyone who wants to listen. Anyone with a modicum of intellect will tell you that the ‘Great Fleet’ makes a good story and it sells tourism bums on seats, it is great cultural entertainment and gives everyone who believes in this myth a feel-good factor.

But I submit that it is not true and those who should know better should stop teaching this nonsense. The ‘Great Fleet’ myth is promoted by historians and others as a linear timeline which is essentially a way simplifying a complex timeline of activities into a single moment in time so that it fits preconceived ideas that don’t fit nicely i.e. making sense out of nonsense.

Fact: Our tupuna used the ocean like we now use the modern highway because our islands are like supercities connected by a water highway.

Fact: Our tupuna moved, shipped, transported and sailed daily for commerce, trade, to fight, raid, invade and to seek and form brittle alliances over great distances and they sailed as individuals, as family, as villages.

Fact: Our tupuna sailed regularly between and within the Polynesian triangle (Hawaii in the north, Rapanui in the east and Aotearoa in the south).

Question: Why would they all decide to bosom up and get all matey and become a fleet travelling to Aotearoa when they were doing this for centuries anyway?

Now that I’ve got your undivided attention, there is also this myth about all NZ Maori being teina to our tuakana brothers and sisters from the Cook Islands. This is another story of misinformation being perpetuated as fact.

Fact: Cook Islanders are the result of a mass diaspora outflowing of voyagers and voyagings from Melanesia, Micronesia and the far-flung regions of what we now know as greater Polynesia by many people over many, many centuries culminating in landfall in what is now termed the Pa Enua.

Fact: Many vaka that voyaged to Aotearoa were captained by chiefs who were tuakana in their own right and some never returned to the Cook Islands and many vaka that voyaged to Aotearoa were also captained by teina to tuakana who stayed behind and some never returned.

Fact: The voyaging vaka to Aotearoa numbered in the hundreds over many generations and the history that is being taught about the ‘Great Fleet’ is a myth.

So while many Cook Islanders think that NZ Maori are teina well sorry about it, some may be, but not all of us are.

Te Tuhi Kelly

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