This double canoe was sketched off the New Zealand coast in 1769 by Herman Spöring. Photo: BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. 21020702
There's a reason why a lot of New Zealand Maori say they fell like they're at home when in Rarotonga - because they are. Ruta Tangiiau Mave writes.
Behind the large wooden gates on the fringe of Muri,
tourists have followed the beat of the drums to the kikau thatched wooden are,
where inside the museum display of cultural artefacts, vakas, maps and photos
grace the back wall.
While a guide weaves them through a journey of flight, fight
and voyaging encapsulating the arrival of Tongaiti and Karika, Blackbirders and
Missionaries and enlightening the captured audience, New Zealand Maori owe
their heritage to us here in Rarotonga, we are their tuakana, metua, parents
and they are our tamariki, not the other way round.
It’s at this point eyes widen, jaws drop and heads turn to
each other and question: “Did you know that?”.
For the past seven years I’ve been the history guide at Te
Vara Nui, with 240 guests per week.
That’s about 5000 per year, 35,000 in my time, teaching
predominantly Kiwis, who, for most of them, learn for the first time the Great
Migration orated by New Zealand Maori who left Rarotonga.
More, the names of those vaka became names of New Zealand
Maori tribes, like Tainui, Aotea, Te Arawa and Takitumu.
They learn originally, 20 vaka left, 10 we lost track of,
one returned, one landed in Society Islands, one on Easter Island.
History says they all left together, which, if true, was an
amazing feat, when a vaka took years to build, carved from the mighty mahogany
trees and carried a good 100 - 150 people, food and animals.
The migrations happened between 1000 and 1400AD, so chances
are some of the ones we lost, landed uncharted and undocumented at
The next question most commonly asked is how did (from their
impression) a culture lovely and friendly in Rarotonga, become the strong and
warrior culture of New Zealand Maori?
My unqualified answer is, knowing the journey ahead, was
huge with challenges, you’d have to be an alpha personality, have a strong,
muscular physique with a good store of fat to handle the oars and withstand the
cold temperatures of wind, rain and storms, with very little protection to even
get in the vaka.
Then when you arrived, find limited trees offering fruit, an
unsympathetic climate and nothing you are used to.
Evolution depends on survival of the fittest, and survive is
what they had to do.
There’s no doubt in my mind this DNA necessity was passed on
from generation to generation.
A large number of New Zealand Maori come to Rarotonga
saying: “It’s like coming home”, because it is, they didn’t realise because
it’s never been part of their school curriculum or marae.
So many are Tainui, a large iwi, who sit in the History Hut
never knowing. It’s surprising and sad.
My experience growing up in South Auckland was one not of
companionable cousins but treated as a complete outsider by New Zealand Maori.
I’d like to think it has changed, but I’m not convinced it has.
One night a group of urban New Zealand Maori sat at the
dining tables and after I’d done a welcome to all the guests by country
especially ‘Kiwis’ welcoming them home.
I was intrigued when they said, “You didn’t mention our
I replied, “Yes, I did, you’re from New Zealand, you’re
Kiwis aren’t you?”, “No, we are NZ Maori”.
Seeing an opportunity to educate, I elaborated, “okay if
you’re from New Zealand then you know you come from here right?”.
“No, we come from Hawaiki”, “Hmmmm, okay and where is
Hawaiki?”, now they start floundering it’s somewhere and they wave north east which
if you’re standing in New Zealand would put you around about here, in
So, I asked “What does Hawaiki mean?”, they didn’t know, it
was just somewhere they came from.
I continued, “You know we come from a place called Avaiki,
it’s the same place and it means ‘from somewhere else’, because we all know we
didn’t originate from this here and now, we all know we arrived by voyaging
across the oceans. In fact, all the islands have the same name, with different
spelling. You my friends are descendants
from vakas that left Rarotonga, we are your ancestors, legit, it’s documented,
read and accept you’re Polynesians”.
The look on their faces was priceless, but as they sat
staring at Google search, their eyes widened and their mouths dropped like the
many others who learn more about their history here, than growing up in New
I’ve suggested to Tourism this potential niche market for
attracting Kiwis to the Cook Islands, and after Jacinda Ardern announced at the
Waitangi celebrations her support for more Maori history, I hope they include,
before the arrival of the Europeans and look at their Polynesian roots and
encourage them to come home and find their vaka.
So long as they realise if they come to claim land, then,
sorry, too late, it’s all gone!
Geoffrey Lye on 11/02/2021
May I suggest a new book released in Aotearoa New Zealand last year called Sea people The puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson and it is an enlightening read for your museum guides and plenty of the latest up to date info of Polynesian migration throughout the Pacific ocean.
Geoff Lye Christchurch New Zealand.
Ps I was in Rarotonga in 1980 and I sure miss the place.
George KiwiKiwi on 10/02/2021
Tena koutou katoa,
I really enjoyed this article and tautoko everything that was highlighted by the author.
My personal insight on this subject has been an evolving journey spanning many years.
I was lucky enough to have an auntie who married a Rarotongan when I was very young and he used to always say " Georgie, we are all one people " and being too young to understand, didn't think too much about it....
I was taught by my grand-parents that our people had migrated here to Aotearoa from a place called "Hawaiiki " through many places to establish our kainga and taonga tuku iho which over time has evolved
into what we have today.
So...with time has come progress and with that comes technology and what I have found out personally from Ancestory DNA came as no surprise to me as the oratory history handed down to me was bang on.
HAWAII, TAHITI, RAROTONGA, AOTEAROA!!!
Two years ago when I first visited Raro with my Whanau I too strongly felt I had come home...I felt the same way when I went to Tahiti and Hawaii.
To me, I felt an immediate connection with the people, the language, kai and an overwhelming spiritual emotional connection which confirmed to me exactly what my Raro Uncle said to me years ago " We are one People"
So, taking that literally, no more long queues in the tourist lane at the airport for me....I'm just home for a visit and its the local lane from now on....
Oh and yeah, next time you NZ Maori's call our Polynesian whanau " COCONUTS" you better include youself in that!!!
Tangi Crummer-Adams on 09/02/2021
As evidence at Te Hono ki Rarotonga, Tokomaru Bay marae, revered tipuna of both the Ngati Porou (East Coast iwi) and people of Mauke, rides the proud Paikea on his faithful whale (whose name escapes me presently), looking longingly toward his homeland, Mauke. The haka performed proudly by Ngati Porou, is aptly named, Paikea. The article stating Maori are not aware of their Cook Islands history is possibly a generalisation.