Saturday, 06 June 2020


“Ka Tito Au” - the story of a very colourful Kupe

Revered as the first Polynesian voyager to discover the islands of Aotearoa over a thousand years ago, Kupe is acknowledged by Māori and Pakeha alike as a great rangatira, charismatic and tough and deeply schooled and experienced as a sailor and navigator.

Māori oral history - stories handed down from generation to generation - has it that Kupe, with either one or two wives on board the waka Matahourua, voyaged from his homeland in Ra'iātea (one of the Society Islands, in what is now known as French Polynesia) around AD 925, in pursuit of a giant wheke (octopus), Te Wheke-a-Muturangi, which was decimating the essential fishing grounds of Kupe’s people. Chasing the octopus for weeks over the Pacific Ocean, Kupe eventually came across land and his wife, Kuramārōtini, devised the name of Ao-tea-roa (“long white cloud”) on seeing the North Island for the first time.

After trapping and killing the octopus in Te Moana o Raukawa (Cook’s Strait), Kupe went on to extensively explore Aotearoa, including, it is thought, Hauraki. Taputapu-ātea and Te Whitianga-o-Kupe, for example, commemorate Kupe’s time in Whitianga. Then, the extraordinary occurred - leaving his family behind in Aotearoa, Kupe got back in his waka and made the long return voyage to Ra'iātea to tell their people of the magnificence of the discovered land, Aotearoa. So enticing were his stories that the people of Ra'iātea wanted to experience those places for themselves. Kupe gathered up people, new waka were built and this was the beginning of the migration of the Māori people from Polynesia to start a new life in the distant land, Aotearoa. Today more than half of Māori iwi acknowledge Kupe in their stories and mythology and Kupe lives on through the whakapapa of many.

Tola Newbery is a solo performer in “Ka Tito Au,” a contemporary play of Kupe telling his own story of his extraordinary journey to Aotearoa, written by award-winning Kiwi writer, poet, playwright and storyteller, Apirana Taylor and directed by Murray Lynch.

“Look, a lot of wife stealing used to go on, and there’s heaps of conjecture about who stole whose wife,” says Apirana Taylor in a Radio New Zealand interview about Ka Tito Au. He is referring to the theory that perhaps Kupe coveted Kuramārōtini, the wife of Hoturapa and owner of the waka Matahorua and that Hoturapa met an early demise at that hands of Kupe. Or was it that Hoturapa attempted to steal Kupe’s first wife? Conflicting stories abound.

“So the story goes that [Kupe’s] first wife refused to [get on the waka], but then other story tellers say she did,” says Taylor. “But just imagine the problems of having two wives in a little boat in the middle of an ocean.” Good point.


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