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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


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.



(c.A.D. 1350).

Captain of Te Arawa Canoe.

Tama Te Kapua was born in Hawaiki some years prior to the great immigration to New Zealand. He was the son of Houmai Tawhiti, and the grandson of Tuamatua and Karika. Among the generation of the fleet, he was regarded as being the man of supreme knowledge. He alone survived the battle of Te Karihipotae where all the other chiefs were slain.

The first canoe to be built was Te Arawa, and, at its launching, Tama Te Kapua is said to have kidnapped Whakaoterangi, the beautiful young wife of Ruaeo, and carried her with him to New Zealand. He also persuaded Ngatoroirangi, the most noted tohunga of his day, to travel with him on the Arawa. After many trials, most of which were attributed to the presence of the sacred person of the tohunga, the Arawa reached Ratanui near Cape Runaway. It then sailed northwards, past Whakaari (White Island) and Cape Colville, to the Hauraki Gulf. There Tama Te Kapua settled near Moehau Mountain (Coromandel Peninsula).

Tama Te Kapua lived many years in New Zealand, and when he died he was buried near the summit of Mount Moehau. He had two sons: Tuhoro, the eldest, became the ancestor of the Ngati Tama chiefly line; while Kahumatamomoe, the second son, became the ancestor of Ngati Rangitiki, Tuhourangi, and allied tribes.

In Maori mythology Tama Te Kapua's name is synonymous with “stratagem”. According to Taylor, he and Whiro were the gods of thieving. Ancient Maoris often referred to him as “the variegated cloud” because “like the clouds of heaven (he) constantly changed his aspect, sometimes red, sometimes black, or sometimes many hued; such was the character of the thoughts of Tama Te Kapua”.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • New Zealand and its Inhabitants, Taylor, R. (1870)
  • Economics of the New Zealand Maori, Firth, R. (1959)
  • Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 2 (1893)
  • “The Coming of Te Arawa and Tainui Canoes from Hawaiki to New Zealand”, Tarakawa, T., Smith, S. P. (trans.).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.