The story of Tinirau and Kae is very old, and numerous versions exist in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Tinirau, ancestor of all the fish, lives at Te Motutapu-o-Tinirau (Tinirau’s Sacred Isle), which in some traditions is located under the sea. The priest Kae’s people are called Te Aitanga-a-Te Poporokewa (the descendants of Poporokewa – a type of whale).
The baptism of Tūhuruhuru
The story begins with the difficult birth of Tūhuruhuru, the son of Tinirau and his wife Hineteiwaiwa. Following the birth, Tinirau needed to find a priest to conduct the baptism. He travelled to Te Tihi-o-Manono, where he secured the services of Kae. They returned to Tinirau’s island, Te Motutapu-o-Tinirau, where the ceremony was performed. Afterwards, Tinirau summoned his pet whale, Tutunui, and cut off a piece of flesh, which he gave to Kae as payment. Tinirau also offered Kae a waka (canoe) to travel home in, but Kae asked if he could ride home instead on the whale’s back. Tinirau reluctantly agreed, giving explicit instructions that when they neared the shore and the whale shook himself, Kae must disembark.
The death of Tutunui
Despite these instructions, Kae drove Tutunui towards the shore and beached him. The whale was cut up and cooked in the village ovens, and the aroma of the flesh was brought by the winds to Tinirau’s home. Learning of the creature’s fate, Hineteiwaiwa convened a group of women, including Raukatauri, goddess of flute music, to travel to Kae’s home and capture him. Unsure what Kae looked like, the women were advised to make the villagers laugh – they would be able to identify Kae by his niho tāpiki, a tooth that has grown over the top of another.
Kae is captured
When the women arrived at Kae’s village, people were gathered in the whare tapere for the evening’s entertainments. Kae assumed his customary place nearest the door. The women danced and told stories, but they could not get Kae to laugh. It was not until their dances became more erotic that they finally succeeded in spotting the tooth and confirming Kae’s identity. The women removed him from the house and placed him on a waka, taking him while he slept to Tinirau’s island and into a house identical to his own. When Kae finally awoke, he wondered why Tinirau was sitting in his house. Tinirau killed Kae and avenged Tutunui’s slaughter.