Kupe is one of the most important of the early Polynesian ancestors who journeyed from the ancestral homeland, Hawaiki. Although their traditions are very different, Kupe, like Māui, was also responsible for shaping New Zealand.
Kupe separates the islands
When Kupe arrived in New Zealand he found only one island. The Ngāti Kahungunu elder Īhāia Hūtana referred to Kupe separating the islands in a letter to the Māori-language newspaper, Te Toa Takitini:
E kīia ana he moutere kotahi ēnei e rua, nā Kupe i tapahi ka tere te moana i waenganui, ka kīia ko ‘te moana a Kupe’.
It is said that these two islands were at one time together as one. Kupe was responsible for cutting them so that the sea flowed between. This is why [Cook Strait] was called ‘the sea of Kupe’. 1
Celebrating Kupe’s achievement
The separation of the North and South islands and the formation of others are remembered in a peruperu (dance accompanied with song). The chief Te Rauparaha of Ngāti Toarangatira, who settled in Horowhenua at the beginning of the 19th century, recited the story to prove his tribe’s links to the area.
This version was written down by Mohi Tūrei of Ngāti Porou, who attributes it to the Ngāti Kahungunu ancestor, Te Whatuiāpiti.
Ka tito au, ka tito au.
Ka tito ki a Kupe!
Te tangata nana i hoehoe te moana.
Tu ke a Kapiti!
Tu ke Mana!
Tau ke Arapawa!
Ko nga tohu tenei a taku tipuna a Kupe
I whakatoreke tii-ka-puaha.
Ka toreke i au te whenua e!
I compose, I compose.
I compose for Kupe!
The man who traversed the oceans.
Kapiti stands apart!
Mana stands apart!
As does Arapawa!
These are symbols of my ancestor, of Kupe.
He traversed the land,
and so do I! 2