On October 25, a party of 60 or so Maori people led by the elder Pateriki Rei and Canon Hone Kaa will make a pilgrimage to Ralatea in the Society Islands. The purpose of the trip is to retrace the route taken by the ancestral canoes from Tahiti to New Zealand.
According to the traditions of the Taranaki tribes, Rangiatea was the home of Kupe, the navigator who discovered New Zealand and made the return voyage back to Rangiatea with the news of his discovery.
Turi, the commander of the Aotea canoe, sailed for New Zealand in the fourteenth century using Kupe’s sailing directions. He settled at Patea. But it is not known whether he died in New Zealand or returned to Rangiatea.
According to the traditions of Ra’iatea, as related to me by John Brotherson, Turi lived in a secluded mountain valley where he had his marae at the head of the calm, sheltered waters of Fa’aroa Bay. Turi made the return journey from Ra’iatea to New Zealand three times. Each time he returned to Fa’aroa, he immersed his vessel in the swamp at the head of the bay to preserve it. When he wanted to go voyaging again, he recovered his vessel, refitted it and set off.
When he returned to Fa’aroa after the third voyage, he died. It is believed his canoe is still immersed somewhere in the 35-acre swamp.
There are a number of relics on Ra’iatea associated with Turi. Peni Atger, the local headmaster, told me of the existence of Te Puna o Turi (Turi’s soda spring), and Te Umete o Turi (Turi’s foodbowl). The latter is a stone object a metre across, standing on a central column. Te Amura’a a Turi (Turi’s table), also made of stone, is an oval object a metre across and 70 cm wide. Hone Kaa and his party will mount an expedition to see these relics.
Ra`iatea’s greatest claim to fame was the international marae of Taputapuatea at Opoa. It consists of a paved courtyard with an ahu, a raised platform, at one end. The ahu contained the remains of Tangaroa, the first Polynesian to reach Ralatea around 200AD. He was deified and worshipped until he was displaced by the god Oro around 1100AD.
The marae was extremely tapu because of the human sacrifices made there to Oro over many centuries. Today bone fragments are continually thrown up by burrowing land crabs around the precincts of the marae.
The marae was used for the investiture of ariki from the surrounding islands of Polynesia. Periodically, delegations from as far afield as Rarotonga and the Marquesas met at Taputapuatea for cultural exchange, instruction and edification.
Taputapuatea is about 60 metres back from the shoreline. Right on the water’s edge are two small marae. On the left, facing out to sea, is the Marae Hauviri. According to Brotherson, this was a fisherman’s marae. The Tahu’a (priest) placed a stone image of Puna, the mother of fishes, on the ahu. After facing Puna inland, he then called fish to assemble at the passage into the lagoon about 1500 metres away, where the fishermen caught them. When enough tuna and bonito had been taken, Puna was faced out to sea and the fish dispersed.
According to one American informant, this ancient custom is still practised on the small island of Maupiti.
On the right hand side of Marae Hauviri is Marae Opu Teina. The latter is the only navigator’s marae in the whole of Polynesia. Navigators set out from this marae on voyages of discovery to all points of the compass, north to Hawaii, south-east to Easter Island, and south-west to New Zealand. If no land was found, they homed in on the marae.
The visitors from New Zealand will feel at home on Ralatea. Pateriki Rei, as the genealogist in the group, should be able to link up his whakapapa with many people on the island who still bear the name Turi.
On the landscape are many names familiar to New Zealand. They include Fa’aroa (Whangaroa), To`omaru (Tokomaru), Avamoa (Awamoa), and Nu’utere (Nukutere).