Koro, Trans. by Drury Low
About twenty-eight generations ago
our people lived on Tubuaki,1 an island far to the east and north of
[Southern Cook Islands]. The island was fertile and fishing was good, but
during dry seasons food was scarce, and long-continued peace resulted in
the island becoming over-crowded. The name of the ariki has been forgotten;
he was a strong man but slow to anger. Among his people was a powerful young
man named Ru, who was the chief navigator of the island, and always steered
the canoes when visits were made to neighbouring islands. For generations
his family had been navigators. Although not of royal blood, Ru was a man
of good standing. He was a peace-loving man, but ambitious of becoming a
leader, and viewed with concern the quickly-increasing population of the
Moved by a quarrel over headship of his clan, Ru began to make plans.
He decided to build a large seaworthy canoe and call together his friends
and relations to try to persuade enough of them to join him in searching
for an uninhabited island somewhere toward the setting sun. He felt sure
he would find land there and become a great chief. So Ru called together
his four younger brothers-Taiteraiva, Taiteravaru, Ruatakina, and Verituamaroa-and
asked them to go with him. At first the brothers were afraid and would not
agree, saying, "Why leave our present home where life is carefree and
happy, to die at sea?"
Ru replied, "That is woman's talk. I know the ways of the sea. I
know the winds and the currents. Fear not, and I will take you to a larger
and better land than this."
In the end the brothers agreed to go, saying, "If we live, we live;
if we die, we die."
Ru now proposed to his four wives, Te
Papa-kura, Ruiaau, Kipapa-eitara,
and Ararau-enua, that they should leave their island. Being only recently
married, and having as yet borne no children, they were afraid and answered,
"We are afraid that we shall all be drowned at sea. Why leave our friends
and relatives just to perish at sea?"
Ru replied, "I might have known that you women would prefer to stay
at home and see your future children hungry. Don't you know that I hold
the sea and its ways in my hand, and the heavens are my chart? Listen to
me, my wives, I am going, together with my four younger brothers. Join us
and all will be well. Stay at home and you stay alone in disgrace."
After hastily taking council together, the four wives agreed to go, saying,
"O Ru, we will go. If we die, we die; if we live, we live."
Ru replied, "My wives, you are worthy of a great husband. Now go
into all the settlements and pick from the royal families twenty tapairu
(good-looking young virgins), fit mothers for a new and strong race."
Going into the settlements his wives called out, "Who are the virgins
of royal blood who would like to join our party?"
"For what purpose?" they were asked.
"We are going with our husband,
Ru, and his four brothers to seek
a new land."
Twenty suitable young women were soon chosen from those who wished to
go. Unlike Ru's brothers and wives they raised no objections to the journey.
Their names were as follows: Vaine-pururangi, Maine-teaoroa, Vovoaru, Arakitera,
Te Aroitau, Te Nonoioiva, Tutunoa, Vaine-moana, Upoko-ara, Patapairu, Pau,
Tuonoariki, Te Paku-oavaiki, Ruanoo, Arekaponga, Kava, Maine-pirouru, Tutapuiva,
Pakiara, and Maine-pururangi. These twenty women, chosen for virtue, strength,
and good looks, were brought before Ru who asked them, "Do you agree
to go with us in search of a new land and home? We may be many days at sea,
but will certainly find a home to suit us."
All together they answered him, "Yes, we wish to go."
A search was then made for two large tamanu trees suitable for a canoe
for the voyage. The making of this canoe was a lengthy process. for the
trees had to be felled and hewn out with stone adzes. When finished to Ru's
satisfaction, the two hulls were hauled down to the beach and lashed together
with no platform between them. This type of canoe was called "unurua."
The day was spent in feasting and rejoicing. Ru named the canoe Ngapuariki
(The two ariki, or supreme chiefs). It is not known whether this name was
given on account of the ariki of the island and Ru, or whether it referred
to the two hulls lashed together. After the launching, each brother and
virgin was ordered to cut a strong paddle for use on the voyage. These paddles
took three days to make, and when completed, they were examined by Ru.
Some further days were spent training for the coming voyage. The canoe
and the mat-sails were tested, and much time was spent handling and paddling
the canoe until the crew were proficient. For two days friends and relatives
assisted in gathering enough food for the voyage. Taro, puraka (pig), kuru
(breadfruit), and a large supply of water were put on board. All record
of how the water was carried has been lost. Some say it was carried in coconuts.
The next morning, the wind being
favourable, Ru decided to set sail.
The whole island came to say farewell to the twenty-nine voyagers. The reef
was cleared, the sails were hoisted, and the canoe was headed toward the
west, Ru taking the steering oar, and his brother Verituamaroa standing
at the bow as pilot. Though conditions were favorable for the first two
days, the women were sick as soon as the canoe was out of sight of the land.
On the third day heavy clouds banked up, the wind, which had changed round,
now blew strongly from the west, and the sea was so rough that the women
and men had to take turns bailing the canoe; she was riding heavily owing
to the hulls being new and deeply laden. As the wind grew stronger and the
sea became rougher, Verituamaroa grew frightened and advised Ru to turn
back and run for home before the wind. But Ru heartened them by saying that
it was only a passing squall. Soon they were all pleading with him to turn
back, but he answered, "Listen, my brothers, my wives, and all you
virgins: I, Ru, know all the secrets of the sea. I hold the sea in my hand,
and will bring you all through safely. Don't be afraid. Put down the sail
and paddle the canoe head into the seas. Soon the worst will be over. Oe
te vaka, oe te vaka."
As soon as the sails were lowered, the canoe began to lose way and huge
waves broke over her keeping all busy bailing. Through all the noise and
wailing, Ru could be heard laughing and encouraging his crew the night through.
When morning broke, even Ru was a little afraid for a terrific sea was running.
So tired were his people that it was almost impossible to keep the canoe
head on to the sea. Again and again they begged Ru to turn back, but still
he kept on. At last one of the brothers persuaded him to pray to Tangaroa
for help, and this is what he said:
Tangaroa, supreme above,
Tangaroa, supreme below,
Sweep away these angry clouds,
So that Ru's people can reach the land.
[Tangaroa i te
Tangaroa i te Tata
Eu eu ake ana te rangi,
Kia tae atu te tere o Ru ki uta i te enua.]
Soon the wind began to abate, and the sea grew calmer. Ru's brothers,
noting the change, persuaded him to pray again. It was not long before the
sun came out and the wind swung round to the right quarter. The water was
bailed out, the sails were set, and the canoe was put on a westerly course.
Favourable weather continued for the next two days. Each night Ru checked
his course by a star. On the third afternoon after the storm Verituamaroa,
who was still at the bow of the canoe, cried out that he could see land
ahead. Some thought that he might be deceived by a bank of clouds, but soon
the voyagers could see breakers on a reef. All now gazed eagerly at the
new land. After a search, a suitable passage was found, the sails were taken
down, and the women were ordered to paddle the canoe in. Night was coming
on, but there was a full moon (ootu). Half way through the passage the canoe
was stranded on a coral patch, and all had to get out to haul her off. As
they pulled, they sang a song asking for the waves to come and float the
canoe. The song is still sung today by the old people when they launch their
The canoe still stuck fast and it was impossible to move it, so the brothers
were sent to a small island nearby to cut down some ara (pandanus trees)
for rollers. The canoe came off the rocks with a rush, and Veri who was
near the bows was crushed underneath as the canoe passed right over him.
The others ran to help him but he was dead. They carried his body to the
canoe, which was now inside the lagoon, and they wailed as they did so.
After dragging the canoe over a sand-bank, they paddled to a small island
about two miles from the mainland where they decided to spend the night.
Because of Veri's death, the voyagers got little sleep that night.
Early next morning, before they started, Ru called his crew together
and named the places they had so far touched at; the passage he named Ootu-te-po,
meaning "the night of the full moon"; the rocks on which the canoe
grounded he called Popo-ara, referring to the timber used as rollers; the
small island from which the timber had been cut was named Ootu, while the
one on which they had spent the night was called Uritua-o-Ru. The brothers
took exception to Ru adding his own name to the latter, but he answered,
"You have no say in the naming of these places. I am the eldest son
and will name the places as I think fit."
The canoe set out for the mainland, the women paddling, but progress
was slow owing to the shallow water. Even when everybody was out of the
canoe it was found necessary to send the women on ahead to dig a channel
with their paddles. The task was a difflcult one, and as they were already
tired Ru was compelled to give them several rests before the canoe was once
more in deep water. Once more the brothers were offended because Ru named
the water Tai-moana-o-Ru, and the big island to which he was bringing them
Utataki-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana, meaning "a land searched for and found
upon the sea by Ru."2 They assured Ru that had they known this
happen they would never have left their land.
As they paddled for the mainland they kept time to a song about the voyage
of Ru's canoe Ngapuariki from Hawaiki to Aitutaki:
Ngapuariki te vaka o Ru
Tei tere mai mei Avaiki e
Ko Ngapuariki te vaka o Ru
Tei tere mai mei Avaiki e
I tere tu mai ki konei
Na te vaka o Ru-enua i katiri mai
To tatou enua.
This song, which is known as Ru's Canoe-song, is still sung today.
The canoe was hidden in a small creek on the mainland, and the name given
to the place was Maitai. The creek was named Vai-tiare ("the water
of tiare flowers"). Leaving the others behind Ru climbed a hill nearby
looking for a suitable place to build a new home. After they had buried Veri, they marked off a marae which they named Te
Autapu. A marae is a place
marked off with stones to be used for all meetings and for praying to their
gods. The setting up of a marae by a chief was usually done with much ceremony,
but as Ru was not of the royal family, the ceremony of dedicating Te Autapu
was not elaborate. Near the marae they built their first houses. Finding
the island uninhabited, Ru divided it among the twenty virgins, as they
were of royal blood and consequently had first claim to the land. Ru told
them that they were as mats on the floor, as other canoes were bound to
come sooner or later bringing men with them. On these mats the men would
sleep, and from them this new land would be populated. As the island appeared
to be shaped like a big fish he named the end on which they landed Te Upoko-o-te-enua
(The head of the land), the middle Tuenua (The belly), and the end Nuku-manini.
After they had been some time on the island, Ru's four wives bore children.
Ararau-enua bore the first one, a boy, which Ru named Ararau-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana,
meaning "Ru looking for land on the sea." Te Papa-kura had a baby
boy who was named Te-upoko-o-te-enua, meaning "The head of the land."
Ruiaau's baby girl was named Araau, and the fourth, a baby boy, was named
Some time later Ru's brothers came to him and asked him to help them
build a big canoe, saying that they wanted to go and look for new islands.
At first Ru would not agree to this, but when they promised to return he
decided to help them. When finished, the canoe was named Te Rito-o-araura
(The best of Ututaki-enua). A large supply of food and water was placed
on board and when they were ready to sail, Ru asked them to tell him why
they really wished to leave this land.
"Ru, the night we arrived here," they said, "our youngest
brother was killed on the reef. You have named nothing here after him to
keep his name in our memories. You have named nothing after us. You have
taken all the power into your own hands. You have given all the land to
the women and none to us. This land is yours, and so we are going to seek
a fresh land for ourselves."
Ru realized his mistake too late. He pleaded with them to return. They
promised that either they or their children would return. Then the canoe
set sail for the open sea, where an argument took place as to the course
they should set. Two were in favour of returning to their old home, but
Taiteraiva, the eldest, pointed out that if they reached that land they
would be no better off and would not be men of rank. They decided to go
south. Little is known of the voyage except that the first land they sighted
was New Zealand. Off the coast of New Zealand they struck bad weather and
suffered much from cold. It is believed that they landed near Tauranga and
proceeded inland to Rotorua, where they were well received and kindly treated
by the natives they found living there. It is claimed in Aitutaki that Taiteraiva
named Rotorua, naming it so on account of the lake reminding them of the
lagoon at Ututaki-enua, which was known as Rototai (roto = lake; tai, ta'i,
or tahi = first; rua = second).
The brothers married women belonging to the ruling families and thus
became men of rank and standing. It is believed that their descendants are
to be found among the Ngati Arawa [the Arawa clan] today. The three brothers
never returned to Ututaki-enua, but it is claimed here that a canoe came
later from New Zealand bringing their sons or grandsons, who settled here,
and it was from them that the story of the voyage of the Te Rito-o-araura
was learnt. Their names and the name of their canoe have been lost.
The places named by Ru still have the same names today, with the exception
of the name of the island, which is supposed to have been changed by the
first Ra'iatean missionaries to whom the word Ututaki sounded as
Aitutaki. Ru's marae can still be seen, and the passage, the coral patch
upon which the canoe grounded, the sand-banks, and the small islands, are
exactly as described in the story.
All the mataipo (district chiefs) today can trace their descent back
to the twenty royal virgins who came with Ru, but the ariki trace their
descent back to an ariki, or chief, named Ruatapu who came later in the
third canoe to arrive on the island.
The story of Ru was recorded by Drury Low from the words of Timi Koro,
of Ureia settlement, who died at Aitutaki on November 3, 1933. Timi Koro
was tumu korero of Aitutaki. This traditional account was published in Journal
of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 43, 1934, pp. 17-24.
1. An island called Tubuai lies southeast of
Aitutaki in the Australs.
An island named Tubuai-manu lies E by N of Aitutaki", just west of
Mo'orea in Tahiti Nui (Society Islands); it is perhaps to this second Tubuai
that the storyteller names as the home island of Ru. However, Peter H. Buck
says that Ru came from Havai'i (Ra'iatea), which is located 500 miles
E by N of Aitutaki (101).
2. The island to which Ru sailed is now called
Aitutaki. Te Rangi Hiroa
(Peter H. Buck) interprets the original name in another way: "[The
name] Utataki-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana was derived from utauta, a cargo, and
taki, to lead. It refers to Ru leading the valuable human cargo over the
sea. Another name given to the island is Ararau-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana. 'Ararau'
is 'to search for land at sea with a canoe,' and the name applied to the
island refers to Ru's search on the ocean. The first name was shortened
to Aitutaki, and the second to Araura. 'Araura' should be spelt 'Arahura,'
and it is difficult to see how it is connected with 'ararau.' The meaning
of 'ararau' is significant of a period when many voyages of discovery were
undertaken." (The Material Culture of the Cook Islands, Honolulu: Bishop
Museum, 1927, p. xix).