Story: Tangaroa – the sea

Page 4. Ruatepupuke and the origin of carving

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The story of the discovery of whakairo (wood carving) from under the sea is famous in Māori tradition. It tells of the imprisonment of Te Manuhauturuki, the son of Ruatepupuke. Te Manu was captured by Tangaroa, taken to his house deep in the ocean, and mounted on the gable. Ruatepupuke undertook the journey to find his son.

The following translation is from a version of the story recounted by Mohi Ruatapu and Hēnare Pōtae of the Ngāti Porou tribe:

This is the story of Ruatepupuke, who first made wood-carving known. The cause of his discovery was the going of his child, Te Manuhauturuki, to sail a boat. The child was captured by Tangaroa, taken to his home, and set up on the gable of his house as an image. When the child was missed, his father set forth to look for him … he went there, and so found the body of his child set up on the roof-gable of the house.
When Rua entered the house the carved posts were talking amongst themselves; he heard the posts talking, but those outside remained silent. He closed up all the interstices of the house … and when the sun had set, Tangaroa and his family arrived and sought repose within their house. There they amused themselves with posture-dancing, hand-clapping contests, cats’ cradle and other games, as is usual when many folk meet together … When day came the interior of the house was still in darkness …
By this time Ruatepupuke had come and taken a position in the porch of the house with his weapon at the ready … He set the house on fire, and the folk inside ran out; the first was Kanae (mullet) … then came Maroro (flying fish) … then came Kōkiri (trigger fish) … But most of Tangaroa’s children were destroyed … The carved posts of the outside of the house were taken away; some of those did not talk, and so it is that carved images of the present time do not have the power of speech. 1
  1. Translated from the Journal of the Polynesian Society 37 (1928): 261. › Back
How to cite this page:

Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Tangaroa – the sea - Ruatepupuke and the origin of carving', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 9 August 2020)

Story by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, published 12 Jun 2006