We knew the waters.
We knew them still. We knew them choppy from churning storms off in the distance; in waters that screamed death. We knew them as they bustled with life – teeming with it as fishes and dolphins leaped. We knew how the waters sparkled as the sun rose and set over the horizon. We knew how to spend nights on the waters, sleeping in canoes that gently rocked back and forth.
We knew because we had to learn.
The canoes huddled together. The People huddled together. Such is our wont, really. Even in these earliest times we still strength in each other. In adversity we stand. Inn trouble we seek solutions and answers. And this … this was a solution proposed to meet the trouble facing all of the People.
A solution proposed by one man.
“Rise, my friends! Rise! The day awaits!”
Kupe Nuku strolled onto the platform of the Tākitimu canoe with a swagger. With an abounding confidence and a great smile.
“Arise!” He repeated, his tā moko glinting in the early light, “We have work ahead of us!”
“By the spirits, does he ever stop?”
The voice came out as a whisper – a muttered groan. And Kupe would likely not even noticed it if not for a giggle and shove from Tahi, “Don’t be like that, you slow riser.”
Yeah, that caught Kupe’s attention.
The young man peered up at him from beneath the woolen blanket. His unadorned face was a testament to his cowardice and the great warrior Kupe Nuku was not amused. His eyes narrowed. “Do you have a problem getting up this early, pakeha?”
A snarl forced its way onto his face, and he opened his mouth.
“Wait, wait!” Tahi cut in, stepping in between the two men, “why don’t we all settle down?” She looked up at Kupe. Imploring without saying a word.
He blew out slowly then beamed, “I do have the others to see to, as well.” He nodded to the other man’s huddled form, “Sleep well, Mataro.”
As he left, Kupe heard it, a soft mutter on the wind.
“…that’s not my name.”
…he’ll pretend he didn’t hear that.
“Alright, how is my favorite whanau this morning?”
Unlike Mataro, Nguri sprang up to his feet instantly, “Morning, Chieftain.”
Kupe eyed Turi, as his wives, twin sisters of the Ngati hapu, and his children as they, too, began to stir.
“We are a long way from Hawaiki, brother.”
“And you shall rule in the land we claim as well – of that I have no doubt.”
Before he could reply to that a blur latched onto his leg, “Kupe!” He looked down with a small, fond smile. And Tai grinned back. “Tell me about Mutarangi!”
“Again?” He laughs as he picks up the little boy and spins him around, “You want to hear the story of Mutarangi and his fierce kraken, a mighty kaitiaki, again?” He keeps laughing. “I suppose I – ”
“I think we best should wait until nightfall.”
Kupe looked up to see Kiritokia approach, her younger twin sister trailing behind. She sounded confident and sure. But her sister just nodded, a slight motion of her head, and Kupe frowned.
Kupe did not know the Ngati sisters well, but the younger, whatever her name was, did seem to be dragged along by her elder twin.
Well, regardless, he turned to Tai and gripped his shoulder, “You heard your mothers. Get along now.”
“You spoil that boy rotten.”
“I tell him no more than he wants to hear.”
Turi cut in before Kupe could really get into an argument with his first wife. “He wants to be a warrior. He told me he wants to get his own tā moko soon.”
Kupe boomed out into a laugh, “Does he now?”
“No,” Kiritokia declared, “He’s far too young.
“We’ll see what the future holds,” Kupe says. He looks out over all the canoes, both those belonging to the nearby warriors, and his people – all (not just the handful) getting up to meet the day. It’s like two paths stretched out before them, and Kupe knew, just knew, that the future will be determined in these crucial days.
His voice rung out over the waters – calling to all.
“Long day ahead of us, friends! We go to the horizon! Where the sun kisses the sea!”
And we listen to him.
Among the people it is Tahi who sees it first.
“A cloud!” She screams. “A cloud!”
Kupe looks. Far off and distant it may be, but he still smiles. “No, land!”
The first thing we noticed upon arriving was that this land was not uninhabited. As our canoes landed, one after another, as we settled on a marshy shore to claim this land as our own wary eyes watched us from beneath the leaves of a nearby forest.
And that, that’s the second thing we noticed.
As we settled in our new home, dubbed Te Hokianga-Nui-A-Kupe or Hokianga or “The Place of Kupe’s great return” it’s presence impressed on us, incessantly, before we even surveyed the land and found out all Hokianga could offer the forest canopy loomed.
Tahi continued her early observation.
“A cloud.” She said, looking at the treetops. “A long white cloud”.
And such, this land became Aotearoa.
…But Kupe did not stay with us in the place set aside for his return.
Rather, he traveled north, with the warriors, and landed on foreign shores.
“Listen well, friends.” He said to them in the dying light. “We shall survey this land by traveling south then back again.” Kupe looked off to the distance, past the settlement that belong to the strange peoples of this land and to a hilltop, which crest’s was just visible. He pointed to it. “We shall start there. It will give us good visibility, before we have to circle around our base in exploration.” He looked at them. “Are you with me?”
Turi was there of course, but so was Rongo and Angi and Paikea.
And they spoke as one when they agreed.
So, off they went.
The journey itself was uneventful but at the destination…
There awaited others.
These others called themselves Bandarites or “The people of the City”, and they hailed from a place called Bandar Brunei. They were not like us. They did not have the markings of the tā moko (…as most pakehas did not to be honest) but were freshly washed. They bathed often in the river that snaked by their home. To Kupe and the other warriors the river was just visible – cutting through the murk at the edge of their vision.
“One day,” Kupe said as the outsiders left and he stood among his men, “We must go see that City.”
Or something like that.
They continued south. Southwest. They approached the long and narrow stretch of forestry that gave Aotearea its name.
Kupe eyed it, looked up and down it. He looked at the trunks, the leaves, the grasses and the foliage. He looked at it all, and he grinned. “Friends,” his tone held that same timbre that it housed on the canoes. Despite his words he did not speak to a squad of friends then. “Friends,” he repeated, “We go in.”