About twenty-eight generations ago our people lived on Tubuaki, an island far to the east and north of Aitutaki [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 island.
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 Titi,
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 canoe.
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 would 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 Tupa.
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.