Te Erui Ariki

Timi Koro, Trans. by Drury Low

About twenty-six generations ago, on the island of Kuporu (Taha‘a) in a group called ‘Avaiki (Tahiti Nui), far to the north and east of Aitutaki, lived a young Maori ariki named Te Erui. He was the eldest son of the ariki, or supreme chief, of Kuporu. This island was not large, but it had a big lagoon, and the fishing there was good. This island was noted for its canoes, and the people of the island were in the habit of making voyages in them to other islands, some of which were close at hand, while others took some days to reach. Sometimes they stayed away on these visits for months at a time.

On all these voyages the young ariki Te Erui was the leader, and always took the steering-paddle of the leading canoe. On Kuporu he was recognized as the best of all the young canoe-men. He was strong and fearless, and skilled in the art of canoe-making.

On the island of Kuporu in normal seasons food was plentiful, but the island was becoming over-populated owing to a long reign of wise chiefs, who had put down all tribal fighting and had forbidden their young men to go raiding in their canoes to other islands. Soon after returning home from a long visit to a distant island, Te Erui asked permission of his father to build a new double-canoe for a long voyage to the south and west in search of new islands, as for many years there had been rumors of uninhabited land in that quarter. At first his father would not listen to this, fearing to lose his son, as well as doubting the existence of any such islands.

But as time went on and his son persisted, he at last gave his consent. But he made Te Erui promise to spend a specified number of days at sea in search of land, and to return to Kuporu if he failed to find land within the time limit.

If, on the other hand, he discovered a suitable uninhabited island, he was to return when rested to Kuporu and take back with him as many of his own people as could live on the new island. The ariki pointed out that Kuporu was already over-populated, and should a long drought occur, lfie would be hard for them. Te Erui readily promised to do all his father asked.

During the next few days a start was made on the new double-hulled canoe; two large tamanu trees were chosen as suitable for making the hulls. The felling of these two trees took over two weeks; it was done by heating stones and placing the red hot stones around the trunk of the tree at ground level; when the stones got cold they were replaced with fresh hot ones. The wood thus weakened, the trees were felled with stone adzes. The day the last tree fell was given over to resting and feasting, and the following day the shaping of the hulls began. All the men on the island skilled in canoe-making helped out. The work took over half a year. When at last the work were completed, all the island turned out and helped drag the logs down to the lagoon-side. Masts and sails were now made. This done, the canoe was tried out in the lagoon. Te Erui took the steering paddle and was pleased with her sailing and handling. He named his new canoe Viripo-moetakauri, and one of the masts he named Tuterangimarama; this class of double-canoe was called katea.

A meeting of all the island was then called by the old ariki to arrange for the gathering of food for the coming voyage. At this meeting the taunga (wise man) of the tribe warned Te Erui against starting on his voyage. Te Erui would not heed this warning, saying that it was he who was to steer the canoe and that he was not afraid. His father was also against his leaving. In vain they tried to persuade Te Erui to put off his voyage till later, but Te Erui would not listen and was in a hurry to be gone. Food was gathered and prepared-dried fish and dried paua (shell fish), kuru (bread fruit), taro, coconuts, and puraka (pig). The water was stored in bamboos, gourds, and also in coconuts.

When the provisions was ready, another meeting was called, and at this meeting Te Erui was made a high chief. He chose the men to go with him as his crew, among them his three younger brothers whose names were Matareka, Tavi, and Tava. The crew were all chosen for their strength and courage, as well as for their skill as canoe-men. Next morning the food and water were carefully stowed in the canoe, and the crew said farewells to all friends and relatives. The old ariki was overcome with grief. He told them all to remember their promises and not to disgrace him.

Sails were now set and the canoe headed for the passage; this passed, sails were trimmed and the canoe went before the wind, Te Erui took the steering paddle, and Matareka went up to the bow to act as pilot. The first day at sea the wind was strong and fair, and the canoe made good way, but in the night the wind grew stronger. When morning dawned the sun rose red and threatening, the sky was overcast, and the sea grew very rough. All morning the wind increased and the seas grew in size; by midday a gale was blowing. In the afternoon the wind increased even more, and the sea was still rougher. Fearing a hurricane, Te Erui’s brothers begged him to turn back before it was too late, but Te Erui would not agree, saying the canoe could weather the storm. Te Erui sailed on. Then late in the afternoon, a sudden gust of wind carried away one mast, and tore both sails. Te Erui now tried to save as much as possible of what was left of his sails. One broken mast was saved and lashed to the canoe, which was then brought head on into the wind. An attempt was made to paddle the canoe back to Kuporu. All night the brothers paddled, keeping the canoe head on to the seas. When morning dawned, the wind and sea began to diminish.

About mid-day the brothers commenced repairing the sails. The broken mast was lashed together again; short as it was, it served for the sail that was left. As darkness set in the sail was once more hoisted and the canoe started homeward. All night the brothers took turns at steering and sleeping. The morning dawned clear and the wind veered a little, enabling the canoe to make better headway. Seven days and nights were spent in this way, but as the weather was fine, Te Erui was sure of making landfall. On the eighth morning land was sighted, and they were soon close enough to discern that it was Kuporu. Late that afternoon the canoe was once more safely through the passage and soon reached the shore where all the people, having seen it approaching, had been waiting for some time.

The chief was overjoyed at seeing his sons again, and the canoe was quickly brought ashore. The four brothers were taken home and fed and made much of. Then a meeting of all the leading people was called. The taunga’s advice was sought, and he was asked why the canoe had met such bad weather and had been nearly lost. He told them that it was on account of the name Te Erui had given the canoe; the name of the masts were also wrong. The old ariki was very much against his sons going to sea again, but said that if they insisted he would have another new canoe made for them, hoping in this way to keep them with him for some time. Te Erui, however, would not agree, saying that his canoe had proven itself to be a good, strong sailing vessel. In this the taunga sided with Te Erui, saying that if he renamed the canoe and masts, the canoe would be safe and they would meet with no more bad weather at sea. Te Erui agreed, and the old ariki had to be satisfied.

Next morning everybody went to the beach where the taunga renamed the two hulls Rangi-pai-uta and Rangi-pai-tai; the two masts he named Tanaroa and Rongo after the two gods; the fore-stay for the mast he named Ikumanavenave-mua and the back-stay he named Ikumanavenave-muri; the wooden bailer he named Auaumarorenge, and the sail he named Ra. Three days were spent on the island while new sails were made and a new mast fitted. After the canoe was repaired, a new supply of food and water placed on board.

As before, all were there to see the voyagers depart. Again the four brothers took their places. Once more on reaching the sea, Te Erui took the steering paddle, and Matareka acted as pilot. This time the canoe met fair winds and good weather and the sea was smooth. Nine days and nights were spent at sea but early on the morning of the tenth day, land was sighted a little to the westward of the canoe. The course was altered to bring the land ahead. Late in the afternoon the canoe was close in to the reef and a number of small islands were seen, also a large lagoon, and a little further on the mainland. Te Erui kept the canoe close in to the reef, telling Matareka, who was acting pilot, to keep a good look out for a suitable passage into the lagoon, as he did not want to spend the night at sea.

Shortly after this, smoke was noticed coming from the island, though at first Te Erui and his brothers had thought the land uninhabited. The canoe sailed on round the island until they came to the northwest side where a good passage was noticed. Here Te Erui had the sails taken in and as these were being lowered, he and his brothers saw two men who appeared to be fishing on the reef. The canoe was paddled toward the passage, and was soon safe inside the lagoon.

One of the men fishing on the reef came over close to the canoe. He was Tupa, a son of Ru. Te Erui asked his permission to go ashore, but Tupa began to threaten Te Erui and refused to allow him to land. He told Te Erui that beyond was the open sea and he must turn his canoe about and go back and look for a land for himself. This made Te Erui very angry and he shouted, “You do not know to whom you are talking. I am Te Erui, an ariki from ‘Avaiki and a toa (warrior).” With that he leapt out of his canoe, which was still in shallow water near the reef, and taking hold of Tupa quickly killed him.

Just inside the passage they met the other fisherman, and again Te Erui asked permission to go ashore. This man’s name was Mokoroa. He also told them that he was a son of Ru, who owned the island, and that Te Erui and his brothers could not go ashore but must turn back and again put to sea and go in search of a land for themselves. This made Te Erui very angry, and to Mokoroa he shouted, “Don’t you know that I am Te Erui, an ariki from ‘Avaiki and a famous toa.” Then he jumped out of the canoe and killed Mokoroa also. When Mokoroa was dead Te Erui ripped out his stomach, and throwing the entrails into the harbor or passage, named the place Ngakau (“Entrails”). He then tore out Mokoroa’s tongue and threw it into the other side of the passage which he named Arero (“Tongue”). Taking Mokoroa’s body in the canoe, they paddled in towards shore, but Te Erui soon stopped the canoe, and cutting off one of Mokoroa’s legs, threw it into the lagoon. He named this place Te Turio-Mokoroa. To this day these names are still known and used.

Again the crew paddled toward shore and the place where they landed Te Erui named Kakeu-te-rangi. That night the brothers slept on the beach close to the canoe, fearing that they might be surprised and set upon for the killing of Tupa and Mokoroa.

Next morning on going a little way inland, Te Erui and his brothers could see no signs of people, houses, or clearings. They quickly set to work to get some food-crabs and shellfish from the lagoon.

After a meal, Te Erui and his brothers began to make Te Erui’s marae. A suitable place was chosen on a high piece of land close by. This work was called “au te marae,” or “marking off a piece of land.” As a rule the land was marked off with stones, and many of the bigger marae were paved with flat stones. These marae were used as places for praying to their gods, and for all important meetings, such as those conducted before wars, or battles, or fighting. Sometimes when a near relative was killed in battle, the enemy who had killed him would be a marked man. If this man were later killed by the victim’s friends and family, his head would be brought to the marae, and there eaten by them as a sign of their anger, and also with the idea of giving them added power and strength in future battles. The brothers completed the marae that day, and Te Erui named it Kakeu-te-rangi, which name it still bears.

That night the party returned to the beach and slept near their canoe. On the second morning they arose early, gathered some food, and made a hasty meal. Just as they were finishing it, a man was seen approaching from the beach. He came close and called out, telling them that he was a son of Ru, whose island this was, and asking who they were and whence they came.

Te Erui replied, “I am Te Erui, an ariki from ‘Avaiki and a famous toa. With me are my three brothers-Matareka, Tavi, and Tava-also men strong in battle.” Here Te Erui pointed to the canoe and said, “This is our canoe called Rangi-pai-ta, Rangi-pai-uta, and in it we came from our home in Kuporu, where our father is chief of all.”

To this Ru’s son answered, “I am named Utataki-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana and I am Ru’s first born son.” He then told them that he had come at his father’s request to take Te Erui and his brothers to Ru, who had heard of their arrival and waited for them at his house some distance away.

Te Erui told him to lead the way, and they would follow.

A short distance along the beach they turned off into the bush and soon arrived in sight of Ru’s home, which was built atop a small hill. Here the brothers met Ru with his four wives, and two daughters named Araau and Pitoroa. The brothers were quick to notice the absence of men, while there were many women. Ru made them welcome and had food placed before them. After the meal, Ru asked them who they were and whence they came. Te Erui answered him and in turn questioned Ru. Ru told them who he was, saying that he and his four brothers, named Taiteraiva, Taiteravaru, Rutakina, and Virituamaroa; his four wives, named Te Papa-kura, Ruiaau, Kipapa-eitara, Ararau-enua; and twenty virgins had arrived in a canoe named Nga-puariki from Tubuaki. Ru said, “I have only three sons, the first-born named Utataki-enua-o-Ru-ki-te-moana, the second Tupa, and the third Mokoroa.”

Te Erui replied, “You have only one son left. Two days ago Tupa and Mokoroa refused to allow us to come ashore, so I killed them.”

On hearing this, Ru and his wives were very much upset and Ru said, “If only I were your age, or if my brothers were still with me on the island, it would go hard with you and your brothers.”

Te Erui laughed: “Leave fighting and talk of fighting to younger and stronger men. I have yet to meet my equal in battle.”

Realizing that he was no match for the younger and stronger man, and that the island was big, and the women were in need of men, Ru decided not to seek revenge. Te Erui and his brothers stayed that night with Ru, but early next morning returned to the marae Kakeu-te-rangi and started to build their new homes nearby.

They remained at this place only about three months. After they chose a much more suitable site, they moved to it. Te Erui built a new marae and named it Aurupe-te-rangi, as it is still known today.

Having completed the marae, they started to build a small settlement at a place which Te Erui called Ureia, still known as such. Here Te Erui lived until the new houses were built and then to his two brothers Tavi and Tava he gave the new settlement, while he and Matareka moved to another place about a mile to the south. This was situated on higher ground and nearer to Ru’s settlement. Here he built another marae which he named Reureu-i-te-mata-o-Te Erui-ariki, meaning “This represents the eyes of Te Erui ariki.”

Soon after this, Te Erui took as his wife Ru’s daughter Pitoroa, who was very beautiful, and about the same time each of his three brothers married one of the royal virgins brought to Aitutaki by Ru.

By his wife Pitoroa, Te Erui had one child, a boy whom he named Taruia. Te Erui was now ariki of the island. As Ru was not of royal family, he was content to let Te Erui become ariki and do all the work. When Taruia had grown into a big boy and was old enough to go out fishing, his grandfather, Ru, slowly sickened and died. At his death the whole island was overcome with sorrow, as Ru was very much loved. His four wives were still alive.

When Taruia had grown into a young man, his father Te Erui was taken ill and died very suddenly, and on his death Taruia was made ariki. By this time the population of the island was increasing. All Te Erui’s brothers had large families. For the first few years of Taruia’s chieftainship things were quiet and peaceful, Taruia himself being a strong, quiet man.

One day word was brought to Taruia that another canoe had landed on the eastern side of the island, and only one man had come in it. Taruia asked who he was and whence he had come, but could learn very little about him beyond the fact that he was a young man, very tall, powerful, and handsome. He was living in a settlement named Vaitupa on the other side of the island.

Some years later one of Taruia’s people came running to him one day with a canoe made of coconut leaves, which he had picked up as it was sailing along in the lagoon close to the beach. He had never before seen anything like it. Taruia took it from him and examined it carefully, questioning the finder as to where it had come from. When given all the particulars, Taruia told those gathered about him that it was a sign that on the island was another ariki. “This,” he said, “is a sign from one ariki to another. Considering where it was found and the direction of the wind, it must have come from Ruatea. Go there quickly and if you find a strange man, bring him to me.”

The man at once set off and when he reached Ruatea, he found a strange man sitting down close to the beach. He told the stranger that he had been sent to bring him to Taruia and they returned together. Taruia then asked the stranger who he was, whence he came, and what he was doing on the island.

He replied, “I am Ruatapu, an ariki from Taputapuatea on the island of Ra‘iatea. I am on a voyage to visit new islands.”

This pleased Taruia, who insisted upon Ruatapu making his home with him, saying that the two ariki should live together. Taruia then called for food for Ruatapu, who agreed to live with Taruia.

[Ruatapu eventually usurped the rule of Utataki-enua-o-Ru (Aitutaki) from Taruia after tricking Taruia into leaving for Rarotonga. Taruia gathered a number of Rarotongan warriors and sailed back to Utataki-enua-o-Ru, but was defeated in battle and driven away by Ruatapu and his supporters. (See the story of Ruatapu for an account of these events.)]

The few of Taruia’s followers who were left with him in his canoe then ceased fighting, and Taruia headed his canoe northward. They sailed on, eventually reaching an island named Mangarongaro (Penrhyn, about 600 miles north of Aitutaki). This voyage, even with good weather all the way, took nearly three weeks, and they arrived there very weak and exhausted for want of food. The passage they sailed through from the sea into the lagoon Taruia named after himself, Taruia-ariki, still known by that name to-day.

On reaching the shore Taruia and his followers were welcomed by the people of Mangarongaro and were kindly treated. Here they remained. Taruia took as a wife a woman named Rakoa by whom he had a child, a boy named Ruatitau, who, when he became a man married a woman named Toua. Two children were born to them, the first a boy named Uaapu, the second a boy named Roaina.

When Uaapu grew up, he had a canoe built for himself and when it was finished, he had it loaded with food and water. He then set out alone for the land of his fathers, Utataki-enua-o-Ru. He struck good weather during part of the voyage, good winds and smooth seas, but when about halfway he ran into heavy rain squalls which lasted two days. Fifteen days Uaapu spent at sea before reaching Utataki-enua-o-Ru. On his arrival he was met by a number of people, and when he told them who he was and where he had come from, he was made welcome by his own relatives and taken to live with them in the settlement of Reureute-mata-o-Te Erui. Here he was treated as one of themselves. Not yet was he given any rank of standing or importance owing to his being of mixed blood.

Soon after arriving, Uaapu took as a wife, a woman named Auariki, and they had a son whom they named Uri. He, in turn, when he grew to manhood, married a woman named Utiki. They had a son whom they named Ranginui. Now Ranginui’s mother, Utiki, was of the royal family, and at her death it was decided to make Ranginui ariki of Reureu as he was really of the royal family on both sides. After many meetings and much talk Ranginui was eventually elected Te Urukura-ariki, he being the first of that line to be so elected. At the present time the family are still ariki (supreme chiefs or chiefesses) of Reureu, a woman, Teurukura-ariki, being the head of her race today. (The marae made by Te Erui and named by him Reureu-i-te-mata-o-Te Erui-ariki was very well made, and can still easily be traced. Some of the stone seats are also still to be seen.)


The story of Te Erui Ariki was recorded by Drury Low from the words of Timi Koro (See notes to the story of Ru.). This account of Te Erui Ariki was published in Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 43, 1934, pp. 72-84. Another account is found in “The First Inhabitants of Aitutaki” by John Pakoti (translated by Henry Nicholas), in Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 4, 1895, pp. 66-67.