TUPAIA IN AOTEAROA
Keith Vincent Smith
At 2 p.m on 8 October 1769 a 12-year-old cabin boy named Nicholas Young shouts ‘Land’ from the masthead of HM Bark Endeavour. James Cook names it ‘Young Nick’s Head’. The English ship has reached the north island of the country named New Zealand in 1642 by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who never attempted a landing.
Next morning the ship sails into an open bay and anchors off the mouth of a small river, the Turanganui, near present Gisborne. Cook goes ashore without Tupaia.
The coxswain fires twice over the heads of ‘natives’ who threaten four ship’s boys guarding a yawl. The third shot kills Te Maro, a Ngāti Oneone leader who is probably making a ceremonial challenge which the Europeans think is an attack.
Joseph Banks writes :
The native was shot through the heart. He was a middling-sized man, tattowed on one cheek only in spiral lines very regularly formed. He was covered with a fine cloth of a manufacture totally new to us … His hair was also tied in a knot on the top of his head, but with no feather stuck in it. His complexion was brown, but not very dark.
After his experience in the Polynesian islands Cook intends to barter iron goods for food and water. He takes Tupaia and a troop of red coated armed marines with him when he lands the next day.
A hostile group of Maori assemble on the far side of the river, heavily armed with lances, spears and pata (stone clubs). They perform a haka, poking out their tongues in defiance. Tupaia calls out in Tahitian and finds that he is able to understand them, as ship’s surgeon William Monkhouse recounts.
We found they understood his language. A long conversation ensued, which seemd to consist on their part of inquirys whence we came, of complaining that we had killed one of their people, and of many expressions of doubt of our friendship – their pronunciation was very guttural, however Tupia understood them …
One brave Maori swims across the river and greets Cook with a hongi (pressing noses). Soon a crowd around the strangers attempt to snatch their weapons and Joseph Banks wounds a man with small shot when he seizes a ‘hanger’ or short sword from astronomer Charles Green. Te Rakau, a powerful chief of the Rongowhakaata, is killed by a musket ball fired by Surgeon Monkhouse, while others are wounded.
Later that day Endeavour crewmen open fire on a waka (canoe), intending to capture the men on board to gain their friendship. Four Māori are killed during this incident and three youths are captured, taken on the ship, fed and given gifts, but later landed ashore.
In the six months it will take to chart the two islands of Aotearoa, Tupaia becomes a vital interpreter and negotiator between the English and the Maori, who revere him as a tohunga or high priest from their ancestral homeland Hawaiki.
HM Bark Endeavour sails out of the bay on Thursday 12 October. Cook names Tūranganui-a-Kiwa ‘Poverty Bay’ because ‘it afforded no one thing we wanted’.
In two days and 14 hours Cook’s crew have shot and killed six Maori warriors and wounded many more.
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020