Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 59 (June 1967)
– 43 –

NGA-IWI-O-AOTEA

To those bleak cliffs set in an icy sea,
Which even sea-birds shun, Ui's canoe
Drove swiftly in. The slimy weed which grew
Amid the breakers crashing endlessly
Clutched at them vainly as they ran aground
And dragged the vessel up. Beyond the reach
Of the seething undertow each looked to each,
Silent and apprehensive. Ranged around
The gaunt crags loomed, in a glowering demon-world
Of flying spume… Then proudly Ui spoke:
“Now is the ocean ours. It owns our sway
From this grim coast to where the blue waves curled
Sparkling on our paddles as they broke.
Let others follow; we have led the way.”

—G. L. Pearce

This poem is based on an ancient legend that a Polynesian chief, Ui-te-Rangiora, voyaged southward from Fiji about 650 A.D. in a canoe Nga-Iwi-o-Aotea.

During the course of the voyage he is said to have seen many wonders—a foggy, dark place not seen by the sun, bare rocks that grow out of the sea and reach the skies, a sea covered with pia (which is interpreted as scraped arrowroot), a deceitful animal which lives in great depths, and a woman of the sea whose hair floats on the waves.

These descriptions appear to refer to icebergs, floe-ice, seals or sea-elephants, and floating kelp, and it has been suggested that Polynesians reached Antarctic waters. This was doubted by Sir Peter Buck, but references to ice-bergs and floe-ice need not necessarily imply an Antarctic visit, for there is an area east of the Chatham Islands where floating ice is often sighted in the latitude of Wellington.

Other possible explanations are that Ui-te-Rangiora visited the South Island Fiords or even went further south as far as the Auckland or Antipodes Islands.

Some colour is lent to this last suggestion by a discovery on Antipodes Island in 1886. A fragment of pottery, similar to early Polynesian work and apparently part of a bowl, was found there about 2ft. 6in. below the surface. It is now in the Dominion Museum.

– 44 –