Volume 26 1917 > Volume 26, No. 3 > Some place names of islands of the Society Group, by Elsdon Best, p 111-115
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IN traditions preserved by the Maori folk of New Zealand we note a considerable number of place names pertaining to the homes of their ancestors in the far off isles of Polynesia. Some of these names have merely been preserved by oral tradition, while others have been applied to places in New Zealand. In locating such names of places in Polynesian isles we can probably assist to some extent in settling the question as to the islands from which the ancestors of the Maori migrated when they passed down the long sea roads to settle on the shores of New Zealand.

A number of natives of the Society Group have of late been passing through Wellington en route for the training camps of New Caledonia, as also others returning home from the Solomon Isles, where they have been employed as divers for pearl shell for two years. Among other information obtained from these natives is included a number of place names, some of which are well-known New Zealand place names, and some are mentioned in tradition as the homes of Maori ancestors who left them to settle here.

The change that has taken place in the dialect of the Society Isles since the ancestors of the New Zealand Maori left those parts twenty to thirty generations ago, is marked chiefly by the dropping of the k and ng sounds, their place being supplied by a little catch or break in the voice. Thus one notes a remarkable succession of vowels in some words. Tangata has become ta'ata, but a word like kangakanga would be resolved into a'aa'a. Again wh seems to have been replaced by f or h or r, thus a word like whakakakau in New Zealand Maori would appear as fa'a'a'au and whakaakaaka as fa'aa'aa'a. If this progress is still continuing, it would be of interest to know what period of time must elapse before the Tahitian alphabet is composed of the lone letter ‘a.

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Local Name. Maori Dialect of New Zealand.
Waima-tuhi-ra'i Waima-tuhi-rangi. In Maori tradition the home of Nga-Toto, father-in-law of Turi, who came to New Zealand in charge of the ‘Aotea’ canoe. Name located in New Zealand at Hokianga.
Ti'irau Tikirau. A place name on East Coast of North Island of New Zealand.
Fa'ara Whangara. In Maori tradition the house of Tamatea, a chief who came to New Zealand in the ‘Takitimu’ canoe. Name of a place on East Coast, North Island of New Zealand.
Titira'i Titirangi. In Maori tradition the pa or village of Tamatea at Whangara. Several old fortified hill villages so named on East Coast of North Island of New Zealand. One at Uawa, another at Te Wairoa.
Pu'e-hapopo (a hill near the shore) Puke-hapopo. In Maori tradition a hill at or near Whangara, whence people watched canoe races.
Pi'opi'o-i-hiti Pikopiko-i-whiti. In Maori tradition a place at or near Whangara where canoe races were held, etc. 1
Fa'ape Whangape. A place so named north of Auckland, New Zealand. Fa'a denotes a valley at Tahaa island. The Maori whanga is used to denote an expanse or space of land, water or air.
Murifenua Muriwhenua. Name of Northern extremity of North Auckland peninsula. Said to have been named by Tamatea.
Ra'aihi'uroa Rakai-hikuroa. A place name at Poverty Bay, New Zealand. Also the name of a great grandson of Tamatea of ‘Takitimu’ canoe.
To'ahotu Tokahotu? A small isle at Tahaa.
Motue'a Motueka. A small isle at Tahaa. A place mame, Nelson district, New Zealand.
Ta'a'a Takaka. A small isle at Tahaa. A place name, Nelson district, New Zealand.
1   It is now tolerably clear from Miss Teuira Henry's researches that there is a place of this name at Tahiti also, and that it refers to the enclosed waters within the reef. Such also is the description by Whatahoro of New Zealand.—Editor.
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Arahura Arahura. A small isle at Tahaa. A place name and river, West Coast, South Island, N.Z.
Maui-mua Maui-mua.
Maui-pae Maui-pae
Maui-roto Maui-roto
Maui ti'iti'i i te ra'i Maui tikitiki i te rangi. Four small isles at Tahaa. Two isles named Maui mentioned in Maori tradition. 2
Ra'itoto Rangitoto. A small isle at Tahaa (also a hill name). Name of D'Urville Island, Cook Strait, New Zealand. 3
Fa'arei Whangarei. Cf. Whangarei, North Auckland district.
Fa'ape Whangape. See above, under Tahaa.
Taputapu-atea Taputapu-atea. A marae in Opoa district. Preserved in Maori tradition.
2   We think, however, that the two islands named Maui in Maori tradition refer to the Maui Island of Hawaii, and to one of the lesser islands off its coast.—Editor.
3   When the Maoris gave the name Rangitoto to D'Urville island one of them said, “This reminds me of my home in Hawaiki,” also called Rangitoto, and hence the name of D'Urville Island.—Editor.

The order in which the place names of Tahaa, including those mentioned in the Tamatea legend, occur is as follows:—

  • Fa'apiti (Whangarua or Whakarua).
  • Fa'ara (Whangara)
  • Titira'i (Titirangi).
  • Hurepiti (Hurerua).
  • Pu'e-hapopo (Puke-hapopo).
  • Pi'opi'o-i-hiti (Pikopiko-i-whiti)
  • Tiamahana (? Tikamahana).
  • Tautau (an islet)

These names occur in the above order as one walks along the beach. Two more names bring us to Waione; the next is Fa'ape, next but one is Pu'eheru (Pukeheru), the next Murifenua (Muri-whenua). The word piti (two) has taken the place of rua in the Tahitian dialect.

In addition to those names given above, a number of others are also found in New Zealand. Fa'anui (Whanganui) is at Porapora Island, as also are Hitia'a (Whitianga), Motu-tapu, Pahua, Te Waitapu, Ta'iha'a (Tangihanga), etc.

Perhaps the most interesting item of information obtained from these natives was the statement made by one man that the principal - 114 atua or god of their local pantheon in past times was known as Io i te vahi naro (Io of the hidden place), with which name may be compared that of Io mata ngaro (Io of the hidden face), the supreme god of the Maori folk of New Zealand. Inasmuch as this name and conception have caused doubt in certain minds that attribute them to missionary influence or teaching, it follows that Tahitians must have invented practically the same name for a newly discovered supreme being, or that there has been collusion between Maori and Tahitian in a pious fraud. On the other hand these curious theories may be quite wrong, and Io a genuine blue blooded atua from time immemorial, whose name was brought hither by the Maori with those of Tane, Tangaroa, and other gods. We know that missionary teachings have influenced the Maori, and that the present day native may mix native with Christian myths, but no Bible teaching resembles the old Maori account of the cult of Io.

At Motue'a (Motueka) islet at Tahaa Island was the abode of a dread monster known as Ai-fa'arua'i (Kai-whakaruaki in Maori), a destroyer of mankind. Here we have the Maori myth of the taniwha or monster Kai-whakaruaki, who destroyed the people of Takaka and Motueka, in the Nelson district of New Zealand. This story has been brought from Eastern Polynesia and localized in the Nelson district. See “Journal of the Polynesian Society,” Vol. III., p. 16.

These islanders know the name of Upe (Maori Kupe) as that of a remote ancestor, but could not give a line of descent from him. A man of one of the northern isles, a descendent of Upe, and bearing the same name, died some years ago.

Another interesting place name mentioned by the natives was that of Mānā, at Ra'iatea Island (the Rangiatea of Maori tradition). This name is pronounced with both vowels long, as the name of Mānā Island in Cook Strait appears in some old Maori MSS.

Fa'aroa Maori Whangaroa
Fa'arei Maori Whangarei

There are two inlets or harbours at Ra'iatea, the names of which appear as bay names on our North Island coasts. Fa'aparaoa, Maori Whangaparaoa is at Tahiti, Aora'i (Aorangi) and Hi'ura'i (Hikurangi) appears in several parts of our North Island as hill and mountain names, and Mt. Cook is known to the Maori as Aorangi.

A number of places in New Zealand have the words mai Tawhiti (from Tawhiti) attached to their names, as Te Kawakawa-mai-Tawhiti and Te Mahia-mai-Tawhiti. The latter has special mention in Maori tradition, wherein it is stated that when the immigrants in the ‘Takitimu’ canoe left Muriwhenua, in the far north, they came down the east coast seeking Te Mahia-mai-Tawhiti. They passed Te Ika a Tauira, saw Waikawa and Kahutara loom up; then Ruawharo stood up, and said, “Here is Te Mahia.” As they drew in to the land, - 115 Nukutaurua stretched outwards. They landed and examined the place, which did not closely resemble Te Mahia (of Hawaiki), but they settled there and, opening the parcel of gravel they had brought from across the ocean, they poured it out at Te Mahia-mai-Tawhiti. They performed all the ceremonies they had been taught, and, next morn, a whale had drifted ashore. Their mother had said to them, “At the place where a whale shall drift ashore, at that place you two must dwell.” It is of interest to note that, according to Maori tradition, Nukutaurua was formerly an island. 1

A lengthy list might be compiled of Society Island place names that appear in New Zealand, but what is needed is a local correspondent there who has a fair knowledge of Maori traditions. Much interesting matter might yet be collected, especially, perhaps, in the northern isles of the Group.

[The name Tahaa in Maori would be Tahanga. It is Taanga in Rarotongan. Its ancient name was Anupe, whilst those of Porapora were Fa'anui and Vavao. The ancient names of Ra'iatea were Ioretea and Havaii, whilst the whole of the Society Group (excluding Tahiti) was named in ancient times Te Aotea. The whole Group (including Tahiti) was anciently called Tahuhu.

Many more names in this Group will be found identified with those in Maori traditions in the book “Hawaiki,” and in “Reports of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science” for 1891 and 1898.—Editor.]

1   Which is most clearly born out by the physical features of the place. The former strait is now filled with low sand hills. It is here the great rift extending from Wellington passes out to sea.—Editor.