The story of Kupe and Te Wheke is a Maori legend, passed down through time. Maori stories, legends and myths form the basis of Maori beliefs, and are told by teachers, tribal leaders and parents. These Maori legends are passed on from one generation to the next through storytelling and song.

Maori Stories and Legends

Maori Stories and Legends | Kupe and Te Wheke | He Ika A Maui | Maui and Tieke

The Maori Story of Kupe and Te Wheke

The story of Te Wheke
as told by Michael Elkington

When stories where told to us we were always encouraged to seek out other versions, to gain an understanding, or see the events from another point-of-view. This is one such story.

A long time ago in far away Hawaikii, a Tohunga (a magic man) named Muturangi, sat brooding, thinking of his revenge upon the villagers who had banished him to the far and lonely side of the island.

Muturangi was one day by the water when he came across a wheke (octopus) feeding in the shallows. Quickly using his powers, he charmed the creature and became its master.

Muturangi would send Te Wheke, the octopus, out to catch fish and bring them back for him to eat. One day he had an idea, and told Te Wheke "go to where the villagers set their fishing nets, and take the fish that are caught in their nets, it will be easier than having to catch the fish yourself".

Even with plenty of food, and revenge on the villagers, Muturangi was still unhappy and continued to brood.

The fishermen returned to the village without any fish at all, but worse, the nets had all been damaged, some now useless beyond repair.

"Who is taking our fish" cried one fisherman, "my net, it's ruined" said another. The fishermen where confused so they went to find Kupe, a very respected Maori warrior to ask him what it meant.

"I will go fishing, and see what is destroying our nets and taking our fish" said Kupe. Travelling in his Waka (canoe), Kupe was upon the fishing grounds as te Ra, the sun, slowly rose to start his new journey.

Setting his net, Kupe lay in wait. Only a short time had passed when he noticed a disturbance in the water and then slowly became aware of the presence of magic.

Muturangi! - And he was using this Wheke to wreck the villagers nets and feed himself!

Kupe struck Te Wheke with his Taiaha (a long club) and a great battle ensued, Kupe was very strong and as fast as the fastest wind, his fighting skill was famous but Te Wheke had eight arms and was quick also.

On they fought, on and on, striking, blocking, spinning out of the way, again and again, sometimes the eye unable to track what was happening, arms and Taiaha spinning everywhere.

This great struggle moved across Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, the great ocean of Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean), till Kupe managed to bring Te Wheke to Te Tau Ihu (the Northern part of the South Island) and with greater effort began to land more blows against Te Wheke.

Great gouges were carved out of the land and the sea rushed-into these gouges during the titanic struggle, till Te Wheke began to weaken, and tire.

Realising his doom Te Wheke became more and more desperate to get away, the motion of his many arms backing away caused great boulders to be churned up in a long line.

Kupe could sense victory.

Leaping into the air Kupe brought all his weight to bear and delivered the mortal blow with such force that Te Wheke was killed outright, splitting him into two.

When Te Wheke was split his eyes landed in other parts of the Te Tau Ihu region. When they landed they turned to rock, one of the rocks is next to Arapawa Island in the Tori Channel and it is said to be bad luck to gaze upon the "eye of the octopus" if you are a first time traveller on the Raukawa Moana (the Cook Strait). The other eye landed at Ngawhatu, a small valley at the back of Stoke.

The full name of the valley is Nga Whatu o Te Wheke o Muturangi (The Eyes of The Octopus Of Muturangi).

Both rocks/eyes have been studied and neither are geologically compatible with their surroundings, their composition is not natural to the areas they're in.

Today, the gouges that were carved in the land by Te Wheke are named the Marlborough Sounds, and the churned up boulders were how the Nelson Boulder Banks were formed. The Ngawhatu valley (located behind Stoke, Nelson) was so named due to the hills that were formed by the body of Te Wheke being split in two.

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