In days following the launch preparations gathered pace. People began to say their goodbyes and important items for the voyage and subsequent settlement were moved towards the beach. Voyaging time, was nigh, and they would leave soon. The best time for voyaging was November to February, when the wind was most reliable and the sky was clear. A long voyage would be started at the beginning of the season.
There was a lot to take. Of course, they needed food and water for the voyage, but they also had to prepare for survival in a new land.
The men would have taken whatever tools they had; knives, adzes, hatchets, chisels, drills and hammers, and things that would help them catch food; spears, fishing lines, hooks and lures. They would use these on the journey as well as when they arrived.
They also took plants to cultivate on their arrival. We don’t know exactly what they took, we only know of the ones that succeeded in New Zealand; Gourd, Kumara, Taro, Yam, and Aute (Paper Mulberry). We know that they also brought dogs with them, as dog bones are found in archaeological excavations, and their pelts made the most valued cloaks… which still exist. It is inconceivable that they did not also bring pigs and chickens; the only large source of meat in East Polynesia. But when Cook arrived in New Zealand he noted the complete absence of domesticated animals, seeing only dogs and rats.
The men and women that would go on the voyage had been carefully chosen. In the new land they would create a new population, so they must not all come from one family, or the population would fail. The Kurahaupo carried people originating from more than one island. They were selected to include a wide range of unrelated people, and encompass all important skills and knowledge. Their personal skills, and those of their Tohunga would encompass knowledge of; the Gods and ritual, their oral history, navigation, astronomy, horticulture, fishing, sailing, hunting, healing, meteorology, wood working and stone working.
The last piece of cargo loaded prior to setting sail was their Gods. For a safe voyage, their Gods would go with them. The Kurahaupo carried ‘papa-tatau’; a sacred inscribed stone, and icons representing three deities; Ruamano, Tunuiateika and Maru.
Diary. Leaving home.
“Today was finally it… ‘the’ day.
The Kurahaupo sat on her anchor in the lagoon. We have been busy for days collecting things together; packing, and then loading. We ferried everything out in the canoes and then we sat on board… and waited.
Everyone was tense and quiet, even the animals were quiet. We’ve all been looking forward to this for a long time, but the goodbyes were awful… mothers, sisters, grandparents, friends and family. The lines of people saying their last few words moved oh, so slowly… some were inconsolable.
As we waited on the final preparations we could still hear the wailing on the beach. The reality of what we were about to do hit home hard.
At last, the Gods were brought out. Mahonga, our Tohunga, took charge of them for the voyage. We have four icons with us; Raumano, the shark will protect us on the ocean and Maru will provide us with water.
Then, when the Gods were properly secured in their positions, it was time. The men moved to their thwarts and took up the paddles. The steersmen took their places, the anchor was lifted and we moved out of the lagoon.
Past the reef we sailed around the island until the markers lined up, showing us our course for Rarotonga. There we turned. The Kurahaupo picked up speed, and the island slowly drifted away from us. The motion of the boat changed from the bouncy chop of the inshore waters to the slow roll of the ocean.
Without the chanting of the paddlers the boat fell into a reflective silence. Water sloshing past the hulls, and the occasional cluck from the chickens were the only sounds. No-one wanted to talk.
At sunset we could still just see the flat top of Mt Temehani, then as the first guiding star of the night came up over the horizon, our island slipped away into the darkness.
I don’t expect to ever see it again, or the family I have left behind.
May the Gods be kind to us…”
We don’t know exactly which island the Kurahaupo originally set out from. It is remembered as leaving from ‘Hawai-iki’, which isn’t the name of a single island; rather it means ‘homeland’. Hawai-iki could have been an Island in the French Polynesian Tahiti group, or in the Marquesa’s group; we don’t know for certain. We do know however that the Kurahaupo finally left from Rangiatea, 200 km to the west-north-west of Tahiti. From Rangiatea, the Kurahaupo sailed to Rarotonga.
Rangiatea to Rarotonga is just over 1,000 km. That’s further than the distance between London and Rome, and apart from a couple of Islands close to their destination, it is all open and featureless ocean. However, this would not have been an alarming journey for the crew of the Kurahaupo. They had been on the ocean since they were born, and they knew this route well. Even if they hadn’t personally made this journey before, they knew others that had. Certainly, some aboard the Kurahaupo would have traveled this route before.
On leaving they would pass through the reef break, then follow it around to the South until the correct course markers came into sight. These markers were two features, one behind the other, that, when lined up, indicated the precise direction that they must sail to reach Rarotonga. They would follow this line for as long as the markers remained visible. Once these markers fell out of sight they were entirely in the hands of the navigator, who would then direct their passage using only the sun and stars.
James Cook was intrigued by the Polynesians ability to sail long distances without any assistance from what he regarded as essential navigational aids. On leaving French Polynesia in 1769 he recorded this about the navigation of the people of ‘Ulietea’ (aka ‘Rangiatea’, where the Kurahaupo sailed from);
“…from all the accounts we can learn, these people sail in those Seas from Island to Island for several hundred Leagues, the Sun serving them for a Compass by day, and the Moon and Stars by night. When this comes to be proved, we shall be no longer at a loss to know how the Islands lying in those Seas came to be peopled; for if the inhabitants of Ulietea have been at Islands laying 2 or 300 Leagues to the Westward of them, it cannot be doubted but that the inhabitants of those Western Islands may have been at others as far to Westward of them, and so we may trace them from Island to Island quite to the East Indies.”
[A ‘league’ is about 5 ½ km, or 3 ½ miles; 100 leagues is about 550 km, or 350 miles]
Cook showed remarkable insight; Polynesia was populated by seafarers originating from South East Asia.
The Kurahaupo sailed west, 180 leagues.
Depending on the weather it would have taken about 10 days for the Kurahaupo to reach Rarotonga. The return leg, back to Rangiatea, and into the wind, took about 30 days, but the crew of the Kurahaupo weren’t going back.
Nothing is remembered of the journey to Rarotonga, but they would most likely have stopped at either Mitiaro or Mauke, depending on how far north or south their course ran. Here they could refresh their water before continuing; an essential prudence on long voyages.
From Rarotonga they would take a route that none of them had sailed before. This route was not only new to them, it was very, very long.
The leg to Rarotonga was 1,000 km and familiar.
The remaining 3,000 km to New Zealand was out into the unknown.