Cecilia Kapua Lindo: The Spirit of 'Ohana and the Polynesian Voyagers (1980)
Herb Kawainui Kāne: Children of the Long Canoe (1996)
Sam Low: Sea of Islands (2000)
Dennis Kawaharada: Voyaging Chiefs of Kāne‘ohe Bay (1999)
Polynesian Migration and Voyaging Stories, edited by Dennis Kawaharada
Introduction, Voyaging Chiefs of Havai'i, with a Bibliography (1994)
Ru and Hina – Tahiti
Hiro – Tahiti
Tafa‘i – Tahiti
Tangiia and Tutapu – Tahiti
Rata – Tuamotu
Aka – Marquesas Islands
Pepeiu – Marquesas Islands
Ru – Cook Islands
Te Erui Ariki – Cook Islands
Ruatapu – Cook Islands
Hawai‘iloa – Hawai‘i
Mo‘ikeha – Hawai‘i
Pa‘ao – Hawai‘i
Wahanui – Hawai‘i
Kupe – Aotearoa
Hotu Matua – Rapanui
Dennis Kawaharada: The Discovery and Settlement of Polynesia (1999)
Dr. Harold St. John and Kuaika Jendrusch: Plants Introduced to Hawai’i by the Ancestors of the Hawaiians (1980)

Hotu Matua

Summarized from a version published in Thomas S. Barthel’s The Eighth Land: The Polynesian Settlement of Easter Island (Honolulu: University of Hawaii 1978)

In Hiva, Hau Maka had a dream in which his spirit traveled to a far country, looking for a new residence for his king Hotu.1 His spirit arrived at three small islands (Motu Nui, Motu Iti, Motu Kao-kao) and a big hole (the volcanic crater of Rano Kau) on the southwest corner of Te Pito O Te Kainga. The spirit traveled counter-clockwise around the island, naming twenty-eight places including Anakena (an anchorage on the north coast of the island and future residence of the king); Papa o Pea (where young princes would be raised), and Ahu Akapu (where the abdicated king would live). When Hau Maka awoke he told his brother Hua Tava about the dream. The island was the eighth, or last, island in the dim twilight of the rising sun. He named the island “Te Pito O Te Kainga A Hau Maka” (“The Little Piece of Land of Hau Maka”). Hua Tava told his brother to tell king Hotu Matua of the new land.

After hearing about the dream, Hotu Matua ordered Hau Maka to send some young men to explore the island. Hotu Matua told his two sons Ira (the first born) and Raparenga, and Hua Tava’s five sons-Kuukuu, Ringiringi, Nonoma, Uure, and Makoi-to build a canoe and search for the island of Hau Maka’s dream. He gave them the directions to the island:

i lunga (upwind; i.e., southeastly, into the southeast tradewinds)
e tau (it juts out)
e revareva ro a (as a permanent contour)
i roto i te raa (in the midst of the [rising] sun)
He told them that there were three islets and a big hole, also a long and beautiful road. So the seven men left in a canoe stocked with yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, and other foods. The canoe was named Oraora-ngaru (“Saved from the waves”), or Te Oraora-miro (“The pieces of milo wood lashed together”). They left on the 25th day of Vaitu Nui (April) and arrived on the 1st day of Maro (June), a voyage of five weeks.2 The explorers found the three islets and the big hole. They sailed on to Hanga Te Pau, where they landed. Makoi was placed in charge of marking and naming the land. Kuukuu was placed in charge of farming. On the tenth day of Maro (June), they climbed the slopes of Rano Kau. Kuukuu planted the yams.

On the fifth day of Anakena (July), the explorers began to go around the island counterclock-wise, starting with the south coast. They followed the footsteps of Hau Maka’s dream soul and named the places as Hau Maka had named them. When fish swarmed near shore at Hanga-o-honu (Bay of Turtles, on the north coast), they caught the fish with their hands and tossed them ashore. They cooked and ate the fish there.

When they were near Anakena, Ira saw a turtle and tried to lift it, but it was too heavy for him; Raparenga tried and failed. Kuukuu tried and lifted the turtle off the ground, but it struck him and broke his spine. The turtle, which was a spirit (kuhane), swam back to Hiva. Kuukuu was taken to a nearby cave on the plain of Oromanga. He begged the others not to leave him, but his companions departed after piling six stones outside the cave to take their places and to keep Kuukuu company. Kuukuu died in the cave.

The explorers went to the west side of the island and discovered a surfing spot. They rode a wave to the right and called the place where they landed Hanga Roa; they rode a wave to the left and landed at Apina Iti. They rode a third wave in and landed by Hanga O Rio. They caught more waves, then went ashore and rested in a cave at Pu Pakakina.

Ira sent the other explorers surfing so he and his brother Raparenga could secretly place some stone figures Ira had brought from Hiva. While the others were surfing, Ira set up three stone figures with necklaces of mother-of-pearl shell. The shining necklaces could be seen from the ocean: the shells of Ruhi Hepii when a surfer rode a wave to the right, the shells of Pu when a surfer rode the wave to the left, and the shells of Hinariru when the surfer went straight ahead.

Ira sent Makoi around the island to name places with names from the homeland of Hiva. [Sixty place names are given.] After this was done, Ira taught Makoi string figures and the secret content of the figures.

A man named Nga Tavake, who had preceded the explorers onto the island, then appeared, and the six explorers told him, “This is a bad land, for when we planted yams, grass grew up instead.” Then they all went to the yam plantation planted by Kuukuu and weeded it.

Ira taught the secret of the shells necklaces and directions to his brother Raparenga; Uure overheard their conversation and tricked Ira into giving the secret to his brother Makoi.

Ira, Raparenga, Uure, Nonoma, and Ringiringi left Te Pito O Te Kainga on the twenty-fifth day of Tangaora Uri (October) to return to Hiva. Makoi remained on Te Pito O Te Kainga. As the canoe left, Makoi chanted the directions back to the island: “There are eight islands. Te Pito O Te Kainga is the eighth. Once it has been lost, it cannot be found again! Ruhi to the right, Pu to the left, necklace around the figure of Hinariru at Papa O Rae straight ahead!”3

King Hotu Matua ruled Hiva after his father Matua. During Matua’s reign, a group of people called the Hanau Eepe came and took one side of the island from the Hanau Momoko, the people whom Matua ruled. Then the Hanau Eepe tried to move the border to gain more territory. They were captured and imprisoned. In the meantime, Matua told his son Hotu Matua to launch a canoe and immigrate to Te Pito O Te Kainga because a rising tide was destroying their land.

Hotu ordered his assistants Teke and Oti to get plants and animals to take with them on their voyage. The two men gathered banana shoots, taro seedlings, sugarcane, yam, sweet potatoes, hau trees, paper mulberry trees, sandalwood trees, toromiro trees, ferns, rushes, yellow roots, tavari plants, moss, and ngaoho plants, along with birds, pigs, and chickens.

Matua reminded Hotu to take along flies as well, since the number of human beings depended on the number of flies. He told Hotu to take the Hanau Eepe prisoners as well to farm the land.

Hotu then ordered his master canoe builder Nuku Kehu to launch the double-hulled canoe that had been built for the voyage. The canoe sailed on the second day of Hora Nui (September) and arrived at the southwest corner of Te Pito O Te Kainga on the fifteenth day of Tangaroa Uri (October)-a six-week voyage.

In the morning, when the explorers awoke [earlier it was said the explorers had returned to Hiva], two canoes were seen approaching the southwestern tip of the island, off Motu Nui. The canoes were bound together into a double canoe, but as they came near the land the lashings which united them were cut. One boat named “Oteka” carried Hotu Matua and his wife, Vakai-a-hiva; the other boat, named “Oua,” carried Hineriru and his wife, Ava Rei Pua.4

Raparenga signaled with leaves to the voyagers the following message: “The land is bad; yams won’t grow because of the weeds.” Hotu Matua told Tuki to signal back that Hiva was also a bad land, as the rising tide of the ocean was ruining it. Raparenga then signaled to the voyagers that if they sailed to the right (east), they should stay way out or they would be pushed into the cliffs.

The two canoes traveled in different directions around the island. Hotu Matua went around the southern and eastern coasts of the island. Five fishing grounds were established through the mana of a man named Honga. Hineriru went around the western and northern coasts of the island; nine fishing grounds were established through the mana of Teke, who had been transferred to that canoe. Hotu wanted to be the first to reach Anakena (an anchorage on the north side of the island, where the royal residence would be established). When he saw the other vessel approaching, he ordered a spell chanted, which made his own boat go fast and Hineriru’s go slow. Two more fishing grounds were established near Anakena.

The canoe of Hotu Matua landed first at the cove. A son named Tuu Maheke was born there to Vakai and Hotu Matua. Hineriru was a man of intelligence, and wrote rongo-rongo (native script) on paper he brought with him. Among those who came in the canoes was the ariki (chief) Tuu Ko Ihu, the maker of the wooden images; two of his sons and two grandsons have given their names to four subdivisions of the Miru clan.

On the other canoe, a daughter named Ava Rei Pua Poki was born to Hineriru and Ava Rei Pua (identified as a queen, perhaps the younger sister Hotu Matua). Vaka, “the master in charge of tying the umbilical cord,” performed the rite for Tuu Maheke and then for Ava Rei Pua Poki. The canoes were then brought ashore and taken apart so the wood could be used to make houses. After Nuku Keku (the master canoe builder) finished the houses, seedlings were distributed to the settlers. Then Hotu Matua told Teke to take the Hanau Eepe and settle them in a suitable place where they would farm the land. Teke took them to Poike, on the southeastern end of the island, and told them “Settle here, work, and keep peace among yourselves!” Iko (“Insect”) was installed as the king of the Hanau Eepe.

Among Hotu Matua’s company there was a concealed passenger whose name was Oroi; he was an enemy of Hotu, who had killed some of Hotu’s children in Hiva, and had hidden himself on board the migration canoe. He got on shore at Anakena without anyone having guessed at his presence.

One day the five children of a man named Roro went to bathe at Ovahe (a small cove east of Anakena), and as they lay on a rock in the sea, Oroi came from behind and killed them by thrusting a lobster spine up their anuses and pulling out their intestines.5

When the children did not return, the father said to the mother, “Where are the children?”

The mother said, “On the rock.”

But when Roro went to look, the rock was covered with water, for it was high tide; by and by when the water went down, he saw the five children were dead.

Roro then told Hotu Matua: “Oroi, that bad man, is here, for he has killed my children.”

Now Hotu Matua went to see his adopted daughter Veri Hina, who was married and who lived at Mahatua (past Ovahe on the north coast). Oroi put a noose in his path and tried to catch his foot in it, but Hotu avoided it by stepping to one side.

When he had finished his visit to his adopted daughter, he said to her and her husband, “Follow me and watch above me. If the sooty terns circle high above me, I will live; if the terns dive down on me, I have been killed.” As he returned, he saw that the noose was still on the path, and he knew his enemy was hidden behind the rock. Terns circled high above him. This time Hotu Matua intentionally stepped on the noose and fell, and when Oroi came at him with a bone knife, he killed Oroi with a spell – “Spin! Spin! Fall down! Fall down! Die!” Then he called to his adopted daughter and son-in-law to see that Oroi was dead. When, however, they put the corpse in the oven to cook it, it came to life again, so they had to take it over to the other side of the island to an ahu called Oroi, and there the corpse cooked quite satisfactorily, and they ate it.

Hotu Matua lived in Oromanga, in a house called Hare Tupa Tuu. One day when Hotu’s first born son Tuu Maheke was fifteen, Rovi, his food preparer, went to catch eel as a side dish (inaki) for sweet potatoes; he stayed away overnight. Tuu Maheke’s mother had gone to dig up and cook the sweet potatoes for him. Tuu Maheke began to cry. After a while Hotu Matua got a headache and shouted, “Be quiet, you bastard! You crybaby!” Then he left. When Vakai came home, she noticed the swollen eyes of her son and asked why he was crying. He told her what his father had shouted at him. After cooking the sweet potatoes for her son, Vakai went to the house of Hotu Matu and told him “Tuu Maheke is not a bastard! You are a bastard! Your real father was Tai A Mahia! Kokiri Tuu Hongohongo was your foster father.” Hotu Matua replied, “Why didn’t you tell me this back in Hiva, our homeland?”

Hotu Matua moved a short distance away and built a house called Hare Pu Rangi. A month later, Vakai came to live with him. They conceived another boy, named Miru. Hotu moved again and built a house called Hare Moa Viviri; Vakai followed him. Another boy was born, named Tuu A Hotu Iti; then another son was born, named Hotu Iti A Hotu. Hotu moved again, to Hare Moa Tataka, and Vakai followed. Another son was born, named Tuu Rano Kau.

After the last son was born, Hotu and Vakai moved to Te Ngao o Te Honu. Vakai died. Her corpse was carried to Akahanga and buried there. Hotu Matua moved here and there until finally settling at Akahanga. After a year he moved to Rano Kau, where he lived on the south side of the crater, opposite Orongo. His last task was to fit two stones together. Then he went into his house and laid down. His children came and received his final blessings. Then he arose and went to Orongo to announce his death. He looked in the direction of his homeland, Hiva, and called out to his guardian spirits Kuihi and Kuaha: “Let the voice of the rooster of Ariana crow softly. The stem with many roots (i.e., himself) is entering!” Then he fell down and died.

His children carried him on a litter to Akahanga, where he was buried in Hare o Ava. Later his eldest son, Tuu Maheke, cut off the head, dried and cleaned it, painted it yellow, wrapped it in tapa, and hid it in a stone crevice. A man named Ure Honu found the skull while weeding his banana plantation. A rat (Hotu Matua’s spirit) had led him to the hole where the skull was hidden.

When Ure Honu built a new house at Vai Mata, he hung the skull in it. At the feast for the new house, King Tuu Ko Ihu saw the skull and exclaimed: “Here are the teeth that ate turtles and pigs in Hiva!” He stole the skull and buried it under a stone near his house. Ure Honu discovered the theft; his foster son told him who had stolen it. Angry, Ure Honu gathered his men and went to the King’s house. They tore down a wall looking for the skull, but found nothing. They searched outside, digging up the ground. The king was sitting on the stone under which the skull was buried. Ure Honu’s men lifted the king off the stone, looked under it, and found the skull. Ure Honu was satisfied and took the skull back home.


This story of Hotu Matua is summarized from a version published in Thomas S. Barthel’s The Eighth Land: The Polynesian Settlement of Easter Island (Honolulu: University of Hawaii 1978; originally published in German in 1974). The story is much more detailed than here presented; see the publication for the complete text. Other versions are found in W.J. Thomson’s “Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island” in Report of the United States National Museum 1889 (Washington D.C.: 1891, pp. 447-552); Katherine Routledge’s The Mystery of Easter Island (London: 1919; pp. 277-280); and Alfred Metraux’s Ethnology of Easter Island (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1971, pp. 55-75; originally published in 1940). According to the Barthel account, the ancestors of the natives of Te Pito O Te Kainga (“A Little Piece of Land”, later called Rapa Nui by other Polynesians and Easter Island by Europeans) came from two places known as Marae Renga and Marae Tohio in a land called Maori (“Land of the Native People”), or Hiva (“Black”; perhaps a reference to the basalt of volcanic islands, perhaps Mangareva; Hiva was a Polynesian name for the Marquesas Islands).

1. Hau Maka had tattooed Hotu, and had “received from him in return a present of mother-of-pearl which had been given to Hotu’s father by an individual called Tuhu-patoea. Tuhu had seen that the men who went down to get pearls were eaten by a big fish, so he invented a net by which the precious shell could be obtained without risk, and the pearl so procured he had presented to his chief, Ko Riri.” (Routledge 277-8). Routledge gives a different reason for the migration: on Hiva, at the death of the chief Ko Riu-i-ka-atea, “a struggle for supremacy arose between his two sons, Ko Te Ira-kaatea and Hotu Matua, in which Hotu was defeated” (277).

2. During May, in the southern hemisphere winter, westerlies blow 32-33 percent of the time, allowing sailing canoes to travel in an easterly direction. (See Ben Finney’s “Voyaging and Isolation in Rapa Nui Prehistory.”)

3. According to Barthel, the ornaments may represent star bearings back to the homeland. Or the figures could be markings used for backsighting when leaving the islands; or markings used as alignments for safe entry into the bay (96).

4. These two groups later came into conflict; “the short ears,” descended from Hotu Matua and Vakai-a-hiva, settled the western end of the island; “the long ears,” descended from Hineriru and Ava Rei Pua, settled the eastern end of the island (Routledge 281).

5. This unusual method of killing was used in the Marquesas Islands (See E.S.C. Handy’s work on the Marquesas.)