Te Paepae o Te Rātū: He whāinga takahanga waewae nō tuawhakarere

The threshold of Te Rātū: a pursuit of footprints from the distant past: The Collision Narrative

Na Tanith Wirihana Te Waitohioterangi

This work was undertaken by Tanith Wirihana Te Waitohioterangi as part of an internship set up between the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and Tairāwhiti iwi, after discussions at the Tuia 250 commemorations, and sponsored by the Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust.

We did not feel that the standard peer review and amendment process was appropriate for the narrative and so we asked three leading scholars in the area to provide commentary (summarised below) and the author has presented the work to the iwi and hapū involved in the incidents described.

We present the work here as completed by the author, accompanied by the commentaries.

Tanith at Te Hau ki Tūranga

Report abstract

Te Paepae o Te Rātū: He whāinga takahanga waewae nō tuawhakarere. The threshold of Te Rātū: a pursuit of footprints from the distant past: The Collision Narrative

Na Tanith Wirihana Te Waitohioterangi

The primary focus of this internship project has been to establish the provenance of Rongowhakaata taonga collected by Lt. James Cook and the crew of the HMS Bark Endeavour during its journey of discovery from 1768 – 1771.

This internship project presents evidence to support Rongowhakaata’s claims to taonga, in particular, a set of hoe kōwhaiwhai (painted paddles), which were presented to Cook and the Endeavour crew. There has been a significant miscarriage of due diligence and failure to consult or engage with Rongowhakaata in this matter. The descendants of Rongowhakaata have been completely ignored and overlooked by researchers and historians, who have chosen to exclude Rongowhakaata from the conversation and instead privilege or encourage other iwi’s stories and claims. This has resulted in the creation of not only an exclusionary orthodox perspective but a false narrative. Because the knowledge and substance of these stories belong to their hapū, Rongowhakaata oral historians have refrained from providing an iwi perspective to date. However, to resist the colonisation by the pen and being written out of our own story, this internship project establishes Rongowhakaata’s narrative and the extent to which the iwi was involved during the arrival of Cook. It reveals that significant aspects of the Cook collision have been misrepresented by scholars who believed it was unnecessary to consult with Rongowhakaata.

Determining the provenance of taonga, in particular the hoe kowhaiwhai presented to the Endeavour crew, has required a close examination of the context, and events of the collision with Cook. This has included textual analysis and comparison of primary, secondary, and tertiary literary sources. Locating Rongowhakaata ancestors who were present during the collision has involved reconciliation with whakapapa, and carvings in wharenui. This also includes the whakapapa of the Tūranga artistic styles practised and distributed from the Hāmokorau whare wānanga by the Ngāti Kaipoho hapū. To locate the artistic styles the taonga belong to has involved a comparison between present wharenui built by Rongowhakaata during the nineteenth century, which illustrates the similarity, and degree of change between the artistic eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

To date, no attempt has been made in the decolonisation of time for the events of the Cook collision. This internship project locates the events of the Cook collision within the maramataka lunar calendar; utilising months recorded by Tairāwhiti tohunga for 1769. To determine the specific lunar phase for the dates of the collision provided by the Endeavour crew, these dates have been reconciled with algorithmic data from the United States Naval Observatory and NASA to determine the precise lunar phase.

Summary of commentaries


Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond

Māori Studies and Anthropology, University of Auckland

This internship project does not aim to retell the story of Lt. James Cook ‘from the deck of the Endeavour, but from the people of the land.’  The narrative is powerful, and compelling.

As a descendant of those involved in the collisions with the Endeavour party in Tūranga-nui, Te Waitohioterangi draws upon an unrivalled wealth of ancestral accounts, taken from a wide range of sources – oral narratives passed down in whānau and hapū, Native Land Court records, Māori and local newspapers.

As a result, he has identified many local participants in those early exchanges and illuminated their relationships one with another, alliances and conflicts alike, in far greater depth and detail than any previous accounts of these meetings (including my own).

Evidence from the Endeavour logs and journals and secondary sources is also closely examined.  Like Rongowhakaata’s video in their exhibition at Te Papa Tongarewa, the narrative closely echoes the details in the primary sources. It is a fine example of the insights to be gained when different scholarly trajectories intersect, and are skilfully interwoven.

Another innovation is the use of local maramataka (moon cycles) to locate these encounters in ancestral space and time, alongside Western chronology. As Te Waitohioterangi notes, given local variations in the maramataka used to guide fishing, planting, harvesting wild foods and many other activities, this is a challenging task, handled here with exemplary care.

Te Waitohioterangi’s narrative casts new light on the early encounters in Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa, eloquently conveying the hurt and harm that was inflicted, then and since, and showing how expertise in wānanga can illuminate the past, and create new narratives that in many respects are more insightful than their predecessors.

This is a gift that deserves warm recognition. As they say, ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi  – set the old net aside, let the new net go fishing.  New benchmarks are being set for cross-cultural scholarship, and that is a brilliant achievement.

Download Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond’s full commentary (PDF, 172KB)


Professor Paul Moon

Te Ara Poutama, Faculty of Māori & Indigenous Development, AUT University

This review has been written to assist those interested in the accuracy of this report by providing an expert opinion on the historical statements that it contains, and the positions it advocates based on those statements.

Te Paepae o Te Rātū: He whāinga takahanga waewae nō tuawhakarere offers an imaginative interpretation of the encounter between James Cook and some of the Endeavour’s crew, and members of Rongowhakaata in October 1769 – one that illustrates how a surviving oral history can contrast with a series of written eyewitness accounts. Although the detail in this oral history is relatively slender and selective, it is generally interpreted in this report as the primary source possessing any authority on the encounter. And although no evidence or analysis is provided in support of the claims that the written accounts of several of the eyewitnesses to this event are lacking in substance, their evidentiary value is nonetheless substantially diminished throughout this report.

Disagreements among historians on the interpretation of extant evidence, the significance of that evidence, and its relationship with other evidence, are common features in academic history-writing. However, the parameters of such disagreements are fairly well-defined, and it is within these that debates about events are usually carried out. The author of this report, though, seems unaware of some of the accepted elements of the history he addresses. Thus, what appears to be asserted as a fact or a valid interpretation or historiographical re-evaluation of a past event is sometimes instead a claim that falls outside the range within which historical disagreements occur.

Errors can also appear in historical work, but these tend to be minor (such as immaterially mistaken dates), or less frequently, moderate (such as the error omission or misreading of a source). The most serious errors are those which involve a substantial misrepresentation of an event (or the significance of that event), the omission of sources or perspectives that would lend greater balance to the topic being addressed, the tendentious use of evidence, the use of false contingencies, or the conflation of opinion or ideology with historical fact.

Download Professor Paul Moon’s full commentary (PDF, 204KB)


Dr Arini Loader

Senior Lecturer in Māori History, Victoria University of Wellington

‘Te Paepae o te Rātū: He whāinga takahanga waewae nō tuawhakarere’ ia [sic] a refershing read for a bracing day. I unreservedly recommend the publication and wider distribution of this report. The author, Te Waitohioterangi, lays out an all too often underrepresented perspective on James Cook’s arrival and interactions with tangata whenua, first peoples of Aotearoa; finally, a perspective not only from the shore but formed and birthed of the whenua itself reflecting the complexity and fullness of Māori life worlds. The finer details including the arresting pencil sketch on the coverpage and the puna kōrero, the strength-giving words of Rev Tawehi Wirihana on the inside cover coalesce with the intricate structural integrity of the report itself mapped by maramataka, aligned with the phases of the moon, its tides and influence. The pain of reading the contents of this report was eased by its overlaying on the cyclic surety of the maramataka. Ka takoto te aroha indeed. Framing is everything in an ill world where Māori and New Zealand lives in general have been defined for so long by Pākehā, where Cook & Co saw ‘poverty’ in a land of plenty, and where legitimate attempts to communicate were met with aggression, and the present day pervasiveness of white aggression against black and brown bodies in Aotearoa New Zealand world lives healthily on. This report contains salient lessons for all New Zealanders, causes for lament, sources of shame, moments of pride and perhaps most importantly a call for serious reflection, growth and intellectual development.

Download Dr Arini Loader’s full commentary (PDF, 55KB)


Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust

Watch a discussion of the report in the video-format Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust 2022 Annual Report (the author presents from 16.20 to 17.03)

Last updated: 15 December 2022