KA TITO AU Kupe’s Heroic Journey

Te Papa Tongarewa, Te Marae, Cable Street, Wellington

24/02/2018 - 04/02/2018

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2018

Production Details


Kupe, the great Pacific explorer and navigator, is the hero of this lively, lyrical solo show by treasured local poet and storyteller Apirana Taylor.

Legend has it that Kupe discovered Aotearoa after pursuing Te Wheke-a-Muturangi, a giant octopus that was endangering his people’s fishing grounds in the Pacific. Be enchanted by the exhilarating tale of Kupe’s many exploits.

A masterful piece of storytelling, Ka Tito Au is a Kupe Dreaming event and part of A Waka Odyssey, the Festival’s celebration of our shared voyaging past and Pacific future. Download the A Waka Odyssey flyer to plan your journey.

See it for free at Te Papa or as part of its tour of the Wellington region.

Follow A Waka Odyssey online. Join our fleet of Pacific sailing waka and their heroic crew on an adventure of a lifetime, across the Pacific Ocean and around Aotearoa. Sign up for Festival email updates and become part of the story.

Te Marae, Te Papa
Saturday 24 Feb: 11:00am
Saturday 03 Mar: 1:30pm
Sunday 04 Mar: 1:30pm
Recommended for ages 8+


Theatre , Family ,

50 mins

May it have the long life it deserves

Review by John Smythe 03rd Mar 2018

If you went to the KUPE Opening Night event and want a greater insight into that intrepid explorer, you have one more chance* to see KA TITO AU Kupe’s Heroic Journey which may be translated (I’m guessing here) as the stories invented in the wake of Kupe’s heroic journey.

The ages of those who pack into Te Marae at Te Papa this afternoon range from babes in arms to elders with walking frames and everything in between. Tola Newbery, performing Apirana Taylor’s text solo in the traverse, holds everyone’s interest for an epic 50 minutes of dynamic storytelling, directed by Murray Lynch. Waiata tawhito (the old traditional songs and chants) conclude each segment and break up the flow of action.

Newbery enters as his amiable self, in modern clothes (costume design Wai Mihinui), and lays down a black plastic cylinder and two flat stones. These elements, plus a koauau (bone flute) strung from his neck, become his instruments as the story unfolds.

Having traced the whakapapa (lineage) of Kupe down each arm – the mother’s and the father’s lines, I assume – Newbery assumes the persona of Kupe, “child of Tangaroa” in Rangiātea, as he traces his experiential education about the islands, the stars and the ocean; his learning to ‘read’ the wind, tide, sands and sea, in order to “sail the heavens” by waka; his taking in the wisdoms taught by tohunga (priests).

His ruthlessness as a young man is exemplified in the story of how he gained his second wife, Kuramārōtini, by causing her husband, his friend, to drown while they were out fishing. “I am of the gods; I do what I will,” is his rationalisation. (The concept of hubris does not appear to exist in Māori mythology.)

We learn of the double-hulled waka, Matahourua, carved in Raiatea from two large trees: the vessel by which he, his first wife Hine-te-Aparangi, their daughters and Kuramārōtini make their escape from the utu-seeking family that wants to “drink your blood”. Some oral histories say many other warriors and their whanua came on the journey too; that the Matahourua carried up to 60 people.

When Kupe discovers the giant octopus Te Wheke-a-Muturangi is stealing kaimoana from him and his whānau, however, he declares war. The use of a hoodie to manifest Te Wheke – who claims to drag the sun below the horizon to cause the night – is ingenious. Legend has it it’s this pursuit that brings Kupe and his whanau to Aotearoa, and tracing the flight of te pīpīwharauroa (the shining cuckoo) that brings them to Te Whanganui a Tara (now known as Wellington Harbour).

And so their progress throughout the land, and the naming of places we recognise today, unfolds. Given my understanding that Kupe and co were the first mortals to set foot on Aoteroa, I’d have to do more research to understand how come there’s already a marae in Kohukohu, in what becomes known as Te Hokianganui o Kupe … But then how can we apply the rigours of what we call history when legend morphs into myth, with Kupe turning the people who fail to feed him properly into birds?*

“To understand the people, understand the stories” is the take-home message of KA TITO AU Kupe’s Heroic Journey. Truth lies not in the literal tales but in the spirit of their telling.

Kupe’s epic battle with Te Wheke-a-Muturangi at Te Moana o Raukawa – played out without words – brings the play to its climactic life-and-death conclusion, and the sound of the sea (made by tipping the cylinder) returns us to a peaceful equilibrium.

Extended applause and a standing ovation honours Tola Newbery for his performance, Apirana Taylor for his script and Murray Lynch for initiating the commission and bringing it to fruition. It has already played in schools; may it have the long life it deserves so many thousands more can enjoy it.  
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*(Nothing I have read indicates how long Kupe and his landing party spent in Aotearoa before he left to return to Rangiatea, never to return, but there is an indication that groups were left at various locations to establish marae. I recall being told of a Ngāpuhi legend that has Kupe leaving a son in the Hokianga, so if they only arrived with daughter, that suggests they were here for quite a few years. But then there are a many versions of the Kupe stories as there are iwi who whakapapa to him and his wives – and the wake of the waka Matahourua is hard to pin down.)


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