Role Models - Hinemoa and Tutanekai

In my wharenui (meeting house) is a carved figure. It represents Hinemoa. She is a source of pride and mana for her iwi. Her descendants deserve to be proud. She is the embodiment of mana wahine, ihi, wehi and wana (woman power, energy and passion).

He wahine matapoporehia e tōna iwi o Tuhourangi ‘ - a woman cherished by her people of Tuhourangi.

‘ He pounamu motu i te taringa ‘ - as beautiful as the greenstone pendant that pierces the ear.

When orators stand to acknowledge manuhiri (visitors) it is an honour to be compared to her.

Hinemoa - The daughter of a chief

Hinemoa was a renown puhi tapairu (first born and virgin) and beauty descended from the gods through the chiefly lineage of Te Arawa waka to her Tuhourangi people. They kept close tabs on her because of her mana and were very fussy about who she mixed with especially tāne (males). She was tapu (off limits) to them. She was never short of admirers who all tried hard to get her attention. Unfortunately for them she wasn’t interested. That was until Tutanekai showed up.

Tutanekai - The illegitimate son of a chief

Hinemoa and Tutanekai came across each other on marae at various hui around Rotorua. People could tell from the way they looked at each other that there was chemistry happening. Hinemoa’s whānau weren’t happy with this. They believed that Tutanekai was illegitimate which didn’t fit with the ariki (chiefly) whakapapa she had. It wasn’t a problem for the young lovers though.

The swim to Mokoia Island

Tutanekai lived on Mokoia island in the middle of lake Rotorua not far from where Hinemoa lived at Owhata. At night times he would serenade her, the sounds of his koauau (flute) playing drifting across the lake, carrying the sweet longing they both shared. Hinemoa had already tried to paddle across a couple of times but was caught by the toa (warriors) and returned back to shore.

They then pulled all of the waka high up on shore. Stranded from her lover and desperate to reach him Hinemoa had to be creative. One night she strung some calabashes together, secured them around her, waded out into the cool waters of lake Rotorua and set off on her daring swim to Mokoia. Fuelled by Tutanekai’s flute playing she made it across the lake and headed straight to Waikimihia, a hot pool where she warmed herself. Soon enough a mokai (servant) came down to fill a calabash with water.

Hinemoa asked, ‘e hari ana te wai mā wai - who is the water for?’

The mokai replied, ‘ mā Tutanekai - it’s for Tutanekai.’

Hinemoa asked for a drink too but dropped the calabash (deliberately). She apologised and the mokai could tell from the way that she spoke that this was a wahine rangatira talking. He didn’t have the mana to ask who it was so he just replied:

‘kaua e maharahara, he maha noa atu i te kainga - don’t worry there are plenty more back at the house.’

Hinemoa broke the next calabash the mokai brought back to refill.

When Tutanekai asked, ‘ he aha tēnei - what’s this, what’s going on?’

The mokai told him there was someone at the pool who was breaking the calabashes. Incensed, Tutanekai grabbed his taiaha (fighting staff) and rushed down to the pool. In the dark he could make out the figure of someone but wasn’t sure who it was.

Tutanekai asked, ‘ ko wai koe, ko wai koe - who is it, who are you?’

‘Ko Hinemoa ahau - it’s me Hinemoa,’ she replied.

Tutanekai was overcome with joy, they embraced, he wrapped his korowai (cloak) around her and they went back to his whare (house).The next day when Tutanekai’s people saw them together they celebrated. Meanwhile, Hinemoa’s people were paddling across the lake. Tensions were high. But, when they stepped onto Mokoia they celebrated too. Her parents had accepted the union. Hinemoa and Tutanekai went on to live long lives together raising their whānau on Mokoia.

Te mana o te hononga - Acceptance of the union

Love conquers all. Once everyone got used to them as a couple it became accepted. Sometimes when people come together for whatever reason, the partnership isn’t supported by everyone. In the end when people see that the relationship is real, committed and lasting, attitudes change and people accept it.

Her example inspires lives today, for us to not be caught up in conformity but to strike out and do something differently. The fact that Hinemoa chose to follow her own heart instead of the wishes of her people reflects a strong-willed young woman who determined her own rangatiratanga. She set her pathway and against all opposition stayed with it. This was true mana wahine.

Pūmautanga - Sticking to the plan

We have our goals too. Our journey is symbolised by hers. The gourds are our teachers, mentors, friends, whānau and supporters who help us on our way. Tutanekai's lilting koauau tunes are the lifeline, the thread that holds us true to the goal and keeps us on track. The dark waters of the lake are the uncertainties and fear of the unknown in any new venture. Hinemoa showed us not to be afraid and that action is a cure for uncertainty. When we attempt anything our sense of purpose must drive us.

This is more than a love story. This is a kōrero that explains life as it was then and how it can influence us today, a look into the past to live life today. Look no further than your whakapapa for role models in life.


Hohepa-Watene, T.K. Te Pataka Körero a Te Hiko o te rangi Hohepa, Microfilm Digital  Print Limited, 2016