Legend has it that Kupe was a rangatira, fisherman and great navigator from the island of Raiatea, near Tahiti. Surrounding Kupe’s village were the traditional fishing grounds that Kupe and his people caught their fish. One day Kupe’s fishermen went out with lines and hooks to their traditional fishing grounds, after a long time without any bites, the fishermen hauled up their lines and discovered that the bait had been taken. They put on fresh bait and lowered their hooks again, but the bait was taken again and again until all the bait had gone. They returned to shore and reported their lack of success to Kupe.
Kupe called a hui (meeting) where the whole village gathered. It was decided to lay the matter before the tohunga (priests). The priests told the fishermen their hooks and lines needed to be blessed. With the lines blessed, Kupe and the fishermen began fishing the next day, only to have their bait taken again. Kupe noticed a slimy substance covering his hook and recognised it as belonging to an octopus. He knew it would be useless to continue fishing and ordered the others to pull their lines from the water. Once more they headed back to shore empty handed.
That evening Kupe set out to the other side of the island where a chief called Muturangi resided. Kupe knew that Muturangi had a pet octopus renowned for its huge size and influence in the sea world. Kupe described to Muturangi what had been happening at their fishing grounds, stating that it was the work of an octopus. He asked if perhaps Muturangi’s pet could possibly know, who was responsible. Muturangi looked at Kupe and laughed, “I don’t tell my pet when to eat or what to eat. If it chooses to eat your bait or your fish for that matter, then that’s what it does.”, Muturangi asked Kupe to leave. “Then I will slay your pet, Te Wheke o Muturangi, and it will never trouble my people again,” Kupe stated as he left.
Kupe gathered his people and began to build a canoe, a large ocean going canoe, which he called Matahorua. When the vessel was complete, Kupe stocked it with supplies, readying it for a lengthy sea journey. Kupe’s wife, Hine-te-Aparangi, their whanau, and many warriors and fishermen from the tribe boarded the new canoe and set out on their journey. Chasing Te Wheke (the octopus) Kupe caught and confronted the monster, and then a battle ensued. Kupe grasped his mere and slashed at the tentacle, cutting a huge hunk from its flesh. The wheke thrashed its arms in agony but Kupe struck out again. Te Wheke o Muturangi’s enormous head emerged from the sea looming over the waka, as the warriors continued to attack the huge tentacle. Kupe pointed his mere at the wheke and chanted a spell, ensuring it would never again be able to dive to the depths of the ocean and hide.