A famous ancestral hero of the Māori people. He was the giant son of Haumai-tāwhiti, of Hawaiki, and is first spoken of as journeying with his brother Whakaturia in search of Pōtaka-tāwhiti, a dog belonging to Haumai-tāwhiti. This dog, it was discovered, had been killed and eaten by Toi-te-huatahi and Ue-nuku. In revenge, the brothers robbed Ue-nuku's fruit (poporo) trees. Whakaturia was caught and hung up in the smoke of Ue-nuku's house to die; but by stratagem and the help of his brother he managed to escape.

War ensued; and it was found that an emigration was the only possible way of preserving the lives of some of the weaker tribes. Canoes were built, and the Arawa, Tainui, Matatūa, and other canoes set out for New Zealand.

Tama-te-kapua was in command of the Arawa, and enticed Ngātoro-i-rangi, the priest of the Tainui on board his own vessel. He also carried off Ngātoro's wife (Kea) and Whakaoti-rangi, the wife of Ruaeo. On account of Tama taking liberties with the wife of Ngātoro, and thus arousing the anger of the great priest, the Arawa was nearly lost in the whirlpool of Te Parata.

The Arawa at last reached Whangaparaoa, in the North Island, and her crew found that the Tainui had arrived there before them, and claimed the prior right of possession. Through the cunning of Tama, this claim was disproven. The Arawa went on to Tauranga, and to Maketu. Here Ruaeo (whose wife had been carried off) found Tama, and engaged in a fierce duel, in which Tama, gigantic as he was, was overmatched, beaten down, and insulted. Tama went on with Ngātoro to Tangiaro, and died there; but when dying, he ordered his children to return to Maketu.

Tama had two sons, Tuhoro and Kahu-mata-momoe. These men buried their father on the summit of Moehau (Cape Colville). The parting words (poroporoaki) which Tama spoke to his sons were:

"E papa nga rakau i runga i a koe
Mau ake te Whakaaro ake. Ae, Ae.
E haere nga taua i te ao nei,
Mau e patu, Ae, ae."

The great thefts committed by Tama-te-kapua led to the proverb, "A descendant of Tama-te-kapua will steal anything he can."



  • Grey, Sir George. (1855). Polynesian Mythology. Auckland: Brett, pp. 79. 87, 94.
  • Shortland, Edward. (1882). Maori Religion and Mythology. London: Longmans Green, p. 53.
  • Tregear, Edward. (1891). Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary. Wellington: Government Printer, p. 459.

This article incorporates text from Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (1891) by Edward Tregear, which is in the public domain.