The romantic hero of innumerable tales. In western Polynesia he is a handsome, charming, island chief who becomes the lover of Hina. In eastern Polynesia he is the tutelary deity of fishes, a son of Tangaroa, the Lord of Ocean. Tinirau dwelt in Motu-tapu (Holy Island), and this account is agreed to by all Polynesians, although an attempt at localization takes place in each group of islands. The home of Tinirau was a preserve for fish, and surrounded with pools for breeding fish; these pools also served the deity as looking-glasses. They were broken by Hina (Hine-i-te-iwaiwa), as a means of gaining Tinirau's attention; in this she was successful, as Tinirau married her.1

Tinirau enlisted the help of the sorcerer Kae to insure a bright future for his son Tū-huruhuru. The sorcerer performed the necessary rites and afterwards asked Tinirau for passage home on Tinirau's pet whale Tu-tu-nui. Tinirau consented and Kae set out. Upon arriving home, instead of allowing the whale to return, the sorcerer caught and cooked it. When Tinirau learned of the death of his pet whale, he sent a contingent of women to Kae's island to capture him. The women used spells to cause Kae to fall into an enchanted sleep and carried him back to Motu-tapu, where he was slain. When Kae's people heard of the death of their chief they gathered a large army and invaded Tinirau's lands, killing Tū-huruhuru in revenge.

Tinirau at the time of his marriage to Hina, had two other wives, their names were Harataunga, and Horotata, the daughters of Mangamanga-atua.2 The names are given also as Maka-i-atua-uriuri and Maka-i-atua-haehae;3 and as Makemake-u-tu-riri and Makamaka-e-tu-hae.4 In some legends, they rescued Hina after she had flung herself into the sea after the death of her husband. Tinirau became enchanted with Hina's beauty and married her. When she became pregnant she cast a spell upon the two spiteful and malicious wives and killed them. In other legends however, Hina was found by two brothers, Ihuatamai and Ihuwareware, and married them before becoming Tinirau's wife. Eventually Hina and her child left him, departing with his brother-in-law, Rupe. Another wife of Tinirau is Hina-uri, by whom he is the father of Koro. Tinirau had nine sisters.

In Hawai'i, he is the youngest of the twelve sons of Kinilau-o-mano, from whom Hawaiians claim descent. Kinilau (Tinirau) was the son of Menehune, who was the son of Lua-Nu'u (Ruanuku). A verse of an ancient hymn, quoted by Fornander, exactly gives the meaning of the name of Kinilau-o-mano, viz: —

O kini, o ka lau, o ka mano o ka hoku.
"Innumerable are the stars."

Tini, rau, and mano together implying an infinite number.

In Mangaia, Tinirau was a child of the most ancient goddess, Vari-ma-te-takere. He was born in Spirit Land (Avaiki = Hawaiki); torn off as a piece of flesh from the side of his mother. He was half a fish. Motu-tapu was given to him as his inheritance. He was lord of all fish. Tū-metua, Vātea, and others were his brothers.



  1. White, John. (1887). Ancient History of the Maori. 6 vols. Wellington: G, Disbury, p. 2:127.
  2. Grey, Sir George. (1855). Polynesian Mythology. Auckland: Brett, p. 50.
  3. White 1887, p. 2:135.
  4. ibid. 2:132.


  • Tregear, Edward. (1891). Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary. Wellington: Government Printer, p. 513.

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