A celebrated divine or semi-divine personage mentioned in Polynesian traditions. Tupu-tupu-whenua is first heard of as having landed at some ancient period in New Zealand, a time anterior to the great immigration of the Māori people, which is stated to have happened some forty-six generations (or 1,000 years) ago.1 Nuku-tawhiti, a chief of Hawaiki, arrived in search of Tupu-tupu-whenua, and Nuku is said to have met Kupe near Hokianga, but there is no trace of this in the Kupe legend. It is also said that Kupe had set out to look for Tupu-tupu-whenua, and that he found him at Hokianga.

Tupu-tupu-whenua was also called Kui, or had a wife named Kui, and they went down under the ground. Kui is now incarnate as a little insect. To him or her offerings of grass, etc., are made when a new house is built. When men dream of seeing Tupu-tupu-whenua coming up out of the ground, it is a sign that the people will die and the land be forsaken.

There is, perhaps, some historical basis for these stories, as we are elsewhere told that the "fish of Māui," i.e. the North Island of New Zealand, was given by Māui to Kui and his descendants, who were afterwards dispossessed by the Tutu-mai-ao, Turehu, and others, Kui going down under the ground. On the arrival of Nuku-tawhiti with his brother-in-law Ruanui at Hokianga, Kui is said to have tunnelled under the land at the West Coast, and appeared on the surface at Kerikeri (keri, to dig), near the Bay of Islands; while the Moriori of the Chatham Islands relate that Nunuku (probably Nuku-tawhiti) also tunnelled underground, and that the tunnel of Moreroa came out at Kerikeri-one. Tumu-tumu-whenua's wife's name was Repo. Neither of them were of the people of this world; they were of the Tuhirangi (fairy) people.



  1. White, John. (1887). Ancient History of the Maori. 6 vols. Wellington: G, Disbury, p. 3:189.


  • Tregear, Edward. (1891). Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary. Wellington: Government Printer, pp. 180, 559.

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