First Contact 1769

Kiwirail used this in their Spring 2019 inboard magazine to head their feature article re Captain James Cook’s first landfall in Aotearoa/New Zealand 250+ years ago in my home town Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa/Gisborne on 7 October 1769.

Two worlds in collision. One side with legends of potentially dangerous ancient spirit folk arriving from the East. One side with over-blown tavern stories of deaths on Tasman’s voyage from 1642.

Things went disastrously from the outset with the shooting of Te Maro of Ngati Oneone on Kaiti Beach. On day 2, the 2 sides lined up on opposite sides of the Turanga-nui River, 100 or more warriors on the southern side doing haka, which must have been both fearsome/magnificent.

Tupaia the Tahitian navigator on board the Endeavour spoke to iwi which encouraged one unarmed extraordinarily brave warrior (history hasn’t left a name) to swim across. He stopped at a rock close to Cook’s men. Cook waded out and the 2 exchanged a hongi (nose press greeting).

More warriors swam across after that but things quickly went astray again. Cook’s men shot another chief Te Rakau who had taken a sword as muru (customary compensation for the death of Te Maro) plus several others, more were wounded with buckshot. Cook then took to his boats and sailed south towards Mahia, naming the area Poverty Bay because “it afforded us no one thing we wanted”. The deaths of ancestors are a point of frustration and anger for local iwi to this day.

I’ve tried to capture the mutual courage and mistrust. The faces borrow from the old faces/candlestick optical illusion and a Pink Floyd album cover.

The rock – Te Toka-a-Taiau – was formerly a tribal boundary between Ngati Porou and the local iwi Rongowhakaata but was detonated when the port expanded in 1877.

Young Nicks Head/Te Kuri-o-Pāoa (the Dog of Pāoa) is in the background. Pāoa was the captain of the great waka Horouta, he waited there for the waka Takitimu to arrive. It is said to be Cook’s first sighting of land (some recent histories argue for Hikurangi, an inland peak further North) by his surgeon’s boy Nicholas Young, who was given a gallon (!) of rum for his troubles.

There have been many attempts since the 1860s to consign the awful and imposed Poverty Bay name to history – unfair also in that the sediments laid down by the Wai-Pāoa (waters of Pāoa) River have made the flatlands highly fertile.  Part of the difficulty has been the potential confusion with Tauranga, but it was retitled at last as Turanga-nui-a-kiwa/Poverty Bay early in 2019, maybe 30 or so more years to finish that off properly.

Acrylic on canvas 12″x18″. Sold at Mana Arts Trail 2019.

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