Kaua e mate wheke me mate ururoa
Do not die like an octopus, instead die like a hammerhead shark.
Do not give up so easily, instead fight until the bitter end.
In episode two of Te Ahi Kaa's four-part series about whakatauki (proverbial sayings) Justine Murray looks at Kaua e mate wheke mate ururoa.
Episode one - The Sweetness of the Kumara
Where is this whakatauki (proverb) uttered and how is it interpreted?
Te reo exponent Tamati Waaka says the proverb relates to the realm of the battlefield. For a group of students at Te Wharekura o Tauranga Moana, it can apply in the virtual world – fighting as a character in a video game or any place physically challenging, like a basketball final.
How does the octopus fare in this whakatauki? The real-life octopus is a strong and tricky character that likes to hide in caves and avoid its predators by only coming out at night.
Dr Kat Bolstad says it is a shy creature, but quite curious – when an octopus find something of interest it will hold on tightly. Dr Bolstad is a senior lecturer at The Institute for Applied Ecology at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). She runs a lab that researches cephalods – (squid, octopus and sea creatures of the molluscan class). Referring to the story about Te Wheke o Muturangi, she says she wouldn’t mind dying like an octopus instead of a shark.
"This epic battle took place in Cook Strait where he (Kupe) finally slew the wheke, but that doesn’t seem like an animal that laid down and died easily” - Dr Kat Bolstad.
"Towards the end of their life, octopus reproduce one time… The male will reproduce and then die quickly, and then the female will lay a bunch of eggs and spend the rest of her life not eating and protecting those eggs, fading away until the eggs hatch, and at that point she dies. So in a sense that is fading away and not fighting, but in another sense that’s an incredibly noble thing to do” - Dr Kat Bolstad.
Professor Taiarahia Black says that this whakatauki is about getting on and doing the work and taking advantage of opportunities. He says there is a close link between the environment and the integration of that knowledge into how we conduct ourselves.
A few years ago, Professor Black attended a wananga (meeting) at his Tuhoe marae, Otenuku. Many Tuhoe men had gathered to discuss succession-planning on the marae, when mid-way through the hui one of their kaumatua walked in...
“We were a little bit ambivalent when he turned up. [We asked ourselves] are we doing this right? Are we giving the right narratives?' He just looked at me and said 'Mahia te mahi e Tai'. So that whakatauki saying is… just get on with it” - Professor Taiarahia Black.
Te reo exponent Tamati Waaka knows a thing or two about kapahaka, rugby and fishing – all of which he says has some relevance to this whakatauki. “If you’ve been fishing, we’ve all caught an ururoa. You hate it, you cut that line because it will fight til its last breath.”
As the language has evolved over time, Tamati says that each person will have their own interpretation. For him the saying is not for gardeners or fisherman. He says it’s only Kaumatua (elderly) who will likely disagree with many of today’s interpretations. For Tamati, the whakatauki Kaua e mate wheke mate ururoa truly relates only to the battlefield, to soldiers heading to war.
When the late Matiu Dickson was a small boy he lived for a period of time at Matakana Island. In an interview conducted shortly before his passing, Matiu interpreted this whakatauki as a reminder for Māori to conduct themselves with pride.
“I think it refers to how you behave. So behave like rangatira, not like as a taurekareka (rascal, shameful). Dress like a rangatira… develop relationships like a rangatira. That’s what that means to me – it’s also a directive in how you should live your life” - Matiu Dickson.
Ngahihi o te Ra Bidois is an international motivational speaker and entrepreneur. In his book Ancient Wisdom, Modern Solutions he details his life's challenges and the advice he learned to overcome them. He returned to his marae in Rotorua after many years away and decided to learn his taha Māori. Ngahihi o te Ra Bidois talks about his interpretation of this whakatauki.
Te Wharekura o Tauranga Moana students Tarawhati Dekker, Wairaka Te Kira, Miringiwai Gardiner, Anthony August and Kanapa Kerr discuss how this proverb relates to them. For the students it simply means to give it your all in everything you do, whether in sports, gaming, as a student or performing kapahaka.