“The first fish is mine!”
– pepeha Maori
The first fish was the first enemy or the first unfortunate to cross the path of a war party. This first fish was then ritually slain and the heart roasted and eaten as an offering to Tumatauenga.
Taputapuatea Marae, an ancient stone marae on Ra’iatea in Eastern Polynesia is said to have been in times past the main marae for all of Polynesia. At Taputapuatea for a long time there was a practice of human sacrifice. When the marae was renovated 5000 human skulls were found in the main altar. Close to the main marae is a small stone structure or marae which is thought to be where the human sacrifice was enacted.
Sacrificial offerings were brought to the marae as part of the ceremonial ritual. They were both men and fish. At a great hui all the waka would arrive at Taputapuatea carrying their offerings laid out on the deck of the waka; first a man, then a big fish like a shark or tuna, then a man, then a fish, and so on. The offerings would then be hung in the trees at Taputapuatea, offered to the god of war, Oro.
There is also a story of a chief and his son who went fishing, and as was required they were meant to offer the largest fish of their catch at the marae. But the son convinced his father to keep the largest and offer another, which they did. But the priest at the marae saw through their deception and questioned them. When they continued to lie he decreed that they would become the offering and they were hung in the trees. The offerings were called “long-limbed fish”.
It is interesting to speculate that perhaps this practice at Taputapuatea, and at other marae throughout Eastern Polynesia, might have been the source of the pepeha “Kei au te mataika”.