The famous haka; Ka Mate Ka Mate, was composed by Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha around 1820, the story of its composition being well known in the oral histories of Ngati Toa and Ngati Tuwharetoa, the two iwi (tribes) most associated with its origins.
During a period of conflict, Te Rauparaha was being pursued by warriors from a rival iwi and was hidden by Te Wharerangi of Tuwharetoa in a kumara (native sweet potato) pit, with Te Wharerangi's wife, Te Rangikoaea, being told to sit on top. Guided by their Tohunga (scholar/priest) the warriors looked for Te Rauparaha and as they approached he murmured “Ka Mate Ka Mate” (It is death, it is death). Hidden from the Tohunga by the spiritual powers of the food and the woman above, Te Rauparaha was not discovered, and when the investigators passed by, he muttered “Ka ora Ka ora” (It's life, it's life). When the warriors finally left, Te Rauparaha managed to climb out of the kumara pit singing “Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru nana nei i tiki mai whaka whiti te ra”.
There are many interpretations of these words and “tangata puhuruhuru” could be a reference to the hairy man (Te Wharerangi), but Ngati Toa oral tradition states that Te Rauparaha was giving credit to the spiritual power of Te Rangikoaea as he ascended (Upane, Kaupane) From the darkness of the well to the light of the sun (Whiti te ra! Hi!)