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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The Legends of Immigration into the South Island — take us back Generations before our Era

The Legends of Immigration into the South Island
take us back Generations before our Era

(11) It is, however, in the South Island that we find clearest evidence of the succession of migrations and conquests. Its later season for the harvesting of the edible bulbs and fruits made it an easy prey to raids from the north. Te Rauparaha swooped down on the Ngaitahu early in the nineteenth century. They themselves had invaded from the north early in the seventeenth century, and defeated and driven south the Ngatimamoe, who had in their turn exterminated the Waitaha in the sixteenth century.

(12) These Waitaha, according to one tradition, had an eponymous founder, Waitaha, who, after coming in the Arawa page 237canoe and settling at Taupo, went south. This is, of course, but the effort of a defeated and feeble people to embroider their ancestral heraldry and connect with the "Norman Conquest" of the Maoris. The more reliable tradition is that they were descended from an immigrant called Rakaihaitu, who reached New Zealand in his canoe, the Uruao, forty-three generations ago, that is, in the end of the eighth century of our era; and this long period is essential to explain the description of tradition that "they covered the land like ants."

(13) According to the usual legend he wiped out his predecessors and began peopling the country afresh. But this is only the stereotyped product of racial vanity, which ignores the aboriginal elements that have been absorbed, or counts them non-existent. And we can see from fragments of tradition that the Waitaha had no easy task in subduing and absorbing Te Rapuwai, who held the land before. The three-mile-long stone-fortified pa at the Cust, in North Canterbury, the lines of which were still clearly made out by the early settlers, was not built against a foe easily exterminated. And a romantic story of one of their great heroes, Tutewaimate, from the Rakaia, penetrating into the cave of Moko, an aboriginal who had taken to brigandage in the Waipara, and being slain by the robber, throws a flood of light on the progress of the Waitaha conquest. The Rob Roys and Herewards of Te Rapuwai took to the caves and forests and lived on the traffic between those in the north and those in the south; there the remnants of the defeated, under bold leaders, stood their ground for generations, if not for centuries.

(14) And Te Rapuwai had gone through the same process with their predecessors. Under Rongoatua they had come over the sea and been hospitably entertained by the natives, who, delighted with the new food he had introduced, the kumara, sailed away over the sea to bring a cargo of it. But the old story repeats itself. These dwellers by the sea are page 238driven inland by the new-comers and take to the caves; they pounce on bands of the immigrants when isolated, and even seize their women; they know the forests and streams, and can ambush and circumvent the strangers with ease; hence they become cave-dwelling ogres, who can stride over the country with league-long steps, and swallow streams; they are Te Kahui Tipua, or the band of ogres.

(15) In the Maui legend we have mention of still earlier waves of prehistoric immigration. That culture hero, when he fished up New Zealand, gave it to the Kui to colonise; they were exterminated or absorbed by the Tutumaiao, who were in their turn treated likewise by the Turehu or fairies; this last folk, we have seen, are in all the traditions and annals of the Maoris represented as fair-haired, and, being absorbed by the new-comers, have originated the Urukehu, or red-haired families, or members of families. Whether they preceded the Kahui Tipua or were only contemporary with them as another pre-Polynesian alien people it is impossible to say, for the two legends do not dovetail. Of one thing we may be certain, that Polynesian immigrants came in the early centuries of our era; and another seems probablenamely, that pre-Polynesian aliens occupied the land for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before.