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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 3 (June 1, 1935)

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 44

The Wisdom of the Maori

A Wise Man of Taranaki.

In last month's Magazine I gave some reminiscences of the good old chief and tohunga Tauke, of Hokorima, on the famous Waimate Plain. I continue his life-story as I heard it from him many a year ago. He warmed up with the memories of his fighting days when he narrated the events of 1864, when he became a Hauhau. He was one of the band of heroes, half-crazed by the Pai-marire faith, who charged upon the British redoubt at Sentry Hill, or Te Morere.

The railway now passes within a few yards of the spot where the Imperial soldiers who manned the little hill fort repulsed the Taranaki braves. It was a mad affair; Tauke admitted as much, with a grim smile, when he told the story of his wounded hand. Fifty of those plucky warriors died on the red field of Te Morere.

Later, Tauke fought all through the Hauhau wars up to 1869, and he was one of the leaders in the bush battle at Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, where Von Tempsky and many others were killed.

Tauke told me that he once wrote a book for “Kawana Kerei.” This was in the years before the war. It was a large notebook which, at Sir George Grey's request, he filled with Taranaki history and folk-lore and poetry, dictated by his older relatives, the tohungas of Ngati-Ruanui.

Sir George Grey, he believed, took it with him to South Africa. Most probably it is one of the M.S. books in the Library at Cape Town, which in recent years were returned to Auckland in exchange for the South African material in the Grey collection.

The “Whare-Maire” at Hokorima.

The old chief was a wonderful repository of Taranaki legends and poetry, and above all his still active mind, was rich in poetic memories of Taranaki mountains. Puke-haupapa—“Snowy Mountain,” he said, was the most ancient name of Mt. Egmont. Like all the dwellers about the mountain foot, he loved and revered Taranaki peak. It was his Matua, his parent, the father and guardian of the land; its forests were the refuge place for many a harassed tribe-fragment in the days of cannibal raids.

Tauke was the last of the tohungas of the Ngati-Ruanui tribe. He was a dreamer, a seer of visions, and he was the instructor of his people in the Whare-Maire, the school of legend and tradition, religion and genealogical recitals, which he revived in pursuance of the policy of conservatism and of return to the old Maori ways. He conducted the ritual of the ancient Polynesian religion. He was a priest of Hawaiki and Aotearoa. And at the same time he spent hours daily in poring over the pakeha Scriptures.

It was in keeping with the medley of ancient and modern in Tauke's character that the burial ceremony at Hokorima, beneath the lofty gaze of his ancestral mountain, should have been preceded by a poi dance by the women of Ngati-Ruanui, and that the sage of the Plains should have been laid to rest with the poetic conjunction of pakeha rites and the wild musical chants of the ancient race.

Whakarewarewa: Its Meaning.

Enquiries are constantly coming along regarding the origin and meaning of Maori place names, especially those in districts much visited by tourists. Whakarewarewa is one of the popular puzzle names. Travellers have told me that they seldom can discover a Maori, much less a pakeha, who can elucidate such conundrums. No doubt they question the younger generation, who follow the pakeha fashion of contracting the name of the geyser valley to “Whaka,” which is meaningless. If it is abbreviated—as it might well be in these speeding-up days—it should be “Whakarewa.”

When I was first searching out legends and place-names and associated knowledge of the past in the Lakes Country, I found that only the older people of the tribes could be relied on for information on such subjects, those whose minds had not been transformed by study of English books. Their mental stores were their library. This, from the then head chief of Tuhourangi, old Te Kepa Rangipuawhe, is the story of Whakarewarewa; it agreed with the tradition given me long afterwards by the late Mita Taupopoki.

Wahiao's War-Party.

Nine generations ago (I add a generation to Kepa's eight to bring it up to date), about 225 years, the chief Wahiao assembled a war-party of twice seventy men of Tuhourangi in this geyser valley to march against the Ngati-Tama tribe at Rotorua. The ope fell in at the foot of one of the level-topped pumice hills in the valley. As was customary, a war dance was performed before setting out on the expedition. At the shouted words of command, each rank in succession sprang up from its kneeling position, with spear at the ready, and leaped into the wild dance of the peruperu with a roaring chant of battle, and immediately afterwards started off on the march. This swift setting in motion, the “Whakarewarewatanga” (root-word “rewa”) of the warriors, was the incident that gave its name to the pa which Wahiao built about that time on the hill-top. The full and original name of that spot is “Te Whakarewarewatanga-o-te-Ope - a - Wahiao,” meaning “The Upspringing, or Starting, of the Army of Wahiao.” The name was, in course of time, extended to the whole valley. The historic hill called Te Puia (now a burial place) was the first pa built in the valley. The Whakarewarewa hill stands beyond it, near the base of that steep green hill Pohaturoa, overlooking the wonderful glen on the east.

So Whakarewarewa is a name of story and some mana. The full title will be found a useful jaw-limbering exercise in Maori pronunciation. (You may practice making a Maori chant of it).

There are several literal interpretations of which Whakarewa is capable. One is to float on high, as the clouds of steam drift up above the geysers and hot springs, and another is to melt or dissolve. But the war-party story is the authentic tradition.