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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 4 (July 1, 1938.)

Stories of the Taramea

Stories of the Taramea.

I have dipped south-eastwards and north-westwards after the Hakataramea joins the Waitaki. Now come back with me into the wide, but much less frequented valley of the Taramea, or rather the high, enclosed harbour of the Taramea, as the Maoris thought of it. Haka in the south is the same as the aka of Akaroa, the hill enclosed harbour of Banks Peninsula, and the same as the whanga of the North Island.

It has been erroneously supposed in the district that Hakataramea meant “the dance of the prickly grass.” And that is a pretty enough fancy. But the taramea is the stiff, bold wild Spaniard with leaves like a sheaf of bayonets falling out from the centre. There is, however, in this region still more of the snow grass, which dances, indeed, in the wind when light with flower. Beside the gully streams the plumes of the toe-toe wave more stately, and where these two grow the slopes have a gay motion.

The stiff taramea was prized of the Maoris. It gives up a gum which they valued for its scent. Maidens only could collect it, and their time of gathering was the early dawn after the tohunga, the priest, had said certain prayers and charms.

Urutane, near Waimate, on the far side of the Hunters Hills, which enclose the eastward side of the Hakataramea valley, got its name because on one occasion the men did the gathering.

For a joke one morning, they rose secretly, earlier than the maidens, and gathered all the taramea gum. When the girls came they were afraid. They thought it had been spirited away, and talked of witchcraft.

But the men had undertaken what was properly women's work, and after that those slopes were called Uru-tane—“gathered by men.”

Laing and Blackwell, quoting Colenso and his translation, give a fragrant little Maori lullaby, which ascends in beauty of expression towards a tender conception of the taramea.

“Taku hei piripiri
Taku hei moki-moki
Taku hei tawhiri
Taku hei taramea.”
“My little neck satchel of sweet scented moss,
My little neck satchel of fragrant fern,
My little neck satchel of odoriferous gum,
My sweet smelling neck locket of sharp-pointed taramea.”

To-day, however, the valley is a great grazing harbour divided into flourishing sheep stations.