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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 8 (November 1939)

Koukou …A Maori Legend

page 41

KoukouA Maori Legend

Koukou and Kawiti had been friends from boyhood. They set their tunaki, their eel-traps, together; they snared birds in the forest together; they played games and fought in battle together, and such was their love one for the other that they were closer than brothers. In all things they were inseparable, and so it was small wonder that when Kawiti fell in love with Kura, the daughter of Hauraki, Koukou likewise conceived an affection for the girl. Though flattered that two such outstanding young men should seek to pay her attention Kura in no way allowed this to blind her judgment and wisely chose Kawiti as her husband, Koukou being inclined to overmuch boasting with regard to his own successes and to jealousy of other people's. Moreover, she divined the presence of that demon, ill-temper, lurking behind his joking and laughter, and so she was more than ever drawn to Kawiti; and when he ventured to tell her of his love she welcomed him with fond words and glances. And they became man and wife according to Maori law, and peace was made between the tribe of Kawiti and the tribe of Hauraki.

Now although Koukou bore his defeat as befitting a warrior of his rank and the friendship between the two was seemingly as great as before, it was in his heart to harm Kawiti, so fierce was his desire to possess the maiden. Seeing the passion in his eyes she was afraid and sought to warn her husband, but pleasant, good-natured Kawiti was roused to anger and declared she not only insulted his friend, but him also. Kura was forced to silence and she had much ado to pacify him; and all the while Koukou was plotting how best he could be rid of Kawiti. He went privately to Hauraki and told him that his daughter was being ill-treated by her husband: he was continually shouting at her and calling her abusive names and sometimes he even beat her. At this the old chief was justly enraged and vowed he would have vengeance upon his son-in-law, but Koukou restrained him, saying, “Wait until the moon has passed its zenith and the nights are wrapped in darkness. Then you will have a better opportunity for revenge.”

A suspicion thrust itself across the mind of Hauraki. “Tell me,” he demanded, “the reason of your eagerness for Kawiti's downfall.”

Koukou drew himself up and looked the other full in the eyes. “Listen, O father,” he said. “I, too, loved fair Kura, your daughter, but Kawiti stole her affections from me, and now, like the worthless fellow he is, he ill-treats her. Have I not reason to wish for his punishment? Do you but wait till the time when the cloud-shapes cover the moon and I will lead you by night to the pa and show you how to come within the line of fortifications, and lo! Kawiti shall be delivered into your hands. Only promise first that you will give Kura to me for my wife and I will help you.”

(Rosaline Redwood, photo.) A waterfall at Port Pegasus, Stewart Island.

(Rosaline Redwood, photo.)
A waterfall at Port Pegasus, Stewart Island.

“It shall be as you have said,” replied Hauraki.

Well-content, Koukou returned to his home, and at the dead of the moon he again went forth to the dwelling-place of Hauraki, and this time a band of warriors journeyed back with him through the devious forest-ways. Right to the edge of the pa they came and treading cautiously they entered within. In the noise and confusion which followed it was an easy matter for Koukou to seize Kura and carry her into the safety of the trees. The raid, though short, was completely successful. Kawiti was killed, and those of his defenders who escaped massacre were made slaves, and Hauraki took triumphant possession of the dead chief's wealth and lands. When Kura learned that it was her own father who had caused this thing she was overcome with grief and shame. Three days she spent in sorrow and weeping and not a morsel of food nor a sip of water passed her lips during that period. Hauraki was impatient and not a little puzzled at his daughter's behaviour, and on the fourth day he ordered her to appear before the people in the place-of-assembly that they might be witnesses of her marriage with Koukou. Food was set before her and she ate. At dusk she rose and clad herself in her richest garments and came forth to the wharepuni, the meeting-house. In a clear, loud voice she announced her refusal to take Koukou for her lord and when Hauraki commanded her, she drew a weapon from under her cloak and stabbed it into her breast.

For a second she lay still and then raising herself on her arm she pointed toward Koukou. “Behold the man whose wicked words brought hatred into your hearts and shattered the peace between the tribes. He brought death upon his friend and his tribesfolk that he might have the fulfilment of his desires. Coward! Betrayer! I curse thee. I go to join my husband in the spirit-world and happiness will be ours, but thou shalt never more find rest. Thou shalt wander always, hiding by day and keeping within the shadows at night; and men hearing thy voice in the darkness shall say: ‘There goes Koukou the traitor, the bringer of death.’ Again I curse thee.”

She fell back on the ground. Fear descended upon the watchers, and they neither moved nor spoke any word. And as the spirit of the dying girl fluttered and was still, a curious change came over Koukou. He seemed to shrink and change shape until all at once they saw he had turned into a small brownish-grey owl that flew away through the doorway, crying eerily. In this manner did the curse of Kura fall upon Koukou the traitor, and ever since that time the Maoris have regarded the New Zealand owl as the foreteller of disaster. And whenever he goes by in the darkness, calling his name drearily over and over, people hearing him shiver and whisper, “Koukou the treacherous is passing this way. Beware lest misfortune seeks you for a friend.”

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