Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race
The Legend of Tawhaki
The Legend of Tawhaki.
Now quitting the deeds of Maui, let those of Tawhaki be recounted. He was the son of Hema and Urutonga, and he had a younger brother named Karihi. Tawhaki having taken Hinepiripiri as a wife, he went one day with his brothers-in-law to fish from a flat reef of rocks which ran far out into the sea. He had four brothers-in-law; two of these, when tired of fishing, returned towards their village, and he went with them; when they drew near the village, they attempted to murder him, and thinking they had slain him, buried him; they then went on their way to the village, and when they reached it their young sister said to them, “Why, where is your brother-in-law?” and they replied, “Oh, they're all fishing.” So the young wife waited until the other two brothers came back, and when they reached the village they were questioned by their young sister, who asked, “Where is your brother-in-law?” and the two who had last arrived answered her, “Why, the others all went home together long since.” So the young wife suspected that they had killed her husband, and ran off at once to search for him; and she found where he had been buried, and on examining him ascertained that he had only been insensible, and was not quite dead; then with great difficulty she got him upon her back, and carried him home to their house, and carefully washed his wounds, and staunched the bleeding.
Tawhaki, when he had a little recovered, said to her, “Fetch some wood, and light a fire for me;” and as his wife was going to do this, he said to her, “If you see any tall tree growing near you, fell it, and bring that with you for the fire.” His wife went, and page 37 saw a tree growing such as her husband spoke of; so she felled it, and put it upon her shoulder and brought it along with her; and when she reached the house, she put the whole tree upon the fire without chopping it into pieces; and it was this circumstance that led her to give the name of Wahieroa (long-log-of-wood-for-the-fire) to their first son, for Tawhaki had told her to bring this log of wood home, and to call the child after it, that the duty of avenging his father's wrongs might often be recalled to his mind.
As soon as Tawhaki had recovered from his wounds, he left the place where his faithless brothers-in-law lived, and went away, taking all his own warriors and their families with him, and built a fortified village upon the top of a very lofty mountain, where he could easily protect himself; and they dwelt there. Then he called aloud to the gods, his ancestors, for revenge, and they let the floods of heaven descend, and the earth was overwhelmed by the waters, and all human beings perished; and the name given to that event was, “The overwhelming of the Mataaho,” and the whole of that race perished.
When this feat was accomplished, Tawhaki and his younger brother next went to seek revenge for the death of their father. It was a different race who had carried off and slain the father of Tawhaki; the name of that race was the Ponaturi. The country they inhabited was underneath the waters, but they had a large house on the dry land, to which they resorted to sleep at night; the name of that large house was “Manawa-Tane.”
The Ponaturi had slain the father of Tawhaki, and carried off his body, but his father's wife they had carried off alive, and kept as a captive. Tawhaki and his younger brother went upon their way to seek out that people and to revenge themselves upon them. At length they reached a place from whence they could see the house called Manawa-Tane. At the time they arrived near the house there was no one there but their mother, who was sitting near the door; but the bones of their father were hung up inside the house, under its high sloping roof. The whole tribe of the Ponaturi were at that time in their country under the waters, but at the approach of night they would return to their house, to Manawa-Tane.page 38
Whilst Tawhaki and his younger brother Karihi were coming along still at a great distance from the house, Tawhaki began to repeat an incantation, and the bones of his father, Hema, felt the influence of this, and rattled loudly together where they hung under the roof of the house, for gladness, when they heard Tawhaki repeating his incantations as he came along, for they knew that the hour of revenge had now come. As the brothers drew nearer, their mother, Urutonga, heard the voice of Tawhaki, and she wept for gladness in front of her children, who came repeating incantations upon their way. And when they reached at length the house, they wept over their mother, over old Urutonga. When they had ended weeping, their mother said to them, “My children, hasten to return hence, or you will both certainly perish. The people who dwell here are a very fierce and savage race.” Karihi said to her, “How low will the sun have descended when those you speak of return home?” and she replied, “They will return here when the sun sinks beneath the ocean.” Then Kahiri asked her, “What did they save you alive for?” and she answered, “They saved me alive that I might watch for the rising of the dawn. They make me ever sit watching here at the door of the house; hence this people have named me ‘Tatau,’ or ‘the door;’ and they keep on throughout the night calling out to me, ‘Ho, Tatau, there! is it dawn yet?’ and then I call out in answer, ‘No, no; it is deep night, it is lasting night, it is still night. Compose yourselves to sleep, sleep on.’”
Karihi then said to his mother, “Cannot we hide ourselves somewhere here?” Their mother answered, “You had better return; you cannot hide yourselves here, the scent of you will be perceived by them.” “But,” said Karihi, “we will hide ourselves away in the thick thatch of the house.” Their mother, however, answered, “’Tis of no use, you cannot hide yourselves there.”
All this time Tawhaki sat quite silent; but Karihi said, “We will hide ourselves here, for we know incantations which will [gap — reason: unclear] us invisible to all.”page 39
On hearing this, their mother consented to their remaining, and attempting to avenge their father's death. So they climbed up to the ridge-pole of the house, upon the outside of the roof, and made holes in the thick layers of reeds which formed the thatch of the roof, and crept into them and covered themselves up; and their mother called to them, saying, “When it draws near dawn, come down again, and stop up every chink in the house, so that no single ray of light may shine in.”
At length the day closed, and the sun sank below the horizon, and the whole of that strange tribe left the water in a body, and ascended to the dry land; and, according to their custom from time immemorial, they sent one of their number in front of them, that he might carefully examine the road, and see that there were no hidden foes lying in wait for them either on the way or in their house. As soon as this scout arrived at the threshhold of the house, he perceived the scent of Tawhaki and Karihi; so he lifted up his nose and turned sniffing all round the inside of the house. As he turned about, he was on the point of discovering that strangers were hidden there, when the rest of the tribe (whom long security had made careless) came hurrying on, and crowding into the house in thousands, so that from the denseness of the crowd the scent of the strange men was quite lost. The Ponaturi then stowed themselves away in the house until it was entirely filled up with them, and by degrees they arranged themselves in convenient places, and at length all fell fast asleep.
At midnight Tawhaki and Karihi stole down from the roof of the house, and found that their mother had crept out of the door to meet them, so they sat at the doorway whispering together.
Karihi then asked his mother, “Which is the best way for us to destroy these people who are sleeping here?” And their mother answered, “You had better let the sun kill them, its rays will destroy them.”
Having said this, Tatau crept into the house again; presently an old man of the Ponaturi called out to her, “Ho, Tatau, Tatau, there; is it dawn yet?” And she answered, “No, no, it is deep night—it is lasting night; 'tis still night; sleep soundly, sleep on.”page 40
When it was very near dawn, Tatau whispered to her children, who were still sitting just outside the door of the house, “See that every chink in the doorway and window is stopped, so that not a ray of light can penetrate here.”
Presently another old man of the Ponaturi called out again, “Ho, Tatau there, is not it near dawn yet?” And she answered, “No, no, it is night; it is lasting night; 'tis still night; sleep soundly, sleep on.”
This was the second time that Tatau had thus called out to them.
At last dawn had broken—at last the sun had shone brightly upon the earth, and rose high in the heavens; and the old man again called out, “Ho, Tatau there; is not it dawn yet?” And she answered, “Yes.” And then she called out to her children, “Be quick, pull out the things with which you have stopped up the window and the door.”
So they pulled them out, and the bright rays of the sun came streaming into the house, and the whole of the Ponaturi perished before the light; they perished not by the hand of man, but withered before the sun's rays.*
When the Ponaturi had been all destroyed, Tawhaki and Karihi carefully took down their father's bones from the roof of the house, and burnt the house with fire, together with the bodies of all those who were in it, and who had perished, scorched by the bright rays of the sun; they then returned again to their own country, taking with them their mother, and carefully carrying the bones of their father.
* The New Zealanders say that the “Kanae,” or salmon, had come on shore with the Ponaturi, and escaped out of the house by its power of leaping, gaining the water again by successive springs.
From that time Tango-tango,* the girl of the heavenly race, stole every night to the side of Tawhaki, and lo, in the morning she was gone, until she found that she had conceived a child, who was afterwards named Arahuta; then full of love for Tawhaki, she disclosed herself fully to him and lived constantly in this world with him, deserting for his sake her friends above; and he discovered that she who had so loved him belonged to the race whose home is in the heavens.
Whilst thus living with him, this girl of the heavenly race, his second wife, said to him, “Oh, Tawhaki, if our baby so shortly now to be born should prove a son, I will wash the little thing before it is baptized; but if it should be a little girl then you shall wash it.” When the time came Tango-tango had a little girl, and before it was baptized Tawhaki took it to a spring to wash it, and afterwards held it away from him as if it smelt badly, and said, “Faugh, how badly the little thing smells.” Then Tango-tango, when she heard this said of her own dear little baby, began to sob and cry bitterly, and at last rose up from her place with her child, and began to take flight towards the sky, but she paused for one minute with one foot resting upon the carved figure at the end of the ridge-pole of the house above the door. Then Tawhaki rushed forward, and springing up tried to catch hold of his young wife, but missing her, he entreatingly besought her, “Mother of my child, oh return-once more to me!” But she in reply called down to him, “No, no, I shall now never return to you again.”
* According to some traditions her name was Hapai.
Tawhaki remained plunged in grief, for his heart was torn by regrets for his wife and his little girl. One moon had waned after her departure, when Tawhaki, unable longer to endure such sufferings, called out to his younger brother, to Karihi, saying, “Oh, brother, shall we go and search for my little girl?” And Karihi consented, saying, “Yes, let us go.” So they departed, taking two slaves with them as companions for their journey.
When they reached the pathway along which they intended to travel, Tawhaki said to the two slaves who were accompanying himself and his brother, “You being unclean or unconsecrated persons, must be careful when we come to the place where the road passes the fortress of Tongameha, not to look up at it for it is enchanted, and some evil will befal you if you do.” They then went along the road, and when they came to the place mentioned by Tawhaki, one of the slaves looked up at the fortress, and his eye was immediately torn out by the magical arts of Tongameha, and he perished. Tawhaki and Karihi then went upon the road, accompanied by only one slave. They at last reached the spot where the ends of the tendrils which hung down from heaven reached the earth, and they there found an old ancestress of theirs, who was quite blind, and whose name was Matakerepo. She was appointed to take care of the tendrils, and she sat at the place where they touched the earth, and held the ends of one of them in her hands.
This old lady was at the moment employed in counting some taro roots, which she was about to have cooked, and as she was blind she was not aware of the strangers who stole quietly and silently up to her. There were ten taro roots lying in a heap before her. She began to count them, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Just at this moment Tawhaki quietly page 43 slipped away the tenth; the old lady felt about everywhere for it, but she could not find it. She thought she must have made some mistake, and so began to count her taro roots over again very carefully, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Just then Tawhaki had slipped away the ninth. She was now quite surprised, so she counted them again quite slowly, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight; and as she could not find the two that were missing, she at last guessed that somebody was playing a trick upon her, so she pulled her weapon out, which she always sat upon, to keep it safe, and standing up turned round, feeling about her as she moved, to try if she could find Tawhaki and Karihi; but they very gently stooped down to the ground and lay close there, so that her weapon passed over them, and she could not feel anybody; when she had thus swept her weapon all round her, she sat down and put it under her again. Karihi then struck her a blow upon the face, and she, quite frightened, threw up her hands to her face, pressing them on the place where she had been struck, and crying out, “Oh! who did that?” Tawhaki then touched both her eyes, and, lo, she was at once restored to sight, and saw quite plainly, and she knew her grand-children and wept over them.
When the old lady had finished weeping over them, she asked, “Where are you going to?” and Tawhaki answered, “I go to seek my little girl.” She replied, “But where is she?” He answered, “Above there, in the skies.” Then she replied, “But what made her go to the skies?” and Tawhaki answered “Her mother came from heaven. She was the daughter of Whatitiri-mata-kataka.” The old lady then pointed to the tendrils, and said to them, “Up there, then, lies your road; but do not begin the ascent so late in the day; wait until to-morrow, for the morning, and then commence to climb up.” He consented to follow this good advice, and called out to his slave, “Cook some food for us.” The slave began at once to cook food, and when it was dressed, they all partook of it, and slept there that night.
At the first peep of dawn Tawhaki called out to his slave, “Cook some food for us, that we may have strength to undergo page 44 the fatigues of this great journey;” and when their meal was finished, Tawhaki took his slave, and presented him to Matakerepo, as an acknowledgment of her great kindness to them.
His old ancestress then called out to him, as he was starting, “There lies the ascent before you; lay fast hold of the tendrils with your hands, and climb on; but when you get midway between heaven and earth, take care not to look down upon this lower world again, lest you become giddy, and fall down. Take care, also, that you do not by mistake lay hold of a tendril which swings loose; but rather lay hold of one which, hanging down from above, has again firmly struck root into the earth.”
Just at that moment Karihi made a spring at the tendrils, to catch them, and by mistake caught hold of a loose one, and away he swung to the very edge of the horizon, but a blast of wind blew forth from thence, and drove him back to the other side of the skies; on reaching that point, another strong land wind swept him right up heavenwards, and down he was blown again by the currents of air from above: then just as he reached near the earth again, Tawhaki called out. “Now, my brother, loose your hands; now is the time!” and he did so, and, lo, he stood upon the earth once more; and the two brothers wept together over Karihi's narrow escape from destruction. And when they had ceased lamenting, Tawhaki, who was alarmed lest any disaster should overtake his younger brother, said to him, “It is my desire that you should return home to take care of our families and our dependants.” Thereupon Karihi at once returned to the village of their tribe, as his eldest brother directed him.
Tawhaki now began to climb the ascent to heaven, and his old ancestress, Matakerepo, called out to him as he went up, “Hold fast, my child; let your hands hold tight.” And Tawhaki made use of, and kept on repeating, a powerful incantation as he climbed up to the heavens, to preserve him from the dangers of that difficult and terrible road.
At length he reached the heavens, and pulled himself up into them, and then by enchantments he disguised himself, and changed his handsome and noble appearance, and assumed the likeness of page 45 a very ugly old man; and he followed the road he had at first struck upon, and entered a dense forest into which it ran, and still followed it until he came to a place in the forest where his brothers-in-law, with a party of their people, were hewing canoes from the trunks of trees; and they saw him, and little thinking who he was, called out, “Here's an old fellow will make a nice slave for us.” But Tawhaki went quietly on, and when he reached them he sat down with the people who were working at the canoes.
It now drew near evening, and his brothers-in-law finished their work, and called out to him, “Ho! old fellow there! you just carry these heavy axes home for us, will you?”* He at once consented to do this, and they gave him the axes. The old man then said to them, “You go on in front; do not mind; I am old and heavy laden; I cannot travel fast.” So they started off, the old man following slowly behind. When his brothers-in-law and their people were all out of sight, he turned back to the canoe, and taking an axe just adzed the canoe rapidly along from the bow to the stern, and lo, one side of the canoe was finished. Then he took the adze again, and ran it rapidly along the other side of the canoe, from the bow to the stern, and lo, that side also was beautifully finished.
He then walked quietly along the road again, like an old man, carrying the axes with him, and went on for some time without seeing anything; but when he drew near the village, he found two women from the village in the forest, gathering firewood, and as soon as they saw him, one of them observed to her companion, “I say, here is a curious-looking old fellow, is he not?” and her companion exclaimed, “He shall be our slave;” to which the first answered, “Make him carry the firewood for us, then.” So they took Tawhaki, and laid a load of firewood upon his back, and made him carry that as well as the axes. So was this mighty chief treated as a slave even by female slaves.
* The European reader cannot at all enter into the witty nature of this adventure in the estimation of a New Zealander. The idea of a sacred chief of high rank being by mistake treated as a common slave, conveys impressions to their minds of which we can form no accurate notion.
When they all reached the village, the two women called out, “We've caught an old man for a slave.” Then Tangotango exclaimed in reply, “That's right; bring him along with you then. He'll do for all of us.” Little did his wife Tangotango think that the slave they were so insulting, and whom she was talking about in such a way, was her own husband, Tawhaki.
When Tawhaki saw Tangotango sitting at a fireplace near the upper end of the house, with their little girl, he went straight up to the place, and all the persons present tried to stop him, calling out, “Ho! ho! take care what you are doing. Do not go there; you will become tapued from sitting near Tangotango.” But the old man, without minding them, went rapidly straight on, and carried his load of firewood right up to the very fire of Tangotango. Then they all said, “There the old fellow is tapu; it is his own fault.” But Tangotango had not the least idea that this was Tawhaki; and yet there were her husband and herself seated, the one upon the one side, the other upon the opposite side, of the very same fire.
They all stopped in the house until the sun rose next morning; then at daybreak his brothers-in-law called out to him, “Holloa, old man, you bring the axes along, do you hear?” So the old man took up the axes, and started with them; and they all went off together to the forest, to work at dubbing out their canoes. When they reached them, and the brothers-in-law saw the canoe which Tawhaki had worked at, they looked at it with astonishment, saying, “Why, the canoe is not at all as we left it; who can have been working at it?” At last, when their wonder was somewhat abated, they all sat down and set to work again to dub out another canoe, and worked until evening, when they again called out to the old man, as on the previous one. “Halloa, old fellow, come here, and carry the axes back to the village again.” As before, he said, “Yes;” and when they started, he remained behind; and after the others were all out of sight he took an axe, and began again to adze away at the canoe they had been working at; and having finished his work, he returned again to the village, and once more walked straight up to the fire of Tangotango, and remained there until the sun rose upon the following morning.page 47
When they were all going at early dawn to work at their canoes as usual, they again called out to Tawhaki, “Halloa, old man, just bring these axes along with you;” and the old man went patiently and silently along with them, carrying the axes on his shoulder. When they reached the canoes they were about to work at, the brothers-in-law were quite astonished on seeing it, and shouted out, “Why, here again, this canoe, too, is not at all as it was when we left it; who can have been at work at it?” Having wondered at this for some time, they at length sat down and set to again to dub out another canoe, and laboured away until evening, when a thought came into their minds that they would hide themselves in the forest, and wait to see who it was came every evening to work at their canoe; and Tawhaki overheard them arranging this plan.
They therefore started as if they were going home, and when they had got a little way they turned off the path on one side, and hid themselves in the thick clumps of bushes, in a place from whence they could see the canoes. Then Tawhaki, going a little way back into the forest, stripped off his old cloaks, and threw them on one side, and then repeating the necessary incantations he put off his disguise, and took again his own appearance, and made himself look noble and handsome, and commenced his work at the canoe. Then his brothers-in-law, when they saw him so employed, said one to another, “Ah, that must be the old man whom we made a slave of, who is working away at our canoe.” But again they called to one another and said, “Come here, come here, just watch; why he is not in the least like that old man.” Then they said amongst themselves, “This must be a demi-god;” and, without showing themselves to him, they ran off to the village, and as soon as they reached it they asked their sister Tangotango to describe her husband for them; and she described his appearance as well as she could, representing him just like the man they had seen: and they said to her, “Yes, that must be he; he is exactly like him you have described to us.” Their sister replied, “Then that chief must certainly be your brother-in-law.”
Just at this moment Tawhaki reappeared at the village, having again disguised himself, and changed his appearance into that of page 48 an ugly old man. But Tangotango immediately questioned him, saying, “Now tell me, who are you?” Tawhaki made no reply, but walked on straight towards her. She asked him again, “Tell me, are you Tawhaki?” He murmured “Humph” in assent, still walking on until he reached the side of his wife, and then he snatched up his little daughter, and, holding her fast in his arms, pressed her to his heart. The persons present all rushed out of the court-yards, for the whole place was made tapu by Tawhaki, and murmurs of gratification and surprise arose from the people upon every side at the splendour of his appearance, for in the days when he had been amongst them as an old man his figure was very different from the resplendent aspect which he presented on this day.
Then he retired to rest with his wife, and said to her, “I came here that our little daughter might be made to undergo the ceremonies usual for the children of nobles, to secure them good fortune and happiness in this life;” and Tangotango consented.
When in the morning the sun arose, they broke out an opening through the end of the house opposite to the door, that the little girl's rank might be seen by her being carried out that way instead of through the usual entrance to the house; and they repeated the prescribed prayers when she was carried through the wall out of the house.
The prayers and incantations being finished, lightnings flashed from the arm-pits of Tawhaki; then they carried the little girl to the water, and plunged her into it, and repeated a baptismal incantation over her.*
* Tawhaki is said to still dwell in the skies, and is worshipped as a god, and thunder and lightning are said to be caused by his footsteps when he moves.