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Polynesian Mythology and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race

The Legend of Rata. — His Adventures with the Enchanted Tree and Revenge of his Father's Murder

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The Legend of Rata.
His Adventures with the Enchanted Tree and Revenge of his Father's Murder.

Before Tawhaki ascended up into the heavens a son named Wahieroa had been born to him by his first wife. As soon as Wahieroa grew to man's estate he took Kura for a wife, and she bore him a son whom they called Rata. Wahieroa was slain treacherously by a chief named Matukutakotako, but his son Rata was born some time before his death. It therefore became his duty to revenge the death of his father Wahieroa, and Rata having grown up, at last devised a plan for doing this. He therefore gave the necessary orders to his dependants, at the same time saying to them, “I am about to go in search of the man who slew my father.”

He then started upon a journey for this purpose, and at length arrived at the entrance to the place of Matukutakotako. He found there a man who was left in charge of it sitting at the entrance to the court-yard, and he asked him, saying, “Where is the man who killed my father?” The man who was left in charge of the place answered him, “He lives beneath in the earth there, and I am left here by him, to call to him and warn him when the new moon appears. At that season he rises and comes forth upon the earth, and devours men as his food.”

Rata then said to him, “All that you say is true, but how can he know when the proper time comes for him to rise up from the earth?” The man replied, “I call aloud to him.”

Then said Rata, “When will there be a new moon?” And the page 68 man who was left to take care of the place answered him, “In two nights hence. Do you now return to your own village, but on the morning of the second day from this time come here again to me.”

Rata, in compliance with these directions, returned to his own dwelling, and waited there until the time that had been appointed him, and on the morning of that day he again journeyed along the road he had previously travelled, and found the man sitting in the same place, and he asked him, saying, “Do you know any spot where I can conceal myself, and lie hid from the enemy with whom I am about to fight, from Matukutakotako?” The man replied, “Come with me until I show you the two fountains of clear water.”

They then went together until they came to the two fountains. The man then said to Rata, “The spot that we stand on is the place where Matuku rises up from the earth, and yonder fountain is the one in which he combs and washes his dishevelled hair, but this fountain is the one he uses to reflect his face in whilst he dresses it. You cannot kill him whilst he is at the fountain he uses to reflect his face in, because your shadow would be also reflected in it, and he would see it; but at the fountain in which he washes his hair you may smite and slay him.”

Rata then asked the man, “Will he make his appearance from the earth this evening?” And the man answered, “Yes.”

They had not waited long there when evening arrived and the moon became visible, and the man said to Rata, “Do you now go and hide yourself near the brink of the fountain in which he washes his hair;” and Rata went and hid himself near the edge of the fountain, and the man who had been left to watch for the purpose shouted aloud, “Ho, ho! the new moon is visible—a moon two days old.” And Matukutakotako heard him, and seizing his two-handed wooden sword, he rose up from the earth, and went straight to his two fountains. Then he laid down his two-handed wooden sword on the ground, at the edge of the fountain where he dressed his hair, and, kneeling down on both knees beside it, he loosened the strings which bound up his long page 69 locks, and shook out his dishevelled hair, and plunged down his head into the cool clear waters of the fountain. So Rata, creeping out from where he lay hid, rapidly moved up and stood behind him, and as Matukutakotako raised his head from the water, Rata with one hand seized him by the hair, while with the other he smote and slew him. Thus he avenged the death of his father Wahieroa.

Rata then asked the man whom he had found in charge of the place, “Where shall I find the bones of Wahieroa my father?” And the keeper of the place answered him, “They are not here; a strange people who live at a distance came and carried them off.”

Upon hearing this, Rata returned to his own village, and there reflected over many designs by which he might recover the bones of his father.

At length he thought of an excellent plan for this purpose, so he went into the forest and having found a very tall tree, quite straight throughout its entire length, he felled it, and cut off its noble branching top, intending to fashion the trunk into a canoe; and all the insects which inhabit trees, and the spirits of the forests, were very angry at this, and as soon as Rata had returned to the village at evening, when his day's work was ended, they all came and took the tree, and raised it up again, and the innumerable multitude of insects, birds, and spirits, who are called “The offspring of Hakuturi,” worked away at replacing each little chip and shaving in its proper place, and sang aloud their incantations as they worked; this was what they sang with a confused noise of various voices:—

Fly together, chips and shavings,
Stick ye fast together,
Hold ye fast together;
Stand upright again, O tree!

Early the next morning back came Rata, intending to work at hewing the trunk of his tree into a canoe. When he got to the place where he had left the trunk lying on the ground, at first he could not find it, and if that fine tall straight tree, which he saw standing whole and sound in the forest, was the same he thought page 70 he had cut down, there it was now erect again. However, he stepped up to it, and manfully hewing away at it again, he felled it to the ground once more, and off he cut its fine branching top again, and began to hollow out the hold of the canoe, and to slope off its prow and the stern into their proper gracefully curved forms; and in the evening, when it became too dark to work, he returned to his village.

As soon as he was gone, back came the innumerable multitudes of insects, birds, and spirits, who are called the offspring of Hakuturi, and they raised up the tree upon its stump once more, and with a confused noise of various voices, they sang incantations as they worked, and when they had ended these the tree again stood sound as ever in its former place in the forest.

The morning dawned, and Rata returned once more to work at his canoe. When he reached the place, was not he amazed to see the tree standing up in the forest, untouched, just as he had at first found it? But he, nothing daunted, hews away at it again, and down it topples crashing to the earth. As soon as he saw the tree upon the ground, Rata went off as if going home, and then turned back and hid himself in the underwood, in a spot whence he could peep out and see what took place. He had not been hidden long when he heard the innumerable multitude of the children of Tane approaching the spot, singing their incantations as they came along; at last they arrived close to the place where the tree was lying upon the ground. Lo, a rush upon them is made by Rata. Ha, he has seized some of them; he shouts out to them, saying, “Ha, ha, it is you, is it, then, who have been exercising your magical arts upon my tree?” Then the children of Tane all cried aloud in reply, “Who gave you authority to fell the forest god to the ground? You had no right to do so.”

When Rata heard them say this, he was quite overcome with shame at what he had done.

The offspring of Tane again all called our aloud to him, “Return, O Rata, to thy village, we will make a canoe for you.”

Rata, without delay, obeyed their orders, and as soon as he had gone they all fell to work. They were so numerous, and understood page 71 each what to do so well, that they no sooner began to adze out a canoe than it was completed. When they had done this, Rata and his tribe lost no time in hauling it from the forest to the water, and the name they gave to that canoe was Riwaru.

When the canoe was afloat upon the sea, 140 warriors embarked on board it, and without delay they paddled off to seek their foes. One night, just at nightfall, they reached the fortress of their enemies, who were named Ponaturi. When they arrived there, Rata alone landed, leaving the canoe afloat and all his warriors on board. As he stole along the shore, he saw that a fire was burning on the sacred place where the Ponaturi consulted their gods and offered sacrifices to them. Rata, without stopping, crept directly towards the fire, and hid himself behind some thick bushes of the Harakeke.* He then saw that there were some priests upon the other side of the same bushes, serving at the sacred place, and, to assist themselves in their magical arts, they were making use of the bones of Wahieroa, knocking them together to beat time while they were repeating a powerful incantation known only to themselves, the name of which was Titikura. Rata listened attentively to this incantation until he learnt it by heart, and when he was quite sure that he knew it, he rushed suddenly upon the priests; they, surprised and ignorant of the numbers of their enemy, or whence they came, made little resistance, and were in a moment smitten and slain. The bones of his father Wahieroa were then eagerly snatched up by him; he hastened with them back to the canoe, embarked on board it, and his warriors at once paddled away, striving to reach his fortified village.

In the morning some of the Ponaturi repaired to their sacred place, and found their priests lying dead there, just as they were slain by Rata. So, without delay, they pursued him. A thousand warriors of their tribe followed after Rata. At length this army reached the fortress of Rata, and an engagement at once took place, in which the tribe of Rata was worsted, and sixty of its warriors slain. At this moment Rata bethought him of the spell page 72 he had learnt from the priests, and, immediately repeating the potent incantation Titikura, his slain warriors were by its power once more restored to life; then they rushed again to the combat, and the Ponaturi were slaughtered by Rata and his tribe, a thousand of them—the whole thousand were slain.

Te Rata's task of avenging his father's death being thus ended, his tribe hauled up his large canoe on the shore, and roofed it over with thatch to protect it from the sun and weather. Rata now took Tongarautawhiri as one of his wives, and she bore him a son whom he named Tuwhakararo. When this son came to man's estate, he took Apakura as one of his wives, and from her sprang a son named Whakatau. He was not born in the manner that mortals are, but came into being in this way: One day Apakura went down upon the sea-coast, and took off a little apron which she wore in front as a covering, and threw it into the ocean, and a god named Rongotakawiu took it and shaped it, and gave it form and being, and Whakatau sprang into life, and his ancestor Rongotakawiu taught him magic and the use of enchantments of every kind.

When Whakatau was a little lad, his favourite amusement was flying kites. Mortals then often observed kites flying in the air, and could see nothing else, for Whakatau was running about at the bottom of the waters, still holding the end of the string of the kite in his hands. One day he stole up out of the water by degrees, and at length came upon the shore, when the whole of his body was quite plainly seen by some people who were near, and they ran as fast as they could to catch him. When Whakatau observed them all running to seize him, he slipped back again into the water, and continued flying his kite as before; but the people who had seen him were surprised at this strange sight, and being determined to catch him the next time he came out, they sat down upon the bank to wait for him. At last Whakatau came up out of the water again, and stepped on shore once more; then the people who were watching for him all ran at full speed to catch him. When Whakatau saw them coming after him again, he cried out, “You had better go and bring Apakura here, she is the only person who can catch me and hold me fast.”

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When they heard this, one of them ran to fetch Apakura, and she came with him at once, and as soon as she saw little Whakatau, she called out to him, “Here I am; I am Apakura.” Whakatau then stopped running, and Apakura caught hold of him with her hands, and she questioned him, saying, “Whom do you belong to?” And Whakatau answered her, “I am your child; you one day threw the little apron which covered you on the sands of the sea, and the god Rongotakawiu, my ancestor, formed me from it, and I grew up a human being, and he named me Whakatau.”

From that time Whakatau left the water and continued to live on shore. His principal amusement, as long as he was a lad, was still flying kites; but he understood magic well, and nothing was concealed from him, and when he grew up to be a man he became a renowned hero.

This second legend of the destruction by Whakatau-potiki of the house called Te Tihi-o-Manono, or Te Uro-o-Manono, is added, because it differs considerably from the other, and is often alluded to in ancient poems.

Tinirau determined to attempt to avenge the death of his descendant Tuwhakararo, and he thought that the best person to do this was Whakatau, whom he knew to be very skilful in war, and in enchantments, so he directed his wife Hine-i-te-iwaiwa to find Whakatau, and she went in search. When she reached a village near where she expected to find him, she asked some people whom she saw, where Whakatau was, and they answered her, “He is on the top of yonder hill flying a kite.” She at once proceeded on her way until she came to the hill, and seeing a man there, she asked him, “Can you tell me where I can find Whakatau?” and he replied, “You must have passed him as you came here.” Then she returned to the village where she had seen the people, and said to them, “Why, the man upon the hill says that Whakatau is here;” but they told her that the man who had spoken to her must have been Whakatau himself, and that she had better return to him, and told her marks by which she might know him. She therefore returned, and he, after some time, when she showed him that she knew certain marks about his person, admitted that he was Whakatau; and he then asked her what had made her come to him? and she replied, “Tinirau sent me to you to ask you to come and assist in avenging the death of our near relative; the warriors are all collecting at the village of Tinirau, but they fear to go to attack these enemies, for they are the bravest of all the enemies of Tinirau.” Whakatau then asked her, “Have you yet given a feast to the warriors?” and she said, “Not yet.” He then spoke to her, saying, “Return at once and when you reach your village, give a great feast to the warriors; give them abundance of potted birds from the forests, but let all the oil in which the birds were preserved be kept for me; as for yourself, do not go to the feast, but, decking your head with a mourning dress of feathers, remain seated close in the house of mourning.” Then Hine-i-te-iwaiwa at once returned to Tinirau, to do as she had been directed.

Shortly after his visitor had left him, Whakatau called aloud to his people, saying. “Let the sideboards be at once fresh lashed on to our canoe, to the canoe of our ancestor of Rata.” His men were so anxious to fulfil their chief's orders, that almost as soon as he had spoken they were at work, and had finished the canoe that very day, and dragged it down to the sea; when night fell, six of his warriors embarked in it, and Whakatau made the seventh; they then paddled off, following a direct course, until they reached the village of Tinirau; where they found Hine-i-te-iwaiwa seated in her house of mourning. Whakatau then asked her, “Have the warriors all left yet?” and she replied, “They will not do it, they are afraid.” Whakatau then said to her, “Farewell, then; do you remain here until you hear further from me.”

Whakatau and his men having re-embarked in their canoe, made a straight course for the place where was situated the great house called the Tihi-o-Manono, and they let their anchor drop and floated there.

When the next morning broke, and some of the people of the village coming out of the house, and beyond their defences, saw the canoe floating at the anchor-age, they gave the alarm, crying out, “A war party! a war party!” Then the warriors came rushing forth to the fray in crowds, and arranged themselves in bands. Then stood forth one of their champions whose name was Mango-huritapena and he defied Whakatau, who was standing up in his canoe, calling out, “Were you fool enough, then, to come here of your own accord?” and Whakatau answered him, by shouting out, “Which of the arts of war do you consider yourself famous for?” and Mango-huritapena shouted out in answer, “I am a most skilful diver.” “Dive here, then, if you dare,” shouted out Whakatau in reply. Then the champion of the enemy gave a plunge into the water, and dived under it. Just as he got right under the canoe, one of Whakatau's men poured the oil which Hine-i-te-iwaiwa had given them into the sea, and its waters immediately became quite transparent, so that they saw the warrior come floating up under the canoe, and Whakatau transfixed him with a wooden spear; so that champion perished.

Then forward stepped another champion named Pitakataka, and he defied Whakatau, shouting out, “Ah! you only killed Mango-huritapena because he chanced to put himself in a wrong position.” Whakatau shouted out in reply, “Which of the arts of war are you skilled in then?” and he answered. “Oh! I leap so skilfully that I seem to fly in the air.” “Then leap here, if you dare,” answered Whakatau; and the champion of his enemies took a run and made a spring high into the air; but Whakatau laid a noose on the canoe, and as the warrior alighted in it, he drew it tight and caught him as a bird in a snare, and thus slew that warrior also.

And thus, one after the other, he slew ten of the most famous warriors of his enemies; one whom he had seized, he saved alive, but he cut out his tongue, and then said to him, “Now, off with you to the shore again, and tell them there how I have overcome you all;” having done this, Whakatau retired a little distance back from the place, so that his canoe could not be seen by his enemies.

In the afternoon Whakatau landed on the coast, and before eating anything, offered the prescribed sacrifice of the hair and a part of the skin of the head of one of his victims to the gods; and when the religious rites were finished, he ate food; and having done this, he directed the people he had with him to return, saying, “Return at once, and when you reach the residence of Hine-i-te-iwaiwa, speak to her, saying, ‘Whakatau told us to come, and tell you, that he could not return with us;’ and he further said, ‘If heavy rain falls in large drops, it is a sign that I have been killed; but if a light, misty rain falls, and the whole horizon is lighted up with flames, then you may know that I have conquered, and that I have burnt the Tihi-o-Manono;’ he also said that he wished you to sit upon the roof of your house watching until you saw the Tihi-o-Manono burnt.” Whakatau's people at once returned to Hine-i-te-iwaiwa to deliver the message he had given them.

Just before nightfall, Whakatau drew near the great house, called the Tihi-o-Manono, and as the people of Whitinakonako, a great chief, were collecting firewood at the edge of a forest, he stealthily dropped in amongst them, pretending to be collecting firewood too; and as they were going home with their loads of firewood upon their backs, he managed to push on in front of them, and got into the house first with a long rope in his hand. One end of this he pushed between one of the side posts which supported the roof, and the plank walls of the house, and did the same with every post of the house, until the rope had gone quite round it, and then he made one end of it fast to the last post, and held the other end in his hand.

By this time the people who lived in the house all came crowding on to pass the night in it, and soon filled it up: the house was so large, and there were so many of them, that they had to light ten fires in it.

When their fires had burnt up brightly, some of them called out to Mango-Pare, the man whom Whakatau had saved alive, and whose tongue he had cut out, “Well now, tell us what kind of looking fellow that was who cut your tongue out;” and Mango-Pare answered, “There is no one I can compare him to, he was not like a man in the proportion of his frame.” One of them then called out, “Was he at all like me?” But Mango-Pare answered, “There is nobody I can compare him to.” Then another called out, “Was he at all like me?” and another, “Was he like me?” until, at length, Mango-Pare called out, “Have I not already told you, that there is not one of you whom I can compare to him?”

Whakatau himself then exclaimed, “Was he at all like me?” And Mango-Pare, who had not before seen him in the crowd, looked attentively at him for a minute, and then cried out, “I say, look here all of you at this fellow, he is not unlike the man, he looks very like him, perhaps it is he himself.” But Whakatau coolly asked him again, “Was the man really something like me?” And Mango-Pare replied, “Yes, he was like you: I really think it was you;” and Whakatau shouted aloud, “You are right, it was I.” As soon as they heard this, all of them in a moment sprang to their feet. But, at the same instant, Whakatau laid hold of the end of the rope which he had passed round the posts of the house, and, rushing out, pulled it with all his strength, and straightway the house fell down, crushing all within it, so that the whole tribe perished, and Whakatau, who had escaped to the outside of the house, set it on fire, and Hine-i-te-iwaiwa, who was sitting upon the roof of her own house watching for the event, saw the whole of one part of the heavens red with its flames, and she knew that her enemies were destroyed. Whakatau, having thus avenged the death of Tuwhakararo, returned to his own village.

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* New Zealand flax.