Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa
Men, Gods and Taniwhas
Men, Gods and Taniwhas.
The Maori people of old deified many of their heroes, others became taniwhas or ghosts, dead, but still alive in their supernatural haunts ready to plague or bless as the case might be. In doing so they were no worse than the Europeans, for did not the English canonize St. George, who slew the dragon; the Scottish people St. Andrew; and the Irish St. Patrick? The French, too, have a national heroine in the person of Joan of Arc, and hundreds of other instances might be given. So the Maoris had their great men, their gods and their taniwhas. They were men, too, though savage, equal to rank with the heroes of old Greece or Rome. They feared not death—indeed, there was nothing they feared but dishonour, and the greatest was that of being cooked in the Maori umu, or oven. Men of honour, too, so much so, that should an enemy claim hospitality he was as safe in the house of the chief, even had he been the slayer of the host's son, as though he were an Israelite clinging to the horns of the altar in one of the cities of refuge. It is recorded of Te, Kani-a-Takirau, who was such a great chief page 95that he was offered the Maori Kingite crown, which he wisely declined, that his life was once spared as a tribute to a brave Maori. It was while one of the pas on the Mahia peninsula was being beseiged that Te Kani was present as a child, and when there appeared to be a chance that the fortress would be taken, Te Kani was carried off by Kauhu, one of his own people and a relative. Potiki, chief of Ngatimaru (Thames), one of the leaders of the seige party, saw the escape and knowing at once that some chief was being carried to safety, gave chase with his own warriors, and soon overtook Kauhu carrying the child on his back. Potiki raised his tomahawk to kill the man and child, when the fleeing brave said to his antagonist: "Kaua ahau e patua ki te patiti tatotako tahu!" (Do not kill me with a common tomahawk used for everyday use!). He then produced from his belt a celebrated greenstone mere named Te Heketua, and handed it to Potiki saying: "E ta! Ina te patu hei patu i ahau kia whakarongo maenane ake ai au" (Oh, sir! here is an appropriate weapon to kill me with, so that I may feel it softly), or in other words, let me be killed with an historical or chief-like weapon. Potiki was so struck with the bravery of the man that he exchanged weapons, and let the man and child go free. Te Kani-a-Takirau died in 1856 at Whangara (Poverty Bay) and was buried with his renowned ancestress, Hine-Matioro, the great Queen of the East Coast. So much for the men, but the women must not be omitted, seeing they were equally brave. Hine-te-ata was about to become a mother, and page 96being of high descent her child, if a boy, was sure to be killed; but one day she noticed her younger sister dressing her hair in a peculiar fashion, and asking why she did so, this reply was given: "I have offered myself for the umu (Maori oven) in place of you my sister." This she did, and laid down her life as a sacrifice.
To keep to my caption, "Men, Gods and Taniwhas," it is enough to say that ancient Maoriland had gods many, both beneficent and otherwise. Io was the great First Cause, for the sun and moon were placed under his shadow. Hina, as a water goddess, and as the moon goddess, was not only the sister, but the wife of Maui, and identical with Isis, the Eternal Mother, and Hine-te-iwaiwa was invoked in the hour of parturition by the Maori women. Io created the first man, Tiki, and Taane, the first woman—but only the man was made a god. Tu, of course, was the god of war; Tane Mahuta was the god of forests; Tangaroa was the god of the ocean; Ru-wa-Mokuroa, shortened to Ru, was the god of earthquakes: Rehua the god of kindness; Tahu the god of feasts; and Tawhiri-Matea, Tangaroa's first assistant; Rua the god of carving; and so on and so on.
Taniwhas? Yes, rather, hundreds of them, inhabiting all areas of this country. Some, fierce living monsters, others merely rocks, trees or other objects, and sometimes great chiefs whose names were kept alive by this form of canonization—of such is the story of Tapuae and Te Maha as guardian taniwhas of the Wairoa bar. Tapuae and Te Maha were brothers, and apparently great page 97chiefs, and well cared for by their mother, Hine-Pehingo. As a chief, Tapuae's name "struck against the skies," but both are immortalized as taniwhas. Tapuae had his home on the west side of the river mouth and Te Maha the east side, and between the two there was a perpetual contest raging as to where the entrance to the sea should be. When the channel was on the east side Te Maha was overjoyed, for he only had a short distance to reach the fishing grounds, and vice versa. But when the authorities in Napier cut a new channel near the Heads they took an unwarrantable advantage of Te Maha, who still makes attempts to drag it back eastwards. Tupaheke is a taniwha said to live beneath a flat-topped rock near the Heads, harmless to local people, but let a stranger tread on it and along comes a "southerly buster" by way of protest. There was another, partly in the category of taniwha and god, the locale being Te Reinga. Of the Ngati-Hine-hika of Te Reinga, their great ancestor Tane-kino is said to have intermarried with a race of taniwha, who originally inhabited Wakapunake and Te Reinga. They allege that the first six generations from Iwhara to Hine-korako were not quite men and women as we understand the term but a species of man-god or water-spirit. Even so the human side got the upper hand when Hine-korako fell in love and lived with Tane-kino, bearing a son whom they called Taurenga. When this child was born, the mother was subjected to taunts and inuendoes on account of her taniwha ancestry, and she forsook husband and child and returned to her watery page 98home under Te Reinga Falls, thereafter to watch over the interests of her descendants when the call for succour came. The last time her aid was sought was during a very heavy flood in the Hangaroa river, when Ngati-hine-hika were flooded out in the middle of the night…. Down swept the canoes to the dreaded falls, now a raging cascade, and just at the right time one old man who had maintained his presence of mind called aloud on Hine-korako for help, and immediately the rush of the canoes to the falls was stopped, and all the frail boats were saved!
Akin to the heading, "Men, Gods and Taniwhas," there is a good deal of what present-day folk call superstition among the older natives in respect to the kehua, or Maori ghost. The word "ghost" must not, however, be taken in the sense that Europeans use it, as referring to the reappearance in wraith-like form of one long since dead, but as a kind of mana or influence, or sense of possession of the supernatural. This might be found, according to the temperament of the Maori or the situation in which he proved to be at the time, in the movement of a leaf, the swishing of the wings of a bird, or a bird-note in the forest. These weird manifestations more often occurred in the night than in the day for the former was a period during which the average superstitious Maori dreaded to go abroad. They always had the fear in their hearts of the patu-pai-arehe, or "the fairies" as the Irish had of the "Banshee," or the Scots of the "Benshie." But an exception must be made here in favour of the Urewera tribesmen, who gained the page 99soubriquet of "Nga Iwi Haerepo," the tribe that travels in the dark and, generally speaking, the Ngatikahungunu of the Coast, were more deeply steeped in black magic than, perhaps, any tribe in Aotearoa, for had they not in their midst the most powerful tohungas to whom they rendered implicit obedience? The absence of fear in night-travel by the Urewera may be accounted for by the fact that for hundreds of years the Urewera lived in the dark forests and so had become unafraid of the Kehua which so sadly beset the coast dwellers. But the Urewera, or Tuhoe folk, must have often craved for the light of the sun to beam upon them, and this might account for the burning of the forests of Huiarau in 1849, and for the many attempts of Tuhoe to subdue Ruapani and Ngatikahungunu and gain possession of Lake Waikaremoana and the surrounding lands. In these efforts, though Ruapani was all but annihilated, or at least rendered too weak to fight, Ngatikahungunu were victors. So, when we read in the classics of old Rome and ancient Greece of the labours of Hercules and the warlike exploits of the Greeks, why should we deny to the Maoris an ancient lineage and an unsullied escutcheon? They probably were an ancient race, living on the foothills of the Himalayas long before Rome or Greece was born. Why, when we admit the giant Polyphemus, whose walking stick was a young pine tree, should we deny a similar place to Te Otane, the giant warrior of Old Wairoa? A son-in-law of the great Tapuae, long ago canonized in Maori fashion, he was so huge that seven men could be embraced with his tatua, or page 100girdle, and going into battle it took three men to carry his ponderous club or maipi? When the Plantagenets, the Vere de Vere's or the Cecils are heard boasting of their ancient ancestry, do not forget, dear reader, that the Maoris were semi-civilized and educated in the "whare kura" when the Britons were accustomed to sally forth with a club or a weapon akin to the shillelagh to knock down a wife, or when they attended evening parties in the forests, attired in the latest fast colours of woad dabbed on with a brush. And should we not, in all fairness, class Maui, who fished up Aotearoa from the depths of the sea, as a prodigy, or a demi-god along with the gentleman with the long name, Te Wakatapauruarikikoatikirahauea, who not only reached New Zealand from Hawaiki but circumnavigated both islands before Columbus, Tasman or Cook were born? And when we encourage our boys to read Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues under the Sea" let us not forget Paikea who adopted a whale and made a semi-submarine trip to these lands, and this was long before the days of Kupe, Toi, or any of that tribe. Or why query the starting up of fire on snow-clad Tongariro or Ruapehu to warm up a half-frozen Hawaiki emigre or deny the power of love that drove Egmont from the inland home to the Taranaki coast there to be a beacon or a sighting peak for the Pakeha aeroplanes crossing the Tasman? No! perish the thought! We will not deny the Maori, his gods, his taniwhas or his heroes and their wonderful doings, equal to rank with those of classic Rome or Greece, or the descendants of Boadicea, Queen of Ancient Britain page 101long before the English language came into being. So let the Maoris keep, not only their ancient arts and crafts but their taniwhas, as many of you have your own old fables and superstitions. But a few only must suffice as referring to this district. Hine Korako, mentioned in another article as the peculiar possession of Te Reinga, is said by one authority to have come from Hawaiki on the Takitimu. In the Papuni district, between Maunga-pohatu and the East Coast, there are two hills called O-rakai-whaia, west side of Ruakituri river and Taunga-a-tara on the east side. In ages past O-rakai-whaia (the male) called to the other to come to his side for his wife. She did so and in consequence the river was blocked, thus forming the Papuni Lake. Pou-rangahua then lived in the locality and taking his canoe went to the base of O-rakai-whaia and by the powers of magic he rent the hills apart, whereon the waters receded, and only the small Papuni lake was left until the 'fifties of last century. At that time Tutaka and some others cut a channel to drain the upper lake so as to secure the eels there. The waters burst with great violence and descended with such force as to cause several other ponds and the lake to break out, leaving nothing but a small lagoon or pond. This was in 1856, and the Natives for many years contended that the demon, Rua-mano, had caused this damage. Te Kuri-nui-o-Meko (the Great Beast of Meko) was another taniwha, a ngarara, or fabulous reptile that lived in a cave on the left bank of the Waikare-taheke river about opposite Wai-mako. It slew many people, and at last those who were left built a heavy cage into page 102which the Great Beast was enticed by means of a human bait. A man approached the cave in which the monster lived and when pursued fled to the cage; the beast entered, was trapped and killed at leisure. Hine-paka was another taniwha, or a tipua, of the female sex, who resided sometimes at Waikaremoana and at other times in the Putere lakes, passing underground from one lake to the other. Tipua means a goblin, or a demon, and there were many in Tuhoeland, among them a totara tree on Huiarau growing on a tawai, and another, Marae-roa, a tawa, a deformed tree stripped of its leaves to provide good luck to the tribe. Then there is the famous tipua, or enchanted log mentioned in the story of Hinerau. Animals also constituted tipua, as witness the Dog of Mahu that is said to dwell in the waters of Roto-nui-o-Ha, a small lake at Putere. This dog is heard to bark beneath the waters when any important person is about to die. There is (or was) a famous tipua lake at Wai-rau, in the Waikaremoana area, It was a famous place for snaring birds but very tapu. One hunter warned his wife not to pass before him when carrying food, but, womanlike, she did not heed the injunction, and did so, and the lake disappeared, no one ever since having been able to find it.
Allied to the subject of this chapter is that of tohungaism, but as it is about as dead as Julius Caesar I am only going to make a casual reference to it. It seems certain that the tohunga of Maoriland is a counterpart of the fakir of India, though but a poor imitation thereof. In the early days of Wairoa the Maoris associated the page 103preachers of the Gospel with their own tohungas, for a Maori giving evidence in the local Land Court stated in connection with something that Tamihana Huata had said or done: "Tamihana lived at such-and-such a place before he became a tohunga," so that the tohunga and the preachers of the Gospel mysteries were also tohungas in the Maori mind, and so they classed the holy men, Moses and Aaron performing before Pharoah and his Egyptians. To-day, tohungaism is moribund and only now and then does it give a spasmodic kick, to prove that it has not gone out of existence.
For a full meed of unconscious humour commend rue to the Irishman. He is far apart in this respect from the Scotsman. Proof of this was afforded at an inquest held in Wairoa in the early days into the circumstances attending the death of a carrier by the capsizing of his dray on one of the Wairoa "roads," the death occurring the following day. The village constable put the workmate of the deceased in the box and said, "Now tell His Worship all you know about this unfortunate affair." The witness stepped into the box and began, "Sorr, yer Anner, shure he was kilt intoirely on the Monday, an' he died on the Tuesday." Then the Coroner exploded with wrath, and said, "Stand down!" and he stood down.