Time has dealt a hard blow to many of the facts of Maori history. With the coming of the pakeha, the custom of perpetuating history by passing it on verbally gradually fell into disuse. Much was written down before it was too late, but with many ancestors all that is known to-day are one or two main stories concerning them. These have persisted while much other valuable material has been lost for ever.
Thus it is with Tara. What we can tell of him is wrapped page 191up with the story of his cherished pet dog. Nevertheless, this makes a very interesting story, even if it is not a complete record of his life.
As the son of Whatonga and grandson of Toi-kai-rakau, both of whom are mentioned at the commencement of this book, Tara was one of the descendants of the early migration of about 1150 A.D. He lived at Whangara, on the coast east of Gisborne. He owned a very intelligent dog named Potaka. There was a strong bond of love between both man and dog, and Potaka being fed upon the best of foods was a very large animal. The dog was allowed to run loose and was a good hunter. Tara was a very proficient flute player, and he trained Potaka so that the latter would come to him whenever a special call was played on the instrument.
At a certain time a party from this side of Wellington visited Whangara. After their return Tara missed his dog. He searched everywhere and blew his flute, but in vain. Having some suspicion that the visiting party was responsible for the loss of his dog, he came towards Wairoa and went to the top of Whakapunake mountain and blew his flute without result. Going towards the sea-coast he reached the top of a high hill near the present Maori pa at Kihitu and again blew his flute in vain. Thereafter the place was called and is known to the present day as Whakatangihanga-pu-a-Tara or "the blowing of the flute of Tara."
Believing that his dog had been killed by the visiting party, he set out to avenge the killing. He secured a canoe and paddled across the bay, and on reaching the then outlet of Te Ahuriri lagoon, which was then near Petane or Bay View, he urged his canoe a little way up the entrance and ran it ashore. As soon as he jumped ashore and heard the sound of breakers behind him, he remembered his putatara or flute. To his surprise he found that he had forgotten to bring it with him from Wairoa. He gave vent to his surprise by a prolonged ketekete or clicking of the tongue. The entrance to the lagoon and the village on the bank thereafter known at Ketekete-rau, or "many clickings of the tongue." He then proceeded on his journey by land." Reaching the lake near Te Aute, Hawke's Bay, he found the lake to be full of eels and stayed there, naming the lake Te Roto-a-Tara, or "the Lake of Tara," by which name it is known to the present day.
After satisfying his hunger and preparing some food for the way, he continued his journey and reached his objective. page 192Finding the people to be numerically strong, he pretended to be a travelling tohunga, or priest, and offered to teach them occult lore, to which they agreed. He called on and assembled all the strong men to put them through a certain test. In doing so he asked the men in turn to repeat what he was saying. While the people in their turn were following his words, he at the same time called on the spirit of his dog to respond. The dog obeyed his master by yelping out from the throats of those who had eaten him. (Such was the cause of the Whanganui, the Taranaki and the people around about the place, talking the Maori language through the throat.)
Tara having an undoubted proof of the culprits who had murdered his dog, succeeded in alluring the people to go out in their canoes fishing, telling them that it was a very good night for fishing. The fishermen having been advised by Tara to go far out to the sea, set out in their canoes.
During the night Tara called on a storm, which came in hurricane fashion and resulted in the fishermen all being drowned. The fishermen not having returned, the people kept inquiring of Tara as to the fate of the party. To this Tara continued to tell them to be cheerful and to have patience, as the fishermen would turn up in good time. Being satisfied that his dog was amply avenged, Tara set out on his return journey home and left the party awaiting the return of their men-folk. As the realisation that the fishermen were lost slowly dawned upon the waiting people, they knew they had been treacherously misled. Therefore the place was called, and is known to the present day as Whanga-nui-a-Tara, or "the long waiting of Tara."