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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

The Legend of Whiro and Tura

The Legend of Whiro and Tura

Here we have another story that apparently pertains to another historical personage, an old Polynesian sea rover who eventually came to New Zealand. In one version of the story this hero of the southern seas has one Tura associated with him, and this version has gathered some peculiar mythical accretions in the course of time; certainly this is the more popular form of the tale. In another and superior version of the story of Whiro, for which see the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 31, pp. 111-116, we find that the name of Tura does not appear, and that nothing more extraordinary appears than an exhibition of white magic.

In the former version Whiro and Tura set forth from one of the isles of Polynesia on a voyage, but after a time they parted company. We are told that Whiro sailed off to "the wawau", which may possibly mean the island of Wawau mentioned in Maori tradition (Vavau, an old name of Borabora Island, is probably the Wawau of the Maori). After this separation we hear no more of Whiro in this version, and the story then concentrates on the story of Tura. The superior version shows that Whiro reached New Zealand on that occasion, landing at Oakura on the Taranaki coast, where he is still remembered, from that place he moved to Karioi, hence the full name, Karioi-a-Whiro.

Meanwhile Tura is said to have reached a far land where he encountered a strange people who knew not the use of fire and lived on raw food products. Also in that land were seen certain singular creatures called in story the Aitanga or offspring of Nukumaitore, strange beings who lived in trees, who had bodies but no heads. Tura declined the uncooked food offered him and set about kindling a fire in order to cook food for himself; when the fire flared up, and the smoke rose, the people were so alarmed that they fled into the forest. When, however, the oven was uncovered, and the savoury odours of cooked food were wafted far, then some returned and begged to be allowed to taste the food so strangely prepared.

Tura the voyager took to wife a woman of the fireless raw-eaters, and, as time rolled on, a child was about to be born when some women came to the abode of Tura, women who brought with them keen edged stone flakes such as were used for knives. page 218Tura enquired their errand, whereupon he was told that they had come to operate on the mother and so ensure the delivery of the infant. Thus Tura found that, among those strange folk no infants were born in the usual manner, but always the dreadful operation that necessitated the death of the mother was performed. Then Tura set about mending this state of things, and so prepared conveniences for his wife, and gave her certain instructions, the result being that their child was born in the normal manner as known to ordinary people.

Again time rolled on, until at a time the wife of Tura said to him: "O Tura! What are the white marks on your head, the white streaks I see among the black hair?" Said Tura: "Those white streaks are the grey hairs that betoken age, decay and death." Again she enquired: "Do they truly portend everlasting death?" And Tura replied: 'They are the forerunners of eternal death." "O Tura! Does man, then, die two deaths?" she asked. Then it was that Tura came to know that he must leave that land, that death must not be allowed to enter that realm, he must go far away, to some distant land, ere death came, ere Maiki-nui came from Taiwhetuki to call him to his fathers.

For the space of two days Tura wept over and greeted his child and wife, for two days his wife mourned over him. Then Tura, over whom hung the shadow of death, left wife and child and went forth from the land that death might not enter, to seek in unknown places a home whereat to die. When extreme old age came to him in a far land, when he could no longer walk erect, but crawled on all fours, then, in the dark hours of night, he called upon his son in his far away home. As that son, Iraturoto, slept, he heard the voice of Tura the mortal one calling: "O Iraturoto! O Iraturoto!" The son told his mother of the voice of Tura heard by him at night; then he took oil and oiled his body carefully, he prepared for a long journey and fared north across far lands in search of Tura, his father, ever listening to the cry of "O Iraturoto!" that came upon the night wind. In a far land that gives upon the hanging sky Ira came to the home of Tura at last; but one had reached that place before him, for dread Maiki-nui had come, borne by the Wind Children, and called upon Tura to tread the path that leads by Tahekeroa to the underworld of Rarohenga.

In another version we are told that Tura, Whiro and Hua, a brother of Whiro, sailed away over the ocean and encountered great danger in the wahu o te kanihi, whatever that may be, possibly something similar to the waha o te Parata. This latter is page 219said to be an abyss or whirlpool in mid-ocean. Tura went ashore, apparently allowing Hua and Whiro to continue their voyage, and on the strand of Matiti encountered the strange Aitanga o Nukumaitore. We are distinctly told that Tura took one of these folk, Turakihau by name, to wife, that her people were astonished at Tura's plan for bringing infants into the world unaccompanied by death of the mother. But it appears that, after all, the death of the mother was not of a permanent nature, having expired during the Caesarian operation her body was conveyed to the wai ora a Tane where it was bathed in those life-giving waters with marvellous results, for she at once regained the life of this world.

A brief version of the Whiro and Tura story was recorded by Wohlers; it resembles the first version given by John White, both pertaining to the South Island. (White, Ancient History of the Maori, vol. 2, p. 13). The Wohlers version speaks of the Nukumaitore folk as having shrunken bodies and very short limbs, and apparently living in trees (Transactions of N.Z. Institute, vol. 8, pp. 121-123).

Grey hairs are spoken of as though they originated with Tura, and they are termed the Tarutaru o Tura, or Weeds of Tura, often Nga Taru o Tura. In the second version mentioned above Turakihau asks Tura the meaning of his grey hairs, and he replies: 'They are a token of the decay of man, a sign of coming death." Then she asks: "O Tura! and will you truly die, and die forever!" When told that he would she took the child and fled from him, leaving Tura to end his days in sad solitude. But, when Tura waxed old and feeble his child sought him and tended him until his death. He conveyed Tura to the waters and bathed his body, but to no avail. So Tura died, and so, even unto this time, have greys hairs and death come to mankind.

In other accounts of Whiro, both Maori and Polynesian, no mention is made of Tura, and we have merely a tale of duplicity and tragedy pertaining to Polynesia, and the voyage of Whiro to New Zealand. Whiro was known far and wide athwart Polynesia, and there are several accounts of his doings in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, vols. 12, 21, 25, 26 and 31.