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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

The Story of Rukutia and Tu-te-koropanga

The Story of Rukutia and Tu-te-koropanga

In the South Island version of the story of Rukutia and Tu-te-koropanga, a tale preserved in New Zealand and the Hawaiian Isles, we have another allusion to the origin of tattooing, into which the name of Mataora does not enter. One Tama was the first husband of Rukutia, but the latter, in later days, preferred the better looking Tu-te-koropanga, and so went off with him. Tama decided to descend to the underworld and there consult the spirits of his forbears, and on this journey he assumed the form of the kotuku (white heron). In that realm he encountered two of his ancestors named Tuwhenua and Tumaunga, whom he found to be embellished with very ornate designs of tattoo. Tama desired to be adorned in a similar manner, and so his forbears marked such designs on his body, but they were merely painted patterns and so were not durable, while he was bathing they became effaced. He then asked to be tattooed properly by the puncturing method, but was told that he must apply to Toko and Ha, two more of his ancestors who abode at the place of Tuapiko and Tawhaitiri. These latter are two beings who are stationed at a narrow pass through which spirits had to pass on their way to a lower division of the underworld. Here at last was Tama properly tattooed, though he suffered excessively during the operation.

Tama returned home and then set off in search of his wife Rukutia, who had eloped with Tu-te-koropanga. He so disguised himself that his handsome tattooing was unseen, and forced his page 238way through many obstacles set up by Tu to prevent his finding Rukutia. Thus he made his way through thorny thickets and, by means of magic spells, caused obstructing hills to open out and let him pass. So he reached the home of Tu where he associated with menials and awaited the appearance of Rukutia, who was to join the posture dancers in the evening. When she so appeared Tama repeated a charm that caused her eyes to water constantly and so profusely that she had to desist, being quite unable to take her part in the performance. This so angered Tu that he beat her, and made her cry.

When all the people of the house were asleep that night Tama produced some extremely fragrant substance, called rotu, that he had produced in the underworld. This delightful odour attracted the notice of Rukutia, who said: "What a sweet scent of rotu. Does this come from my husband, Tama?" Tu remarked: "How could Tama overcome all my spells and obstructions?" But Rukutia said: "Methinks the eyes of the mean looking man resembled the eyes of Tama."

Tama then left the house and went to the stream and washed himself, after which he donned fine garments and ornaments, and so appeared as a handsome, splendidly tattooed man. By means of reciting a certain charm he caused Rukutia to become restless and so to come out of the house. When she saw her first husband so brave and handsome she implored him to take her with him to their old home, and away from the man who had beaten her. But Tama said: "Not so, you abandoned me for a handsomer man, now stay you with him. In the days that lie before I will return hither." So Tama returned to his place.

In after days Tama set off in his vessel and sailed to the home of Tu-te-koropanga, but found that place surrounded by fierce sharks and other savage creatures under the influence of the magician Tu. When attacked by these man-rending monsters he confused some by throwing ashes into the water, while to others he cast pieces of timber, the which they stayed to rend; so passed the hero Tama on his way. When Rukutia saw the bright sail of Tama's vessel she swam out to meet it, whereupon Tama took her on board, where he slew her and then sailed back home with the body of his wife. Then Tama fashioned a form of coffin, placed the body therein and buried it in his house, near the wall. There, in the house of death, Tama remained mourning for his wife Rukutia; in the whare-potae the house of mourning he abode.

When Mahuru had come from afar, and the forerunners of Hine-raumati, the Summer Maid, were heard in the land, Tama page 239yet tarried in the house of mourning. Then Rango the messenger gave him a sign, whereupon tama opened the coffin and found that Rukutia had come to life again—"her cheeks were moving with a sweet smile".

It is not quite clear as to why Tama should slay his wife and then spend so much time in mourning for her, but doubtless he believed he was doing the proper thing.

Another version of the above story gives the full name of Tama as Tama-nui-a-rangi, and Tama goes to Mataora in order to be tattooed. Tama goes "below" to see Mataora, apparently to the underworld. This version is inadequate and confused, in its latter part Tama, the husband of Rukutia, of eastern Polynesia, is confused with Tama-ahua who sought greenstone at Arahura. One of the concluding sentences of this version runs as follows: "Tama went to Aotearoa to settle and remained permanently at that place." This probably refers to Tama-ahua, though he did not settle permanently here. We are told that he went to Aotearoa (New Zealand) perhaps because the narrator was a South Island native. Long years ago, when some of the Ngati-Porou Native Contingent returned home to the east coast, I asked one of them what he thought of Taranaki, where they had been serving. He explained to me the inferiority of Taranaki as a place of residence, and concluded with the remark: "Nui atu te pai o Niu Tireni (New Zealand is a better place)." To him New Zealand was represented by the east coast of the North Island, while Taranaki was a foreign, and hence inferior land.

A third version of the story closely resembles the first given above, and ends with the account of Rukutia regaining life and smiling upon Tama—"Oreore ana nga paparinga o Rukutia ki te kata ki a Tama". It is often difficult to see the moral in Maori stories, and one wonders why Rukutia should smile upon the men who had cut her head off.

When Mataora returned from Rarohenga to this upper world many people visited his house, Poririta, in order to look upon this new style of decorating the body. One Tutangata persuaded Mataora to embellish his body with this marvellous tattooing of the underworld, but Mataora was not a skilled artist and so sadly disfigured the hapless Tu, who was known thereafter as Tutangatakino, Tutangata the repulsive. After that Maru and Uekaihau were tattooed, and then indeed were seen the beauties of this new mode of decoration, the fame of which spread to Awarau, to Tonga-nui to Rangiatea, to Hui-te-rangiora, which are names of isles in the region of Tawhiti. A messenger came page 240asking Mataora to visit Irihia, the home of Nuku-wahirangi, that the folk of those parts might see Mataora and his tattooing. The designs tattooed on Mataora were the poniania design on the nose, the pihere near the mouth, the ngu on the nose, and the tiwhana lines on the forehead. It was in this upper world that other designs were evolved, being in the first place carved by Nuku-te-aio and Rua-i-tepupuke on a wooden image. It was now that Huruwaru was tattooed in manner precise and admirable, so much so that the Pipe-o-te-rangi named him Moko-huru-waru. Nuirareka had but few tattooed designs, they were a cross on either cheek and one on the forehead, the lip and chin tattooing was a later usage. The latter was first employed in this land, being in the first place marked on a gourd water-vessel. It was first tattooed on Iranui by Kahukuranui, the design having been first sketched by Kuhukura-kotare.