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Maori Religion and Mythology Part 2

Folk Tales of the Grey Hills

Folk Tales of the Grey Hills

In all lands of all peoples and all times folk tales have ever clung to the grey hills, to majestic mountains, and the forests that lie below them. These are the regions wherein we expect to find, and do find, strange tales of strange beings, quaint beliefs concerning fairies, wood elves, man-slaying monsters, and other mythical creatures that originated in the credulous mind of barbaric man. Our Polynesian folk have not been behindhand in these mental figments, and so we find many such tales among the Maori people of these isles, where assuredly hills and forests are, or were, ever in evidence. For, although the grey hills abide forever, yet the forests that were tenanted by the Hakuturi and other weird creatures of old, have disappeared from many districts, hence it were well to record some of the demon lore of the Maori ere it be lost even as the moa is lost.

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Most of the myths pertaining to mountains preserved by the Maori hinges upon the personifying of such prominent features, and so we find that hills and mountains have been endowed with powers of speech and locomotion, also with sex, hence they were given and taken in marriage. As women have ever been a source of contention, so the female mountains of yore caused trouble in this land of Te Ika a Maui. Anon we will discourse upon a serious family quarrel among the Taupo mountains and of strange occurrences that followed. We know that Mt. Kakepuku on the Waipa was viewed as the wife of Pirongia, and the Tuhoe folk tell us of a marriage between two prominent hills near Waikaremoana. This latter was truly a singular procedure and formed a part of the peace-making ceremonial that brought to an end the long drawn out'fighting between the Tuhoe folk and those of Wairoa. The chief Hipara of the latter place stated his intention of giving his daugher as a wife to one of Tuhoe in order to bind the peace-making. The boundary between the two tribes was laid down near the two hills known as Kuha-tarewa and Tuhi-o-Kahu, situated eastward of the above-mentioned lake, and it was decided that these two hills be made man and wife. This ingenious plan seems to have originated with Tuhoe, the marriage or union of the two hills was to parallel the union of the two persons, as proposed by the Wairoa chief, even so should peace settle firmly down upon the homes of men. So it was that Kuhatarewa was said to be a female, and Tuhi-o-Kahu a male and then these two were joined as one to act as upholders of peace, the peace that held the debatable land even to the day of the Pakeha, and endures, and endures, and endures.

All tribes have on their tribal lands a mountain, or hill, or range, that is viewed as representing the mana of the tribe, in some cases several hills were celebrated in some such way, and such hills or mounts were often viewed as being tapu, as were Mt. Egmont, Tongariro and Maungapohatu. Certain tribes boasted of having famous mountains within their possession, while others had to be contented with peaks or mounts of but 3000 or 4000 ft. altitude, or even less. These tribal mounts were often mentioned in tribal aphorisms, as in the following cases—

  • Ko Tongariro te maunga, koTuwharetoa te iwi (Tongariro is the mountain, while the tribe is Tuwharetoa)
  • Ko Maungapohatu te maunga, ko Pohokorua te tangata o raw (Maungapohatu is the mountain, and Pohokorua the principal person beneath it). This Pohokorua was a famed chief of the Nga Potiki clan of Tuhoe dwelling near Maungapohatu.
  • Ko Hikurangi te maunga, ko Waiapu te awa, ko Ngati-Porou te iwi (Hikurangi is the mountain, Waiapu the river, while the people are Ngati-Porou)
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Such mountains as these three were termed maunga tipua and maunga haruru, the first of these terms denoting what we might call an enchanted mountain, a weird place possessed of strange inherent powers, and the haunt of uncanny creatures. The latter term is applied to hills, peaks, etc., whereat thunder often resounds, and the Maori tells us that it is mostly heard near hills possessing mana, inherent powers. Many such hills are also rua koha, lightning is wont to play about their crests, and from both thunder and lightning the Maori derived unions; this fact alone would certainly lead to such hills being viewed as mana -possessing, if not actually tapu. An old saying is to the effect that such mountains weep when a stranger trespasses upon them, albeit they do the same when local folk ascend them, in many cases. My first attempt to ascend Maungapohatu was met by her persistent and frigid tears, but my worthy friend Hinau-branch, he who shot Pane-takataka at Te Kakari, endeavoured to console me by saying that it was but a kindly greeting, and that, on the next occasion, Hinemaunga would provide fine weather.

Of the fairies and strange monsters, tuaro, and taniwha, and heketoro of Maungapohatu we will speak anon, but may here point out that this peak, like many others, is specially tapu on account of its burial caves, places wherein, for centuries past, have been deposited exhumed bones of the dead. These are the whara, the anakorotu, wherein we see bundles of mouldering bones, the remains of the descendants of the old sea rovers, of Maruiwi refugees and of the crossbred Toi folk.

Hikurangi is said to have been the name of a mountain in the far away hidden homeland of the Maori, and he has carried it with him as a hill name across wide seas, hence we have Hikurangi as a mountain and hill name at Tahiti, at Rarotonga, and at many places in New Zealand.

We must now discuss a serious crisis in the family history of our North Island mountains, and show how jealousy broke up a family and brought about a dispersal of its members. You must know, says the Maori, that in remote times many notable mountains dwelt in harmony in the Taupo district, but, owing to a quarrel over a female, one of the principal mountains was compelled to seek a new home, while others left and proceeded northward toward the sea. We are not told what urged these latter migrants to take the road, possibly the violence of Tongariro rendered the old home unpleasant for quiet folk. The story of the family jar and the remarkable travels of its members runs as follows—

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In days long past the Taupo mountain group was composed of many members, for at that time, Taranaki, Kakaramea, Ruawahia, Putanaki, Maungapohatu, Moutohora, Whakaari and Paepae-aotea occupied their old-time home at Taupo, and the family group was a goodly sight. Now at that period Taranaki (Mt. Egmont) occupied what is now the site of the lake Roto-a-Ira, but that mountain was then known as Pukeonaki, the name of Taranaki was given it in later times. This Pukeonaki was much given to admiring one of the lesser mounts, Pihanga, who is a female of the mountain breed, but Pihanga was the wife of great Tongariro at the time, and so trouble arose at Taupo-nui-a-tia. A violent quarrel between the two giants now ensued, to end in the expulsion of Pukeonaki, who resolved to seek a new and more tranquil home beneath the setting sun. Even so the huge form of Pukeonaki traversed the red west road, but, owing to his great weight he scored a huge furrow across the land that is now represented by the deep canyons of Manga-nui-te-au and the Whanganui river. During his flight some fragments dropped from the great bulk of Pukeonaki and these are seen in the form of certain rocks in the Whanganui river below Ohura, and others near Waitotara. When he reached Te Ngaere, the mountain rested a space, so causing a great depression of the land, a hollow that later was known to us as the Ngaere swamp. Proceeding on his way he found progress blocked by the bulk of the Pouakai range, and so he passed the night there. In the morning he found that Pouakai had thrown out a new flank spur that prevented all further movement, since which time Pukeonaki has never ceased to look down on the fair lands of Taranaki and the ever rolling battalions of Hinemoana. But, ever and anon, Hine-makohu brings the white mist, while Hine-kapua hales the Cloud Children from far regions, and then men say that Pukeonaki is mourning for his old-time love Pihanga.

We are told in some versions of this myth that Pukeonaki, or Taranaki, was preceded by a guide, and this guide is yet seen in the form of a great stone called the Toka or rock of Rauhoto on the south side of Stoney River. This rock has certain peculiar devices incised upon it. Rauhoto is said to have been the name of the wife of Rua-taranaki, after whom the mountain was last named. Taurua of Rahotu tells us that Rauhoto and Wheoi were two females who flourished at the time when Pukeonaki was seeking a new home. They reported to Rua-taranaki that Pukeonaki had reached Whanganui, and so a person was sent to observe, and he came back and stated that Pukeonaki was really page 468there. Then it was resolved to send a party to conduct Pukeonaki to the place where he now stands, such was to be his location, and so Rauhoto, Wheoi, Aonui, Aoroa and others set off for that purpose. Six of these messengers bear the names of cloud personifications. When they reached Wanganui they found that Pukeonaki had taken root and so become fixed, hence they had much difficulty in loosening it or him; in the end they decided to cause him to sink still further and to pass underground to Taranaki. Wheoi accompanied the mountain on his subterranean passage, while Rauhoto proceeded on the surface to act as a scout, the route was by way of the ocean. Then they turned landward when opposite Hangatahua, and arrived at the place where Mt. Taranaki now stands, at which place Pukeonaki was violently blown upward by Hioi. This name may be in error for Wheoi, or possibly Hineoi, a mythical being concerned with earthquakes and volcanic phenomena. When the mountain was erupted many persons perished at Kaimirumiru. The three stones seaward of Rahotu called Heihana, Rengopapa and Haeroa are spoken as females, as representing women, but we know nought of interest concerning them.

We also have another brief recital anent Taranaki the ambulant. This narrative is to the effect that, in ancient times, the mountain stood at Roto-a-Ira where one may still see the hollow in which it stood. Taranaki, Auruhoe and Ruapehu strove to filch away the wife of Tongariro, the mount of Pihanga, and the end was that Taranaki sought peace afar off. On reaching his present site he was seen by Tahurangi, who cried: "Oh! There is a land mass moving hitherward." In order to stay his progress he seized a firebrand and cast it at the summit of Taranaki, so as to affect his tapu and bring him to a standstill. Then Taranaki halted and so he is now seen standing lone and mateless on the plain; and when Hine-makohu the Mist Maid is seen hovering round the summit of lone Taranaki men say: "The smoke of the fire of Tahurangi has appeared", and it is also known as "The fire of Tahurangi."

When the Toka a Rauhoto found that Taranaki had halted, its duties naturally ceased, and so it took its stand where we now see it, but its tapu is now no more and so men fearlessly approach it. A brief note states that Taranaki was halted and rendered immovable by means of a potent spell repeated over it by a magician; that spell was of the class termed matapou, which has already been referred to, and which, I fear, we shall yet again encounter. Taylor (Te Ika a Maui, p. 205) collected a version of page 469our mountain myth that places Taranaki as the wife of Tongariro; she ran away from him owing to ill treatment and hence we find her a lone guardian of the western sea, and doubtless brooding over a wrecked life. The following couplet is to the effect that Tongariro and Taranaki are far sundered owing to the trouble over Pihanga, and the singer seems to look upon himself as a descendant of the strife-racked mountains.

Te ke Tongariro, motu ke Taranaki, he riri ki a Pihanga Waiho i muri nei te uri ko au.

Turning to the Matatua versions of these orological myths we find that the Tuhoe story is to the effect that it was great Rangi and Sky Father who gave Pihanga as a wife for Tongariro, their offspring being rain, wind, and storms. In order to prove this statement they quote the following lines from an old song:

Na Rangi max ono nana i whakamoe ko Pihanga te wahine Hai na, hai hau, hai marangai ki te muri … e.

The Ngati-Awa story is that Pihanga and Awiuhoe (or Ngauruhoe) were both wives of Tongariro, and that, when quarrels broke up the group of mountains at Taupo, then many hills and minor "persons" moved northward toward the Bay of Plenty. So came Kakaramea (Rainbow Mountain), Putauaki (Mt. Edgecumbe), Ruawahia, Pohaturoa (a picturesque rock mesa at Atiamuri), Whatiura (a hill near Mt. Edgecumbe), Moutohora (Whale Island), Whakaari (White Island), and Paepae-aotea (a rock islet near White Island), while Tuhoe include Maungapohatu, Tapanaua, Toka-a-Houmea, Hingarae, Tokatapu, and the Maramara o Maungapohatu, of which Maungapohatu alone is of majestic stature, the others being merely isolated boulders and rock masses. Whatiura and Pohaturoa are spoken of as the wives of Putauaki; one of these wives, presumably the former, was so dilatory in her task of cooking a meal that Putauaki became fixed at his present site, he took root as Taranaki did at Whanganui. Ruawahia also got into trouble, inasmuch as he encountered one Mahoihoi, a magician of parts, and the two quarrelled and came to blows. Rua aimed a sturdy blow at Mahoi, who warded it off and clave Ruawahia in twain, hence the name of that hill, it was the cleaving of Tarawera. We shall see that it was the lesser folk, the children of the mountain folk, who travelled farthest, indeed some of them got out into the ocean where they yet stand. As in most other folk tales of this class the advent of day brought to an end the movements of these travelling mountains and their offspring, wherever daylight found them there they became fixed. page 470We must therefore presume that these enchanted mountains could move only at night, and were limited to a one night march.

In one version we are told that Kakaramea was the wife of Maungapohatu; and the two disagreed as to their movements. Kakara enquired: "To what place shall we go?" The Rocky Mountain replied: "Let us travel northward." But Kakara remarked: "Not so, let us go southward." Said Maunga: "My desire is the north." And so they fell to wrangling, until at length Kakaramea said: "Let us remain here, or I will take our children and seek a new home when we have partaken of food." But Maungapohatu would have none of this, and so he set forth with his children, and the mother was compelled to follow or lose her children. Now those children, being young and lightfooted, got far in advance of their parents, as children will, be they human or mineral, and so, when dawn came and stayed further progress, the family was far scattered. Maungapohatu became fixed at the extremity of the Huiarau range, Kakaramea looks down on Waiotapu, while of their offspring Tapanaua stands as a rock in the Tauranga river, the Toka-a-Houmea as another near Whakatane; Hingarae and Tokatapu are two rocks in the entrance to the Whakatane river, Moutohora, Whakaari and Paepae-aotea are isles in the Bay of Plenty, while the Maramara or fragment of Maungapohatu is a rock in the Ohara stream, near Nga Mahanga, Whakatane river.

In yet another version Maungapohatu appears as a female, and she is said to have hurried on past Putauaki, fearing that day might dawn ere she reached the sea, hence she did not tarry to cook a meal by the wayside. We are not told how she strayed so far from her path as to reach Huiarau. Now when day came Putanaki, looming lone and lonesome north of Kaingaroa, saw Maungapohatu afar off, and his desire was toward her, hence he lifted up his voice and sang the following song, which, as a love song, seems peculiar, not to say highly inappropriate:

Kaore hoki e te mate whanawhana i roto ra
Me Kawe rawa ahau nga raw whare i Pakipaki
Whakatauki max numia ki ahau ka uriri te haere
Epura ana te kanohi ki te titiro max ki ahau
Motu koura ko Whakaari, motu kuia ko Rurima
Motu mana Moutohora, puke i ahua e te tipua ko Putanaki
Moana i takahia e Kupe te hau ki Katikati.

The Tuhoe folk living in the vicinity of Maungapohatu hold other views concerning the origin of Whale Island and White page 471Island, which, they state, were originally a part of the Huiarau range. They appear to have detached themselves and to have started on a race to the sea. They found it necessary to force their way through the hills of that rugged district, and in doing this they formed the valleys down which the Whakatane and Tauranga (Waimana) rivers now flow; it was Whakaari (White Island) that formed the Whakatane valley, and Moutohora (Whale Island) that left the Waimana valley in its wake. Now both these ambulatory hills halted during their progress in order to cook and partake of meals, and Whakaari proved to be the deft cook, for we are told that he had finished his meal when Moutohora was just opening his oven. This meant that the future White Island obtained an advantage and so got ahead of Moutohora; ere long the latter heard the resounding tumult caused by Whakaari rushing into the sea. Moutohora then realised that he had been beaten in the race seaward, hence, presumably to spare himself unnecessary exertion, he turned westward and followed in the track of Whakaari, and so we now see the Tauranga (Waimana) river a tributary of the Whakatane. On reaching the ocean Moutohora no longer followed in the wake of Whakaari, but turned aside, and so we now see them standing far apart.

The Maori assuredly possessed a genius for personification, and when he not only endows the surrounding hills with the powers of locomotion and speech, but also with those of assimilating food and reproduction, then he seems to have about reached the limit of that faculty. We see that the children of the mountain folk followed their parents in their travels, and, in other folk tales, we find that man himself sometimes claims to be descended from mountains. The bushmen of Maungapohatu allude to that rugged mass as a tribal mother and caretaker, while the old-time tribe Nga Potiki is, in a popular myth, said to have originated in the union of Te Maunga and Hine-pukohu, the Mountain and the Mist Maid.

Orakaiwhaia and Taunga-a-tara were two hills that stood in the Papuni district, one on either side of the Ruakituri river. In olden times the former hill looked upon Taunga and saw that she was fair, hence he called her to him, and she came and was taken to wife by Rakai. But the fact that they had come together stopped the flow of Ruakituri, and so a lake was formed at Te Papuni. This inundation of lands seems to have irked one Pourangahua, a resident of that wild region, and so he entered his canoe, and paddled across the lake to Orakaiwhaia, where, by means of his magic powers, he succeeded in rending the two hills page 472apart, and so liberated the pent-up waters and reduced the lake to a small sheet of water.

In the tales pertaining to the east coast ancestors Paoa and Rongokako we are told that the former strove to destroy the latter, but always failed. At last he constructed a great spring trap by means of which he hoped to catch Rongokako, but Rongo, as he came, kept repeating charms of marvellous powers in order to clear his way of all obstructions, so it was that, by such means, he sprang the trap ere he reached it. The flying spring stick of the great trap happened to strike Mt Hikurangi, and so shattered that great rock mass that the minor peaks of Aorangi, Taitai, etc., were formed at that time, while Mt. Arowhana represents the whana or spring stick of the trap of Paoa.

When the summit of Mt. Hikurangi is swathed in snow or mist the local folk say—"Ka kakahu a Te Rangitiwai i tona kakahu" (Te Rangitiwai has donned his garment). Rangi is said to have been an ancestor who wore a white dogskin cape. It is sometimes given as "Te Rangitiwai has girded on his garment" (Ka rukuruku a Te Rangiti-wai i tona kakahu).

With regard to the many tales in Maori folk lore in which abnormal creatures, and, in some cases, ordinary human beings, are said to have been turned into stone for all time, the petrifying process in the first cases seem to have been caused by the appearance of the sun, or daylight. When human beings were so treated it seems to have been the result of the matapou rite, or some similar magic art.