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Polynesian Voyagers. The Maori as a Deep-sea Navigator, Explorer, and Colonizer

The Legend of Rata

The Legend of Rata.

The Maori folk of New Zealand have preserved a long traditional account of voyages made by Rata, Manu-korihi, and others in past times. These must have taken place before the Maori left eastern Polynesia to settle these isles. The voyages are said to have been made to the south-west, and to have occupied four months.

Manu-korihi was a chief of the clans Pakau-moana and Te Ahi-utu-rangi, who led a party of his people from Whiti-anaunau to a strange land in the south-west, where two chiefs named Matuku-tangotango and Pou-hao-kai lived at a place called Pariroa. Hine-komahi, daughter of Turongo-nui, Te Rara-a-takapu, Whakaaupara, and Mohokura were other important persons of Pari-roa. The folk who lived at that place were pakiwhara—that is, a shiftless people who lived in poor huts not good houses, and scattered about. They subsisted on fish, shellfish, birds, and vegetable products, but did not cultivate food. They often moved their place of abode, hence they did not construct good houses.

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A party of seafaring folk, under a chief named Whakarau, had left a place adjacent to Pari-roa and reached Whiti-anaunau, where Wahie-roa lived. They brought with them handsome plumes of a bird named kakerangi or kohirangi, which were much admired by the chiefs of Whiti-anaunau, who arranged to lead an expedition to procure a stock of these desirable plumes. This party was under the chiefs Manu-korihi, Wahie-roa, Pari-tu, Kohu-wairangi, Mangamanga, Kokau, Te Kakau, Tuhoro-punga, and Te Iwi-i-taia.

On arriving at a place called Whakauranga, near Pari-roa, the home of the Toko-rakau clan, they found that Ngau-para, the local chief, refused to let them proceed, hence fighting took place on the banks of Te Awa-taranga, a stream flowing westward to the ocean. The local folk were defeated, losing their chief, Ngaupara; and our voyagers went on their way to Pari-roa, where they found a very numerous people dwelling, of whom it was said “Tena, tera te noho ana me to one pipipi”—thus likening their numbers to those of cockles in a cokle-bank. The women of that place are described as being flat-faced, and had ihu rakau (? straight, high noses). They had restless, side-glancing eyes, overhanging eyebrows, and thin shanks, and were of tall stature. The men were of spare build and tall, with the same restless eyes. (It seems hardly likely that a flat-faced folk would have straight, high noses, and possibly this rendering of the expression ihu rakau. which has not been corroborated, is incorrect.)

At this place our adventurers found the chief Whakarau living, he who had visited Whiti-anaunau, and he and his people accompanied the travellers to the home of Matuku and Pou-hao-kai, first sending forward messengers to tell them of the approach of the party from Whiti-anaunau in the marangai rawhiti (north-east). Matuku and Pou declined to allow the party to proceed and obtain the desired plumes unless supplied with one hundred men to provide a cannibal feast for them and their followers. This led to further trouble, and Whakarau proposed to proceed by force.

Quoth Pou: “Kaua e pena, koi mura te ahi kai tangata a Pou-hao-kai” (“Act not so, lest the man-destroying fire of Pou-hao-kai flames up”).

Replied Whakarau: “Hei aha te mura ahi i te wai whenua e taupoki ana?” (“What matters the fire-flames when the waters of earth are covering them?”).

Fighting took place, after a discussion between Wakarau and Manu-korihi as to the advantages of the methods of attack known as rangatahi and kautere matua. Then, on the plain of Tauwhanga, was fought the battle of Tahu-maero, where the multitude of men was compared to a moving forest–Me te uru ngahere tera e tere ana i te wai huri rangi.

In this fight the tribe of Matuku and l'ou was defeated, the plume-hunters obtained their desire and returned homewards, losing on the way the chief Wahie-roa, who was slain by one of the captives taken at Tahu-maero. On arriving at Te Awataranga they found a force of the Toko-rakau clan, at a place called Mahapara, prepared to attack them. This force was page 40 commanded by Kowaiwai, son of Ngau-para. In this fight the local folk were defeated and Kowaiwai captured. Then our voyagers returned to their homeland of Whiti-anaunau.

When, on their way home, the adventures arrived at Whitikau, the home of Wahie-roa, which was at Tawhiti-roa, there was wailing for the death of that chief. At this time Rata, son of Wahie-roa, was at his mother's breast.