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The Stone Implements of the Maori

Myths Connected with Pounamu, or Nephrite

Myths Connected with Pounamu, or Nephrite

It is probable that Ngahue,* mentioned above as an old-time voyager who visited New Zealand and took back some nephrite with him to the isles of Polynesia, was a genuine personage, and his expedition a fact. But his name has got mixed up with a very curious myth concerning the pounamu (nephrite) stone. In this myth the stone is endowed with life and, in some versions, with locomotive powers. It is expelled from Hawaiki—a term applied to the original father-land of the Polynesian race, and also by the Maori of New Zealand to the isles of Polynesia—by Hine-tu-a-hoanga, and flees in search of a refuge to New Zealand, where, after certain adventures, it finds a resting-place at Arahura, in the South Island.

We will first give the version of this myth as preserved in Sir George Grey's "Polynesian Mythology": "Listen to the cause of the quarrel between Poutini and Waiapu, on account of which they migrated hitherward. Where they originally dwelt, Hine-tu-a-hoanga took a dislike to Ngahue and his 'fish' Poutini, hence he was expelled. Ngahue started and went to another land, where he was found by Hine-tu-a-hoanga, and pursued until he settled at Tuhua (an island in the Bay of Plenty). So Ngahue and his 'fish' settled at that place and dwelt together, until again pursued and expelled; hence Ngahue went in search of a place where he might find a swimming-place for his 'fish'. He saw from the ocean this island of Aotea-roa, and was going to land on it, but thought that he might be again assailed by his enemy, so deemed it wiser to go on to some far distant place. So he went on, and at length settled at Arahura. Then he tore off one side of that 'fish,' which he carried away with him, and returned.

* East-coast traditions assert that Ngahue was one and the same person as Ngake, who came to New Zealand with Kupe, the voyager.

Tuhua, or Mayor Island, in the Bay of Plenty, was named after an island that lay to the south-east of Hawaiki in far Polynesia. Another name of the original Tuhua was Ahuahu, but it was usually called Ahu. Near it were two isles named Maui-pae and Maui-taha.

page 196When Ngahue arrived at Te Wai-rere a moa was killed, and so he went on to Tauranga, Whanga-paraoa, and returned to Hawaiki, where he reported that he had found a land of which the most important products were pounamu and the moa. The piece of pounamu was fashioned into adzes two of them, named Tutauru and Hauhau-te-rangi, and into heitiki (neck-pendants), and into kuru pounamu (greenstone ear-pendants). The name of the ear-pendant was Kau-kau-matua. It is in the possession of the Te Heuheu. Tutauru was lost in the time of Rere-tai. When Ngahue arrived at Hawaiki, and the people heard of the advantages of this place, Aotea, they resolved to migrate hither. Then the 'Arawa' and other vessels were made from trees that grew at Rarotonga, beyond Hawaiki. Ngahue was one of the hewers of those canoes…. The adzes with which these canoes were hewed out were toki pounamu (nephrite adzes), their names being Hauhau-te-rangi and Tutauru…. These pounamu adzes were (made) from the 'fish' of Ngahue, who came from Hawaiki, he and his 'fish' Mata being expelled therefrom by Hine-tu-a-hoanga; hence Ngahue came to this island, hence he found it, and hence the vessels came hither, because he had previously discovered this land."

The above contains all of the legend that concerns us. The original is not a good example of Maori diction and story-telling. It is the mere skeleton of the myth, and needed much more detail to make it clear. It will be seen that Ngahue was an ordinary member of the genus homo, but Poutini is evidently a personified form of nephrite. Waiapu and Mataa are names of stones.

Williams's Dictionary gives mataa-waiapu as the name of a stone found at Waiapu, near the East Cape. Hine-waiapu is also a stone-name in that district, probably the same stone. Archdeacon Williams informs us that waiapu is certainly not applied to obsidian on the east coast, but to quite a different stone.

In an account of the cutting-up of the monster Pekehaua, it is said that the work was accomplished with mataa-tuhua, mataa-waiapu, kuku-moe-toka, mira-tuatini, and ngaeo. The first two items are both translated as obsidian; but why the native narrator should use both terms if they mean the same thing is not clear, unless they represent two different forms of obsidian. In Mr. White's note, here quoted, he translates tuhua as obsidian, but adds "flint" in brackets, as though it were applied to both forms. Paitini, of Tuhoe, gives waiapu as the name of the stone from which adzes were made in former times. The Maori would not make adzes of obsidian, it not being suitable for that purpose, although flakes of it were used as knives. Obsidian is found at Mayor Isle, Rotorua district, Bay of Islands, &c.

page 197

Mataa-paia is another stone-name. The waiapu stone, says Te Whatahoro, was not found in the southern part of the island, but only in the East Cape district. It is a stone of fine texture, and of a dark-grey colour. No adzes were made from it here, but it was used as a rubber or smoother of the surface of stone tools after the grinding process was finished. It was highly prized for use as such. After a stone adze had been ground into form and practically finished, then a piece of waiapu was used as a rubber to render the surface smooth—Kia kaua e kitea te pahaehae (That the striæ caused by the grinding-stone be obliterated). After this came the final polishing of the surface with a wooden rubber or polisher.

Mataa is a term applied to such items as flint, quartz, and obsidian; but, strictly speaking, it seems to need to be followed by an explanatory term, as in the above case, in order to denote the particular kind of stone. When used alone it implies flint, not obsidian. Again, mataa-tuhua seems to be really the correct name for obsidian, though it is often referred to merely as tuhua. John White remarks (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. viii, p. 80), "Tuhua obsidian (flint): There are four sorts of tuhuatuhua, which is black; waiapu, which is of a light colour; panetao (or paretao*), which is green; and kahurangi, which is red." Thus, it would appear that both tuhua and waiapu are applied to obsidian, and also to other kinds of stone of a somewhat similar nature or used for similar purposes. Some further explanation of these terms is desirable. Williams gives mataa-tuhua, obsidian found at Mayor Island. The native name of that isle is Tuhua.

A number of natives have informed us that mataa is a term applied to flint-like stones, and that obsidian is known as mataa tuhua, or simply as tuhua, while waiapu is not applied to obsidian.

The above form of the myth is obviously wrong, and does not agree with several versions obtained from the Bay of Plenty tribes. Nephrite is said to have been brought hither by Ngahue from Hawaiki; but he takes a piece back with him as apparently a new discovery, and from it are made tools to hew out the canoes to bring hither people, who are attracted by the fact that the desired stone is to be found here. The myth of Poutini and Hine-tu-a-hoanga is far older than the tradition of Ngahue's voyage to New Zealand, of his seeing the moa, and taking nephrite back to Hawaiki. It is also probable that Ngahue flourished long before the time of the coming of the "Arawa" canoe.

* This word appears as both paretao and panetao. The former is, apparently, the correct one. There is a place named Paretao on the Island of Tuhua, from which so much obsidian was obtained in former times. A Maori correspondent of Mr. Colenso also gives the term as paretao (Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxvii, p. 605). Mr. White, in his lectures, gives it as paretao.

page 198

Mr. John White has recorded a version of the Ngahue legend as follows: "Hine-tu-a-hoanga, being jealous of a man called Ngahue, whose god was a sea-monster called Poutini (other traditions say its name was Mataa), Hine caused Ngahue to be driven from Hawaiki, riding on his god, and thus discovered an island called Tuhua. Hine followed him there in a canoe, and drove him from this land also. He again started, and discovered the Island of Aotea-roa; but fearing he should be followed there also and expelled, he left in search of some more distant country, and arrived in New Zealand, taking up his abode at Arahura, or, as another tradition states, at Arapawanui. During his residence here he found a block of the greenstone so much prized by the Maoris, which he took back to Hawaiki. Out of this stone the axes were made which were used in constructing the canoes in which Tama and others shortly afterwards came to this land."

Another version he gives as follows: "The canoe that discovered this land was 'Hine-tu-a-hoanga'; the chief on board was Ngahue-i-te-rangi." Here the name of the personification of grinding-stones is said to have been that of the canoe of Ngahue. In these versions of the Ngahue story there occurs no mention of New Zealand having been inhabited by man when he arrived.

The Tuhoe traditions say that Ngahue came to New Zealand in pursuit of—that is, in search of—the prized nephrite. Of both Ngahue and Hape they say that they came in pursuit of their "fish" the poun-amu (nephrite), evidently meaning that they came hither to obtain nephrite, knowing that it was to be found here.

The word ika means "fish," but is often used in a very different sense—as "prey," for example. In this instance, however, it may be translated as "fish," inasmuch as nephrite is often so alluded to in Maori myths.

The Rarotongans were acquainted with the name of Ngahue and the tradition of his voyage to New Zealand, as also nephrite, which they term toka matie. Mr. Percy Smith has recorded this item in "Hawaiki" (2nd ed., p. 209). He was informed by an old native of Rarotonga that the fleet of canoes, "Te Arawa," "Kura-aupo," "Matatua," "Tokomaru," "Tainui," and "Takitumu," left Rarotonga about the middle of the fourteenth century in search of another country for their crew, and also in search of nephrite. "There were two kinds of stone used in making toki (adzes) in ancient times—the toka matie (nephrite) and the kara. The toka matie was taken to New Zealand, and the kara left here. The toka matie belonged to Ina (Hina). It was Ngaue (Ngahue) who hid the toka matie so that Ina should not find it. Ngaue went to New Zealand to hide the toka matie page 199… Ngaue brought back the toka matie. It was after Ngaue returned that the fleet of canoes sailed for New Zealand. It was because of the voyage of Ngaue to New Zealand that the fleet went there. Ngaue called the toka matie 'E ika no te moana' (a fish of the sea)." The old Rarotongan who gave the above notes to Mr. Smith, on being shown a piece of nephrite from New Zealand, exclaimed, "Ah! It is true then what our ancestors told us of the toka matie. There is such a stone."

Mr. Smith remarks, anent the above item. "The Rarotongans had a traditional knowledge of the greenstone, and the fact of their giving it a different name showed that they did not derive their knowledge from the Maoris."

Here it is shown that the Rarotongans (and doubtless other Polynesians) knew of the existence of nephrite in New Zealand at least as early as the middle of the fourteenth century, and were making voyages here to obtain it.

The Tuhoe and Ngati-Awa Tribes of the Bay of Plenty have preserved the following form of the myth: Poutini was the personified form of pounamu (nephrite); and Hine-tu-a-hoanga, personification of grinding-stones or sandstone, together with Mataa (alias Waiapu), personified form of flint, &c., are the enemies of Poutini. The latter is expelled from Hawaiki by Hine-tu-a-hoanga, who assails him mercilessly. Poutini (nephrite) flees from her, and at length arrives at Tuhua Island, in the Bay of Plenty. Here he stays a while, until forced again to fly from his enemy (flint or obsidian?) who has located himself on Tuhua Isle. He escapes and travels, apparently by sea, being a fish, as far as White Island (Whakaari), where he again attempts to land, but is so alarmed by the ngawha, or boiling springs, that he again escapes in terror. Continuing on his way, our nephritic hero wishes to land at the East Cape, but he happens to hear from the shore the sound of grinding—the sound made by an implement being rubbed on a sandstone grinding-stone. It was caused by the act of one Kanioro, otherwise known as Tangi-kura-i-te-rangi, who was engaged at such work. This personage was the wife of Pou-rangahua—he. who went to Hawaiki in order to obtain the sweet potato—and she became, for some reason, a sort of custodian or guardian of the pounamu, or nephrite. The alarmed Poutini, or nephrite, now fled far onward, until he eventually found a resting-place at Arahura, on the west coast of the South Island. Here it was found in after-time by Ngahue.

But all this time the iwi pounamu (greenstone people), as some natives express it, are being pursued by their enemies. Some versions page 200 of the myth state that these enemies were the obsidian folk, others that it was Hine-tu-a-hoanga, the dame of the grinding-stone back, or personified form of sandstone or grinding-stones. The pursuers at length overtake the pursued in the South Island, and at once attack them. A fierce combat ensues, in which some of the chiefs of the greenstone folk are slain and captured. "The attack is delivered on the greenstone folk. A chief is speared. He falls in death. It is Kai-kanohi. Again those folk are attacked. Another chief falls. It is Kaukau-matua," &c.

This singular myth needs some explanation, more than we can give. Poutini is a personification of nephrite, a highly prized stone, or is the lord or master of such stone, which is sometimes termed Te Whatu o Poutini. This term Te Whatu o Poutini may be termed the emblematical name of nephrite. It is an expression that is often met with in song, "Hoki mai, E tama. Kia taruretia koe te whatu o Poutini.'" At the same time, Poutini is said to be a star-name. Hine-tu-a-hoanga personifies sandstone (grinding-stone), the only thing that can attack or injure nephrite. Hence it is but natural that she should be spoken of as the relentless enemy of Poutini, or Pounamu. But the latter is also in deadly fear of Waiapu, or Mataa (flint). Tuhua Island (Mayor Island) is remarkable for the obsidian there found; in fact, tuhua is a common name for obsidian or volcanic glass. Obsidian was used in working or fashioning nephrite, according to the Rev. J. W. Stack, a good authority, hence obsidian appears as an enemy of nephrite in Maori myth. Flint was also used for the purpose. So it is that nephrite is said to have fled in dismay from sandstone, flint, and obsidian, its enemies who wished to attack it. It finds obsidian or flint located at Tuhua Island, and so has to continue its flight. It hears the sound of grinding at East Cape, and again escapes, hoping to find a haven at Arahura. But it is attacked, and its assailants slay or capture two chiefs, Kai-kanohi and Kaukau-matua (names of two prized nephrite items). This myth may be an allegorical rendering of the origin or acquirement of the art of working nephrite or stone generally. It implies that voyagers came to New Zealand to obtain nephrite.

Tuhua Island is said to have been named after an isle of that name that was situated to the south-east of Hawaiki. In that isle dwelt the people known as Ngati-Pekewai, Ngati-Horu, and Ngati-Kopuwai, who were a very thin and fleshless people. It would be of interest to know if the fact that obsidian was found at Mayor Island had anything to do with its being named Tuhua. Many places in New Zealand have been named from their resemblance in some way to places in the Polynesian home-land—e.g., Rangitoto or page 201D'Urville Island, which was named after some isle in Polynesia. Miss Henry informs us that Tuhua was the ancient name of the Island of Me'etia, an island situated eighty miles south-south-east of Tahiti. This name has been preserved by the Maori of New Zealand as Meketika. The Tahitian has dropped the "k" since the Maori migrated hither from those shores.

Te Whatahoro states that Kupe was the first person to reach New Zealand after the original discoverer, Maui, and that it was Kupe who discovered the pounamu on the west coast of the South Island. These isles had no inhabitants at that time, and their guardian was the moa, known in former times as kuranui.

Kupe and his two daughters, Matiu and Makaro, after whom the two isles in Wellington Harbour were named, went exploring up the Arahura River. The two women, when bathing in the river, saw some blocks of pounamu (nephrite). They found the two kinds known as inanga and tangiwai, the latter gaining its name from the fact that the daughters of Kupe wept at that place, though what they had to weep about is not clear. Kupe, Ngake, and Potoru came from the land of Rangiatea in three canoes, together with their followers, on this expedition, and presumably pieces of nephrite were taken back to the homeland. Ngake is said to have also gone under the name of Ngahue.

The same authority states that Hape-ki-tuarangi, a grandson of Kupe, who came to New Zealand on the "Tokomaru" canoe, obtained some nephrite here and returned to Hawaiki—that is, to the isles of Polynesia. As his grandfather, Kupe, belonged to Rangiatea, it is probable that Hape came also from that place. Hape lived for a time at Te Mawhai (Te Mawhai o Hape), on the east coast, and then returned to his Polynesian home, starting from the place known as Tokomaru, on the east coast.

According to the tribal traditions of the Kahungunu clans, Kupe was the first voyager who reached New Zealand, and he is credited with the discovery of the pounamu (nephrite). He landed at Arahura, and, with his party, went exploring up that river. While engaged in netting inanga (a small fish), one Hine-te-uira-i-waho took up a stone from the river-bed to serve as a net-weight, and was struck by its peculiar appearance. That stone was the variety of nephrite known as inanga, which name was then applied to it. Thus was the pounamu discovered. In former times it was often alluded to as the whatu kaiponu, so called because its use as implements or ornaments was jealously restricted to persons of importance. Hence ornaments of this stone were worn only by page 202kahurangi (certain women of rank so termed) and other persons of high rank. The Arahura River was so named on account of Kupe making an exploring trip up its valley, from ara (a path or way) and hura (to discover, explore, uncover, &c). Kupe was accompanied by Ngake, another chieftain of eastern Polynesia, whose vessel was named "Tawiri-rangi." Both these voyagers came from the Society Group, and returned there by way of Rarotonga, taking with them a supply of nephrite. The Kahungunu Tribe assert that Ngahue was another name of Ngake's, which clears up the uncertainty in connection with the story of Ngahue as heretofore known to us.

Kupe is said to have left one of the anchors of his canoe "Matahorua" at Pori-rua, the name of which anchor was Maunga-roa, it being named after a hill of that name at Rarotonga. This stone anchor is now in the Dominion Museum. In place thereof Kupe took from Pori-rua, as an anchor, a stone of curious form which he found there. It is said that 124 persons came hither on the "Matahorua" vessel. East-coast tradition gives the date of Kupe's voyage as about the year 1200, but other tribal accounts push it much further back.

It is noticed that the natives often speak of nephrite as a fish. In an old-time myth recorded by Dr. Shortland, Pounamu is given as the offspring of Tangaroa, who is the mythical origin of all fish. The brothers of Pounamu were Poutini and Te Whatu-kura. "Pounamu (greenstone) was supposed to have been generated inside of a fish (the shark), and at that time quite soft, only hardening by exposure to the air. Pounamu was classed with fish. Poutini is also called the fish of Ngahue." (See Tregear's Maori Dictionary, page 360).

In the "Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition," 1838 to 1842, by Charles Wilkes, the author cites a legend anent the origin of nephrite, as related by the natives of the Bay of Islands, at which place the squadron sojourned awhile in the year 1840. "Our Consul interpreted for me a singular story that the southern natives had invented relative to these stones—that they were found in a large fish, somewhat resembling a shark, which they were obliged to capture and kill for the purpose of obtaining them. When first taken from the stomach of the fish the stone is soft, but from exposure becomes hard, and must be wrought in its soft state. The smaller stones (heitiki) were about 3 in. in length, and the larger ones about 5 in."

One of the officers of the squadron, who visited the South Island, says, in speaking of a Maori at Port Cooper, "Charley had on the page 203usual heitiki, or neck-ornament. The only account he could give of the locality of this greenstone was that it was found to the southward, in a large bed between two mountains."

Mr. Colenso has preserved some curious remarks made by an old native of Tauranga. In a paper published in "The Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science," 1845, he says, "This island (Tuhua, or Mayor Island) appears to be of volcanic origin, and abounds in pumice, obsidian, slag lava, pitchstone, and other vitreous and volcanic substances. I use the word 'appears ' in consequence of a curious relation which some years ago I received from an old priest residing at Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty. I had been inquiring of him the place where, and the manner how, they in former days obtained the green jade or axe stone for ornaments and weapons of war. In answer to my inquiry he asserted that this stone was both a fish and a god (atua, demon or supernatural thing); that it formerly lived at the Island of Tuhua, whither the skilled men of all the neighbouring tribes went to obtain it, which was done by diving, accompanied with several superstitious ceremonies in order to appease its wrath, and to enable them to seize it without injury to themselves; but that suddenly it made the whole island and the surrounding sea its cloaca maxima, covering every place thickly with excrementitious substances, which still remain, and swam away to the Middle Island (South Island) of New Zealand, where it has ever since resided, and whence they have been obliged to obtain it. I scarcely need add that those 'excrementitious substances' comprise the different volcanic matter with which the Island of Tuhua is now covered. Perhaps after-ages may verify the tradition related by the old priest, and bring to light the soi-disant god in a buried stratum of axe stone."

Regarding Ngahue, he is sometimes said to have been the discoverer of New Zealand; that he brought a piece of jade (nephrite) with him and took it back to Hawaiki, a somewhat improbable procedure. The Ngati-Awa version given above seems more credible. It is probable that Ngahue found these isles already occupied by man, and that he was given a slab of nephrite to take back home with him. In White's "Ancient History of the Maori" vol. i, page 64 (Maori part) occurs a curious reference to Ngahue. When Rata, of tree-felling fame, wished to acquire some stone axes he went and asked Ngahue for the same. The latter agreed, and broke off or divided a piece of stone for Rata, and tells him to apply it to the backbone of Hine-tu-a-hoanga. There is, apparently, some fanciful connection between the hollow along the human vertebra and the groove in which a stone is rubbed on sandstone. This useful old dame was page 204known as Hine-tohu-waiwanga to the Moriori folk of Chatham Isles, one of whose grinding-charms has been preserved. (See "Journal of the Polynesian Society," vol. i, page 81.)

The identification of Ngahue with Ngake clears up this tradition to some extent. If, as was asserted by well-informed east-coast natives fifty years ago, Ngahue and Ngake were one and the same person, then the supernatural being known as the Wheke a Muturangi that was pursued by Ngake and Kupe from Hawaiki to New Zealand, and here slain by them, was probably the same creature or personification as Poutini—that is to say, it represented nephrite. Ngake and Kupe are said to have taken out the whatu (eyes? but the word also is applied to stone) of the Wheke, and placed them on the rocks known to us as The Brothers, which rocks were named Nga Whatu Kaiponu; and learned natives of fifty years ago gave Whatu Kaiponu as an old name for nephrite. It is not improbable that the voyage of Kupe and Ngake to New Zealand was one made to obtain nephrite, here discovered by some prior voyager.

The Rev. R. Taylor gives a curious native myth in his "Ika a Maui," regarding the origin of greenstone. When Tinirau took to wife Hine-te-i-waiwa his other wives were distinctly hostile to the new wife, and, on the birth of her child, approached to attack her. She defended herself by throwing stones at them, and when a stone struck the body of one of them her body burst open, and was seen to be filled with pounamu, or nephrite.

The fact that the Moriori of the Chatham Islands had preserved the Maori name of greenstone must be looked at in the light of another fact, for apparently they have had no communication with New Zealand since their ancestors migrated from these isles to the Chathams, and that seems to have been about six or seven hundred years ago.

Captain Cook seems to have been somewhat puzzled by the amazing stories told him relating to the pounamu and its history. The native name of nephrite is also employed to denote the colour green, and the natives applied the same name to glass bottles when first brought to their notice. They were probably bottles of dark-coloured glass that were first introduced. It is said that namu is a Tahitian word for "green." One would suppose that natives would be more likely to compare dark-hued glass with obsidian than with nephrite. Hochstetter, however, relates a more curious tale: "Tuhua Island, twenty sea-miles north of the entrance to Tauranga Harbour, is an extinct volcano, with a large crater open towards the south-east. On the west side huge blocks of the beautiful greenish-black page 205obsidian (tuhua of the natives) are found, to which the island owes its name, and of which a captain is said to have shipped a whole load to Auckland, mistaking it for coal."

In a Ngati-Awa version of the legend of Ngahue, preserved in White's work, vol. ii, page 169, it is said that Ngahue came hither from Hawaiki to observe the contest between Mataa and Pounamu, but it was dead, and he captured or seized Kaukau-matua and Tykurangi.

"There is a tradition that a civil war in Hawaiki caused a chief named Ngahue to flee from the country, who after a long voyage reached New Zealand, and returned to Hawaiki with pieces of greenstone and the bones of a gigantic moa slain near Tauranga, in New Zealand." (Thomson's "Story of New Zealand," vol. i, page 59.)

In two items given by Te Kumeroa and Stowell, Poutini is spoken of respectively as a woman of the genus homo, and as nephrite (He waka a Poutini, otiia he pounamu tonu). Poutini was a canoe, but was in fact the pounamu (nephrite). ("Journal of the Polynesian Society," vol. v, page 233.)

Hochstetter says that at Arahura Ngahue discovered the highly prized pounamu stone. The Tuhoe folk say that Hape, of the "Rangi-matoru" vessel, came to New Zealand in search of the "fish" nephrite. Hape reached the Wai-pounamu, and saw the nephrite. The people of that place told him that Ngahue had taken away one side of the "fish"—that is, had taken away a piece of nephrite with him. It is quite probable that other adventurous voyagers came from far Hawaiki to these isles to obtain nephrite, for quite a number of such seem to have returned whence they came.

In the "Transactions of the New Zealand Institute," vol. xxvi, page 444, Mr. T. H. Smith has some interesting notes on the meaning of the Poutini-pounamu myth.