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The Stone Implements of the Maori

The Legend of Tama-ahua and his Expedition to the Wai-Pounamu

The Legend of Tama-ahua and his Expedition to the Wai-Pounamu

This is evidently a tradition of another old-time expedition to the South Island in search of nephrite, albeit it has been somewhat over-grown with the weeds of forgetfulness and of myth. In the version given by Stowell (see above), Tama-ahua comes from the north in pursuit of his two wives, who had been abducted by Poutini. (It will be seen anon that the names of the wives of Tama-ahua are simply names of different varieties of nephrite.) "Poutini was a canoe, but was in fact the pounamu. Poutini was afraid of the obsidian of Tuhua page 206Island. After the abduction Tama sought them by the aid of the teka (a dart made of wood … thrown by hand). Tama launched his dart to Taupo (lake), but it made no noise. Then he threw it to Mount Egmont, where it resounded, and at once Tama knew that was the right way. So he followed it up, and climbed to the top, where he stood. Again he threw the dart, and it was heard at Te Ana o Weka…. He again threw the dart, which fell near Arahura, and on following it up he found the sail of the canoe adhering to a cliff—it was the canoe 'Poutini,' wrecked, and every one dead." "Tama now conceived the idea of preparing some food as an offering to the god, in order to resuscitate his wives; birds were the food used, &c." However, this scheme was brought to naught by the action of the slave cook of Tama, who transgressed a law of tapu, and so the wives were not brought back to life (see "Journal of the Polynesian Society," vol. v, page 233).

Such is a sketch of the Taranaki version of the legend. The Ngai-Tahu version, or one of such, is given at page 235 of the same journal. In this Poutini is mentioned as a woman who lived on Tuhua Isle, Bay of Plenty. "Poutini quarrelled with the people there on account of the green jade, and in consequence was driven away, leaving behind her a brother named Tama. Poutini left in a canoe, and, after a long time, arrived at a place named Kotore-pi, a little bay some twenty miles north of Greymouth…. The crew … fastened the canoe to a tree here, and bailed out the water; hence say the Poutini people (a tribal name), is greenstone found there now. From Kotore-pi the voyagers coasted on as far as Ara-hura, which river they entered and paddled up to the mountains, stopping at a waterfall just under a peak on the Southern Alps named Tara-o-tama, said to be some distance north of Mount Cook. The greenstone was also deposited here, and is still to be found in that place." This version also gives the story of Tama's pursuit of Poutini by means of throwing a dart. It led him to Mai-tahi, eighty miles south of Hokitika, where, it is said by natives, the tangiwai (bowenite) may still be found. At last the dart led Tama and his slave up the Arahura River. Arriving at a place near the mountains, the twain halted and made an oven, in which they cooked a bird, kokako (New Zealand crow). On opening the oven the bird was found to be spoiled; nothing remained of it save some black ashes; hence the tutae-koka, or black marks that are often seen in jade (nephrite). Tama went on up the river, and found the place where the canoe of Poutini had been capsized, and where all the crew had been drowned. "It is here where the greenstone is found, at a waterfall with a deep pool leading to it. To reach the place visitors have to page 207swim, but in this spot it can be seen only, not touched. The place is called Kai-kanohi on that account." In a version of the above legend preserved by the Rev. Mr. Stack, Tamatea-pokai-whenua takes the place of Tama-ahua (see Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xii, p. 162).

Mr. F. Martin gives a South Island version of the story of Tama-ahua, and his search for the fugitive nephrite (see "Journal of the Polynesian Society," vol. x, page 166). This version is of interest on account of the mention of the wives of Tama-ahua, whose names are those of varieties of the greenstone. Their names were Hina-aotea, Hina-ahuka (syn., kahurangi), Hina-kawakawa, and Hina-tangiwai. Hina appears to be sometimes used as is Hine, a prefix to a woman's name. Kawakawa and aotea are names of two kinds of nephrite, while tangiwai is the native name of bowenite. These women are said to have come to New Zealand in a vessel named "Tairea," and Tama-ahua came in search of his wives—that is, to look for nephrite. His dart led him to Milford Sound, where he found only Hina-tangiwai (bowenite). Tama and his slave, named Tumuaki or Tuamahiki, but whose nickname was Tuhua (obsidian), then went up the Arahura River, where Tama slew his slave Tuhua. "For this Tama-ahua was punished, as the ground rose up under his feet and formed a hill, now known as Tahua (?), from the top of which he saw the canoe 'Tairea,' and his three wives (Hina-ahuka, Hina-kawakawa, and Hina-aotea) all turned into stone. This was done as a punishment for Tama-ahua's killing of Tuhua, and they remain there to this day.

"Hina-ahuka (also called by the North Island natives kahurangi) is the best sort of greenstone…. Hina-kawakawa is the name of the second-class stone. If you look at it closely you will find a lot of black spots in it. These were caused thus: When Tama-ahua killed Tuhua he dropped his weapon on the fire. Sparks flew from it right up the Arahura River, and struck Hina-kawakawa, and these sparks are the same black spots you now see in the hina-kawakawa stone. Hina-tangiwai is the name of the stone found at Milford Sound (bowenite); and on looking through it marks can be seen like tears, for it was there that Tama-ahua wept. Hina-atoa [cf. aotea, post] is the name given to the stone which is valueless—the outside, weathered portion of large boulders."

In the above curious legend we evidently see a mixture of facts and myth. The nephrite sought by Tama is personified in his runaway wives, who long elude him, and are at length found in the form of the desired stone; hence they are said to be dead. Tama slays Tuhua, or obsidian, the enemy of greenstone, which act seems to break a fairy spell and reveal to him the long-sought nephrite. It is evident page 208 that this is an old-time story of a genuine search or expedition for nephrite, and that it has become overlaid with curious myths in the course of centuries, a thing noticed in many Maori legends.

The other name of the slave Tuhua (Tumuaki) is the name of a genuine member of the genus homo, who left Taranaki on an expedition in search of or to obtain the pounamu stone (nephrite). The two legends seem to have got mixed with Mr. Martin's informant. Mr. S. Percy Smith has recorded the story of Tumuaki's expedition (see "Journal of the Polynesian Society," vol. xvii, page 59). In that story is given the descent of Tama-ahua from Uenuku through Rua-tapu, showing that Tama flourished five generations after the time of Uenuku. One account states that this was the Tama-ahua who went in search of the greenstone. Mr. Smith does not think he is the same man, however, although this man did return to Hawaiki, and says that this Tama flourished about A.D. 1400, "which shows a much earlier acquaintance with that stone (nephrite) than the Rev. Mr. Stack allows in his account, which places the first knowledge acquired of it by the Ngai-Tahu people, of Canterbury, as about the year 1700."

Canon Stack, Mr. Wohlers, and others have preserved in their writings a native tradition that a crazed native woman named Raureka first made the Ngai-Tahu Tribe of the South Island acquainted with nephrite. In the course of her wanderings she crossed the Southern Alps by Browning's Pass, and reached the east coast of the island. Having a nephrite adze with her, she "astonished the natives" by means of exhibiting it and its cutting-powers. But Mr. H. D. Skinner, in a paper on "The Customs and Traditions of the Poutini-Ngai-tahu Tribe," suggests that Raureka simply discovered the above pass, and made known to the east-coast peoples a shorter route to the nephrite country—in fact, made it plentiful in the land; but it must have been known on the east coast centurtes prior to the year 1700.

The Rev. Mr. Stack adds: "It does not follow from this account of the discovery of greenstone that it was unknown to all in the North Island, for the Hawaikians acquired their knowledge of the existence of New Zealand from Ngahue, whose god was a sea-monster called Poutini. A woman named Hine-tua-hoanga caused this man to be driven away from Hawaiki. He rode on the back of his sea-monster to Tuhua … and settled at Arahura, where he discovered the greenstone…. It is quite possible, too, that traffic in greenstone between Ngati-Wairangi and the North Island tribes bordering on Cook Strait may have been in existence for many years before it became known to Ngai-Tahu."

page 209

Now, the Ngai-Tahu folk were closely related to the people of the east coast of the North Island, and if the latter knew the greenstone (nephrite) it is certain that such knowledge would soon be acquired by Ngai-Tahu, who were ever in communication with the native tribes of Te Whanga-nui-a-tara (Port Nicholson) and adjacent districts.

As to when Ngai-Tahu may or may not have become acquainted with nephrite, or were enabled to obtain it in bulk, we have little to say; but from other sources it seems highly probable that the stone was known to the natives of New Zealand, also probably to those of other groups, long centuries prior to the year 1700. They knew the stone, and the locality where it was to be obtained.

Tumuaki, says Mr. Smith, was a young man of the Taranaki Tribe, and lived near Okato. He arrived at his destination at Arahura, but seems to have died there, or, as the legend puts it, was turned into stone for having infringed a law of tapu. There is a hill called Tumuaki near the Arahura River, which may have been named after him. The companions of the hapless voyager returned to Taranaki, whereupon Hine-tua-hoanga, wife of Tumuaki, went in search of her husband, but was drowned off the coast of the South Island. Mr. Smith places the date of this expedition at about the year 1550.

In the same journal (vol. xvii, page 6) Mr. Smith says, "It may be remarked as significant that the name of the chief who came from Hawaiki to New Zealand in the 'Tainui' canoe, and who settled at Wai-iti, was Tarapounamu, or 'Jadeite Barb.' This shows a knowledge of the pounamu, or jadeite, prior to the departure of the fleet from Hawaiki in circa 1350, and appears to support the well-known tradition of Ngahue's voyage to New Zealand and back to Hawaiki, when he took with him a block of jadeite, &c."

There is a high hill in the Ure-wera country called Tara-pounamu that is said to have been so named in the time of Tamatea-Kai-taharua, who flourished nine generations ago. It was named after a barbed point (tara or makoi) for a bird-spear. This implement was made of greenstone, and was highly prized.

In one version of the Tama-ahua expedition it has been confused with that of Tumuaki, and both are accredited to Tamatea-pokai-whenua, whose slave is turned into the hill Tumuaki (see Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxiv, p. 483).

In his work, "The Maoris of New Zealand," Mr. Cowan gives a short account of one Tama-ki-te-rangi, who, as headman of the "Tairea" canoe, arrived in New Zealand before the coming of "Te Arawa," "Tai-nui," &c. This person was identical with Tama-ahua. page 210Quoting from the above work: "The 'Tairea' appears to have gone on round to the west coast of the South Island; and some curious allegorical legends are preserved of the adventures of Tama-ki-te-rangi there, and his search for the greenstone…. He even went as far as Milford Sound…. The story is that he was in search of his missing wives, and on the shores of Milford found one of them transformed into greenstone. As Tama wept over her, his tears flowed so copiously that they penetrated the rock, and that is why the clear kind of bowenite found on the slopes and beaches of Mitre Peak in that great sound is called tangiwai. Marks like tear-drops are sometimes seen in this greenstone, hence the name."

The most intelligible account of the Tama-ahua story is that given by the Kahungunu people, and explained to us by Te Whatahoro, of that tribe. This version is not incrusted with myth, as are most others; and it is clear that it was a genuine expedition to obtain nephrite at Arahura. Tama-ahua is said to have been one of the crew of the "Kura-hau-po" canoe, which brought Whatonga from Rarotonga and other lands to New Zealand in search of his grandfather Toi. Tama-ahua seems to have had several wives, one of whom was a member of the original Maruiwi Tribe of New Zealand, and who was given to Tama at Maketu, a place then known as Moharuru. Tama seems to have resided principally at Taranaki; and he and Tonga-huruhuru engaged in the slaughter of the aborigines, following them to Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara (Wellington), Arapawa, and Rangi-toto (D'Urville Island), from which place the survivors of the hapless indigenes fled in six canoes in search of the Chatham Isles and a peaceful home, that group having been previously discovered by Toi. The first wife of Tama-ahua was Hine-ahu, a native of the Island of Ahu, in far Polynesia. His second wife was Tauranga, of the Maruiwi people. His third wife was Hine-tangi-akau, of Raro-tonga, who came to Aotea in the "Kura-hau-po" canoe.* Tama-ahua lived for some time at Ahukawa, inland of Maketu, then went and lived with Ha-tauira at Wai-whakaiho, where he married Aotea. While living there, Tama-ahua, Ha-tauira, Maunga-roa, and others, decided to equip an expedition to go to the South Island in order to obtain pounamu (nephrite) and kotuku plumes. Hence three canoes were fitted and despatched, the names of which canoes were "Po-taka," "Otauira," and "Whatupurangi." Tama-ahua, with his wives Hine-ahu and Aotea, went on "Otauira." The other two canoes went down the east coast of Arapawa (South Island). "Otauira" went down the west coast direct to Te Ara-hura o Kupe, and the page 211crew went in search of the prized nephrite. During their sojourn at Arahura Tama-ahua suspected that his wife Hine-ahu was somewhat fond of one Tuhua, who was apparently Tama's slave or attendant. Hence he slew the hapless Tuhua, an act condemned by his companions, and which Hine-ahu grieved over. When she found the sought-for greenstone, the tangiwai received its name from her weeping. The kahurangi variety was so named to commemorate her rank, while the kawakawa was named from the circumstance of her having used leaves or branchlets of the kawakawa tree as a chaplet. The peculiar appearance of the kahotea variety of nephrite was caused by the fire of Tama, which spread over the land and burned that stone. The marks in it were caused by sparks from the fire. Tama-ahua and his party returned to Wai-whakaiho, at Taranaki, where the greenstone was fashioned into divers weapons and ornaments, of which the name of one only has been preserved-a pendant called Ara-moana, which seems to have been one of Hine-ahu's names.

According to one account of this expedition, it took place about five hundred and fifty years ago, but another account places the date much further back.

When a North Island people were desirous of obtaining nephrite they would, in some cases, make expeditions to the South Island for that purpose. They would cross the strait and proceed to visit one of the southern tribes, taking with them such items as fine garments, spear-points of human bone, carved boxes, weapons such as taiaha, possibly a new canoe, in order to barter them for the desired nephrite. These barbed points for bird-spears must be made from human bone, or they would not be prized, and so that the owner might say, "My spear-point is a bone of such a person," and it would be known by his name. A party going on such an errand would not be attacked so long as they went direct to the principal chief of the district, and made their arrangements with him.

* Tama seems to have had a few more wives, but we weary of writing of them.