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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

Te Rii and the Enchanted Forest

page 212

Te Rii and the Enchanted Forest.

One night as the people of a little tribe on the Upper Waitara River, in Taranaki, sat smoking their pipes around the fire in the wharepuni, the rambling white man who was camped with them asked Hakopa, the chief, to tell him of the fairy people of the bush, of whom he had heard much but whom he had never had the fortune, good or ill, to encounter in all his wanderings.

“Friend,” said the old man, “the Patu-paiarehe are still a numerous people in this land, and their dwellings are the great bunches and bushes of kiekie and kowharawhara which you see growing in the forks of the forest trees. They live ever in the forest, and you may pass their homes a hundred times and never see them, yet they are still there, as I myself well know, for I have seen them in the night and heard them singing their fairy songs.”

“And I, too, have heard the Patu-paiarehe, and I do not wish to hear them again.”

It was Te Rii, the Red-head, who broke in on old Hakopa's explanation of the habits and customs of the Patu-paiarehe.

Te Rii was a Ngati-Maru man, a bearded middle aged fellow with a shaggy head of hair that had the fair coppery tinge called urukehu.

He had lived nearly all his life in the bush country of the Upper Waitara, and talk of the fairies and the woods set him story-telling. He handed his pipe to his neighbour at the fireside, a young woman, who put it in her mouth and sucked at it.

“It was up on the ridge of hills called the Pae-Patupaiarehe that I fell in with the fairies,” said Te Rii. “This ridge of rough mountainous land is covered everywhere with thick forest. It lies away on the upper part of this Waitara River, not far page 213 from Purangi village. The bush there is full of birds, and it is a grand place for the fruit of the kiekie, but there is a peculiar thing about the kiekie there—the fruit is quite red inside, instead of being white as it is elsewhere. This is because it is the food of the fairies; and if we go there for that fruit we shall have to propitiate them with a karakia, else things may perhaps not go well with us.

“Immediately a stranger, a Maori or a pakeha of this outer world enters those tapu forests his presence is detected by the fairies, and they will sometimes play strange tricks on him. He will perhaps hear a strange wild woman's voice calling, thin and high, our Maori cry of welcome to visitors: ‘Haere-mai e te manuhiri tuarangi,’ and so on, but when he follows in the direction whence the invitation came, he will find no one—it was the phantom voice of the Patu-paiarehe.

“Now, some years ago, I went up to the Pae-Patupaiarehe hunting the wild pig. Up near the top of the forest range I killed a pig, and after cleaning it I strapped it on my back, with bands of flax over each shoulder, and started to return to my camp in the bush below. The country was all ridges and gullies—so, like the fingers of my hand—and everywhere the trees, and ferns and shrubs grew thickly and were tied together with vines and kareao, and the fairy flax, the kowharawhara, grew in great bunches of long leaves in the tree-forks. I walked on and on, and scrambled through the gullies and up and down steep banks, and after travelling a long time I suddenly came on the very place where I had killed the pig. I had lost my way. I started off again, and walked and walked, with my pikau of dead poaka on my back getting heavier and heavier. At last, after I had travelled a great way, seeing nothing but the trees around me, I found myself page 214 back at the same place again! Aue! It was witchcraft or something very like it, I thought. I began to be in great fear of the fairy forest, but it was now very nearly dark, and I could not travel out of it by night. So I camped where I was, and kindled a fire with my flint and steel to keep myself warm and frighten the Patu-paiarehe and the Maero away. And I lay down by the fire and kept it going till late. I had thought to stay awake all night, for fear of the fairies, but I was very weary, and I fell to sleep.

“Nothing harmed me in my sleeping. When I rose in the morning, and I was about to strap my pikau of meat on my back, I saw a stick lying on the ground in front of me. Just as my eyes lighted on it, I saw it move. Aué! He rakau tipua! An enchanted stick! I started forward and seized it.”

E—ē! but that was brave of you, Red-head,” said one of the women, taking her short black pipe from between her tattooed lips.

Ae pea!” (“Yes! perhaps it was”) said Te Rii modestly. “Anyhow, I took hold of the stick. As soon as I grasped it I felt it move and draw me away. I did not let go though I knew there was wizardry in it, but it was daylight now, and I did not feel as much fear as in the black night. I retained hold of one end of the stick and it drew me on and away; the fairies had hold of the other end, though I could see no one. I left my pig lying on the ground; the stick would not wait for me to take it, and I thought it best to leave it there as a peace-offering to the spirits of the bush. The stick led me down out of the forest and set me on the homeward path, and then it vanished. And as I left the forest of enchantment I heard a voice call after me, a thin voice from the shadows of the bush,

“ ‘Go, and beware! Do not come into these forests of ours again!’ ”