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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

Rakapa's Love Songs

Rakapa's Love Songs.

There were some men and women renowned for their poetic compositions. A great poet in the South Island was Tira Morehu, of Moeraki. Tumakoha, the Arawa tohunga of two generations ago at Lake Okataina, was locally famous for his knowledge of ancient songs and his chanting of waiata of his own. A poetess of the past was Hine-i-turama, the great lady of the Arawa. In the Wellington district there was Rangi-Topeora, of Ngati-Toa. She gained celebrity for her masterful character and for the number of songs she composed and chanted, from affectionate addresses to her various lovers to virulent kai-oraora or cursing chants against her enemies. Her daughter Rakapa, of Otaki, who became the wife of the late Petera te Pukuatua, of the Arawa, inherited Topeora's poetic gifts, and her waiata are favourite songs among the old Rotorua people as well as those of the Ngati-Toa and Ngati-Raukawa villages.

The two songs which follow are waiata-aroha composed by Rakapa for her distant lover Petera before they became man and wife. Love-affairs among the Maori were often the concern of the whole community, and so Rakapa's love-sick ditties soon became public property. I translate from the originals as chanted to me by Tamarahi and others of the Arawa:

See yonder curling clouds ascend
From Hinemutu's springs—
Like those soft mists
Arise my loving sighs for thee!
My soul springs forth in tears
That dim my eyes
And rolling flood my cheeks;
Like gushing water-founts they come,
And in my lonely sleep
The choking sobs are loosed
And all my heart goes forth to thee.

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What parts us twain?
Is it the tapu's spell?
'Tis but an empty name,
Light as the western breeze.
My love will pass all bounds,
Time, space and thought;
My heart flies forth to thee—
And yet 'tis all in vain!
We dwell apart!