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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 7 (October 1, 1934)

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 37

The Wisdom of the Maori

Stories in Place-names.

In last month's number of the Magazine I recorded a number of examples of Maori place nomenclature of interest alike for their musical quality and for their meaning and the memories of the past that they embodied. I continue here the Wellington section; limiting it to a few names in and about the city and harbour, names which are not well known but which should be on record. Some of them recall the era when forest covered much of Wellington's shores and hills.

There were many names of places on the Thorndon flat and slopes at the north end of Wellington town. One of these, Pae-kaka, is a reminder, like Wai-koko, of the abundance of native birds and the snaring craft of the olden Maori. Paekaka means a tree-perch used in the catching of the parrots, whose screams once made lively the dense bush here. Rangi te Puni told me the tree of this particular perch was at or near Murphy Street. Another name is Rau-rimu (“Red-pine Leaves,” or “Abundant Redpines”), that part of Thorndon around Fitzherbert Terrace; there were Ngatitama tribal cultivations here in a clearing.

Powerful Waters.

The site of Parliament House has its name, Waipiro. Rangi te Puni said that there was at the beach-side at the foot of Bowen Street—before, of course, Bowen Street was—a large pool of stagnant water, and this in the old days the Maoris called Waipiro, meaning strong-smelling water. The name became applied to the slopes above, and to the site of Government House and Parliament House. The old dame thought it was a not unfitting name for those parts. She had a touch of sly humour. “Strong Waters,” she said—” well, there's a good deal of that about Poneke to-day.”

Nothing poetical about that place-name. Wai-titi is better. That is the original name of the part of the beach—the line is marked by Lambton Quay—extending from about the foot of Bowen Street and the entrance to Parliament House grounds to the site of the Hotel Cecil and Pipitea Point. One meaning is “Shining Water.”

Hill and Shore.

Just a few other examples taken at random from my notebooks. Mere Ngamai said that Ngakumikumi was the name of a place in Nairn Street, the home of the late Tamati Wera, about where the road leads up to Brooklyn from Upper Willis Street. Ngakumikumi refers to the “pahau” or “beard” of the korau fern tree (mamaku), the withered leaves hanging down like a grey beard beneath the fresh green fronds. There was an olden mahinga-kai or cultivation there.

Turangarere is the name of the hills where Brooklyn suburb stands. It may be translated as “The Waving Plumes of the War-party.” When the warriors rose to dance before marching against an enemy (turanga—the standing-up), all their feather head-ornaments would wave to and fro (rere, to wave or dance).

One day Rangi te Puni took me to the sandy beach-side at Pito-one to point out some of the old-time homes and fishing places of the Atiawa and their kin. “The place you call Lowry Bay,” she said, “was called by us Whio-rau, because of the abundance of the whio or blue mountain duck, in the little streams that came down from the hills about there. Ngau-matau (“Bite the Fish-hook”) is the northern point of Whio-rau. “Beyond again”—and the old dame pointed to Day's Bay—she called it “Daisy Bay” —“we had a small settlement named Te Aewa. The north end of the Bay was Te Wharangi. The cliff there was one of our olden fishing marks. When the men went out in their canoes to draw the long seine net for moki or rock cod in the early morning, they used to paddle out in a line from the mouth of the Korokoro Creek, on the west there, across the harbour towards Te Wharangi.”

Another coastwise name, a good descriptive one, and terse withal, applied to Pencarrow Head. It was known as Rae-akiaki, “The Headland where the Sea Dashes Up.”

Over the Range to Westland.

Changing the venue of our place-names discussion to the South Island, some localities on the alpine railway route to the West Coast come under review. The meaning of the name Otira is often the subject of enquiry. It is never advisable for those seeking translation of a place-name to go to the Maori dictionary and worry out an interpretation of a sort by process of dissection. Local enquiry, if possible, is desirable wherever the meaning is not obvious. When I investigated this branch of native lore on the West Coast many years ago, I found two or three of the old Maoris of Ngai-Tahu at the Arahura village well-informed as to the origin of many place-names, and they quoted legends and songs in support or explanation thereof. Otira means, in brief, food for a journey. “O” is a term for food, but has a specific application in this case, signifying a portion or ration prepared for a “tira” or travelling party. The name originally was applied to the lower part of the Otira stream, not the alpine gorge where it goes plunging down to the bush and the plain. Parties of travellers about to make their way over the mountains to the eastern side of the island would often camp there in order to make provision for their high crossing by catching birds in the bush and eels and the little fish upokororo in the creeks. Their usual route from there was over the Hurunui saddle to the north of the Otira, but it is possible that some venturesome explorers also found the Otira pass. The other route chiefly used was the pass discovered by Raureka (Browning's Pass), reached usually from Lake Kanieri.

The Maori name of Lake Brunner is Te Kotuku-whakaoka, which means “The Darting White Heron.” It refers to the fishing habit of that beautiful and now very rare bird, as it stood on the rushy margin of the lake, waiting to transfix an eel with its sharp beak. “Whakaoka” literally means to stab.

“When I heard they were growing and manufacturing tobacco in New Zealand,” writes Mr. Jas. Scatter-good, a retired wholesale tobacco dealer, in a London trade journal, “I was not keenly interested, concluding that probably the stuff wasn't worth smoking. But last year, when I visited New Zealand to see my married daughter, I found to my surprise that the New Zealand toasted tobacco had actually become a serious rival to the imported article!—and that it is not only of superfine quality but that thanks to the small amount of nicotine in it, it may be smoked ad, lib, without a particle of harm resulting to the smoker. After 50 years in the trade I can say unhesitatingly that I know of no other tobacco like this.” Well, Mr. Scatter-good there is no other tobacco like it! It is unique. And the four toasted brands, Riverhead Gold, Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, and Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), are as well-known as Mount Cook. The comparative absence of nicotine in them (eliminated by toasting) is the secret of their harmlessness.*

page 38