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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 1 (April 1, 1935)

Maori and Celt: The Tainui's Sacred Grove

Maori and Celt: The Tainui's Sacred Grove.

Many years ago, when three of us explored the mysterious—seeming little grove of gale-twisted manuka which grows around the traditional resting-place of the Tainui canoe at Kawhia Harbour, I wished for a spade where-with to satisfy our curiosity in a perfectly legitimate spirit of scientific enquiry, of course, as to what lay underneath the surface in this sacred spot. As it was, we could only wonder whether any valued relic of the past was buried there, or whether that clear space beneath the ancient trees, that bent over it as if in protection, of the tapu ground, was simply the spot on which the Tainui's hull fell to decay six centuries ago. A friend who visited the place lately has sent me a photo snap he took of it which shows that the historic clump of small trees that shelters it has thinned considerably since I first saw it.

The two white stones, each about four feet high, which were placed there by the captain and the tohunga of Tainui, still stand, marking the length of that sailing canoe of long ago; the stones are about sixty-six feet apart.

Many points of resemblance between the Celtic race and the Maori have often been remarked upon. When I first read Miss Gordon Cumming's book “In the Hebrides,” the traditions of famous Iona island at once reminded me of the tapu resting-place of Tainui, in the sacred manuka grove, in particular the story of St. Columba's curragh or coracle. Miss Cumming described “The Port-na-churraich, or Harbour of the Boat, the spot where St. Columba and his brethren are said to have buried the frail coracle of wicker covered with hides, in which they sailed hither—lest they should ever be tempted to return to their beloved Ireland.” In the middle of this stony shore is a small grassy hillock, just the shape of a boat lying keel uppermost; and, curiously enough, corresponding in size to the traditional measurements of St. Columba's curragh. “This is the place where it is supposed to be buried and the only spot where (doubtless out of compliment to the Emerald Isle) the grass continues to grow.”

The shore of Kawhia Harbour must have risen considerably during the six centuries since Tainui was hauled ashore there. The grove of the canoe is several hundred yards inland and higher than the landing-place at Maketu village, the now modernised little settlement on the beach. That kainga, by the way, like the other Maketu on the Bay of Plenty, where the Arawa canoe was beached after her long voyage from Tahiti, was named after a village in the Polynesian homeland of the people.