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

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 45

The Wisdom of the Maori

The Golden Tree of Paradise.

In the farewell address by the Waikato Maoris to their Excellencies Lord and Lady Bledisloe there were some of the poetic allusions in which the old-time orators delighted and which fortunately are still treasured and on occasion used by their descendants.

One of these eloquent flights of symbolism likened the departing Governor and his wife to the “Kowhai-tu-rangiora” of legend, the sacred trees that showered their golden blossoms (typifying benevolence and affection) on the Maori people. The classic expression is a very beautiful phrase to the Maori mind. Rangiora is an ancient Polynesian name; it signifies health, beauty, and well-being and joyfulness, and a great deal more. I have frequently heard mention of the “Kowhai-tu-rangiora” in ceremonial speeches among the Waikato, Ngati-Maniapoto and other tribes descended from the crew of the immigrant sailing canoe Tainui. It is peculiarly a saying of the Tainui stock. Students of comparative folk-lore may be reminded of Fraser's “Golden Bough.”

The Mystic Home of Wisdom.

“Hui-te-Rangiora,” with which the allusion to ever-blooming kowhai trees is interwoven, is the full and original form of the name Rangiora in this association. The reference I have traced back to a very remote period, long before the Maoris left their tropic islands homes for this new land. In the other world, as I translated the story I had from Ngati-Maniapoto elders, now passed on to that shadowy land, there was a great and sacred dwelling called Hui-te-Rangiora, meaning the assembly-place of all things good and wise and delightful, the abode of health and life. The high chief of that place was named Miru. He was an alua or god; he is also described in the tradition as a Patupaiarehe, that is a fairy-like being, a spirit. He had the power of making himself invisible, and in this way he wooed and won a beautiful girl of this world named Hine-rangi or Heavenly Maid. The great sacred house stood in the place called Te Tatau-o-te-Po, otherwise the Door of the Other World. Hui-te-Rangiora was a kind of Hy-Brasil, the enchanted isle far in the West that beckons the soul of the Celt to a faery Paradise.

Moreover, Hui-te-Rangiora was the home of fine arts and of all learning. In that place Miru the atua taught all manner of charms and prayers and ceremonies. There, too, were taught all the joyous games and amusements that bring pleasure to mankind. In this home of learning the wisdom of the Maori and the arts of skill that were desirable to teach and preserve were handed down from generation to generation.

A Modern Hui-te-Rangiora.

A most curious bit of folk-lore this, and one of much beauty when unfolded in full. I have an ancient song enumerating the desirable kinds of knowledge preserved therein, and the chanted farewell of Hine-rangi's father when the maid of this world departed to dwell with Miru in his magic hall.

Hui-te-Rangiora is a greatly honoured name among the Ngati-Maniapoto people. To-day there is a Maori home known by that name; it is the house of Rewi Maniapoto's widow on the south bank of the Puniu River, close to the present main highway bridge, two miles from Kihikihi township. It was the name of Rewi's council-house which stood at Kihikihi over sixty years ago; this carved house, in which the chiefs of the tribe discussed their political policy and other matters of importance, was burned by the British troops when they invaded and occupied Kihikihi in 1864. So present is linked with past, in the traditional poetry and figurative sayings so treasured by the Maori.

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.