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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)

How Names Were Given: The Travels of Ihenga

How Names Were Given: The Travels of Ihenga.

On this page some time ago I explained the method of the old-time Maori chief, in his explorations and land-claiming. His first procedure was to give names to the places he saw or traversed, exactly as our pakeha explorers do in their sub-polar work, or in such a wonderful land as Papua.

The travels of Ihenga [Ee-heh-nga] are narrated in an Arawa whakapapa or genealogical history which details the manner in which scores of our familiar map-names were first given. Ihenga was the grandson of Tama-tekapua, the commander of the Arawa canoe. When the young man set out from Maketu to visit his kinsfolk in the North he began by naming the lake we know as Rotoiti:

Te Roto-iti-kite-a-Ihenga = the little lake seen by Ihenga. It must have been named previously, by early explorers, but Ihenga's title remains.

Then he named the island in Lake Rotorua Te Motu Tapu a Tinirau (the Sacred Isle of Tinirau, a name imported from Polynesia). Later it was named Mokoia by the chief Uenukukopako; but the Arawa people often use the beautiful old name from Hawaiki.

Ihenga travelled north to the Hauraki, the Kaipara and the Bay of Islands.

One place name was given not by him but by his companions, this was Kaihu. He and his party had visited the west coast to feast on toheroa shellfish. They carried some with them inland. Ihenga at one halting place ate all the remaining toheroa in the absence of his companions.

“Who has eaten all our food,” they asked when they returned.

“How should I know?” the young man replied.

“Why, there was no one here but you,” they retorted. “It must have been you.”

So they named the place Kai-hu-a-Ihenga (Ihenga's secret meal), which remains to-day to tell us that he was a greedy fellow.

Ihenga had derived priestly and magic powers from his great ancestors and his father. He exerted them to some purpose at one place. They had climbed a high waterless hill, and were parched with thirst. Ihenga recited a powerful karakia and stamped on the ground, and a spring of water immediately burst out of the ground. Down flew pigeons in flocks to drink the water, so the place was named Waikereru (“Pigeon Water”).

Farther north, the travellers climbed the hills from Motatau and named Te Ruapekapeka (“The Bats’ Cave”) from the multitude of flying bats seen there. (This was the scene of the final battle in Hone Heke's war, 1846.) The forest range of Tapuwae-haruru (“Resounding Footsteps”) was also named by him. A still stream in which Ihenga saw himself reflected was naturally called Te Wai-whakaataa-Ihenga (his “shadow-water”).

South again, he ascended a great dome of land, a symmetrical mountain covered with forest. He recited an incantation there for some reason or other, and called upon the gods of lightning and thunder. The gods responded, lightning struck the top of the mountain, and thunder crashed and rolled. Hence that mountain was called Whatitiri (“Thunder”) and that is still the name of the beautiful extinct volcanic cone.

At Whangarei the explorers collected some mussels on the beach and roasted them on a fire, and that place is hence called to this day Te Ahi-pupu-aIhenga, his “mussel cooking fire.”