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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 8 (November 2, 1936)

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 48

The Wisdom of the Maori

The Love-Charm: A Story Of The Kaipara.

In the September number of this Magazine the story of the historic Mahuhu canoe was told. This vessel's crew from Hawaiki settled at Kaipara Heads, where there was then a low-lying island named Taporapora; it was destroyed by a great storm, and only sandbanks awash at low tide mark the place. Several generations later, when the land on the Kaipara and Northern Wairoa shores was peopled by two rival tribes, the Ngati-Whatua and the Ngati-Awa, a war arose over a woman which led to the complete conquest of the Kaipara country by the former tribe. The original tradition of this romantic and tragic episode in ancient Maori life was sent to me by Mr. George Graham, of the Akarana Maori Association, Auckland; he is the leading authority on the early history of the Northern tribes. He heard it from the old people of the Kaipara nearly fifty years ago.

At Ripiro, on the West Coast north of Kaipara Heads, there was a fortified pa of the Ngati-Whatua. In that pa, said the story as narrated to Mr. Graham by the old men of the Ngati-Whatua, the conquerors, there lived the young chieftainess Te Hana. She was a puhi, a girl debarred from the transient love affairs of the village; she was betrothed by her elders to a relation, a young chief named Rangiwhapapa.

There came on a visit to the pa at Ripiro a party of warriors of Ngati-Awa to make peace with the invaders from the north. Their chief was named Rangi-taurewa (to avoid confusion with the other Rangi I shall call him Taurewa). He had already seen the beautiful puhi, and he greatly desired her as his wife. As she was to all intent a sacred girl, tapu to all but her intended husband, he could not ask her people for her, so he resorted to the ancient device of casting a love-spell upon her.

The Casting of the Glamour.

This charm for love the Maoris call Atahu; it consists of obtaining some portion of her garments, her hair, or anything else belonging to her, and reciting certain prayers over them. Taurewa contrived, in the tribe's meeting-house at night, to pluck off some of the huka-huka, the hanging thrums or twisted threads of her woven flax cloak, and also to touch her with the blade of his wooden weapon, the taiaha

When he returned to his home at Okahukura, on the shore of Kaipara Harbour, he gave the thread and the taiaha to his tohunga, the wise man and magician Hawai.

This useful man performed the ritual to make the atahu successful. It was Hawai, in fact, who had advised him how to secure the affections of the lady, and that actually was the reason for his visit to Ripiro. The peacemaking mission was only a pretext for getting close to the girl on whom he had set his fancy. When all this was made known in the after time, the cunning lover's name became a kind of byword among the people, and the proverbial expressions, “Nga mahi hangareka a Rangi-taurewa” (“the deceitful deeds of Rangi-taurewa”) signifies all manner of masculine tricks and beguilements.

A Love-led Swim.

The atahu was successfully cast. The young woman Te Hana was seized by an irresistible impulse of love for the chief who had secretly and magically set his seal of possession on her. She stole away from her home in the night, taking with her one companion, her servant maid. She travelled across the sandhills to the shore of Kaipara. Coming to Tauhara, she laid her garments on a flat rock (papa) at the foot of the pa there; that rock is still known as “Te Papa o Te Hana.” Then she and her companion entered the sea to swim across the harbour to Manu-kapua; that was Taurewa's home.

“Do not look behind you,” said Te Hana to her servant when they began the swim. But when they were far out in mid-harbour on that long swim, the young woman disobeyed, and looked behind at the shore they had left. For that act she was turned into stone; she instantly became a rock, and there that rock stands to this day out in the harbour.

Te Hana safely reached the shore and joyfully joined her lover who had so skilfully made her his own. There they lived together, defying all the Maori laws which guarded a puhi. Te Hana's people, of course, soon missed her, but they found only her clothing on the rock. They knew she had not been drowned but had swum the harbour to join her man.


But the lovers were not left undisturbed for long. The chief to whom Te Hana had been betrothed, the young warrior Rangi-whapapa, raised a large fighting party to avenge the insult and the injury and regain his promised wife. He invaded the district of Okahukura and captured many villages of the tribe to which the wife-stealer belonged, the Ngati-Awa, or Ngati-Rongo. At last he reached and besieged the stockaded village at Manu-kapua where Te Hana was living with Taurewa.

The pa was assaulted, and when the chieftainess saw that it would very presently be captured she climbed up on the roof of the carved meeting-house called “Tutangi-mamae.” She sat there, astride the ridge pole, at the front of the house above the porch. She called to the people, who were rushing about in terror and despair, to run in beneath her and take refuge in the house. Her act in bestriding the entrance ensured safety for all in the house. In accordance with custom all these were spared by the conquering hero Rangiwhapapa. As for Taurewa, the too-cunning lover, he was killed there, desperately defending the gateway in the stockade.

Thus was the atahu spell destroyed. Te Hana turned to Rangi-whapapa, and the two became man and wife, as was destined from the beginning. The unlawful love romance had caused many slayings and great destruction and it was to cost more yet, for the Ngatiwhatua did not rest until they had completely conquered the country on the shores of Kaipara Harbour. Later they extended their wars to the south and they successfully invaded the Tamaki country, where the city of Auckland spreads over the hills and plain.