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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 8 (November 1, 1937)

Mangonui — A Big Shark

page 35

A Big Shark

The day was hot and I had dozed, leaving my fishing line conveniently tied to a row-lock as the boat rose and fell to the gentle motion of a calm summer sea. It happened too suddenly to prevent. Out went the line at a furious rate, and there was a sudden snap, as the cord broke. Disgusted, I drew in the fragment, and looked to my Maori companion for some explanation.

“A big shark,” volunteered Tamati. “This place is noted for them, and you may be sure that the other fish will not bite while our visitor is about. Over towards the coast there is the small island of Mangonui. While we smoke until the shark has gone, I will tell you the story of the early history of the place, of the strong pa it once held (that was eventually reduced by Hongi of Ngapuhi with the muskets of the pakeha) and how originally it came by the name.

“In the days of which I speak Ngati-Enoa, a comparatively strong tribe, had taken advantage of the natural features of the island to make it an impregnable fortress. They were not a very warlike people, and took no part in the incessant raiding and killing practised by the mainland tribes. Many were the attempts made to invest them, but always were the invaders sent away, defeated and broken. Food supplies in the way of kumaras and birds were obtained regularly in trade from across the mile-wide passage, but the chief diet of the people was fish, with which the surrounding waters teemed, and in the taking and curing of which they had become expert. And so, for many years, prosperity smiled upon them.

“There came a time when, one after the other, several of the leading warriors mysteriously disappeared. In each case, the missing one had taken his canoe in the early morning to do some fishing, and that was the last that had been seen of him. At first it was thought that the men were visiting a friendly tribe on the opposite shore, but enquiry showed that none of them had called there. The mystery grew as the mainland people themselves reported the loss of two of their people who had been fishing in the bay nearby. There had been no stormy weather, and the missing ones themselves were proficient in the handling of the canoe. Some days later, a much battered canoe was washed ashore below the pa of Ngati-Enoa, and loud was the lamentation when it was discovered that it had belonged to the chief's only son, who had left a week previously to seek a bride amongst the northern tribes.

“The following morning, a frightened warrior who had been keeping watch from the high cliff above dashed into the village. Tremblingly he told his story. Looking over the passage, he had been following the progress of a
(Photo., R. T. Wearne). Felling a huge Kauri tree near Mangonui, North Auckland, New Zealand.

(Photo., R. T. Wearne).
Felling a huge Kauri tree near Mangonui, North Auckland, New Zealand.

large trading canoe, making for the island. A few hundred yards off the shore, there had been a great upheaval of the water. He had had a vision of an enormous tail which had risen in the air above the frightened occupants. The next minute the boat had been splintered to pieces, and one by one the rowers had disappeared.

“A meeting of the elders of the tribe was at once called, and the watchman repeated his story. There was much questioning, and much debate. At length the Tohunga, a man of great wisdom, arose and commanded silence.

“‘Oh Rangatira,’ he said, ‘I have considered this matter deeply, and can now explain to you all what the terror is that seems to haunt us. It is not a taniwha, as some of your warriors have suggested, but only Mango, the shark, grown to enormous size. I shall proceed to prove my words. Let that war canoe on the beach be filled with our older slaves, and sent across the passage. We can all watch the water to see if anything happens. In any case, the slaves are more or less useless to us, and whether Mango finds them useful, or whether they succeed in reaching freedom on the far shore will not make much difference.’

“The now-frightened slaves, twelve in number, were marshalled together, armed with paddles, and set adrift. The whole tribe lined the cliffs to applaud their frenzied effort to reach the sanctuary on the mainland. It seemed they would get over safely. They had almost reached the outer fringe of rocks, and had even ceased their paddling to wave derisively to their late masters, when what seemed to be a large wave overturned the canoe, and left them struggling in the water. In twos and threes they were pulled under, until none were left. As the last man disappeared, Mango's tail showed momentarily above the surface and then his fin, leaving no doubt as to his identity.

“Days went by, and the position on the island became acute. A few daring ones who, seeing the food supplies running low had ventured out, found Te Reinga through Mango's maw, and one man was even seized while fishing from the rocks. The mainland people were unable to assist. One night, cries were heard from the blackness beyond the beach and a large canoe, much broken, was washed ashore next day. Two others, similarly shattered, followed. It was not until long afterwards that Ngati-Enoa learned of the fate of the big war party from the north that had planned to raid them. Many of the young children died of hunger. For a time, the older people managed to subsist on shellfish, but the demands were heavy, and the supplies of these threatened to give out.

“It was then that the Tohunga, following a passionate appeal to his patron gods, was shown a way out of the trouble. He called the tribe together and, working himself with a feverish energy, set all the people to making long nets of unusual width and thickness. Within a few days, these were completed. It was then that the chief led his men in the fierce haka that invariably prefaced any dangerous expedition. The Tohunga spoke thus:

page 36

” ‘Oh Rangatira and brave warriors,’ he said, ‘if we stay upon this island while Mango awaits us outside, we will all die of starvation like our beloved tamariki (children). We will man the canoes, towing these nets behind us in a way I will show you. My wisdom has told me that when the big fish attacks us, we must draw in a circle about him. He must in some way become entangled in the nets, which will hold him strongly, while we exact the vengeance that is rightly ours.’

“Feeling that they were going to certain death, yet brave withal, the tribesmen entered the canoe, and worked their way into the deep water as they had been directed. It followed just as the Tohunga had predicted. Mango arose from the depths and made for the leading canoe, to immediately run into the net that towed behind it. With a shout, the other rowers drew in, trailing their nets over the spot. Fiercely Mango fought, his struggles causing big waves that nearly swamped several of the boats; but the more he threshed about, the deeper he became entangled. When at length he was helpless, the warriors drew closer, and fiercely attacked him, so that, a lifeless mass, he was soon floating belly upwards. There was a roar of victory, wildly echoed from the mainland shore, where hundreds had gathered to watch the battle.

“Now, pakeha, follows the strange part of the story. It was an accepted thing that some offering be made to the gods which had so befriended Ngati-Enoa. The Tohunga had a long, sharp knife which he had secured from a visiting whaleship. Boldly, he stepped upon the carcass, and made a long gash thereon, so that the big entrails floated out in the water. This was the offering, and suitable incantations were muttered over it. Then, the nets were cut away, and the dead shark floated free. But, did I say the big fish was dead? To the great amazement of the onlookers, he appeared to come to sudden life again. He took no notice of the canoes but, seeing his entrails floating in the water, made a quick dash, and swallowed them. Of course, they came away—through the opening the knife had made. Mango turned in his headlong rush and again engulfed them, with similar result.

“Thus, my friend, did the tribe achieve great prestige. … It is many years since the deed was done…‥ It is said that these big fish live long… To-day, there are many descendants of the conquerors of Mango who maintain that, as the result of a curse laid by Tohunga, the monster shark is still somewhere in the ocean depths …. still playing, what you sporting pakeha folk would term: ‘The same old game.’”