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The Autobiography of a Maori

Historic Roto-a-Tara and a Sad Event

Historic Roto-a-Tara and a Sad Event

Before my admission to Te Aute College, Karetai, a very popular boy from Otago, had been drowned in Roto-a-Tara1 when swan-hunting on its waters. He was in a canoe and while chasing a young swan the canoe had capsized and, being unable to swim, the boy was drowned. The body was recovered the next day and was finally taken to his home in Otago for interment. The gloom of this tragic happening still hung over the college when I began to attend.

The name Karetai is easily recognised as one of the greatest in the Maori history of the South Island, and should be classed with those of Tuhawaiki, or Bloody Jack as he was familiarly known to early settlers, Taiaroa and Tainui, of the West Coast.

Roto-a-Tara is itself a celebrated name, and the little island near the eastern shore of the lake is of particular interest. Peach trees once grew on the island and human bones could once be seen lying about. Its name, Peach Island, was a natural adoption. When the peaches were ripe, of course, boys, having no scruples, used to eat and enjoy them, but the old Maoris regarded the island as tapu, and this also meant that the peaches should not be eaten. When young Karetai page 82was drowned, they attributed the sad fatality to the desecration of the sacred island by boys from the college. The students never again chased young swans on the waters of Roto-a-Tara, although they continued to catch eels in its marshes.

1 This lake derived its name from the same Tara after whom Whanganui-a-Tara or Port Nicholson was named. A smaller lake nearby is named Roto-a-Kiwa. The Maori name for the Pacific Ocean is Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, Kiwa's great sea. Kiwa was a great navigator.