Pioneering Reminiscences of Old Wairoa
An interesting story touching on Maori celebrities of this district in the long-gone days before the advent of the Pakeha, is told in "Tuhoe-land," the late Mr. Elsdon Best's recently published work on the Native race. The tale relates to Rongowhakaata, from whom the Gisborne tribe derived its name. The man Rongowhakaata married a woman named Utupuke, but their wedded bliss did not continue and eventually, piqued at something her husband had done, Utupuke ran away to Opotiki, a considerable journey in those days. Rongowhakaata tried to induce her to return, but finding his efforts fruitless, urged his wife to consider his wishes in regard to their unborn child. If the child was a girl, he wished it to be named Waioeka, but if a boy its name must be Popoia, which meant the fringe of the ear. A son was born and was duly christened Rongopopoia, as had been suggested, and with the passage of years he grew up and married two wives. He became a father later, and everything appeared to be going well for the son of Rongowhakaata. Misfortune fell on the kainga, however, for one day the children of one of Rongopopoia's wives were trailing a kite, when the string became entangled in the palisades of Te Mawhai pa. The children hastened to retrieve their kite, but were captured and killed by the inhabitants of Te Mawhai. Rongopopoia discovered his loss, and in his rage avenged their death by the killing of an old man from among the Te Mawhai people. The son of this man, by the page 50rules of the game, was bound to avenge the old man's death in turn, and resorted to strategy. He began the manufacture of a fish net, and made it known far and wide that this net would be set upon a certain day. The setting of a net for the first time was a social function of some importance, and Rongopopoia's friends and relatives were among those who gathered to assist the bereaved young man. These visitors were asked to attend to the weighting of the lower edge of the net, as it lay upon the ground, and while they were engaged on this task, a signal was given and the Te Mawhai men picked up their edge of the net and threw it over the visitors. Thus entrapped, Rongopopoia and his friends were easily disposed of, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at their own pa. The leader in the slaughter was determined to make a clean sweep of Rongopopoia's family, and when he heard that one of the dead man's widows had given birth to a child, he hastened to see the infant, determined to put it to death if it were a boy. The mother insisted that the baby was a girl, and succeeded in deceiving the avenging visitor, who decreed that it could become a water-carrier for his tribe. The secret of the baby's sex was kept until the mother found a chance to run away and in a new home she brought up the boy as a warrior, training him in the use of weapons and instilling into his youthful consciousness the one idea that he in turn was to be the instrument of vengeance on his father's slayer. This ambition he was eventually enabled to indulge, for under a mask of pampas grass, he crept up to the margin page 51of his enemy's pa, and killed two of his children, then followed the father, who had recourse to flight. The end came on the bosom of a stream, the pursuers lying down in their canoe and so enticing the pursued to investigate what appeared to be a derelict that might be useful to them. Their curiosity proved fatal, for when they were too close to escape, the avengers rose in their canoe, and fell on them. The slaughter was eminently satisfying to the instigator of the expedition and the canoe "was thereafter known as Te Upoko Poiti—the grand finale.
It may not be generally known that the Waikato Maoris in olden days were reckoned as the hereditary enemies of Wairoa over an affair which occurred at Mahia. The Maoris of the North Island place great faith, in the legend of the fanciful and mysterious war-bird, the hokioi, which some authorities consider is identical with the Hakuwai reported from Stewart Island, a bird of omen, a dreaded harbinger of war and death, a kind of ghost-bird in fact. The hokioi is described as a bird with wings two fathoms long, and that as it flies it makes a swishing noise or booming sound. Rewi Mania-poto chanted the hokioi song when he travelled from the Waikato to the Urewera country in 1863 to stir up the hill tribes to join in a confederation to expel the Pakehas from Aotearoa. Like the moorland birds we know very little about them, and the imaginative Maori can supply any deficiencies.