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Chapter Seven — The History of Rongo-Kako

page 53

Chapter Seven
The History of Rongo-Kako

We commence our history of Rongo-Kako, the son of Tamatea-mai-Tawhiti, at the point where he was a student of the Whare-wananga. Intelligent in mind, well fashioned in body, he was, it seems, rather older than the usual age when he was chosen by his East Coast people as their candidate for scholastic honours in the University that had been set up in the Wairarapa district. The fact that he was beyond the teen age may have accounted for the fact that he proved a poor scholar. He was many times put out of the house for drowsiness, and but for the personal interest of Tupai, whom we remember as one of the high priests of the Takitimu canoe, Rongo would have been expelled. No doubt there was a bond linking the aged Tupai to Rongo. Was not this the son of his late commander with whom he had travelled from Hawaiki?

However, Rongo was looked upon by the tohungas as a failure. At the end of the final term the other students were put through their tests, and no doubt there were successes and failures. Our hero took part in none of the tests as he was already looked upon as a failure. The final test was that of the ability to take superhuman strides as a means of travel. Rongo-Kako begged to be allowed to join the small number of students who were prepared to take this test. Permission was refused on account of Rongo's other failures. One by one the applicants for this last physical-cum-supernatural test were put through a preliminary ceremony and asked to repeat the appropriate incantation. As each entrant succeeded in the oral test so he was told to make a journey to obtain a sample piece of rimu-rapa. This was the giant sea-weed known as kelp, which at this particular place grew no nearer than on the rocks of some small islands off the coast. When torn from the rocks by storm and, washed up on to the mainland beach to become dry in the sun, the name of the kelp was changed to rimu-puka. This is often seen in page 54great black ribbons along the sea beaches. One by one the students returned bringing the rimu-puka, thus proving that they had not left the mainland but had picked up their evidence in a dead state on the sand.

In view of the wholesale failure of the others, Rongo made a strong appeal to be allowed to undertake the test. Out of respect for his descent, and out of curiosity to see the result, his appeal was granted. To the amazement of all he was word perfect in the recitative tests, and so was sent forth to the physical hurdle, the passage of sea separating the source of the true rimu-rapa from the mainland. Again he passed the tests and returned bringing the required sample of the freshly gathered kelp. The result was that he was consecrated to the high office of priest by anointing with the sacred oil.

Days of learning past, the time had now come for lovemaking. The maiden of his choice lived beyond the hills and far away, and Rongo knew that he had many rivals. Muri-whenua, or Hauraki, near our present Thames, was by all accounts a maiden of surpassing charm. Her fame had spread to the distant school, and had been so talked of that each of the students had individually planned to woo the maid. And each secretly decided to be first to reach Hauraki. Rongo-Kako had only one serious rival, however, one named Paoa, who belonged to Hauraki, where dwelt the lady. This Paoa is the eponymous ancestor of that great tribe Ngati-Paoa, of Hauraki, and is often confused with the captain of the Horouta, whose name was Pawa, and who arrived 100 years before the Main Fleet. Paoa appeared to have the initial advantage as he had gained the highest marks of any in the college for proficiency in navigation. To do him justice he offered Rongo-Kako a seat in his canoe for the journey up the coast. This was politely declined by Rongo, who said that he preferred to travel by land. Rongo purposefully dallied to allow Paoa to get a good start, then, when he knew that Paoa must have almost reached a certain place, he took one of his giant strides and reached the place just before Paoa. Paoa saw Rongo walking along the beach and again offered him a seat in the canoe, an offer again declined. Rongo again waited before he took a second step that this time landed him on Cape Kidnappers. His footmark on the Cape is still pointed out to visitors. So the pair proceeded up the coast, Rongo always contriving to arrive a little ahead of his rival. From Kidnappers he stepped over to Hawke's Bay to a point near Whangawehi on the Mahia Peninsula. Here again the mark of his footprint is still to be seen today. When, however, he turned up at page 55Whangara beyond Gisborne, just ahead of Paoa, the canoeist realised that Rongo was making sport of him. He decided that if he were to win the maiden, Muriwhenua, he would have to put a stop to Rongo's giant strides. He hastily rowed on to a point past Tokomaru Bay and set about preparing a great trap, or tawhiti, to trip and hold his enemy. To the present day this place is known as Tawhiti-a-Paoa (Trap of Paoa). Rongo was not to be caught, and this time he took an even greater stride, high above the trap, and so continued his journey. He was first on the scene at the maiden's home and secured her as his bride.

If pakeha credulity should strain at the acceptance of this story, let us say that it is universally known and told throughout the East Coast. Mr. Elsden Best mentions it in his book Tuhoe, page 990. He writes, "This story reminds us of the legend of Paoa and Rongo-Kako, the champion strider of the East Coast. These two ancestors were travelling up the East Coast of the North Island. Paoa rowed steadily forward, not being gifted apparently with any extraordinary powers of locomotion. Rongo-Kako would wait until Paoa got far ahead of him and take a huge stride and so overtake him. Some of Rongo's footsteps are pointed out by his descendents. They are only about fifty miles apart. This procedure seems to have annoyed Paoa, who fixed up a tawhiti, or spring trap, in order to trap the agile Rongo. But Rongo the strider was not to be so caught. He took a long step, passing over the trap and springing it with his toe, so that the taratara, or setting stick of the trap, flew violently off into space, eventually coming to earth in the Waikato district, where it is said to still exist in the form of a tree."

Rongo-Kako having married the beautiful Muriwhenua, had born to him a son, whom he named after his own father, Tamatea. Later the lad was circumcised, and this was the origin of his full name of Tamatea-Ure-haea, or Tamatea the circumcised.