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Chapter Eleven

page 86

Chapter Eleven

The History of Rongomai-wahine

Over the main entrance door of the house of Takitimu has been carved a grotesque female figure with legs reaching right across the doorway. It is the custom in important meeting houses to have over the doorway such a figure representing the origin of the life of the tribe. The figure over the kuwaha of Takitimu represents Rongomai-wahine, of Te Mahia, the famous mother of the Ngati-Kahungunu people.

In explaining the reason for this pare over the doorway, we must go back to one of the stories which mythology tells of the beginnings of Maori life. We will tell the story as politely as possible and leave embellishments to the Maori orator who in years to come will pace the marae of Takitimu and explain in the picturesque adjectives of the native tongue the full details of the origin of such a carving to those who will be fortunate enough to be able to understand him.

Far back in the story of human origins, we are told that three sisters were brought into the world, the descendants of Rangi and Papa, the sky and earth parents. The first was Hine-nui-te-po, the great maiden of death: the second, Mahuika, was the origin of fire; the third, Hine-i-tapeka, was the origin of volcanic fire. Also living on the earth was Maui-tikitiki-o-taranga, commonly known as Maui, who was credited with many marvellous feats, including the fishing up of the North Island from the depths. There grew within Maui a rooted objection to the mode of life instituted by the three sisters, and he made up his mind to slay them.

He had only partial success in the destroying of the fire which was kept in the five fingers of the hand of Mahuika, After he had destroyed her four fingers, Mahuika, fearing the total extinction of fire, plucked off her last finger and cast it into a kaikomako tree. Thus the origins of fire have been preserved, for should all other means of generating it fail, it could still be page 87obtained by rubbing together two pieces of wood from this tree. Pennantia corymbosa. Maui then turned on Hine-i-tapeka, who in fear threw her treasure deep into the earth out of Maui's reach, where it became the origin of volcanic fire.

After this wholly unsuccessful attempt to wholly destroy fire, Maui turned to destroy death. He first went to Hine-nui-te-po, and argued with her as to the permanence of death. Maui's idea was that man should die as the moon dies, only to rise again. Hine would have none of this, but said, "Let man die for all time, that he may be wept over and lamented." The argument ended, and Hine persisted in slaying humans. She used her powers of black magic, and her dread formula expressed in the Maori tongue was: "Ka kukuti, ka kukuti, nga puapua o Hine-nui-te-po."

Maui decided to seek the very life of the maiden of death, and having persuaded a band of his people to accompany him, he set forth on the mission. As they travelled, Maui remarked, "What is the murmuring sound that I hear? It is the sound made by the puapua (pudenda muliebria) of Hine." On arrival they found Hine lying asleep. (Rokohanga atu e tuhera ana nga kuha, e hamana ana te puapua.) Maui's purpose was to seek the heart of the woman and crush it. He cautioned his people to be quiet and to make no sound. "When I reach her heart," he said, "then you may speak." He proceeded to enter the body of Hine by the passage through which man is born into the world. When he had passed but half-way through the tawhito of Hine, a bird, the woman's bodyguard, laughed loudly. Hine awoke and her puapua closed around the loins of Maui and he was crushed to death. So death came to the one who sought to destroy death, and immortality slipped from the grasp of man.

Maui entered the realm of Hine with evil purpose. It was to guard against any person entering a meeting house with evil designs against either house or occupant that the builders of old placed the pare of a protecting ancestress over the main entrance. Should an evildoer enter he would share the fate of Maui, either in loss of his life or of his prestige and power. The people of the tribe and their friends, on entering, were under the protection of the ancestress, and were free from spells and evil practices. A further reason for the carved lintel was that every person of the tribe entering the house honoured the ancestress from whom he or she, with the tribe, had descended.

It has been known in the past that certain high Maoris have refused to enter certain meeting houses lest they give honour to an ancestress not their own. This question was raised when the Maori King of the Waikato, King Koroki, arrived to open the page 88Takitimu House. In certain circumstances it might mean shame and a lowering of prestige for a high born Maori to pass under the widespread figure of the ancestress of another tribe. In this instance, however, it was shown that Koroki had descended through a high line from Rongomai-wahine. Therefore he willingly entered the house with added rather than decreased dignity. Needless to say, the ceremony was not performed without the reciting of appropriate charms.

Rongomai-wahine was the principal lady of the Mahia Peninsula tribes when Kahungunu, having abandoned his former wives, women of high rank, whom he had married here and there on his journey down the coast, arrived at Te Mahia. The earlier origins of Rongomai-wahine are not very well known. It was probably because she was the mother ancestress of the tribe that her past line of descent was never challenged nor discussed, and thus became lost after her marriage to Kahungunu, who took over the leadership of the people.

The fact that Kahu was prepared to surrender his wanderlust and to settle at Mahia proves that Rongomai-wahine was a lady both of high rank and charming manner. Also significant is the fact that the tribe during Kahungunu's reign was never attacked nor molested apart from one raid by his own nephew, which raid proved more playful than destructive.

It has been claimed by the people of Te Mahia that Rongomai descended partly from Ruawharo, and partly from Popoto, who came on the Kuruhaupo canoe. The landing marks of this canoe at Te Awa-pata, the home of the chieftainess, are still shown as proof. It has been said that this canoe brought the first karaka tree to Aotearoa, and that the tree became the parent of all the East Coast trees. Many karaka trees have survived the axe and fire of the early settlers, and some venerable trees can be seen along the Mahia Coast.

Concerning the Kuruhaupo landfall, the Ngapuhi (North Auckland) narrative conflicts, in that the final landing place of the canoe is by the Northerners said to have been on their eastern coast, and that the canoe was petrified on a reef. The Tuhoe people have a third version, claiming that the vessel was disabled on the voyage and that part of the crew came on in the Matatua canoe. The Kuruhaupo, they say, was again made seaworthy and came to New Zealand in a quest for greenstone under the name of Rangi-matoru, with Hape as captain. The name of the canoe was changed so that her former owners might not claim her.

The claim of the Tuhoe people can be challenged by the fact that the same people claim Hape to have been the originator of page 89the tribe known as Te Hapu-oneone, one of the main tribes in occupation of the land when the Kuruhaupo arrived. By genealogical tabies, Hape preceded the main migration by six generations, or 150 years, and about 50 years after the arrival of Toi-kai-rakau in 1150. The same people also state that the Hapu-oneone were living in the pa Kapu-te-rangi when Taukata and Hoaki arrived, as is related in the passage dealing with the Te Ara-tawhao canoe.

The people of the Aotea canoe claim that the Kuruhaupo was wrecked and that the passengers were transferred to their vessel. It seems unlikely that the Aotea could have accommodated an extra canoe-load of passengers. The Aotea was well known to have come direct from Rai-atea Island, which accounts for her landing on the West Coast of the Island. The rest of the canoes called at Raratonga and followed Kupe's sailing directions, thus landing along the East Coast.

Another cause of confusion is the statement that Whatonga two hundred years previously, came to New Zealand in a canoe of the same name. If both accounts are correct there must have been two different canoes with the same name.

Whatever the truth concerning the Kuruhaupo, all are unanimous that she was one of the canoes of the main fleet. Not only do the Mahia people claim a connection with the vessel but also the Northerners, the Taranaki tribe wedged in between Tokomaru and Aotea, and the Maraupoko, Rangitane, and Ngati-Apa from Whangaehu to Lake Horowhenua. The matter is a fit subject for further enquiry, but the claim of the Mahia people as to the matter of the first landing place, and the fact that Rongomai wahine is descended from Popoto the commander of the cance, as is shown in the whakapapa in this book, gives these people the chief right to the claim.

Songs of Invitation and Challenge Sung by the Descendants of Rongomai-wahine

Some fifty years ago, about the year 1894, a move to strengthen their Church was made by leading Church of England Maoris throughout the North Island. Inspirational rallies were held in many centres, and many churches and meeting houses were erected as the result of this movement.

To create enthusiasm among the people, each tribe divided themselves into groups. Each group chose its strongest ancestor or ancestress to be its mana, and designed and made a flag with the name of the ancestor or ancestress worked upon it. At the page 90commencement of meetings each group marched into the marae or courtyard, led by the standard-bearer carrying the flag.

At gatherings such as this the Maori people love to discuss their tribal beginnings and the outstanding details of their history. Nor are any apologies made as the weaknesses and failures of other tribes are brought to light. The remarks are challenging in the extreme, and are accompanied by wit, physical and facial gestures, and every other artifice of the orator. Feelings are not spared as each tribe endeavours to assert its superiority over the others. What to the pakeha would be mortal insult and a sufficient basis for slander, is to the Maori all part of the game. The pakeha tries to hide his unhappy past, but the Maori has no chance of forgetting his.

The Mahia group of the Ngati Kahungunu tribe naturally selected Rongomai-wahine as their mana and designed their flag accordingly. Eraihia Maru, leader of the Mahia group, composed the following songs on information supplied by Paora Tunge and several elders of the Wairoa district. Eraihia and his people attended every meeting and sung the songs, and such was the superior position of the Mahia people that the facts therein were never contradicted but received general approval. When flown, the flag of Rongomai was placed at the top of the pole above all other flags. Pakehas, reading the translation, must realise the impossibility of presenting an exact translation. Nor do we explain the allusions. They will be fully understood by Maori readers.

Waiata Whaka-manamana or Challenging Song

Te upoko o te ika, me waenganui e o te hiku o te ika e e.
Kia hurl te taringa ki te whakarongo e ki taku tipuna e,
kia Whaitiri e e takahi i runga ra e e.
E wha aku mana tuturu o te ao, ko Ihozua, ko Te Karaiti e,
ko Te Wairua Tapu, ko Rongomai-wahine e e.
E Tipi taku mana kia Houtaketake he paitini kararehe,
na Te Huauri e, na Mahakinui e e.
E tipi taku mana ki te Tairawhiti kia Ranginui e, e hara hoki koe
i te mana totika e, to whare karakia ko Te Mihaia, ko to minita e
ko Hoani Tekateka, kei roto, kei waho e e.
E tipi taku mana ki runga o tawhiti, kei tua a Porou ana mana
putuputu, aku tari pakupaku e, ko to minita e ko Piripi Awarau
kua tiporotia e te horopekapeka o Hine-nui-tepo e e.
E tipi taku mana kia Te Wheuki e kia Hikataurewa he kai-tiaki
koe, no taku whata kao i Toka-a-kuku rawa e e.
page 91 E tipi taku mana ki runga o Tauranga, kei Rotorua e kei Te
Awhenga ra, ko Ahukawa ra ia taku whaka-rauora e e.
Tawhai taku mana te puhi o taku waka, kia Netane e aku hoia e,
i te houkuratanga e, itenei rangi koe he kai-waha i te peene,
hei powhiri max i to kuini e i a Rongomai-wahine e e i.

To the head of the fish (North Island), the middle and the tail thereof,
Harken unto my ancestress Whaitiri that tramped above.
I have four permanent mana (prestiges) in the world, namely,
Jehovah, Christ, the Holy Ghost and Rongomai-wahine.
My mana will strive with Houtaketake (witch doctor) who is the poisoner of the animals of Te Huauri (tribe) and the great Mahaki (Gisborne).
My mana will strive to the East Coast over Ranginui, whose mana is of no account, for his church house is Te Mihaia, while his minister,
Hoani Tekateka. is continually slipping in and out.
My mana will strive on top of Tawhiti beyond which live the Ngati-Porou
who have closely established manas, which are my minor offices.
Their minister, Piripi Te Awarau, has been chopped off by the sexual power of Hine-nui-tepo.
My mana will strive over Te Wheuki and Hikataurewa, for they were made
the guardians of my platform for drying food (slaughtered bodies).
My mana will strive over Tauranga, at Rotorua and Te Awhenga (battlefield) where Ahukawa was made my prisoner.
My mana will then stride on to the head-piece of my canoe
(Ngapuhi) to Netane and people, who in the gay old days
were my soldiers, but who are now the carriers of a band
in order to welcome their Queen Rongomai-wahine.

Powhiri or Invitation Song

E hoa ma e i te hauauru, i te tonga, whakarongo o o;
Kua whakaarorangi te rere a taku tono.
Kia Tamanuhiri i tua o Te Kuri, kia Mahaki nui i roto o Turanga.
Au e; He whakautu pahii tena na o tipuna e tama e e.
Kia Hauiti e i roto o Uawa, Kia Ruataupare i runga o Tokomaru
Kia Porourangi e i tua o Tawhiti:
A u e; E kanewaha mai ra kia tuau e tama e e.
page 92 Kia Apanui e i Toka-a-kuku rawa, aku tupeketanga i te houkura-tanga.
Me tawhai rawa taku nei haere, ki te hiku o te ika te puhi o taku waka.
E huri to aro ki te tai-hauauru, te riu o Waikato te Kingi Maori;
A u e; Na Rongomai-papa tene e tama e e.
E Whiti ma e i runga o Taranaki, Te Keepa Taitoko i roto o
Whanganui, Wi Pere Timi Kara i te Paremata;
A u e; Nga mokai horo whenua nei e tama e e.
Tuturi o turi ki roto o Wairarapa, kia Tamahau e Tunuiarangi;
A u e; He rauhii tonga tena na o tipuna e tama, e e.
Kia tika to haere i te takutai one, kia Tipene ma i runga o Te Poroporo,
A u e; Ko te pou tena a to tipuna a Te Huki e tama e e.
Kati ra e tamahoki mai i kona, Te Matau-a-Maui pokaitia max, o tari pakupaku ki raro i to mana;
A u e; Ko Rongomai-wahine to tari nui e tama e e i.

O; Friends, residing in the North and in the South, hearken unto my invitation as I now send forth my messengers;
To Tamanuhiri (Nga Tamanuhiri tribe) beyond Te Kuri (Young Nick's Head)
To the great Mahaki (tribe) at Turanga (Gisborne).
Alas, Those were sacrificed as a peace offering by your ancestors my child.
To Hauiti (Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti tribe) at Uawa, to Ruataupare (tribe) on Tokomaru, and to Porourangi (Ngati Porou tribe) beyond Tawhiti;
Alas; What a vain boast they are making to us my child. To Apanui (Whanau-a-Apanui tribe) at Tdka-a-kuku, where I hopped about with victory in those gay old days.
You will now take a long stride to the tail of the fish (Bay of Islands to the-headpiece of my canoe Ngapuhi (tribe).
Then you shall turn your face to the valley of Wai-kato to the Maori King;
Alas: He is the progeny of Rongomai-papa (daughter of Kahungunu) my child.
To Te Whiti and others on top of Taranaki (Mount Egmont); to Te Keepa, Taitoko (Major Kemp) at Whanganui, Wi Pere and Timi Kara (Sir James Carroll) in Parliament; Alas! Such are mischievous land sharks my child.
page 93 Thoa shall bend your knee in homage at Wairarapa, to Tamahau and Tunui-a-rangi,
Alas! the lives of those people were protected by your ancestors my child.
You shall now take a direct route along the sea coast to Tipene and others at Poroporo (near Porangahau). Alas! they are one of the posts of the net of thy ancestor Te Huki my child.
You shall now turn back to Te Matau-a-Maui (Cape Kidnappers), muster along your minor manas under your authority, for Rongomai-wahine is chief over all my child.