Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Legends of the Maori

Chapter XI. The Fairy Foresters. — Tales of the Maero and Patu-Paiarehe

page 63

Chapter XI. The Fairy Foresters.

Tales of the Maero and Patu-Paiarehe.

Once upon a time I made it my business and pleasure, when travelling down through the Westland country and over the Haast Pass to Lake Wanaka, to gather from the Maori of the very few and very scattered settlements what legends and folk-songs of the past they still retained in their memories. Arahura, a few miles from Hokitika, was the principal centre of information; there some of the Tainui family, the old-time heads of the Ngai-Tahu on the West Coast, were found, and they gave many songs and stories of the Coast and the rivers and the Alps, and especially waiata and traditions relating to the pounamu or greenstone. These will be told in a later volume; meanwhile certain other folk-beliefs may be sketched.

Far down the Westland coast, at Makawhio, I gathered stories of the Maero, Patu-paiarehe or fairy folk of the bush and the mountains, a class of folk-beliefs which prevails all over New Zealand, but which naturally persists longest in the wild forest country and in the gloomy and dripping recesses of the Golden Coast hinterland.

Makawhio is the most remote and isolated Maori hamlet in New Zealand. It is in the great bush, far down the West Coast, 150 miles south of Hokitika. It is reached only by horse track through the ranges and along the coast. There are no bridges in that part of Westland, and there is a mountain river, sometimes glacier-fed, to ford every few miles. Makawhio means “Stream of the Blue Mountain Duck.” The kaika on the bank of this swift river contains about thirty Maori, some of them half-castes. The oldest man, when I was there, was Hakopa Kapo—old Jacob, who was blind in one eye, the result of a bush-felling accident. I was rather surprised to find there a man from the Ngati-Porou tribe, of the North Island; he was married to a daughter of that one-time celebrity of the Coast, old Te Koeti Tauranga, of Bruce Bay, the last tattooed Maori on the Coast. The lone little tribe is named Ngati-Mahaki; it is a hapu or sub-clan of the Ngai-Tahu.

Old Hakopa was full of strange tales of the furtive bush folk. Many of the mountains overlooking the sea and the lakes down the coast are page 64 the homes of the Patu-paiarehe, he said. There are, or were, also, certain savage folk of the bush called Maero. These were veritable wild men of the bush. They were like the Maori in general appearance, except that they were much bigger and more powerful, and their naked bodies were covered with long hair. (“Probably,” said one of the younger people, listening to our talk, “they grew so hairy to protect their skins from the mosquitos and the sandflies”!) Also, in the bays and rivers there lived taniwha or water monsters, especially about the mouths of the rivers. They were ever on the watch for travellers using the beach, which was the only road in olden days, and wading in the sea round the bases of the vertical bluffs.

At the northern end of Bruce Bay, a beautiful sweeping silvery reach of hard sand, on which we galloped our horses just at the edge of the surf, is a bluff called Here-taniwha. The name means “Noosing Water Monsters,” or, say, “Snaring Dragons.” It is also called Te Wharaki, but Here-taniwha is its map name to-day. It embodies a story of literally roping in a monster, resembling a huge shark.

Hakopa said that a giant Patu-paiarehe or Maero and his clan lived there in a bush fortress of their own, overlooking the beach, and they kept watch for Maori wayfarers up and down the coast. A solitary traveller was always in great peril passing this bluff. The wild foresters would pounce down on him, kill and disembowel him there on the beach, and carry the body up into the bush to devour. The cannibal ogres killed in this way a man named Wairapa, whom they took up to a hill called Te Puku-o-te-Wairapa, just above the present ford on the Makawhio River. The chief of this murderous band was sometimes seen walking on the water at the bay, at dusk and in early morning.

Kohukohu-tere (Flying Mists) is another fairy-haunted height. It is the mountain range marked on the maps as Bannock Brae, altitude 4000 feet; a long foothill of the Alps, extending from above Makawhio to the north side of the Mahitahi river. There, on that green-forested range, lived some of the Patu-paiarehe, a true tribe of the mists. Said Hakopa: “Those fairy bushmen are still heard away up there in the hills. They rove about on still cloudy days and on dark nights. Beware of them!”

Two or three miles below the Makawhio village (by the way, the Makawhio River is also called Jacob’s River by the West Coasters) there is a great rata tree, which leans over the river. One of its projecting branches, hung with kowharawhara (bunches of “fairy flax”) and moss and ferns, comes close to the surface of the river. On this branch, concealed by the foliage, a cannibal fairy used to sit with his sharp-edged stone club page 65
The Ambush.

The Ambush.

page break page 67 in his hand, ready to drop down on some lone canoe-man or woman paddling up the river. A man named Tikitiki-o-Rehua was killed here by the dreadful Maero chief and his band, and the body was carried up into the bush and to the top of a steep hill; there the raiders feasted on their “catch.” This hill is called Tikitiki-o-Rehua to this day in memory of the bushmen’s victim. It is seen close on the left (east) side of the road as one rides down from the north to ford the Makawhio.

Another fairy haunt is called Taheke-a-kai; there the furtive folk lived and on occasion feasted on the flesh of Maori whom they caught.

Further north along the coast, near the mouth of Cook’s River, which flows from the Fox and Balfour Glaciers, there is a fairy hill called Pa-waiuru. It is just north of the river mouth. Hone Meihana, of Arahura, said that in his young days, when he was travelling along the coast route, he heard, in his camp near the wooded hill, the voices of the fairy people. He heard the hidden folk playing their plaintive music on the putorino, the wooden flute, and he heard singing and the crying of children, and even dogs barking, away up in the cloud-blanketed mountain. “White men, too, have heard them,” he said; “they have heard the tutututu of the Patu-paiarehe on their flutes.”

This fairy flute-playing is described by the old Maori in many parts of New Zealand. From people all over these islands I have heard tales of that musical characteristic of the bush-dwellers; as far north as Pirongia mountain, in the Waikato, and the Rotorua country, and southward to Banks Peninsula and the shores of Foveaux Strait.

Moving northward again along the West Coast, we hear stories of haunted ranges between the Arahura River and Lake Brunner. One hill with such associations is Tahu-anewha, which is said to have been inhabited by fairy people. It is also described as a maunga taniwha, a mountain where some legendary fierce creature lived. The Tarere River (called Crooked River), at Lake Brunner, is a place where the Patu-paiarehe used to fish. They came down from the mountains in dim and cloudy weather and fished in the Tarere for eels and the little fish called upokororo.

As to the origin of these fairy tales, it seems most probable that the Patu-paiarehe were really remnants of the ancient aboriginal tribes driven into the mountains and forests by successive invasions of Maori tribes. No doubt small clans of these forest-dwellers survived long after the more open parts had been settled by the stronger branch of the Polynesian race. It is probable, also, that the strange, uncanny sounds heard in the bush by Maori travellers in camp helped to build stories of the fairies and the wild men of the woods. Such phenomena as the gigantic shadow figures page 68 seen by hill climbers when the sun is shining through the mists very likely gave additional strength to the belief in the presence of huge and dreadful beings in the wilderness. This New Zealand “Spectre of the Brocken” has often been observed by our mountaineers and by the shepherds on the foothills of the Southern Alps.*

Maori artifact

* Sometimes a “sun-dog,” or miniature rainbow, encircled the giant figures seen in the high country under certain atmospheric conditions. The late Mr. Charles E. Douglas, one of the pioneer explorers of South Westland, told me at Okarito many years ago of some of his experiences of this sort on the western slopes of the Southern Alps. He advanced the theory that the halo painted by mediæval European artists around the heads of their saints originated in the “sun-dogs” which sometimes were observed on foggy mornings encircling the heads of travellers in the Italian Alps.

The late Hone Taare Tikao, of Rapaki, Lyttelton Harbour, said that the first tribe which inhabited the South Island, a people called the Hawea, who came from somewhere north or north-west of New Zealand, were probably the ancestors of the Patupaiarehe folk.

There is a resemblance in some respects between the Maori tales of the Maero and primitive European beliefs concerning water-trolls, gigantic hairy beings with a taste for human flesh.

Many legends regarding North Island Patupaiarehe, and also those on the coast hills of the Canterbury country, are given in two earlier books, “Fairy Folk Tales of the Maori” and “Maori Folk Tales of the Port Hills” (Cowan).