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Legends of the Maori

The Travels of Rakataura. — The Mauri of the Forests

The Travels of Rakataura.

The Mauri of the Forests.

Here I select as an example of the ancient explorations the story of Rakataura, the priest of the canoe Tainui, from Tahiti and Rarotonga. Many other pioneer travellers’ wanderings have been described by various recorders; I give the narrative of Rakataura’s deeds because it has not previously appeared in print in full, and because it is a good description of the manner in which the Maori-Polynesian of old set about the necessary task of propitiating the gods of the new land and of securing, according to his custom and belief, the riches of the forests as a permanent source of food supply. The narrative was given me by learned men of the Tainui tribe descent (Ngati-Maniapoto tribe); it also embodies evidence given by chiefs of the old generation in the Native Land Court in the course of proving their ancestral titles to Rohepotae lands. It is a typical story of tapu ceremonial and place-naming in a wild new land.

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Most accounts of the Tainui’s arrival from Hawaiki state that this vessel—a large outrigger canoe—was hauled across the Tamaki Isthmus at Otahuhu and so reached the Manukau Harbour from the waters of the Hauraki. But this was contradicted by Rihari Tauwhare, of Kawhia, who was a witness in the first Native Land Court which sat in the King Country—Major Mair’s Court, at Otorohanga, in 1886—to investigate the original title to the great Rohepotae district. He said that the Tainui was not hauled across the Tamaki-Manukau portage at Otahuhu; the canoe repeatedly went off the skids and rollers (neke) because of the misconduct of Marama, the chief Hoturoa’s wife, with her slave, which constituted an offence against tapu. So the Tainui returned to the Hauraki and thence went all the way round the North Cape and down the west coast. Rakataura had quarreled with Hoturoa because he wished to take Hoturoa’s daughter, Kahurere, to wife, and Hoturoa refused to permit this. Rakataura did not remain with the canoe, but went exploring southward with some of the crew and his sister, Hiaora. He saw the Tainui appear on the west coast outside Manukau Harbour (or Manuka, as the old Maori always called it), and he kindled a sacred fire at the south head and invoked the gods to send the canoe away, so that it could not enter the harbour. When Hoturoa saw this (or became aware of it), he steered out to sea. Continuing south along the coast, the priest crossed Whaingaroa, and at Karioi he set up his tuahu, named Tuahu-papa. He blocked the entrance to Whaingaroa, by magic, in order to prevent the Tainui landing there, and the canoe was accordingly compelled to continue southwards. Aotea and Kawhia harbours were also supernaturally obstructed to prevent the Tainui from entering. Rakataura travelled along and built an altar at Heahea; this sacred place was named Ahurei, after a temple in Tahiti. The canoe went on until it came to Taranaki; the crew of Tokomaru had already occupied that country. Then the Tainui returned and landed at Mimi (near Pukearuhe). There Hoturoa planted a pohutukawa tree, which is known to the people there as Hoturoa’s Pohutukawa. Hoturoa then went to the Mokau, where the crew landed. Rakataura went to Te Ranga-a-Raka, a beach between Moeatoa and Tirua, and near there he met Hoturoa, and the two chiefs were reconciled. Peace was made and Hoturoa gave Kahurere to Rakataura as his wife. Hoturoa sent his men back to Mokau for the canoe, which was sailed up the coast and into Kawhia Harbour. There it was hauled ashore, at a place which was called Maketu, after a place in Hawaiki (the name Maketu is numerous in the Cook and other Islands). At the place where the long-voyaged craft was hauled up Hoturoa and the priest each set up a white stone; these rocks stand there to this day, one at the bow and one at the stern of the canoe, as the Maori will tell you. I have seen those stones, in the sacred page 45 manuka grove above the beach; the canoe, of course, has disappeared long ago, but the story is that it lies below in the earth; no doubt it gradually decayed on that very spot. The stone inland, at the bow, was set up to represent Hani, symbolising war and death (whakarere tangata, the destruction of men). The one nearer the shore was Puna; it represented peace and the growth of mankind (whakatupu tangata).*

Rakataura’s great work, according to Ngati-Maniapoto and Tainui (the late Hone Kaora, of Kawhia, was one of my authorities), was the exploration of the forests of the territory now called the King Country, and the distribution of the sacred emblems of fertility which he had brought from Hawaiki to plant in the new land. These were mauri kohatu, or talismanic stone emblems, particularly intended to ensure a permanent abundance of forest birds for food, a most important thing to the olden Maori. The bird kohatu were called also mauri-manu and whatu-ahuru-manu. They were small stones, probably carved, which had been charmed by the high priest in Tahiti before the departure of the Tainui. Rakataura’s duty now was to travel the new land, spying out its goodness, and to deposit the luck stones of fertility at the various suitable places. He and his wife, Kahurere, travelled inland, set up tuahu or altars, and named places after themselves in order to establish land rights—claims which their descendants put forward and made good six centuries later in the Native Land Court. The tohunga had a number of followers, and several of these men he sent out with these stone mascots, with directions where to leave the mauri. These bearers of the tapu objects were Hiaora, Mateora, Maru-kopiri, Taranga, Tane-whakatea, Tamaki-te-marangai, Hine-puanga-nui-a-rangi, Waihare, Rotu and Puaki-o-te-rangi. The two principal kohatu were named Tane- page 46 kaitu and Moe-kakara. Rotu and Hiaora left several mauri on the mountains from Hakarimata (the range above Ngaruawahia) and Pirongia southward. Rotu settled at a place called Paewhenua, in the Upper Waipa Valley. Here there were birds in abundance, and here he placed one of his sacred stones; this place, down to modern times, was celebrated as a bird-snaring and bird-spearing ground, abounding in game. As each was deposited, at the foot of a tree, or in some other secure place, karakia were repeated over it, to hold (pupuri) the fertility of the forests, and to attract multitudes of birds to the pae-tapu-a-Tane (Tane’s sacred bird-perch), Tane being the tutelary deity of birds as well as of the forests.

Rakataura went as far south as the Hurakia Ranges, west side of Taupo, which, ever since his day, have been famed among the people for their great numbers of pigeons, tui, kaka parrots and other forest birds, which the Maori speared and snared. A mauri was placed by Rakataura or one of his bearers in the forest at Te Rongoroa, near the Ongarue River, and old Maori of Ngati-Maniapoto at Ongarue village resorted there until recent years to snare the tui, which were very numerous.

At Paewhenua, where Rotu settled, there was a large mangeo tree, and in this the descendants of Rotu preserved the sacred stone. This tree was much resorted to for the capture of the kaka parrot by snaring. The karakia used by Rotu in placing the mauri-manu was one which began:

“Pi-mirumiru te manu
I whakataungia ai
Te pae-tapu a Tane.”

The purport of this was a prayer that the birds of the forest should settle in great numbers on the “sacred perch of the tree god.”

The beautiful wooded mountain range which divides the valley of the Waipa from Kawhia, Rakataura named Pirongia-o-Kahu, after his wife, and a bold and volcanic cone a little further inland he named Kakepuku-o-Kahu. Then, far to the south, in the broken Hurakia Ranges, famous amongst the Maori for their great abundance of birds, such as kaka parrots, tui, and pigeons, he lived for awhile spearing and snaring the feathered children of Tane. Kahurere took ill here, and Rakataura performed sacred ceremonies in order to pure her, or remove the tapu after her illness, and she recovered; he thereupon called the mountain on which he was camped Pure-ora-o-Kahu, meaning “The Health-restoring Purification-of-Kahu.” (Pureora is also, it should be noted, the name of a mountain in Tahiti, the island from which Rakataura came.)

Kahurere died at a hill which Rakataura named Puke-o-Kahu, in her memory. Then he went eastward across the island and he ascended page 47 the lofty wooded mountain now known as Te Aroha. It was he who gave it that name; he called one peak of the range Aroha-a-uta (Love to the inland parts) and another peak Aroha-a-tai (Love to seaward); these place namings commemorate the old tohunga’s affection for his dead wife and for his children, on the western coast, his aroha which came forth in tears and chanted songs of sorrow as he stood there on the misty mountaintop. And at Te Aroha the priest of Tainui died.

Maori artifact