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Legends of the Maori

Chapter VIII. Explorers of New Zealand

Chapter VIII. Explorers of New Zealand.

page 41

The names of Maui, Kupe and Rakaihaitu are handed down as the principal far-roving navigators who explored the coasts of these New Zealand islands at a period over a thousand years ago. Maui—the second of that great name in the legends of the Maori-Polynesian—was the earliest of these sailor captains who preceded by several centuries the permanent settlement of canoe crews in New Zealand. Traditions given me in the South Island affirm that it was in that island that he first landed, at a period fifty generations ago (about 700 A.D.), and from there sailed to the North, and coasted about there, hence the name of Te Ika a Maui; it was his land fish freshly snatched from the deep. The North Island Maori, or, at any rate, some of those about the East Cape, say that Maui’s canoe, in petrified form, is still to be seen on Hikurangi mountain; its name was Nuku-tai memeha. But old Ira Herewini, of Moeraki, and other Ngai-Tahu learned men, gave me the name of his canoe as Maahunui, which is to-day a classical term for the South Island. Maahunui was the canoe from which Maui fished up the North Island. The Kaikoura Peninsula was the taumanu, or thwart, on which he braced himself with his foot when he was hauling up the great land fish, and therefore it is called to this day Te Taumanu-o-te-Waka-a-Maui; and Stewart Island is Te Puka (punga) o te Waka-a-Maui, or the anchor of the canoe. This figurative description of an historical fact dating back considerably over a thousand years is an example of the symbolism with which the Maori loved to decorate important events in his history. The ancient Maori conceived a wonderfully accurate idea of the general outline of these islands. He must have noted mentally almost as carefully as Tasman or Cook the various courses and directions sailed in his circumnavigation of the islands, and no doubt he drew sketch maps of his explorations and compared notes with his contemporary navigators. Moreover, wherever he landed, he made a point of ascending the highest points to gather a general idea of the lie of the land, and it was in this way, for example, that he must have observed the likeness of the great curve of Hawke’s Bay to a fish-hook, with Mahia Peninsula as the barb, and so called it Te Matau o te Ika-a-Maui. From several readily accessible points, particularly the range above Table Cape and the Hukarere Bluff at Napier, he could obtain such a view. And when, in later times, the explorer page 42 priest, Ngatoro-i-Rangi, gazed over the sea-like lake of Taupo, in its volcanic mountain environment, with the Waikato River plunging out of it like a great blue vein, it would be but natural if he conceived it as the heart of the vast land-fish.

An excellent example of the Maori geographer’s tendency to preserve his scientific conclusions in the guise of allegory or fable is contained in the story of Rakaihaitu and the origin of the great South Island lakes, as narrated to me by the old legend-keepers of mingled Ngai-Tahu and Ngati-Mamoe, in particular Ira Herewini and Te Maire.

More than a thousand years ago, Rakaihaitu leaped ashore on the sands of the South Island of New Zealand from his long sailing-canoe, called the Uruao. From north to south of the wild, unpeopled island he travelled, spying out the goodness of the land, noting its food supplies, its plenty of water birds and weka, or “Maori hens,” and its fish-teeming estuaries. Rakaihaitu was a magician; he was “a god in himself,” as the Maori say; and he performed some marvellous deeds.

According to the legend narrated to me by his descendants in South Canterbury and Otago, he formed the great lakes of the island. One of the first made was Wairewa, which we call Forsyth, the long, narrow lake lying between the steep volcanic heights on the fringe of the Banks Peninsula ranges. Then, marching southwards like a giant, he paused to form a lake where water was required. All the large lakes we know he made—and how? He gouged them out with his colossal digging implement, the long, sharp-ended ko, with lashed-on foot-rest, used by the ancient cultivator. His final work of magic was Wakatipu. With potent prayers to aid his efforts he scooped out with his mighty ko the long, deep, winding trench between the snowy mountains. This done, he rested from his labours, leaving his wonderful works for the marvel and admiration of his descendants. And to this day the people call these great lakes of the South Island Nga Puna-wai karikari a Rakaihaitu, which means The Water-springs dug out by Rakaihaitu.

This nature-myth (which is not known to the North Island tribes) preserves in figurative fashion the story of the explorer’s discovery of the great lakes. It is curious that the formation of all the lakes mentioned in the legend given me—with the exception of Wairewa—is clearly traceable to glacial action. Rakaihaitu’s spade was the ice-plough of the Alps, the glacier, which, with its resistless pressure and enormous excavating power, scooped out the channels of the lakes and deposited terminal moraines that confined the waters in their deep bed. The legend is one of the many proofs of the ancient Maori’s keen eye for land contours and a quick appreciation page 43 of geological and physiographic facts, and as was his way, he crystallised these impressions in symbolic folk-lore.

Some of our own people, too, have this gift of poetic imagery in describing the facts of nature. I was discussing with an old Irish farmer friend the ice-striated rocks and the smooth-backed roches-moutonnes so familiar a sight in the country at the base of the New Zealand Alps, just as in the Swiss valleys. He had seen similar rocks, the reminder of a remote glacial age, in his native mountains of Wicklow. “When I was a small boy I asked my father what made those curious markings on the rocks,” he said, “and his reply was: ‘Those marks, my lad, were made by the teeth of God’s harrows.’”

Kupe is the pioneer hero of the North Island tribes. His story has often been told and songs and numerous place-names to-day memorise his explorations. Some accounts say that he found no inhabitants in New Zealand, but this is not likely to be correct. Polynesians and a part-Melanesian race had settled here at least two centuries before his arrival, and very probably a good deal earlier than that.

Of the later exploring immigrants from Hawaiki, Tamatea, of the Takitimu, was the most famous. He traversed the South Island from south to north and then went through the heart of the North. His memory is kept green to-day in many a place-name, chief of all in that formidable curiosity in geographical nomenclature, Te Taumata-Whakatangihanga o te Koauau a Tamatea-pokai-whenua (The hill-brow whereon Tamatea, the land-piercer, played his nose-flute).

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.

page 44

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

* There is a peculiarly close likeness between two famous traditions of sacred canoes, the Maori Tainui and the coracle in which St. Columba crossed the sea from Ireland to Iona. Reference has been made to the two tapu white stones set upright to mark the Tainui in the manuka grove at Kawhia. Miss Gordon Cumming, in her book, “In the Hebrides,” describes the Port-na-Churraich, or Harbour of the Boat, on the Island of Iona, the spot where St. Columba and his brethren are said to have buried the frail coracle of wicker covered with hides, in which they sailed thither—lest they should ever be tempted to return to their beloved Ireland. In the middle of the stony expanse, she says, “lies one small grassy hillock, just the shape of a boat lying keel uppermost, and, curiously enough, corresponding in size to the measurements of St. Columba’s curragh. This is the place where it is supposed to be buried, and the only spot where, doubtless out of compliment to the Emerald Isle, the grass continues to grow.”

The two memorial rocks at the Maketu shrine of Tainui, in the shade of the wind-twisted old manuka trees, are about sixty feet apart, just about the length of a sailing-canoe of the ancient Polynesian type.