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Legends of the Maori

Rock of the Flying Foam. — A Saga of the Waikato River

page 139

Rock of the Flying Foam.

A Saga of the Waikato River

A Charm of the Waikato River is the wealth of legend and romance along that grand waterway, the noblest of all New Zealand rivers. From Lake Taupo all the way down to the sea, every mile of its winding course has its folk-story and its song, and its lower waters have the records of the Maori War to sanctify them. This tradition concerns the beautiful valley of Orakei-korako and neighbourhood, where the river plunges through the rocky passes and roars in flying foam over its innumerable falls and rapid runs and round its little wooded islands.

A few miles below the old Maori village of Orakei-korako, on the riverside road that leads southward from Atiamuri, are the Haere-huka Rapids, where the river is broken by a wild fall, just below a green and lovely islet clothed to the water’s edge with foliage. Below the furious foam of the rapids again are other fairy isles, dripping everywhere with moisture; the spray of the cataract. Huge hills rise on either side of the river, wooded of base, scarred of side, with rounded shoulders, rearing here and there Titanic masses of grey volcanic rock, like swags on the backs of mountain giants. Down there, near the proper left bank of the river—the side on which our road goes—there is a great black rock, rounded by centuries of water-rush, protruding its glistening head. The strong river surges round it ceaselessly—spray bathes it ever, and sometimes the angry little waves completely hide it from sight. But it always emerges, the embodiment of eternal stability, in that turmoil of mad waters. This is the rock which gives its name to the rapid. Haere-huka, the olden Maori called it, the rock of “Moving Foam,” or “Flying Foam.”

And here, on the green bank overlooking the rapid-whitened river, I heard the story of how that great rock gave fresh courage to the heart of a weary and broken man.

About a century ago a friendly party of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa tribe, of Taupo, visited Rotorua, where they were treated with the accustomed generous hospitality of the Maori. One of the dancers in the Arawa haka and poi to amuse the visitors was the beautiful wife of Taua, chief of the Ngati-Tunohopu branch of Ngati-Whakaue. She excelled all the women in the grace and dexterity of her movements. Amongst the guests was a young chief of Taupo named Harakeke, who was smitten with the charms of the lady. During the stay of the party at Rotorua, Harakeke secretly made love to Taua’s wife to such purpose that when the guests were ready page 140 to return she consented to abandon her husband and fly with the Taupo chief.

Taua endeavoured to arouse the Arawa tribe to take up his cause and punish the Taupo people for the abduction of his wife. But they refused, partly because they were afraid of the great chief Te Heuheu, of Taupo, and also because of their relationship to his tribe. Despairing of success, Taua composed and sang the following song, which in the end had the effect of rousing the Arawa to a sense of the injury to their fellow-clansman and the insult to the tribe:

Whakarongo mai ra, e Tutanekai,
E Ariari-te-rangi, ki aku rongo aitu!
I huia-ruatia, ko te pou o te whare,
Ko aku mauri tonu, noa rawa kai muri.
Kati koia, e Teke, ko te tawai mai ra,
Tukua taku tinana hai titiro noa atu.
I te taumata i Te Hemo,
I Piopio ra, ka eke koe i Tauhunui,
Kai Tauhara, e titiro ana ki te Whakaipu ra
Ki Rangatira ra, kai a Tamamutu,
Ki Waihi ra hai a Toki, hai a Tahau.
Kore rawa e aro mai, ki Tongariro ra,
Ko Te Heuheu, ki a Te Rohu; ki Waimarino,
Ko Te Harakeke tu-repo taku warawara.
Tangohia atu ra ko te tua-awatea,
Ko te to-whare: raru rawa ko au e i-i!


Listen to my song, O Tutanekai,
O Ariari! to my woeful song!
A double misfortune has befallen me,
For the pillar of my house has fallen,
The very essence of my life has gone,
Leaving me as one deprived of tapu,
Cease then, O Teketapu, thy vain objections,
And let me wander forth,
Gazing southwards from Te Hemo’s hill, To distant Piopio,
To where my lost wife scaled the steeps
Of lofty Tauhunui.
From Tauhara’s lone mount
I’ll gaze upon Whakaipu, on Rangatira too—
There stands the home of Tamamutu.
Beyond is Waihi, where Toki and Tahau dwell.
But Tongariro’s mountain greets me not;
Beneath its shadow is the great Te Heuheu;
There, too, Te Rohu dwells.
Ah, yonder at the Waimarino I’ll find my hateful enemy,
Te Harakeke, swamp-dweller, food for my revenge!
’Twas at eventide that she was taken—
The house-closer by night—
Leaving me lonely here, to grief a prey!

In this song—which is often sung at the present day by members of the Arawa tribe when they wish to appeal to sentiment—the composer implored Teketapu (Te Amohau), the Rotorua chief, not to restrain him, but to let his body, or even his spirit go, if only to gaze wistfully at the distant mountains of Taupo from Te Hemo Gorge, from Piopio Mount or from Tauhunui Ridge. He called on the principal chiefs of Taupo by name at their respective dwelling-places to espouse his cause, avenge his dishonour and restore “the corner-post of his house”—the worker by day, the closerup page 141 up of the house by night—his wife. He lamented that the chiefs turned away from him, and he vented his rage by cursing Te Harakeke, the author of his sorrows, as a flax plant growing in the swamp (a play on his name; harakeke is the name of the flax) who could become his warawara, or food for revenge.

Taua’s poetical appeal was irresistible, and a small party of tino toa—tried warriors—prepared to accompany the chief. The company set out for Taupo, travelling only at night. Swimming across the Waikato River at Motu-whanake, a small island at the mouth of the Whirinaki branch of the Waikato, midway between Te Niho-o-te-kiore and Orakei-korako, Taua and his men marched rapidly along the bank of the river to the Haere-huka Rapid, where they camped. From this bivouac the warriors passed by way of Orakei-korako (along where the telegraph line now runs) to a valley about four miles north of where the present road joins the motor road from Rotorua to Taupo. The Rotorua men arrived there at daylight and found a number of the Taupo people camped; they were warriors who had marched out to offer battle to Taua.

The Arawa at once attacked the Taupo party, but after at first gaining what appeared to be a victory, they were beaten off with some loss. In sorrow and dejection they retreated to their camp at Haera-huka, and halted there as darkness fell. Overwhelmed at the loss of their friends, the Arawa sank down on the bank of the Waikato just opposite the rock now called Haere-huka. After resting, a discussion arose as to what their course should be. Nearly all were for returning to Rotorua at once to secure reinforcements.

Not so Taua. He knelt by the edge of the river, his taiaha in front of him, stuck in slanting against his shoulder, both hands on it, and so rested, as was often the custom. All the time the others were speaking he remained silently gazing at the dark rock in midstream, over which the waters fiercely raged, only to allow the head of it to reappear. It was a bright moonlight night, and speaker after speaker arose by marama’s clear beams and urged Taua to return to his home. One of them had a presentiment that Taua would be killed if they persisted, and that they would be overwhelmed by “the snows of Tongariro”—their enemies of Ngati-Tuwharetoa.

Taua at last arose and addressed his warriors. Taiaha in hand, he strode back and forth, speaking in quick, decisive words. He spoke of the loss of their friends and of the shame that would attend them if they returned unsuccessful. Pointing to the rock in the midst of the rapids, showing distinctly in the light of the beautiful moon, he compared their present position to it. Constantly overwhelmed by the rushing waters and page 142 the flying foam, it always reappeared unmoved and firm as ever. “I have taken courage from the rock,” he said, “and nothing will turn me back. Your arguments flow over me as the spray flies over yon rock!” He urged that if they returned on their tracks at once they would take the enemy unawares and secure a victory.

Taua’s speech was so eloquent and forceful that it carried all his warriors with it. They were animated with his own heroic and determined spirit. “Ae! We shall follow you!” they cried. At midnight the Arawa arose and took the fighting trail again. They quickly reached a deep valley on the old path from Orakei-korako to Taupo, a mile or two before where it joins the present road at the “Height of Land.” Here, just at dawn, they fell on their unsuspecting enemies. Taken completely by surprise, the Taupo men were borne down by the furious assault, and heavy was the slaughter. In such manner did Taua avenge his erring wife.

And the victorious chief of Ngati-Tunohopu straightway adopted the name of Haere-huka, after the courage-inspiring rock in the Waikato, and his descendants now bear it. There is a Taua Tutanekai Haere-huka in Rotorua to-day. Let not that name be forgotten, for it holds a heroic and a poetic memory.