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Legends of the Maori

Tunohopu’s Cave. — A Tale of Old Rotorua

page 181

Tunohopu’s Cave.

A Tale of Old Rotorua.

Green headlands dipping to rocky points, fringed with pohutukawa trees that glow with crimson blossom in midsummer, give topographic charm to the generally low shores of Lake Rotorua. One is romantic Owhata, the ancient home of Hinemoa, she who swam the lake for love of Tutanekai. Another, nearer Rotorua town, is Kawaha Point; eye-resting in its verdure, it is a little over a mile to the westward of the Ohinemutu hotsprings village. The rock-strewn top of the cave is called Te Rangi-Kawhata. On the hilltop are the grassy trenches and ramparts of an ancient fort. At the matarae, the point, with its grey masses of stones, there once was a fishing village. A little way around the point to the north lies a rocky islet covered with shrubs. Near this insulated mass of rhyolite there is a cave with a rock-arched entrance, half-screened by bushes and ferns. It is a story-cave, a refuge place of long ago. The name by which it is known in the hitherto unwritten story of Kawaha is Te Ana-o-Tuno-hopu (Tunohopu’s Cave).

Here, on the lakeshore, two hundred years ago, there lived a chief named Tunohopu, with his wives and children and slaves. The fenced hamlet stood on the beach, near the point. There were four or five children, one a little boy called Tai-operua.

Just before dawn one morning, the sleeping kainga was aroused by the yells of a band of armed men, a small roving taua of the Ngati-Tuwharetoa tribe from Taupo. The enemy burst into the village and slew most of the people before they had time to seize a weapon or launch a canoe. Most of the Kawaha dwellers happened to have gone across to Mokoia Island, so that Tunohopu had very few of his warriors by his side.

Realising that only instant flight could save him and his children—my Maori narrator did not mention the wives, who were apparently of less account—Tunohopu darted out of his whare, taking his children with him, and made for the water. He snatched up his spear as he jumped from his sleeping mat, and with this he ran one of the enemy through as he left the house. Rushing down to the lake under cover of darkness, he waded out to that rocky islet near the point, carrying two of his children and the others following. Then he and the little ones cautiously waded across to the shore again, and crept into the cave, where they were completely sheltered.

But Tunohopu now discovered that his youngest child, the little boy Tai-operua, was missing. He had been lost in the confusion, and was now either dead or a captive. The fugitive family remained in the cave of refuge page 182 until their enemies had gone. The Taupo men did not remain long; they set fire to the village and then made off southward. The Mokoia people, on seeing the burning kainga, manned their war-canoes and came dashing across the lake, and the warriors, pursuing the Ngati-Tuwharetoa, came up with the rearguard and killed several men. But most of the raiders got clear away, and they carried with them as a trophy the infant, Tai-operua, slung in a flax basket on a man’s back; he was a captive of Tamamutu, the leader of the war party.

Tunohopu sorrowed greatly for his lost child. At last he heard that little Tai-operua was alive and was well treated by Tamamutu at his Taupo home. The father resolved to recover the boy. To have raised a war-party and marched down to the country of Ngati-Tuwharetoa would have pleased him well, but he doubted if that would assist him to regain his child. So, in the year following the raid on Kawaha, Tunohopu set off for Taupo, all alone.

After a journey of more than sixty miles, the father reached the place where Tamamutu’s village stood and cautiously reconnoitred it. Outside the fence of the pa he saw a small boy and asked him, “Where is Tamamutu’s house?” The boy directed him to a large carved building in the centre of the village. Tunohopu boldly walked into the village, unnoticed, and, without hesitation, entered the house occupied by the chief. It was walking into the lion’s den, for the two tribes were still enemies.

Tamamutu, intensely surprised, and marvelling at his foeman’s audacity in venturing alone into the midst of his adversaries, greeted his visitor with the ceremonious politeness of the Maori rangatira. Tunohopu told him why he had journeyed there from Rotorua; he longed for his captive son and had come to recover him or die.

“You shall have your child,” said Tamamutu. “But first the tribe must see you and know all about it.”

It was near evening, and Tamamutu said he would presently announce Tunohopu’s presence to the tribe. “And now,” he said, “you must adorn yourself, and attire yourself in fine garments and throw aside those worn pueru which you wore on your long journey from Rotorua, for I wish you to look noble and chieftain-like before your enemies.”

So Tunohopu laid aside his tattered flax mats, and dressed and oiled his hair and fastened it with a bone heru or comb in the ancient fashion, and in it he placed plumes of the huia bird, the badge of chieftainship, and he girded himself with a finely woven soft flax kilt, and over his shoulders he put a long ornamental bordered black-tasselled cloak of the same material, presented to him by Tamamutu. And then, at his host’s request, he stood at the doorway of the house, looking out on the marae, with his taiaha or spear-staff in his hand.

page 183
The Cave of Refuge.

The Cave of Refuge.

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Tamamutu walked out into the marae, the village square, and cried in a loud voice: “He taua e! He taua e!” (“A war-party! A war-party !”).

Instantly the pa was in a commotion. Men seized their spears and clubs and ran to the various kuwaha or gateways of the pa to look for the supposed enemy. No sooner had they had time to gaze around and wonder where the taua was, than Tamamutu, having quickly climbed to the roof of his dwelling, cried: “He taua e! He taua kua uru ki to pa! Tenei e! Tenei kai roto i te whare!” (“A war-party! A war-party has entered the village! Here it is, here within the house!”).

And when the astonished people rushed up to the chief’s house, there they saw their old enemy Tunohopu standing at the doorway, a noble figure in chiefly garb, the emblem of chieftainship adorning his head, and his long red-plumed taiaha in his hand. Many a warrior would have given battle to the stranger, but he was their chief’s guest, and within the shelter of the sacred threshold.

The house was soon crowded with the tribespeople, eager to hear their chief’s explanation of Tunohopu’s unexpected presence there. Tamamutu addressed them, telling them the reason of the Rotorua warrior’s single-handed expedition, and when he had ended, exclamations of admiration and wonder burst from the people.

And then Tamamutu said: “Bring hither Tunohopu’s child, that the father may have his son again.”

And the little boy was brought in and restored to the father, who wept over his child, and pressed nose to nose in the greeting of the hongi, and chanted a song of joy and salutation.

And peace was made between the two tribes. That night Tamamutu and his chief men made orations, in which they declared that there would now be an end of enmity; and Tunohopu said that he was filled with gratitude and love for his late enemies, because of the recovery of his child, who was lost, but now was found.

The visiting chief remained there for many days, an honoured guest of the tribe, and he was mightily feasted and many gifts were given him; and when he left for his home again a retinue of bearers accompanied him to carry loads of preserved birds (manu-huahua), the tui, kaka and pigeon, potted in bark cases hermetically sealed, and other foods of Taupo, as presents for the people of Kawaha.

So happily ended Tunohopu’s adventure, and from the brave chief of Kawaha down to his descendant, Taua Tutanekai Haerehuka, who told me this story, there are eight generations of men, and the name of Taua’s sub-clan of the Arawa is Ngati-Tunohopu.