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Legends of the Maori

Magic Mountain. — Maungaroa and its Legends

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Magic Mountain.

Maungaroa and its Legends.

Tohikuri-O-Waikato, big-framed, bronze-faced, white-haired, is a living storehouse of matauranga, the historical and poetic lore of his tribe. He is an elder and chief of the Ngati-Tamaoho section of the Waikato; he was a great canoe-man in his time, and as an expert he is consulted in all matters pertaining to river and forest. This is his story of the sacred omen-mountain of his tribe, the volcanic hill Maungaroa, in the valley of the Whangamarino. It is a bit of folk-talk from the poetic garment of legendry with which the Maori clothed conspicuous features of the landscape about his home. Taupiri and Pirongia, Rangitoto in the King Country, Moehau (Cape Colville) are among the well-known peaks of poetry and portent in native belief. Maungaroa is but a small size in mountains, nevertheless its head is wreathed about with many a tradition and song.

Maungaroa is a lone hill, 637 feet in height according to the survey maps (just about the same altitude as Mount Eden in Auckland), rising from the low country a short distance to the north of the Whangamarino River, between seven and eight miles to the eastward of the Waikato River, at about half-way between Mercer and Rangiriri. According to the map, the hill (on which there is a trignometrical station) is on Block 8 of Maramarua Parish, County of Waikato. The nearest point on the railway is about seven miles distant. The hill can be seen from the motor road over the Meremere spurs. Maungaroa is still Crown land. The name means Tall (or Long) Mountain; a flattering term for so inconsiderable a height.

“Yonder hill, Maungaroa,” said Tohikuri, “is our sacred height from ancient times. The Taranaki tribes have their great sacred mountain; we of Ngati-Tamaoho have our Maungaroa, and though it is not a grand snowy mountain it was our tapu holy place, the most revered place along the Waikato until you come to Taupiri. In my young days it was covered with forest; now the bush is gone and grass and scrub have taken its place. But the mists cling about it as in the days of old. It is a haunt of the Patupaiarehe (the fairies), whose forms are sometimes dimly seen in the mists. It is our maunga-hikonga (lightning-flashing peak). When lightning is seen flashing directly downward above Maungaroa, it is regarded as a portent of death to some rangatira member of the tribe. The priests of old went to that mountain to perform their secret ceremonies and recite their prayers, in the home of the gods and the Patu-paiarehe.

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“Now yonder mountain, Maungaroa, showed us some strange portents in the days just before the beginning of the Waikato War. The fogs or clouds often gather round the mountain and conceal its tapu head from the people’s gaze, and on such days when the mists hang low, wonderful visions are seen. When the Maori were awaiting the coming of the troops, the people of Lower Waikato, looking across the Whangamarino swamps one morning, beheld a great battle in the fog around the summit of Maungaroa—phantoms of contending armies pursuing and retreating.

“In the vapours, also, we saw the image of a steamboat in the clouds, and it was soon after this that the first British steam vessel (the gunboat Avon) entered the Waikato River. We have seen phantom towns of the pakeha also, houses and forts in the mists. All these strange images and omens were seen in the early day, when the first rays of the sun were beginning to penetrate through the fog lying like an ocean round the head of Maungaroa.

“The forms of Patu-paiarehe were seen like giants. Nor was it the priests alone who saw these signs of the clouds in the olden days. All the people within sight of Maungaroa beheld them in the years of the Waikato War.

“Again, Maungaroa is the symbol for a high chief in our tribe. When a person of rangatira rank dies and the people are gathered for the lamentations, the orators say, addressing the dead: “Haere! Hacre te mana, te nui, haere, e Maunga-roa. Haere, haere!” (“Farewell! Depart the powerful, the great, farewell, O Tall-Mountain. Depart, depart!”)

“Maungaroa,” Tohikuri continued, “is also our maunga-tohu-ua (rain prophesying height). By virtue of its mana it gathers to itself the rain clouds of this part of the country, and it rests with Maungaroa whether rain shall descend or not. You will see, perhaps, a small cloud drifting down towards the peak from the Waikato, then another and another; these clouds are the spirit of the rain. They all make straight for Maungaroa’s head, and when they completely encircle him, then the lightning flashes, the thunder crashes, and down comes a deluge of rain. Moreover, the mountains call to one another, all the chief mountains of this district from Waikato to Wairoa—the peaks Kohukohu-nui (‘Heavy Fogs’; the highest part of the Wairoa Ranges), Ra-to-roa, and the other hills up to Pukekawa, on the western side of the Waikato River. They encircle themselves in clouds and mists and to all appearances they are about to send down heavy rains, but the final decision rests with Maungaroa. If he does not consent that it shall rain, then the weather will remain fine, although Kohukohu-nui and his fellow mountain chiefs are draped in fog. Should Maungaroa remain free of cloud and mist, it is safe to go out upon a journey, for you may be sure it will not rain.”

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There is a meteorological truth wrapped up in this poetic dressingc characteristic of the Maori. Maungaroa is the local weather-glass to-day.

Tohikuri says that Ngariki was another sub-tribe claiming Maungaroa as its sacred mountain. A high chief of Ngati-Tamaoho who once was the leading man of the peak’s owners was Pou-whatu, who lived near its base.

About a mile south of Maungaroa Hill there is a waterfall on the Whangamarino Stream bearing the poetic and historical name “Te Ako-o-te-tui-a-Tamaoho” (“The Teaching of Tamaoho’s Tui Bird”). The story is that it was here the ancestor named, who was Tohikuri’s forefather, took his young pet tui to teach it to talk. The Maori belief was that the bird could best learn to talk within sound of a waterfall, where no other sound but the steady music of the cascade could penetrate to interfere with the teacher’s voice.

This district about the sacred hill is indeed rich in beautiful and descriptive Maori place names. Whangamarino means “Vale of Peace,” or “Calm Expanse of Water.” There is a secluded valley here called “Hopuaruru,” which means “Sheltered Glen.” The name has affinity with that of a little harbour on our northern coast, Whangaruru—”Quiet Harbour,” or, say, “Safe Cove.”