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Legends of the Maori

A Waikato Canoe Chant

page 288

A Waikato Canoe Chant.

The long war-canoes, Paparata and Whawhakia, are foaming along almost bow and bow in the last half-mile of a great race on the Waikato River, near Mercer. Seventy paddles are going, flashing for a moment in the sun and dipping and glistening again. In each canoe a kai-hautu, the captain and time-giver, is standing amidships, waving his shining whalebone or stone mere on this side and on that, and raising his voice in songs and barking exhortations to his toiling crew. Old warrior Te Katipa, the Paparata’s captain, chants this song, an ancient paddling ngeri, as he balances himself with the ease and grace of long practice:—

E pari ra ko e te tai,
Whakaki ana mai
Nga ngutu-awa.
Hui nga ope au
Ki te tai uru.
Aue! Tiaia!
Aue! Koia hoki.
Hūkere, Waikato!
Aue, ku-umea!
Tūpara, Tūpara,
Tūpara, Waikato!
Tōia, e!


Flowing there is the ocean tide,
Surging towards me,
Filling up the mouth of the river.
Gathering are the armies
At the sea of the west.
Now dip the paddles!
That’s it! Come along!
Harder, hasten, O Waikato!
Oh, a long, strong stroke!
Now quickly, quickly!
Quicker, Waikato!
Pull away O!

The hoarse-voiced captains urge on their crews with frantic cries of “Hūkere, hūkere, Waikato!” “Tena tiaia!” “Hoea, hoea!” Enormous excitement fills the yelling, dancing, waving crowd on the river bank. Paddling like furies, bending nearly double over their blades, splashing the water over each other, the crews surge up to the finishing mark. Paparata’s bow is only six feet ahead of Whawhakia’s. A rifle cracks; the race is won by a nose.