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Legends of the Maori

The Song of the Axe

page 299

The Song of the Axe.

A WOMAN of the Ngati-Wairangi tribe, of the West Coast of the South Island, Raureka, taught this chant to the people on the eastern side of the Southern Alps, about two hundred and fifty years ago. She was the first person to cross the great Alpine range, so far as tradition goes. Raureka lived at Arahura, and as the result of a quarrel with her people she left the West Coast, accompanied by a slave, and wandering up into the mountains at the head of Lake Kanieri, she discovered the pass now known as Browning’s Pass, and crossing the divide, travelled down the Rakaia Valley into the plains of what is now Canterbury. She fell in with a party of Ngai-Tahu men, who fed the starving pair, and at the camp fire she showed them a small greenstone axe and recited a song which was chanted when axes were used in timber-felling and other woodman’s work. Greenstone (pounamu) was then quite unknown to the East Coast people, and the little axe (toki) was a wonderful treasure. Later on, Raureka guided a party of Ngai-Tahu across the Alps by the way she had come, and so they met the greenstone-workers of Arahura, the river of the pounamu reef. This, as given by the old folks of Arahura, is the song of the axe that Raureka taught the Ngai-Tahu; she murmured it as she chipped at the stem of the ti, the kauru, or sugar-tree (one variety of cabbage-tree) of the South Island people:—

Whakaatu ra e taku toki
Ki te kauru.
Koia panukunuku,
E ra e hine,
I a pakurangi, e tama,
Na te hiahia,
Na te koroka, e tama,
I a Tane,* e tama,
Tane i ruka,
Tane i raro.
Ka rere te maramara;
Ka huaki ki waho;
Ka tipu mai i uta,
Ka takoto mai i waho,
E hura ki te ata,
Ko te ata o Tane.


I stretch forth my axe
To the head of the tree,
How it moves,
How it resounds, O children!
Because of my desire
For the lofty sons of Tane.
Tane, the Tree-God, towering above me—
Tane, felled and lying at my feet.
See how the chips fly from my axe!
Uncovered to the world are Tane’s children,
Once pillared lofty in the forest shades,
But now all stripped and prone,
Laid bare to the morning light,
The light of Tane’s day.