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Legends of the Maori

Chapter VII. — Kaihamu’s Deeds and Magic. — How He Conquered the Multitude of Nga-Rauru

page 36

Chapter VII.
Kaihamu’s Deeds and Magic.

How He Conquered the Multitude of Nga-Rauru.

THE return of Kaihamu’s mother, Hiapoto, to her tribal home at Waitotara, in the land of the Nga-Rauru, after the death of her husband Mango, was mentioned in the last chapter. She married a man of her tribe, and lived there the rest of her life. The time came, narrated our sages, when she became ill, and she called her two sons to her, for she felt that she would presently die. She had grown old, and these sons, begotten by her Nga-Rauru husband, were grown up young men; their names were Kare-te-Ngu and Kare-te-Wheke.

“Should I die, and your elder brothers at Kawhia hear of my death, they will probably come to mourn over me, and you will see them. Be careful lest you offend your elder brothers.”

The sons asked her: “How shall we know our elder brothers?”

And the mother said: “When I am dead, and the mourning ceremonies are ended, cut my head off. and set it on the outer lintel of the door of the house. Your elder brothers will come some day, when the news of my death reaches them. When they appear before this house, the skull will fall to the ground of its own accord, without being touched. That will be the sign to you that Uetapu and Kaihamu have come to this place.”

Presently Hiapoto died, and when the tangihanga, the wailing and funeral ceremonies, were at an end, the sons did as they had been bidden. They cut off their mother’s head, and carefully and reverentially treated it in the accustomed manner of the Maori in preserving human heads by means of wood-smoke. Then they set it firmly in place on the outer lintel of the door of the large house.

When the word went to Kawhia that Hiapoto had died, the brothers Uetapu and Kaihamu wept at the news of their mother’s end, in that distant land of the Nga-Rauru. Then they called together their people, in order that they might assemble a party to make a ceremonious visit to Waitotara, to lament over their mother in the place of her death. An armed party of one hundred and forty men was selected, and the brothers set forth at the head of their warriors. They journeyed down the coast page 37 through Taranaki, and they came to the Waitotara river, in the country of the Nga-Rauru.

When Uetapu and Kaihamu reached the pa in which their half brothers dwelt, they enquired of a man whom they saw there where Hiapoto’s sons Kare-te-Ngu and Kare-te-Wheke lived. (These names are shortened to Ngu and Wheke in the rest of the story. Ngu is the name of that sea-creature the squid, and Wheke is the octopus.)

The man pointed out the largest house in the village, and to that whare the brothers led their party. When the people in the village saw them going directly to that house they called out to the Kawhia chiefs— who were of course perfect strangers to Nga—Rauru—that the whare was a sacred house. “It is the tapu house of Ngu and Wheke,” they cried.

As the two brothers approached closely to the front of the house, the head of Hiapoto fell from its place; it fell to the ground. But its fall was not noticed by the people of Nga-Rauru; the warning went unheeded.

When the people saw that Kaihamu and Uetapu were about to enter the house, they became vociferous in their protests. “Beware,” they shouted, “do not enter that sacred house of Ngu and Wheke!”

Upon this Kaihamu grew angry, and he turned and cried to the Nga-Rauru: “I eat the wheke and I eat the ngu!”

This play upon the names of the Nga-Rauru chiefs was a kanga, a curse. It greatly incensed the people of the village, and they prepared to attack and slay those men of Kawhia, who by this time had all entered the large house.

The word went swiftly forth, and from all the Waitotara country hurried warriors to assail the daring men of Tainui. Soon an armed multitude was gathered there, far outnumbering the hundred and forty men who were crowded in that house.

Kaihamu now said to his brother Uetapu: “It is for you to make appropriate prayers to the gods, and perform the sacred ceremonies that will enable us to prevail over our enemies.”

But Uetapu confessed that the task was beyond his powers. He besought Kaihamu to make appeal to the gods in his extremity: “You alone,” he said, “are the one who can save us.”

So Kaihamu began his ritual of appeal to the unseen powers. He picked up the sacred head of his mother, Hiapoto, from the place where page 38 it had fallen in the porch of the house, and brought it inside. Then he made his tuahu, his altar, a tapu place whereon to lay a sacrifice to the gods; and this is how he made it. He was unable to go outside the whare, and so he said: “This is my tuahu,” and he held out his hand, with the hollowed palm up.

He bade Uetapu kill their dog, which had come with them all the way from Kawhia, and when it was killed, he said: “Take out its heart.” Uetapu did so, and Kaihamu took the heart and placed it in the cupped left hand, which was the tuahu; and with the appropriate prayers he offered it to his gods. This was to give efficacy to his appeal for supernatural aid.

This being done, Kaihamu called one of his warriors, a man named Tuatangiroa, and said to him: “Take the body of that dog which has been slain, and carry it to Kawhia, and place it on the sacred place at Ahurei, the tuahu of our ancestor Hoturoa, as an oblation to the gods.” Kaihamu thus despatched that man as a messenger, to take the offering to the gods, in appeal for the salvation of the men who were hemmed in by Nga-Rauru.

Tuatangiroa left the house by the matapihi, the large window, in the front of the whare. Kaihamu stood there just inside the window, and stretched his hand outside, repeating a karakia; and as he did so his messenger leaped forth.

One bound took Tuatangiroa into the middle of the marae, the assembly ground in the centre of the pa. Another great leap, and he reached the edge of the cliff which bounded the marae on that side; a third leap, aided by the magic incantations of his chief, and he was down on the level land at the foot of the cliff. None could stay him, none could overtake him. He was soon in the distance, while the people watched in wonder. He bore with him the tapu body of Kaihamu’s dog for far-off Kawhia.

So powerful were the prayers and spells of Kaihamu, as he stood there at the window of the house, that the journey to Kawhia was magically shortened for the messenger, just as his steps were magically lengthened. That same day—so goes the tradition—he reached Kawhia. He went to Ahurei, the tuahu of Tainui, and there he laid the kuri’s body on the sacred place, as Kaihamu had ordered.

Now there was put forth the most powerful spell of all. Kaihamu, knowing that by this time the offering had been laid on the altar at Ahurei, repeated his dread karakia, reserved for the final effort; and his ancestral spirits and the gods of his tribe aided him, and a magic wave of destruction was launched against his enemies who hemmed him in. He sent forth a page 39 death stroke against the multitude of his foes, and they fell smitten by that mysterious breath of the gods. They perished there in great numbers, and Kaihamu and his warriors left the land of Nga-Rauru unscathed and victorious; and they returned to their homes at Kawhia. To this day a proverbial saying (pepeha) has come down in memory of that episode in the history of our tribe: “Ko te waha mana a Kaihamu”—“The powerful and effective utterance of Kaihamu,” in allusion to those so wonderful magic spells which the hero uttered there, in the besieged hall at Waitotara.