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Legends of the Maori

The Origin of the Coconut — A Legend of Manahiki Island

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The Origin of the Coconut
A Legend of Manahiki Island

ONE beautiful evening my aged friend, a Maori of the old type, I finding the atmosphere of the whare too warm, proposed that we should bathe in the lagoon. I readily assented. The golden moon was just rising over the placid waters as my companion and I sat down to gaze silently at the bewitching scene, and drink in the enchantment of the place. After swimming for some time I rejoined my companion and picked up the shell of a coconut lying on the beach. While looking at it I was struck by the wonderful resemblance it had to a human face; and I remarked on it accordingly.

The old chief said nothing for a long time. At last he broke the silence by saying: “E papa koe, kaore e hinengaro ki nga tupuna” (“You are a white man, you will not care for our ancestral lore”). I must have offended him, for he then said, “Kaore he pekapeka” (“There is no harm”); and then I listened to the story of Tuna and his undying affection for Hina.

* * *

Away back in the twilight of fable, when the sons of the gods sometimes lived on earth (said the old man), there lived on this island a most voluptuous and beautiful maiden, by name Hina. She was eagerly sought after and wooed by the young arikis from near and far, but she favoured none with her love. Suddenly, for no accountable reason, a cloud of sadness seemed to settle over Hina. This increased as time went on, until all commented on it; and Hina grew sadder and thinner each day. At length Maui-potiki set to work to find out the cause of her trouble, and at last by accident he discovered it.

Hina was in the habit of coming down each evening to bathe in this very pool. It is and always has been a favourite bathing place of our people, and as Hina was sitting on this very rock, a man suddenly appeared. He was Tuna, Tangaroa’s first-born son, the handsomest merman in all his father’s realms. As only half of his body was visible, Hina did not know that he was a merman. He was so captivating that she fell in love with him at first sight; and to the lulling music of ocean wavelets they pledged their love. Tuna extorted a promise from the beautiful Hina that she should never enquire into his history, nor his dwelling place, and that she was to be content with seeing him only at night.

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Maui and Tuna.

Maui and Tuna.

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At first Hina was very happy, but one day she discovered that her husband was not as other men. His embraces were cold and clammy, and the mystery of his existence worried her. This went on for many moons until the lines of sadness cut deep into her face. For her there were no garlands of flowers; her soul no longer responded to the messages of love from “te ariki o te po” (the queen of the night).

Maui, the desperate lover, watched afar in silence; and as he sat one night by the water’s edge dreaming of Hina, he saw the form of a man rise out of the sea—yet it was not a man, for it was partly a fish. Maui hid himself in the thick vegetation. He saw Tuna disappear in the direction of Hina’s abode and recognised him, for know that Maui was nurtured by his great ancestor Tangaroa when he was cast into the sea in the top-knot of his mother Taranga’s hair.

Maui then knew the cause of all Hina’s troubles. As he passed Hina’s house next day he greeted her. “Kia orana” came the pathetic reply.

“You have been married a long time,” Maui said.

“Are you a god?” asked the startled Hina.

“I am,” said Maui. “Your husband only visits you during the night.”

“You are indeed a god,” replied Hina.

“I am,” said Maui. “His embraces are cold and clammy; his past is a mystery to you; you have never beheld him in the light of day. Hina, say but the word and I will dispel this cloud of darkness hovering o’er you. Give me the reward of reciprocated love, and happiness will be yours till, hand in hand, we shall walk in the land inhabited by the spirits of our, ancestors.”

“Maui, you must be a god,” said she. “And I would that I could listen to your words, but, as you know, I am barred by honour till my husband dies.”

The next day Maui was busy putting down skids, apparently for the launching of his canoe. These skids went straight along the place where Tuna generally came to Hina’s whare. At night he waited. He saw the majestic form of Tuna rise out of the depths and disappear.

When Tuna reached his wife’s abode he said: “Hina, I am about to die, I have a presentiment of evil. When you see my head severed from my body, run and bury it at the head of our favourite atamira (couch). Watch it and water it with your tears. After many days it will grow into a tree, and will bring forth much fruit. In each fruit you will see the matted hair and sorrowful face of your husband, Tuna, which will be as meat and page 96 drink to you and your children for ever. But remember it, Hina, as the token of my undying affection for you.”

Maui intercepted Tuna as the man-fish returned to the water, and he slew him. He severed the head of Tuna from his body on one of the skids. Hina followed out the instructions of the merman who had been her husband, and lo! the tree grew. The fruit appeared; and to this day Tuna lives in the memory of all men, for are not all these coconuts still named by the children of Hina, “te mata o Tuna” (the face of Tuna)?

“And so, friend,” said the old man as he ended his tale, “even to you Tuna and his undying love have been revealed. Kia orana.

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