Legends of the Maori
IN the days when the sons of the gods sometimes wooed the daughters of men, a great and horrible monster lived in the Whanganui river. His name was Tutaeporoporo. Now, Tutaeporoporo lived partly in the water and partly on dry land. He had three favourite caves in which he lived, one at Waipuna, just below Putiki, one at Wairere, where the bridge now spans the river, and one at Kaimatira, just above Aramoho. He was a ngarara, resembling a fish, though he walked on four legs. He was ugly and hideous, striking terror to the very hearts of his beholders. At one time he had been a good taniwha, the cherished pet of Tuariki of Rangitikei, but when that man was killed by the Whanganui people, he took up his abode in the Whanganui River in order to avenge the death of his master. Thus he became man’s mortal enemy and many found a resting place in his insatiable maw. Canoe loads of unwary men and women were often swallowed by him, and he became a curse in the land.
Before long it came about that the up-river natives could not get down to the sea, nor could the Maori people at the mouth paddle up into the heart of the land. When the Whanganui natives’ friends could not visit them for fear of the great monster, one Aokehu, an intrepid warrior, came to the rescue. He was tall and majestic and the bands of muscles around his limbs looked like the corded plaits of a rope. His face was scrolled with the work of the tohunga-ta-moko’s art, so that none was like him to look upon. The comely daughters of the hapu sighed for him, but in vain; Aokehu’s heart had been consumed by a greater monster than Tutaeporoporo.
When visiting a neighbouring tribe he had seen Hine-au-moana, a virgin, whom he could not marry because she was already betrothed. He sought her one day while she was away from the pa with her slaves and there declared his love. To this she replied:
“E tama, there are three barriers between us; firstly, I am already betrothed; secondly, my tribe will not consent to our marriage; and thirdly, I know you not nor do I love you.”
He replied, “Yea, if there were thirty barriers yet would I surmount them.”
As she was leaving she said, “My people go to war to-morrow. If my betrothed is killed the first barrier is removed.”page 100
Now, Aokehu followed close upon the heels of the war-party, and when he saw that Hine-au-moana’s people were nearly beaten he entered into the conflict with the enthusiasm of a true lover and converted the defeat into a victory. Hine’s betrothed was found amongst the killed. After the battle Hine’s people gave Aokehu many fine garments, and dogs were killed for a feast in honour of his assistance. That night, after the feasting was over, Aokehu sought out Hine and reminded her that two of the barriers had been removed. She replied:
“Ay, two have been removed; one yet remains. If you can kill Tutaeporoporo, then perhaps I may look upon you with favour.”
Upon the next day Aokehu set out, trusting to the power of his gods and the might of his own right arm. Arriving near the home of the monster he got his people to make him a wooden kumete, a kind of large bowl, oval in shape. When it was finished he got into it and had it pushed out into the stream. Assisted by powerful incantations he floated towards the abode of Tutaeporoporo.
Quickly the monster rose from the depths against this rash intruder. With one snap of the mighty jaws Aokehu and his craft vanished into his throat, down into his belly. Once inside, Aokehu quickly got out of his kumete, and swish! swish! went his good knife Taitimu-roa into the ngarara’s body. In a short time Tutaeporoporo floated to the surface of the river, crawled slowly to land and quietly turned over to die.
Then the assembled people gave a great shout and rushed forward; and lo! who should appear but Aokehu, unharmed, from the very jaws of death.
Now, when the kumete went down the monster’s throat Hine-aumoana’s heart smote her. Her sympathy arose, and love for Aokehu stirred within her, but, alas! it was too late. In that moment she knew that the world held only one man for her—and he was gone.