Legends of the Maori
HOTU-MOANA, “the sob of the sea,” was the last chieftainess of the Ngati-Turehu of the Tarakoi pa, on the west coast of Stewart Island. She was an only child. Hotu was a most beautiful girl. Her eyes were large, with finely pencilled eyebrows, so soft and sad. Her mouth was small, with rounded red lips, and her chin, well, that was her strongest point, for it was determined and made her look at times a bit severe. She had perfect white teeth, such as only the more primitive people are blessed with. She was very light in complexion, and had red hair. Adolescence was just bursting upon her well-modelled figure, making every curve in her body a poem.
One day she was bathing with her maid, as was her custom, in the little bay, when she was surprised by the sudden appearance of an old woman. She was rather frightened of her visitor at first, but then, her curiosity being aroused, she asked the old woman where she came from.
The old woman replied that she had escaped from a war party of the Ngati-Mamoe tribe and that it was their intention to surprise the village that night. Then the old woman bade her tell her people of the war party, and so the girl and her maid hastened home and told her father the chief what the woman had said.
The gates of the pa were immediately closed and preparations for war commenced. Then at night a voice was heard outside calling for admittance: it was the old woman. The girl let her in and while she ate she made signs to the girl that she wanted to speak to her alone.
When they were alone, she took some leaves from a basket which she had, and having lighted them she spoke to the girl. “Hotu-moana, listen! Thou art my daughter—I am thy mother. Come to me, child, that I may look upon thee ere my eyes become dim. Many, many moons ago, after I gave birth to thee, thy father accused me of infidelity. Darling, I swear to thee as one who is about to journey to the regions of Po, I was innocent. It was all the mischief-making of that wicked tohunga who professed to be your father’s friend, but made proposals to me to fly with him, and because I would not listen he brought great trouble upon me, and I left your father and lived alone for many years, till these Ngati-Mamoe found me and made me their slave. When I heard their plans I longed to see thee once again, my child, and thy father also, for I want him to know that I have been true to him through all the many moons which have lived and are gone; and page 133 perhaps he will believe me also as thou dost. Daughter, death is hovering at our door. Thou shalt live because thou art beautiful. The Ngati-Marnoe are as numerous as the sands of the sea. Our people must vanish as the dew before the morning sun—yea, though they resist and drive the foe back a thousand times yet will they vanish, for the Ngati-Mamoe are as numerous as the sandflies of Sandfly Bay. Daughter, rub thy nose with mine and let me press thee once again to my aged breast—and then, yes, quick! The tide will soon hide the rocks and so, my love—I will reveal many things to thee—but my time is brief.
“Listen! This people will vanish even as this smoke vanishes, and yet, and yet, a little time and they, too, will follow, for a greater race is coming after them. They will come from the north as hail in midsummer, so they shall wither the Ngati-Mamoe. I see another race, and yet the same race, for they are light of colour and light of hair. They come out of the depths of the sea—they come over the sea—they flock like the seagulls at nesting time—they bring thunder and lightning—they bring taniwhas to wail over the land and sea with great speed—they change the bosom of our parent Papa—they level mountains—dry up seas, and change the courses of rivers, to get little specks of a yellow metal. Enough, our blood, yours and mine, will commingle with that of this strange people—and then, though we will vanish yet will we live to make this fair land great in the world which Rehua has made. Enough! Hasten to thy father and tell him a stranger would speak with him.”
So speaking, the old woman took her daughter to her breast and, looking long into her eyes, she said, “Go, heart of mine.” And so Hotumoana went and did as the old woman, her mother, bade her. When her father entered Hotu’s whare, he saw a strange old woman, and he said, “What would you of me?”
The woman replied, “E Ra.” Now, that was her pet name for him in the days of long ago.
Then he said, with a trembling voice, “None calls me that but the dead.”
To this the old woman answered: “I am the dead.”
Now the old man bowed his head and replied, “Speak on.”
The woman told him her story as she had told it to her daughter.
Then the aged chief groaned and said, “Even so. It is well that wicked tohunga confessed on his death-bed to me. It is well; I ask you to forgive me. For many years I have looked for you and thinking you dead I gave up hope. It is well—our spirits shall wend their way together to Te Reinga.”