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Legends of the Maori

The Taniwha — The Landing of the First Horses in New Zealand

page 119

The Taniwha
The Landing of the First Horses in New Zealand

SMOKED tattooed heads were getting scarce. Trade in general was declining. We were beginning to assess the true values of tomahawks, jew’s-harps and red blankets, so an enterprising trader brought over a horse as an experiment. The first we saw of the horse was when we saw it swimming ashore. We who were gathered on the beach immediately ran for our lives, for we knew a great taniwha was making straight for us. We saw the monster rise out of the depths and land on the beach. Then we saw white men row from the ship and knew they would immediately be consumed. We shouted and made signs to them to go back, for we were afraid they would be killed. But the pakeha folk, who, you know, are of a stubborn race, kept on.

Then a strange thing happened and we marvelled. One of the men approached the taniwha and tied a rope to his neck and led him to a patch of fine grass, and lo! the monster ate grass. We said, “Great, great is the mana of the pakeha!” Then we saw the pakeha get on the taniwha’s back and the taniwha ran away, and we said, “Now, the monster is running to his hole and the pakeha surely will be eaten.” But no, the monster came back and did nothing more than just eat grass.

Then the pakeha called us, but none dare venture out of the pa except Taringakuri (Dog’s Ear), who said he was not afraid of any monster. So he crept down to the beach and we waited, grieving for the old man. The pakeha men put Dog’s Ear on to the taniwha and we sorrowed for Dog’s Ear. He rode the monster and came back, and the taniwha ate more grass.

Then my father went down and he, too, took a ride on the monster. And he said to the captain of the ship that he would like to buy the taniwha. He would fill the belly of the ship with fine muka (flax fibre) and overrun its back with pigs if the captain gave him the taniwha.

This compact was agreed to and my father became the owner of the taniwha.

Then all the members of the tribe gathered together and every one took a ride on the taniwha. E tama! it was a strange sight to see tattooed warriors riding that monster.

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Now after the second day the monster died and great was my father’s grief thereat. He thought we rode the monster to death. But we shook our heads and said it was because Patene had forgotten to take the piece of dried shark from his belt and thus the taniwha’s tapu had been violated by cooked food.

Father thought a while and said, “Ae pea” (“Yes, perhaps”).

Many days passed away and at last the captain returned and great indeed was our joy when we saw two more taniwhas swimming ashore.

My father again filled the ship with fine hemp and pigs, the price of the two taniwhas. Father took better care of these two; he would not allow many to ride them. Then the fame of these taniwhas went abroad and many came to see them and to marvel.

About this time our friends from the Wairarapa thought of paying us a visit. Well, we knew they had two very fast runners, and so, when the party arrived, as the custom was, they sent out these two fast runners as challengers. They came—ah! e tama!—they were heroes! Tall and straight like totara trees, with eyes that shone like pawa-shell; and the tattooer must have sighed with pleasure when he beheld the result of his artistic work, for they were tattooed from head to foot.

They came, those runners, they danced their fierce war dance, they made faces at us, they came right up to our party, for they knew we had no runner who could compete with them, so they defied us. But suddenly as they were about to retreat, our ranks opened out and our two taniwhas sprang forth, ridden by two of our young men.

As soon as the brave runners saw those monsters they fell on their knees at once and gave up the ghost, for they thought they would be eaten.

When our Wairarapa friends saw the fate of their two companions they fled as one man and disappeared over the Wainui hills without ever looking back once.

E hoa, this is the story of the first horses that landed here on these shores. To waewae! (Your leg!).

page 121
The Landing of the First Horse

The Landing of the First Horse

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