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History and traditions of the Maoris of the West Coast, North Island of New Zealand, prior to 1840

The Taranaki Tribe

The Taranaki Tribe.

The nothern boundary of this tribe has been described as marching with that of Ati-awa. From Nuku-tai-pari along the coast past Cape Egmont to the southern boundary at Raoa stream, two miles south-east of Oeo, is a distance of about fifty miles. From Raoa, where the territories of the Ngati-Rua-nui tribe commence, the Taranaki boundary ran generally in a north north-east direction to the east side of Mount Egmont where it joined the Ati-Awa boundary again. The Taranaki territory thus formed the segment of a circle dominated by the mountain from which the tribe takes its name. It is more mountainous than any other part of the Taranaki coast, for within it are Mount Egmont, 8,260 feet, the Pouakai Ranges, 4,590 feet, and the Patuha Ranges, 2,240 feet. But the country on the slopes of these mountains is fertile, and as the coast is approached there is a wide stretch of nearly level land, formerly nearly all covered with dense forest. It is watered with innumerable clear, stony streams, that rising in the mountains traverse the slopes and plains on their way to the sea; but none arc of any size, Hangatahua, or Stony river, being the largest. Like the districts already described, there are a large number of old fortified pas, some of great strength, and many with an interesting history. Many of these are built on isolated hills that rise above the general level, and which are due directly to volcanic action, though not craters in the ordinary acceptation of the term. The lava streams from Mount Egmont appear—at any rate in the neighbourhood of Cape Egmont—to have extended right down to the sea in former times, and as the outside cooled, the surface cracked, and allowed of the moulten lava of the interior to force its way upwards, thus building up the many isolated hillocks to be found in that part. The lava streams themselves have since been covered with ash ejected from the mountain, and hence but rarely show. Most of these hillocks are found to be solid stone within.

The Taranaki territory has always been celebrated for the immense quantities of the native flax (harakeke, Phormium tenax) which in former times covered the surface, and also for possessing the finest varieties of that plant. So much was this the case, that Taranaki was famed all over New Zealand for the quality of the flax mats made there, and for the obtaining of which more than one warlike expedition has been made in old times by the northern tribes.

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The following are the hapus of Taranaki:—


Very little more need be said here as to the origin of the Taranaki tribe, so much having been written on the subject under the head of "The Canoes of the Fleet," Chapter VI. The tribe is very largely derived from the crews of the "Aotea" and "Kura-hau-po" canoes that arrived here about 1350, and the further element of tangata-whenua blood, known as Kahui-maunga. The Titahi hapn (No. 11 above) are the remains of those who migrated from Hokianga many generations ago, who will be referred to in their proper period. There are some traditions also of other vessels which came to the Taranaki coast from Hawaiki, but very little is known of them. For instance, "Arikimaitai," said to have arrived before the "Aotea," and her crew settled on this coast, and were found there by Turi of the "Aotca" on his arrival. It is said he killed all the men and made the women slaves. Again, tradition reports that some time after the arrival of "Arikimaitai," two other canoes, the names of which have net been preserved, visited the coast from Hawaiki, having been driven out of their course by stress of weather. One of these canoes was owned by a great chieftainess, the other was the tender in which food was carried. On the return of these vessels to Hawaiki, the father of the lady asked how he could return the kindness that had been shown to his daughter by the Taranaki people. He was told that the Taranaki coast was very rock} and that what the people most wanted was sandy beaches from which to launch their canoes. The father—says the tradition—sent some canoe loads of sand, which form the few beaches still to be found in the district. Possibly there is some foundation for the story of the arrival of these two canoes, to which in later days the people added that part about the sand. This may be, however, a corrupted version of the story of Tama-ahua, to be referred to later on. The absence of any names is rather a suspicious circumstance.

The Taranaki Tribe was constantly at war with Ati-awa on the north and Ngati-Rua-nui on the south; hence they describe themselves as being like a wedge driven in between the two, pressed from either page 129side, but without being split up. They have the following saying in regard thereto:—

Kaore e pau; he ika unahi nui. They cannot be conquered, for they are like a fish with great thick scales.

Amongst the folk-lore of these people is the following rather pretty story, which is very ancient and is likely to have originated with the tangata-whenua. Other versions are known to the Bay of Plenty people: Te Niniko was the name of a man who lived in very ancient days, who was much, given to all kinds of enjoyment, such as games, dances, etc., in all of which he excelled, and was altogether a very gay and handsome young fellow. On one occasion a Turehu, or Patu-pai-arehe, or Fairy lady, saw him engaged in dancing, and was immediately stricken with his charms, so much so that she fell passionately in love with him. She herself was the most beautiful of all the Fairies. Now, Te Niniko dwelt in a house built a little distance away from the village where his relatives and friends lived. One night the fairy lady visited Te Niniko at night, and the latter was so charmed with her beauty that he made her his wife. Te Niniko wished to exhibit his wife to his relatives, but to this the lady would by no means consent. She used to disappear as daylight was about to break, only to return after the shades of night had fallen. Te Niniko continued to urge that his wife should show herself to his people, for he was very proud of her beauty. At last she said to him—"Wait until my child is born, and then we will introduce it to its relatives." But Te Niniko did not heed this wish of his wife, and one day boasted to his people of the beautiful wife he possessed. The people demanded to see her at once, and ascertain the truth of the story. Te Niniko replied—"You cannot do that, for she leaves me every morning before dawn. There is only one way to accomplish your wish; if you stop up every chink in the house through which daylight can enter, then she will not know when it is morning, and will linger on awaiting it." To this the people agreed, and set to work, completely excluding all light from the house. The next morning the lady awoke at her usual time, but finding it still dark, again slept, until the sun was high in the east. The people, urged by their desire to behold the beauty, now opened the door, when the whole building was flooded by light. The lady was greatly alarmed, and rushed out of the open door, and then climbed to the top of the house in sight of all the people who exclaimed at her exceeding beauty. She now sung a farewell song to Te Niniko, lamenting her separation from him, which was to be final, as he had disobeyed her, and as she finished a komaru or cloud was seen coming over the sea, which descended on the house where she stood, and also enveloped the page 130whole village in obscurity, and at the same time took up the lady and carried her off, leaving Te Niniko lamenting his loss. This incident is referred to in a song, which used to be very popular.