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

Ruapu-tahanga's journey. — (Circa 1560.)

Ruapu-tahanga's journey.
(Circa 1560.)

Some of the preceding stories will have shown that the Maoris travelled to distant parts of the country, and often took wives from the tribes who lived at great distances from their homes. There are page 190indications that in the early days, after the arrival of the fleet, there were times when peace prevailed sufficiently to allow of these long journeys, though at the same time wars were common, during which the original inhabitants were gradually absorbed by the more forceful tribes of the heke of 1350. The fame of some distant chief—either male or female—for profuso hospitality, for courage, ability as a cultivator, or other charactor prized by tho Maori, often led to a desire to visit and see such a person.

There is a somewhat noticeable instance of this amongst these West Coast tribes, which is one of the stories they are very fond of, and of which there are several versions, the following being principally from my own notes, amplified here and there by one printed by Mr. John White in the "Ancient History of the Maori," and I give it in abbreviated form. It refers to the doings of Ruapu-tahanga, a woman of the Ngati-Rua-nui tribe of Patea.

There was, at this period; a chief of Kawhia named Whatihua (see Table No. 42) whose fame as a cultivator had reached far and wide, even unto Ruapu-tahanga, who dwelt with her tribe at Patea. From the accounts which were received, this lady came to the decision to journey to Kawhia with the intention of becoming Whatihua's wife. With a company suited to her rank, she started on her long journey, passing inland by way of Tangarakau and Ohura rivers—branches of the Whanganui—where there are places to this day named after her—one especially, Te Puna-a-Ruapu-tahanga, or the spring of Ruapu'—where by her magic powers she caused a spring to issue from a rock, at a time when her followers were suffering from thirst. On reaching Kawhia she became the wife of Whatihua—the second wife, for he had one already, named Apa-kura, from whom are descended Ngati-Apakura of that place. Ruapu' had a son by Whati-hua, who was named Uenuku-tu-hoka, After a time Whati-hua gave this lady cause for joalousy; so she determined to return to her own people. She started from, their home at Kawhia, carrying her child, her dog following her. But for some reason, unexplained, she left the child on the way, and continued on with her dog. Whati-hua, as soon as he heard of the lady's flight, followed in haste to try and persuade her to return. The coast along that part consists of boachos, interrupted by high cliffs which can only be passed at low water. At one of these points the husband came in sight of the runaway, at a place about three miles north of Tirua Point, but could not come near her on account of tho tide having risen since she passed. But he tried his best to induce her to return; it was of no avail however. She replied to him: "Ka tu nga tai a Rakei, mata-aniwha rau." ("The seas of page 191Rakei, with the hundred taniwha eyes have cut you off ") which is still used as a proverb. So the husband returned, picking up the child as he went. The story says that Ruapu-tahanga was the first person over to pass along the path by way of Tapiri-moko, and Moeatoa hills, places a few miles south of Maro-kopa river. She came on her way, and finally roached Mokau, where she was well received by the people there, and after a time married a man named Mokau of that place, from whom (says my informant, an old man of Mokau) the river was named. She had a child by this man, and his descendants are living at Mokau at this day.

After a time Ruapu-tahanga tired of her second husband, and again started on her travels towards her old home. From Waitara river she passed along the old war-trail to the east of Mt. Egmont, and at a place near where the modern town of Stratford is built, she camped for the night. In going to sleep, she laid on her back with her face up to the clear sky, and hence the name of that place and the track itself, Whakaahu-rangi (whakaahu, to turn towards; rangi, the heavens).

Ruapu-tahanga now reached her old home, whore, after a time she married a man of Ngati-Ruanui, named Porou, by whom she had two children, named Wheke and Ngu. As Ruapu-tahanga's end approached, she said to her sons, "Let my bones after the exhumation be placed in a whata or stage, and when your elder brother from Kawhia comes to visit you, as he will do, you will know him by the fall of my skull to the ground," Her wishes were faithfully carried out by her sons. Years passed, and the prediction of Ruapu-tahanga came true. Uenuku and Kaihamu, in their home at Kawhia had grown to man's estate, and then the desire to visit their mother, Ruapu-tahanga, in her native home arose. So they started with a considerable party, and finally reached the place where their mother and her husband Porou had lived, but to find them both dead, and their sons Ngu and Wheke the leading people of the village. There were few people in the village when the party arrived, and these did not give them a very warm welcome, but sent off messengers to the bulk of the people who were scattered in their cultivations some way off. In the meantime the party of strangers, tired of waiting, proceeded to amuse themselves with a game of niti (for which see ante), and during which, some of the darts flew on to the whata in which Ruapu-tahanga's bones were laid. The people of the pa were horrified at this, and sent off urgent messengers to Ngu and Wheke telling them of the desecration of their mother's bones. The people remonstrated with Uenuku and his brother, saying, that the bones of the page 192mother of Ngu and Wheke were in the whata. One of them replied, "I always thought those were fishes' names, now I learn they are men"—thus adding fuel to the anger of the people of the place. When Ngu and Wheke and the people all arrived at their village, they found the strangers all gathered in a big house named Rama-nui, for the latter could see by the attitude of the villagers that they would be attacked. The head of Ruapu-tahanga had fallen to the ground; but quite forgetting the significance of this omen, Ngu and Wheke prepared to attack the strangers, and commenced trying to get at them with long spears. Now Kaihamu had been taught all the arts of the sorcerer, and seeing the plight he, his brother, and their people were in, he sought for a means of preparing a tuāhu or altar, at which to say his incantations. Finding none suitable, he used his hollowed hand for the purpose, and then thrusting his arm through the window, such was his necromantic power that his waha-tapu (sacred or powerful mouth) blasted all the surrounding people, and killed them! Thus Kaihamu and his party escaped the fate intended for them. Tradition does not say whether these Kawhia sons of Ruapu-tahanga discovered or not, that Ngu and Wheke were their half-brothers.* After Kaihamu had thus confounded his enemies, he cut out the heart of his dog and sent it to Kawhia, where, at their ancient tuāhu called Ahurei (so called after a place of the same name in Tahiti Island), it was offered up to the gods as a whangai-hau, or sacrifice, to remove the tapu from the party after shedding blood.

Hence is the reference in Te Mamanga's lament: —

Ko te mokopuna a Hau-taepo—
A Ruapu-tahanga—e—i.
Ka maea ki roto te Rama-nui
Whare hanga a Porou, i taklna mai ai,
Nona te waha-tapu, no Kai-hamu,
E Tama! e—i.

For he is a descendant of Hau-taepo,
And of Ruapu-tahauga—
Not like those gathered into Rama-nui,
The house of Porou's deep laid scheme,
Defeated by Kai-hamu's powerful spell,
O Son!

* Another version of this story says that Hia-poto, a woman of Nga. Rauru, married a chief named Mango, of Kawhia, and that she fled back to her home and uttered the prophecy accredited to Ruapu-tahanga above. Mango was a contemporary of Whati-hun.