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New Zealand - Some Maori Legends
Some Maori Legends
Maori legends state that, in
the beginning, was Te Kore or The Nothing which existed in a state of
timeless perfection until it gave birth to the First Nothing, thus setting
into motion the process of creation which resulted after many aeons in the
emergence of Rangi and Papa, the original parents of gods and men, and the
first in the long line of created beings to have features that were
The myths and legends of the Maori
are as fascinating as any in the world. If the do not have the graces of, say,
the myths and legends of Greece, this is undoubtedly all to the good, because it
probably means that they have not suffered to any great extent from the refining
hands of professional story-tellers. The stories as we have them are probably
much as they have been for many generations. The best of them, notably those
about Maui, are true myths, disturbingly expressive of the deepest fears, needs
and aspirations of the Maori people.
The one possible exception, it
seems, is the story of Hinemoa, and this may account for its great popularity.
Rightly or wrongly, it has suffered from having passed through the Mid-Victorian
sentimental tradition. Its Rome and Juliet elements most have made it
immediately attractive to the missionaries and settlers who first heard it, and
it would not have been surprising if they had softened down the starkness of the
original. It nevertheless deserves its fame, and it is only hoped that in this
much modified version some of its haunting qualities have been retained.
The creation myths of the Maori are
singularly interesting in that they go back much further into the void of
pre-existence than do the myths of any other race. In the space available all
can be done is to give a very brief summary.
According to tradition, in the
beginning was Te Kore or The Nothing, which corresponds to primeval chaos in
western mythology. Te Kore existed in a state of timeless perfection until (it
is never explained how) it gave birth to the First Nothing, and by this act set
in motion the process of creation which resulted after many aeons in the
emergence of Rangi and Papa, the original parents of gods and men, and the first
in the long line of created beings to have features that were recognisably
Rangi and Papa clung together in a
close embrace, and soon they had given birth to six male children. The children
began to grow, and it was not long before they began to resent being confined
between their parents' bodies. They longed for space and light, which they
sensed they would enjoy once they were free.
And so they plotted to separate
their parents and bring about the world order that is still in existence today.
The plotters were the six sons: Tawhirimagtea, the god of the winds; Tane, the
god of the forests; Tu, the god of war; Tangaroa, the god of the sea; Rongo, the
god of the kumara (the sweet potato); and Haumia, the god of the fern
Legend has it that the brothers
quarrelled violently, and that Tawhirimatea was opposed to the separation, and
that when it was over he decided to make his home in the sky with his father
Rangi. The thunder and lightning are signs that he is still angry.
The act of separation was performed
by Tane, who forced Rangi upwards with his feet, while his hands pressed against
the ground. This act is plainly symbolic of the growth of a tree.
Rangi (the Sky) and Papa (the Earth)
were finally separated and they have remained thus ever since. The falling rain
and rising mist are signs that they are still mourning for each other.
The gods next set about creating the
creatures and plants of earth; and finally, they turned their attention to man.
But they themselves were all male; therefore they had to create a female. They
did this by taking clay from the body of their mother, Papa, and making a figure
that resembled themselves.
It was left to Tane to breathe life
into the nostrils of this first woman, and, later, to marry her daughter,
Hinetitama, the Dawn Maiden, from whom the human race has descended.
HOW MAUI OBTAINED THE MAGIC JAWBONE
Maui was restless. As was his
custom, when preoccupied, he paced up and down in front of his mother's house,
frowning in concentration. On seeing him so withdrawn, his friends debated among
themselves what to do to raise his spirits. But something in his face, so stern
and forbidding, held them back. Even the village dogs slunk past, as if
expecting him to turn on them without warning, and send them yelping with a
What was the cause of his unrest?
His mother, wiser than all women, had her suspicions, but she sighed and went on
with her basket weaving, and said nothing.
Maui turned at the end of his walk
and irritably whacked his thigh with his greenstone club. Ground to a
translucent edge, superbly polished, it was a deadly weapon - fit for the
greatest warrior. But to Maui, the beautiful club, thonged loosely to his wrist,
might well have been a child's toy, for all the pride he took in it.
Again he turned in his walk, and
continued striding. Yes, it was true he had his magic spells and incantations,
but what he needed most was a magic weapon - one so potent he could quell the
evil spirits and demons that thronged the both and the fishing places, and made
man's life intolerable.
While pacing up and down he had
noticed a couple of women leaving the village by a little used path. They were
carrying baskets of food that gave off steam in the cool morning air. He thought
no more about it, until, later in the day, he saw them coming back empty-handed.
Next day the same thing happened and the day after that. Each time they left
with food, and came back empty-handed.
He curiously aroused, Maui went up
and asked them: "To whom did you take the food?"
The servants looked at each other
quickly, and said nothing.
- "Answer me," said Maui, angrily.
- "Oh, Maui," said the elder of the two, "it is
not for us to tell you. We are but servants, acting under orders. If you
must know, then you must ask your mother."
Maui dismissed them with an
impatient wave of his club, and went to look for Taranga. He found her working
with her women. At his approach, they rose like a flock of geese and hurried
away, leaving the two together.
- "Oh, Maui," said Taranga, "I have been
expecting you. Sit down beside me."
- Maui sat down beside her, and then said,
"Mother, I have to know, To whom are the servants taking food?"
- "Maui," said his mother, "The time has come for
me to tell you. The food was for Murirangiwhenua, your blind grandmother. As
long as she is fed, she is contented and does not trouble us. But if we
forget to feed her, she goes mad with hunger. The servants, that you spoke
to, see that she is fed. That is their sacred duty. Should they forget to
feed her - even once - they would have to pay with their lives. They
themselves would be thrown to the old woman who would eat them alive."
- Then Maui said, "Where is she, this old woman?"
- "She is over there," said his mother, pointing
to the path that had been taken by the servants.
- "How shall I know her?"
- "You will know her by her jawbone," said his
mother. "Maui, that is the weapon you are looking for. It has great magical
powers. With that in your hand, my son, nothing can withstand you."
Maui's mind was made up. Nothing
must stand in his way. He had to posses the jawbone.
And so, next morning, he met the
servants on the little used path, just as they were setting out.
"Give me the food," he said. "Your
work is done. From now on I shall take her the food."
They handed over the baskets without
a word, and returned to the village. Maui went on down the path until at last he
came to the old woman's house. She was sitting in the porch on a pile of human
bones, her blind eyes closed, her great jaw lifted, as she sniffed the air. The
huge head turned towards him, but he had taken care to be down wind, and so she
did not detect him.
Carefully, so that she would not
hear, he placed the food some distance away from her, and then returned to the
village. The next day he returned, and again he placed the food beyond her
reach. By the third day she was aware that some one was playing tricks on her,
and on the following day, when he arrived with her food, she was waiting for
him. She sniffed the air, and began to distend her stomach to swallow him.
At first when sniffed to the south,
but she could sense nothing there. She growled to disappointment, and began
sniffing to the north, but again she detected nothing. She then sniffed to the
east, her nostrils quivering, but again there was nothing. Thoroughly aroused,
her stomach fully distended, she turned to the west and sniffed. Ah! She had
She sniffed again to make sure, then
cried in a loud voice: "You never there! Are you from the direction of the wind
that blows on my skin?"
Maui coughed to say that he was.
The old woman therefore knew that he
could only be a relative, and her stomach began to subside. If he had not come
from the west, she would have swallowed him at once.
- "Are you Maui then?" she asked.
- "Yes," he admitted.
- "Then you must be my grandson he said. But if
that is so, why do you practise your childish tricks on me?"
- "I have come for your jawbone," was all that he
said in reply, "and I must have it."
- "Take it, and welcome," said the old woman. "I
have been keeping it for you. But before you take it, le me give you a
warning. Do not wash it clean in the river, for the fish will gather round
for the morsels you scrape off. No, wash it on dry land, far away from any
Then Maui went up to her, took hold
of her lower jaw and wrenched it free. He remembered her words, and did not wash
it clean until he felt that he could safely do so. He then shook water from his
calabash on to the jawbone and scraped off the bits of flesh that clung to it,
until it glowed white in the morning sun.
Rejoicing in his weapon, Maui
gripped it firmly and swung it round his head several times, so that it seemed
to sing in a thin high-pitched voice. And what the jawbone sang of, Maui's
enemies were soon to learn.
But even as he stood there, trying
out his weapon, the water he had used was hurrying down the hillside. It was to
carry the blood down to the river, where the fish were to gather round and feed
Thus it came about that the fish,
known to the Maori people as Murirangiwhenua, the grandmother of Maui.
MAUI NOOSES THE SUN
Maui went home to his village with
the magic jawbone, and lived with his brothers. It was everything he required of
a weapon. Even to hold it gave him such a sense of power that it was easy for
him to believe he was invincible. Why, sometimes he had the feeling that he
could challenge the sun himself, and come out the victor!
Ah, the sun! How hateful he had
become! Even now, as Maui watched, he was racing across the sky - a huge red
ball of fire that scorched the leaves and dried up the lakes and streams.
The days had become so short that
the people never had time to till the fields or lay in supplies of food. Each it
was the same. The men would shoulder their tools and make their way to the
fields. But they had scarcely begun the day's work, before the sun had passed
his zenith and was taking his downward path. Then, while they watched
helplessly, he would rapidly sink in the west, plunging the world into darkness.
They had once prayed to the gods for
help, but help had never come. Then they had sunk into misery and despair,
and kept their yes on the ground, and never uttered a word.
Maui noticed these things and was
deeply troubled. It was then that he thought of a way to help mankind, but he
could not act alone. He must persuade his brothers to help him. He found them
lying in the shade, only their eyes moving, as they watched the sun careering
across the sky.
- "My brothers, listen to me. The sun must be
slowed down. If he continues at such a reckless pace the villagers will all
- But Maui's brothers laughed. "Little brother,
what are you planning to do?"
- "I plan to teach him a lesson." said Maui, "so
that never again will he cause suffering by going so fast.
- Then his brothers scoffed at him. 'Take
care, little brother, the sun will eat you up, and afterwards spit the bones
- "You laugh at me now," said Maui, "that later
on you will thank me."
- Despite themselves, his brothers were
impressed. Their faces grew serious, and they gathered round him, all
talking at one.
- "But no one can go near the sun."
- "Its heat is too great."
- "You'll be cooked to a cinder."
- "Maui, give up your scheme. It's madness."
It was now Maui's turn to laugh. "I
have never failed in my life, so why should I fail now? Have I ever been
outwitted? Can I not change myself into a bird, and back again into a man, while
you, my brothers, must always remain in your present form?"
- "It is true Maui,' said his brothers, "that you
have done great deeds, but you have always counted on your tricks and magic
spells for your success. What if they prove to be powerless against the
- "Enough," said Maui. "We are wasting time." He
raised his magic jawbone, and his brothers gazed at it in wonder. "It is the
jawbone of our grandmother, and when I beat the sun with it he will yell for
- "What can we do to help?" asked the brothers.
- "Well, first there are ropes to be plaited,"
said Maui. "They have to hold back the sun, so they must be stronger than
any ropes have ever been."
Then the brothers set to work,
determined to produce the ropes that were needed. They used all their skill and
cunning, and, in so doing, they discovered how to plait the strong square-shaped
rope, the flat rope and the round rope. At the end of the day, coils of rope lay
ready for the adventure ahead.
Next morning, Maui and his brothers
set off towards the east. They were weighed down by the ropes, so they made slow
progress. 'but they came at last one evening to the edge of the pit from which
the sun was to rise. Nothing lived in that place. Everything had been blasted
because of its closeness to the sun.
"This is the place," said Maui.
"Come, my brothers. Before the sun appears, we have much work to do."
The brothers set to work, and all
around the pit they put in posts. They then strung ropes across to form a giant
web, and at the centre Maui placed a noose made from the strongest rope.
They had just finished their net,
when the first rays of the sun appeared at the bottom of the pit.
"Now remember," said Maui urgently,
"do something to startle the sun. If you do, we have lost him. Just let him ease
his head into the noose, then haul on the ropes as hard as you can." His
brothers nodded assent, and then they waited.
The ray grew brighter and brighter
as the sun rose up the pit. Now his head appeared and gave off such a glare that
the brothers covered their eyes. Slowly he rose until his shoulders were held by
the net and his head was in the noose. He knew at once he was trapped and began
to struggle desperately.
- "Pull hard," shouted Maui, then seizing the
magic jawbone he leapt on to the sun and began to beat him.
- "Maui, let me go," bellowed the sun, but Maui
went on beating him.
- "I am a terrible fellow, Maui, I warn you.
You'll be sorry if you don't let me go." But still Maui went on beating him.
- "Maui," cried the sun, growing weaker, "say
what you want me to do, and I shall do it - but please stop beating me."
- "Very well," said Maui, "but please stop
- "Very well," said Maui, "but let that be a
lesson to you. By your mad haste across the sky you have made the days too
short and caused much suffering. If you promise not to go so fast, we shall
untie the ropes and let you go."
- As he limped painfully up the sky, he called
back, "Oh Mau, I ache all over. What was the weapon that you beat me with?"
- I might have known it," groaned the sun. "It has
robbed me of half my power."
- "It is well for you that it did," said Maui.
"Now men will look on you, not as an enemy but as a friend."
And so it turned out. The sun went
slowly across the sky, and its rays were mild and beneficent. The villagers now
had time to till their fields and to do their chores. The earth became fruitful,
and singing and laughter was heard again throughout the land.
THE GREAT FISH OF MAUI
One morning, while it was still
dark, Maui's brothers rose silently from their sleeping mats and hurried down to
the beach, thinking that Maui was asleep. But their furtive movements and
whispered talk had woken him, and he stole after them, and stood back in the
shadows and listened to them talking, as they prepared their canoe for a fishing
- "It is well that we left Maui asleep," said
- "It is indeed," said another. "But he can be a
most useful fellow to have around. I have seen him grab a whale by its tail
and drag it high on the beach."
- "That may be so," said a third, "but we dare
not have him with us when we go fishing, for he is a mischief-maker and may
play tricks on us."
The brothers then pushed their canoe
into the water and paddled out to sea, leaving Maui determined that next time,
come what may, he would go fishing with them.
In the evening his brothers returned
empty-handed and, thinking that they were unobserved, they dragged their canoe
up the beach and hid it in thick bush. ?but Maui marked the place and, before
dawn, he concealed himself under the seats where his brothers would not see him.
Soon afterwards they arrived, and,
after the usual preparations, they put out to sea. They had paddled a long way
from the land when Maui decided that it was time to reveal himself. He rose from
his hiding place and greeted his brothers, who were too astonished to speak.
- "It is a fine day for fishing, is it not? If
you will bear with me, my brothers,? he said, "perhaps your luck may
- The brothers were angry to find him aboard. "We
are not far from land," said one, "let us turn round, and return him to
- They started to turn their canoe round, but
while they were doing this, Maui muttered a powerful incantation, at once
causing the land to become so distant that only the mountain ranges could be
- The brothers looked at each other in surprise.
"We have come further than we realised," they said. "It is too far to go
back now. what is to be done with him?"
- "Why not take me with you?" said Maui. "You may
need me to bail out the canoe."
- They agreed reluctantly, and began to paddle
further out to sea, until they reached an ancient fishing place. There they
stopped, and ordered Maui to throw the anchor out.
- "No," said Mau. "This is not the place. We must
go further out."
- The brothers grumbled, but they went on
paddling, until at last they reached another fishing place, more ancient
than the first.
- "This is the place," they said to Maui. "Now
throw the anchor out."
- "No," said Maui. "This is not the place. Where
the water is too shallow, the fish are not worth catching. We must go
further still, and let our anchor down in the deepest part of the sea."
- One more they paddled on, until their arms and
shoulders ached, and it seemed they could go no further. But Maui kept urging
- "We are almost there, my brothers. The
mountains are barely visible now. The moment they disappear, we shall know
that we have arrived."
- Thus Maui and his brothers reached at last the
most ancient of fishing places, and there the anchor was dropped Then the
brothers let down their lines, and before they had touched the bottom there
was a fish on every hook. Again they let down their lines, and, after they
pulled them up, the canoe was full of fish.
- Excited by their wonderful catch, the brothers
said to Maui, "Let us return to land."
But Maui said, "Not yet, I have some
fishing to do." His brothers laughed and said, "What can a fellow like you
catch? Why, you haven't even a hook!"
"What is this then?" he replied, and
laughed at the astonished looks on their faces, when they saw the hook that he
had taken from under his cloak.
It was decorated with paua
shell and a tuft of dog's hair, and as he turned it in his hand it flashed in
the sunlight. It was so fine a hook that each brother longed to own it. What
they did not know was that a chip of their grandmother's jawbone, attached to
the barb, gave it magical powers.
- "True, that is a hook," they said. "But what
use is it without bait?"
- "I had hoped," said Maui quietly, "that you
would give me some."
- "What! Give you bait?" said the
brothers. "That we shall never do."
- "So be it," said Maui. He clenched his fist and
struck himself on the nose and as the blood ran down, he smeared his
fish-hook with it, and then let it down into the water, where it became
hooked in the doorway of a meeting-house.
Then Maui braced his feet and began
to pull on the line. Sweat poured from his body, as he slowly hauled up the
great fish. The gable broke the surface, then the sea for miles around was
disturbed, as the enormous body of the fish came into view.
Then Maui's brothers threw up their
hands and began to wail. "Oh, Maui, you are to blame for our misfortunes. You
brought us here, far from the land, against our wishes. Now a god rises from the
depths of the sea, angry at being disturbed. He will devour us, and not even our
bones will survive his anger."
But Maui did not hear them He was
chanting an incantation which caused the fish to become placid and he waves to
subside. Then he continued hauling on the line, until the fish lay still on the
surface, with the canoe raised high and dry on its back. Maui had fished up the
North Island of New Zealand, traditionally known for this reason as Te Ika a
Maui (The Fish of Maui). If you look at a map you will see that is shape
resembles that of a fish.
Maui stepped out of the canoe and
looked about him. He saw a small village nearby, a group of people standing
round a fire, and children playing.
He turned to his brothers and said
proudly, "This is fine fish I have caught. Now I must go and make an offering to
the gods. When I come back, we shall cut up the fish and share it equally among
us. But meanwhile, my brothers, do nothing to injure the fish."
The brothers promised to obey him,
but no sooner had he left them than they began to cut up the fish and eat it.
The fish writhed and twisted, but the brothers never let u. They sliced, they
hacked, they chopped, until the entire surface of the fish had become jagged and
Thus, though the greed and
disobedience of the brothers, were formed the cliffs, valleys, plains and
mountain ranges of North Island. If they had listened to their brother's words,
the island would have been smooth and level to this day - as smooth and level as
Maui's fish had been.
MAUI AND THE FIRE GODDESS
One morning, bent on mischief, Maui
stole like a shadow through the sleeping villages, putting out all the fires.
Then back to his own house he went and waited for the dawn. Before long, people
began to stretch and yawn. They came out of their stuffy, low-built houses, into
the sunlight, rubbing their eyes, as they busied themselves with their morning
Then Maui rose, pretending that he
had just awoken, and began shouting at his servants. "Ho, there! Be quick and
bring me food. I am faint with hunger." He smiled slyly to himself as his
servants rushed off to carry out his orders.
They went to their usual fireplace,
but what they saw there puzzled them. Instead of flickering flames, they saw
cold ashes and blackened embers. From all parts of the village the servants came
rushing, each with the same story to tell, all the fires were out. What was to
be done? How as food to be cooked? How were the villagers to keep warm? Excited
groups began to form, as uneasiness began to spread.
Now messengers began to arrive. From
villages far and near came the same story. Uneasiness turned to alarm, and alarm
to panic, when it became plain that every fire in the land was out.
Then Maui's mother, Taranga, came
out of her house and spoke to the villagers. "My friends, be calm. We'll soon
replace the fire that we have lost. When that time comes, your hearths will
blaze once more, and your ovens simmer. Meanwhile, be patient."
Then Taranga turned to her servants,
and commanded them to go to the lower world, to the house of Mahuika, and fetch
fire from her. But they would not go, so greatly did they fear her.
Then Maui spoke: "This is a deed for
a hero, not for servants with the shrinking hearts of children. Mother, I will
go and fetch fire, but by what path shall I go?"
When she heard him speak, Taranga
grew afraid for him, but she answered firmly. "Go by the main path, my son, and,
sooner than you think it possible, you will come to her. If she questions you,
mention your name, and she will know you - for are you not her grandson? But I
warn you: do not practise any tricks on her. It would be very dangerous, and I
might lose a son. You are a tricky fellow, Maui. There is no one trickier in the
world. That's why I warn you."
Maui followed her directions and
took the main path to the lower world. By evening he had left the light of day
far behind him, and had entered the cave that led to Mahuika, the fire goddess.
Already he felt her presence, and, though he was brave and cunning, he began to
tremble, for her breath was like a forest fire that surges through the tree
tops, leaving behind it blackened stumps and smoking ashes.
Maui plucked u his courage and cried
out: "Old woman, rise. Where is the fire that I have come to get?"
Mahuika rose, and, though she was
old beyond belief, Maui was struck dumb with wonder, for her eyes showered with
sparks and her skin shimmered like members breathed on by the wind.
- "Who is this man?" she asked.
- "It is I," said Maui.
- "I do not know you," she replied. "Where are
- "From this country."
- "your looks tell me you lie," she said. "I say
you're from the north."
- "No," he said emphatically.
- "Then you are from the east."
- "Are you from the west then?"
- "Then are you from the direction of the win
that blows upon my skin?"
- "Yes," said Maui.
- "Ah," said the goddess, stretching out her
hand, "then you are my grandson Maui. Welcome. But what do you want from
- "I have come to get fire from you."
- "You are welcome to it," said Mahuika. "Here it
Maui watched in wonder as she
plucked the burning nail from her little finer and gave it to him. He thanked
her and went away. But he had not gone far, when he killed the flame by plunging
it in water. Then he returned to Mahuika and said, "Old women, the fire that you
gave me has gone out."
"How did it go out?" asked the
"I fell into a stream," said Maui.
"Give me another nail, and I shall leave you in peace."
The unsuspecting goddess grumbled a
little, but plucked a nail from another finger and gave it to him. Maui went
away, and this one also he lunged into the stream.
Then he went back for another. He
repeated this performance until the goddess had plucked out all her fingernails,
and had started on her toes. Before long all the toes, except one, had also been
stripped of their nails.
But by now the goddess was aware
that Maui was up to his tricks, and when he came to ask her for her very last
nail, she turned on him in a rage.
"Oh no, you trickster, Maui! I have
found you out. Now you will pay with your life for your trickery!"
With that, she seized her remaining
nail and flung it at his feet, where it burst into fire. Maui turned and fled,
but the flames roared after him.
Nowhere was he safe from the fury of
Mahuika. He turned into a fish and sought refuge in the sea, but almost at once
the water began to boil. Then he changed into a hawk and soared high into the
air, but the terrible flames reached after him and scorched his feathers.
At last in his terror he called on
the gods for help, and these were the words of his prayer:
- "Give water to me
- To put the fire out
- Which is pursuing me!"
Then Tawhirimatea, the god of the
winds, took pity on him and sent his children to help him. The lightning flashed
and the thunder rolled, and from every region of the sky the clouds came
rumbling to Maui's aid. Then the rain came down in floods upon the fire - the
long rain, the heavy rain, the lasting rain. The flames hissed and roared, but
were battered down at last by the rain.
Now it was Mahnuika's turn to flee,
and terror lent speed to her feet. but swift as she was, the angry floods were
swifter. They chased her through the world, caught her up and drowned her.
So relentless was the rain,, it
threatened to put out every particle of fire on the earth. It was Maui who
recognised this danger, and by his actions guaranteed that man would never be
He took a flame and hid it in the
Kaikomako tree, where the water could not reach it. There it has slept over
since in perfect safety, waking into new life whenever man required its
In the old days, when the Maori
wanted fire, they would take two dry pieces of this wood and rub one on the
other, until the friction they produced set free the flame that once lived in
the big toe of Mahuika.
MAUI AND THE DEATH GODDESS
"What is the trouble, Maui?" asked
Make one evening. It was unusual to see his son so moody. He shook his head in
wonder, and smiled.
"Father," said Maui, "even as we sit
here talking, the children of men are treading the gloomy path to death."
"All men are doomed to die," said
Makea. Sooner or later they drop as ripe fruit from the tree, and are gathered
up by Hinenuitepo - the Great Mother of Night."
Maui stood up impatiently, and began
pacing u and down, "But most is always be so? If Death were to die, would man
not live forever?"
Makea looked troubled. "Listen to
me, my son, and take warning. Such thoughts are dangerous. No man can conquer
You talk of an ordinary man, Father.
If that man were I - what then?"
Makea sighed deeply. "Maui, like any
ordinary man you too must die."
"How can that be?" said Maui. "Did not my mother prophesy that I would live
forever? No ordinary man can do what I have already done. Did I not conquer
fire, subdue the sun - yes, and even fish up land from the sea?" He
slapped his chest boastfully. "What is Death to me but another adversary to
Then Makea spoke sharp words to him. "You are not in the upper world now,
but in the lower world where your cunning may not help you." He frowned and
then went on. "It is true, my son, that your mother prophesied that you
would live forever, but what I now have to say will come as a shock to you."
He looked sadly at his son, who had stopped pacing and was watching him
intently. "When I baptised you, my mind went blank as a child's and I left
out a passage of the incantation. By this omission, Maui, I undid the
prophesy. That is how I know that you must die."
For once Maui was speechless. He stood with folded arms and stared for a
long time at his father. At last he said, "Will this be by Hinenuitepo?"
"Yes, my son."
Maui nodded thoughtfully. "So be it. The fates give me no choice, but to try
to conquer Death, even if I should die." With these words, Maui became again
his usual confident self. "Father, what is she like - this Hinenuitepo?"
"She is terrible beyond imagination," said his father. "Those are her eyes
that you see flashing on the horizon. They are as dark as greenstone. Her
teeth are sharp as obsidian, and she has the malevolent grin of a barracuda.
Her hair floats round her face like kelp. In all things she is monstrous,
except her body, which is like that of an old woman."
Then a plan took seed in Maui's mind, and a gleam came into his eyes. Makea
saw that gleam and was troubled, because he knew that once again Maui was
plotting one of his tricks. but he kept his fears to himself, knowing that
no advice has any effect on Maui once he had made up his mind.
Already he mourned for Maui in his heart: "Farewell, my last born and power
of my old age, for truly you were born to die."
But, even before his father was out of sight, Maui's plans were complete.
Its very outrageousness seemed to assure him of success. Pleased with his
cunning, Maui laughed aloud. He would have been less pleased with himself
had he known that his laughter had reached as far away as Hinenuitepo and
had wakened her. Lightning flashed about her head, as she rolled her eyes
sleepily. Her voice boomed ominously like the sea in a cave.
"Can that be Maui?" she grumbled. "How can he laugh when he must know that
even now I wait for him? It is preordained that he must die - but he is a
tricky fellow, and the fate of Mahuika warns me not to take him lightly."
And so, still grumbling, she went back to sleep.
Meanwhile, Maui was busy putting his scheme into action. As success depended
on the co-operation of the forest creatures, he decided to take them into
his confidence. The teeming folk of Tane that lived in the trees and on the
forest floors flocked to hear his words. Tits, robins, saddlebacks, grey
warblers, fantails, silver eyes, even the tiny rifleman, the smallest bird
of the forest, all were told of his plans and the part that they must play.
Then, certain of success, Maui set off with his companions. As they drew
ever closer to the sleeping goddess, the gay chatter of the birds gradually
died away, until not a sound was heard except the subdued flutter of many
wings and the rustle of feet on the fallen leaves. There was now a chill in
the air. It grew more intense as Maui passed through the bent and sickly
trees, bearded with lichen, that bordered on the clearing where the goddess
lay. Maui shivered and drew his feathered cloak closer about him. There she
lay in the doorway of her house just as his father had described her. The
terrible eyes were lidded, but the lower jaw slack with sleep, hung down,
exposing the obsidian teeth in a permanent grin. As she breathed out
heavily, an icy draught swept across the clearing.
Maui held up his hand as a signal for the birds to stop, then in an urgent
whisper he spoke to them.
My little friends, there she lies asleep - Henenuitepo, the Great Mother of
Night. I ask you to remember my words, for my life is in your hands. I will
enter her body, but on no account must you laugh until I have passed through
her body and come out through her mouth. Then you can laugh, if you must.
But if you laugh before then, I shall die."
Then the birds were greatly agitated and they begged him to give up his
plan, which now seemed crazy in the frightening presence of the goddess.
"Maui, come back to us," they cried. "Do not persist with your plan."
But Maui scoffed at their fear, and again he reminded them not to laugh too
soon. Then a great sigh went up from the assembled birds, and solemnly they
said, "Go then. The decision must be yours." //Then Maui approached the
goddess. Quickly he took off his garments, until he stood naked, his skin
shimmering in the light escaping from beneath her eyelids. Then, with a
mocking smile, he stooped and quickly made his way, head first, into her
body. His shoulders and then his chest soon disappeared.
The birds gasped at Maui's nimbleness. Some could not watch, but hid their
heads beneath their wings. Others blinked their eyes, choking back the
laughter that threatened to overwhelm them. The sound of uttering was
beginning to rise like the rustle of wind through leaves, when the goddess
groaned and shifted, light flashing from her eyes, as her eyelids fluttered.
The twittering died away, and the birds shrank back into the shadows, and
held their breath.
But as the goddess settled down again, back they came to observe the antics
of Maui, who was now thrusting his head into the throat of the goddess.
Once more the birds shook with silent laughter, but thinking that victory
was in sight for Maui, they desperately controlled themselves. Then Maui
gave a heave, and pushed upwards with his shoulders so that his face
suddenly appeared in the mouth of the goddess.
It was too much for the fantails. They burst into shrill laughter. At once
the goddess woke, knew at once what was happening, and squeezed Maui to
death. She closed her thighs on him, and broke his body in two.
So ended, in laughter and disgrace, Maui's attempt to conquer death, and,
because of his failure, the children of men continue to tread the dark
TINIRAU AND HIS PET WHALE
Tinirau was a great chief, famous throughout the
land for his handsome looks and his noble bearing. But he was even better
known for his school of whales.
When he called them, they would come and play
off shore, cruising round in circles and blowing spray through their vent
holes. His favourite was Tutunui, the largest of his whales. Tinirau liked
nothing better than to climb upon his back and ride him through the breakers,
and out into the stormy sea. He would look down on the flying waves and feel
safe, as if he were on an island.
Now Tinirau had a son and, when the boy came of
age, he wished to have him properly baptised, so that he would grow into a
great warrior, like himself.
His people made special preparations for a
feast, and friends from miles around arrived to take part in the celebrations.
Kae, who was a priest of the highest rank, was invited to conduct the service,
and on the day of the feast he and his followers arrived in a canoe.
After the service was over, there was much
feasting and merriment, but at last the supplies of food ran out. Kae was
about to depart when Tinirau rose and said, "Wait, there is more to eat."
Then Tinirau stood on the shore and began
calling, "Tutunui, Tutunui! Come at once. I need you."
"Who are you calling?" said Kae, shading his
eyes and looking out to sea. "There is nobody out there."
But Tinirau went on calling, until the sea
heaved and swirled, as the huge bulk of Tutunui, streaming with water, rose
into view. Tinirau went up to him and, to Kae's astonishment, cut off a large
slice of his flesh.
"He is so big," said Tinirau, "he will never
miss it." He gave the flesh to the women, and they cooked it, and gave a piece
to Kae, who swore that he had never eaten flesh that had tasted better.
But now it was time to go. Kae, who had an evil
plan in his mind, went up to Tinirau and said, my home is far away, and my
friends must miss me. Lend me your whale so that I can get home quickly."
When Tinirau looked doubtful, Kae said, "Who
baptised your son? Was it not I? Lend me your whale. It is but a small favour
that I ask of you."
Tinirau was very reluctant to lend his whale,
but he did not wish to offend Kae by refusing, for as well as being a priest,
Kae was a magician who had the power to harm him, if he chose to.
"Very well," he said, "but you must be careful,
especially as you approach land. The whale knows when it is not safe for him
to go further. As soon as he gives a shake, you must get off. If you stay on
his back, he will keep going until he becomes stranded in shallow water, where
he will die."
"I understand," said Kae. "I shall do nothing to
Then he climbed on to the back of the huge
beast, and it seemed no time before he was approaching the shore of his
village. There was his carved meeting-house looking handsome in the sunlight.
There were his children running down to the shore, shouting and pointing their
fingers at the strange sight of their father on the back of a whale.
He felt the whale give a shake, but he took no
notice. The children were close now, and were coming closer. The whale gave
another shake, but now it was too late. He had gone to far and was well and
What a feast was held that night in Kae's
village! The rich smell of cooked flesh rose from the ovens, and was carried
by the wind far along the coast to where Tinirau was standing, waiting for his
pet to return.
"Alas!" he said. "That is the sweet smell of
Tutunui that the north wind brings to me." And he went to his house and wept,
and his sisters gathered round and wept with him.
When he had recovered from his grief, Tinirau
resolved to avenge the treacherous killing of Tutunui. He ordered his sisters
to go in search of Kae.
"Search every village, if you must," he said.
"But find him, and bring him to me alive. Travel as entertainers, and no one
will suspect the true purpose of your mission."
"We shall gladly go," said his sisters. "But you
must tell us how to recognise him, for in his country there are many people."
"Kae has such crooked teeth that he is ashamed
of them, and rarely opens his mouth. Therefore, to recognise him you must make
Tinirau's sisters left by canoe. They travelled
through Kae's country, performing at each village that they came to, but
nowhere was there any sign of Kae.
It seemed that their search would be fruitless,
and then one evening they came to a village in a remote part of the coast. As
they passed through the gate, they heard the rattle of bones. Something told
them that they were the bones of Tutunui rattling in recognition of their
The sisters were made welcome by the people of
the village, and asked to perform for them. They went into the meeting-house
and there they saw a man whom they suspected was Kae himself. He was sitting
at the foot of the main post that supported the ridge-pole. He was covered to
the chin with mats, and his head was lowered.
Determined to make laugh, the sisters performed
their comic dances and told bawdy jokes. The audience roared with laughter but
Kae's head remained lowered. They then put on their most grotesque
performance, full of comic eye-rollings, grimaces, indecent gestures and
contortions of the body, until even Kae could not contain himself, but burst
The search was over! Kae's crooked teeth had
given him away.
The sisters at once ceased their dance, and
began to utter a powerful incantation. It grew louder and louder, until it
sounded like a rushing wind, and when it died away everyone had fallen asleep
- everyone, that is, except Kae. His eyes were still glinting in the
flickering light from the dying fire.
But the sisters were not deceived. They went
forward and shook Kae gently by the shoulder, and his head slumped forward,
and two pieces of iridescent paua shell fell on to the ground. He had
placed them in his eyes to make them believe he was still awake.
The sisters lost no time. They tied him up in a
mat and carried him down to their canoe, and paddled back to their village.
They took him to Tinirau's house, and placed at the foot of the main post that
supported the ridge-pole, so that when he awoke he would think he was still in
his own house. Then they woke him up.
"Kae," they said, "where are you?"
Kae woke up and said, "Why, in my own house!
Where should I be?"
"Kae, look about you, and tell us again where
And Kae looked about him, and nothing that he
saw outside was familiar. Then he knew he was doomed, and he hung his head and
began to wail. When he looked up, Tinirau was standing before him, a club
raised in his hand.
Before he brought it down, he cried, "Did
Tutumui make so loud a noise when you slaughtered him?"
Then Tinirau killed Kae, and afterwards ate him.
And thus was Tutunui, his pet whale, amply avenged.
RATA AND HIS CANOE
The great chief Rata needed a canoe. It had to
be large and strong, able to withstand the pounding of breakers and the
buffeting of heavy seas. For the journey that Rata had planned was to a
distant part of the country, where, he was told, lay the bones of his father.
It would be a sacred journey, for the intended to bring back his father's
bones for burial in his own village.
Rata spent much time searching for a suitable
tree. It had to be a noble tree, with a straight, bare trunk that rose sixty
or seventy feet in the air before spreading out into branches. He searched far
and wide, and then one day he found his tree. Dwarfing its companions, it
stood erect as a king, surrounded by his courtiers.
He ran his eye approvingly up the massive trunk.
A breeze moved gently through the leaves, sunlight broke through, and all at
once Rata saw clearly the shape that his canoe would take. It was already
there, imprisoned in the wood, and he alone would set it free.
Rata went back to his village. He looked through
his kit of stone adzes and chisels, and carefully chose the right tools for
the job. Then, well contented, he lay down on his mat and went to sleep.
Next morning he set out early, before the sun
had risen high enough to touch the tree tops, and was soon at work. He took
his sharpest adze and, without any ceremony, began to attack the tree. Chips
began to fly as he hacked away at the base of the tree. Then suddenly the job
was done. The great tree crashed with a roar through the undergrowth.
Working quickly, Rata next attacked the top part
of the tree, so that it soon fell away with all its branches, leaving the main
trunk to be shaped into a canoe. Rata paused, then seeing that the sun was low
in the sky, he packed up his tools and went home.
He had no sooner left, than out they came from
their hiding places -the teeming multitudes of birds and insects, who are the
children of Tane. Indignant at the lack of respect shown by Rata to the god of
the forests they uttered this incantation:
"The chips fly,
The roots fly.
They are nearby,
They are sticking,
They become a tree again."
Immediately, with the help of the birds, the
trunk stood upright on its stump and the branches returned to their former
positions. Meanwhile the insects were busy, Each had a job to do. Every chip,
every fragment of leaf, no matter how small, had to be put back in place. In a
moment the tree was standing as before, looking as if nothing had ever
happened to it.
Next morning when Rata arrived, he looked about
him in bewilderment. He had come to the right place. Of this he was certain.
But where was the tree that he had cut down yesterday? He looked up and rubbed
his eyes. Then he looked again. He was not mistaken. The tree was standing
upright, as when he first saw it. Perhaps he had only dreamt he cut it down.
No matter. He put the puzzle from his mind, and
once more set to work. He cut the tree down, trimmed the branches off, and
hollowed out the trunk. He worked steadily until the proud shape of a great
canoe began to emerge. Then, as night was coming on, he stopped work and went
backs to his village.
Again, as soon as the he had left, the children
of Tane came hurrying out. As before, they chanted their incantation, never
resting until once more the tree was back in place.
It was a very baffled man who returned next
morning. He stood awhile, undecided as to what to do, then he shrugged his
shoulders and once more faced the tree. The chips began to fly, and the
mystery was soon forgotten in the sheer joy of carving.
Evening came all too quickly. Rata gathered his
tools together and went away. But instead of going home he hid himself in some
bushes, and waited.
They came from everywhere - rustling, whirring,
scurrying, flying. They gathered round his canoe and chanted:
"Leave it, leave it, O Rata
You have cut it ignorantly -
The sacred grove of Tane
The chips fly,
The roots fly,
They are near,
They are sticking
They become a tree again."
Rata saw the trunk stand upright and the
branches rise into place. He saw a blizzard of flying chips, as the tree
rapidly returned to its former shape. The mystery was explained.
He rushed out angrily and took hold of some of
the creatures as they were leaving.
"I have caught you!" he cried. "Why are you
meddling with my tree?"
"The tree belongs to Tane," they replied. "You
did not ask him for permission to cut it down."
Then Rata was ashamed and hung his head, and
The children of Tane saw that he was penitent,
and felt sorry for him. "Go home," they said, "and leave the tree to us. We
shall build your canoe for you."
Rata then went home and slept, and when morning
came he returned to the forest. There she was, exactly as he had imagined she
would be, when he first saw the tree. Sixty-foot long, superbly carved and
decorated, she was a canoe fit for the sacred purpose that he had in mind.
Overjoyed at his good fortune, Rata made
offerings to great Tane, god of the forest, and then began preparations to
move his canoe down to the sea.
TE KANAWA AND THE FAIRIES
Te Kanawa, a chief of the Waikato, listened
uneasily to his uncle's warning, although he tried to shrug it off with a
"It is easy to laugh now," said his uncle,
shaking his head, "but men as brave as you once spent the night on Pukemore.
They were found next morning, wandering on the lower slopes of the mountain.
They had gone mad."
"Have you ever seen the fairies?" asked Te
"No-but I have heard they are not like us. Their
hair and skin are light in colour, and their eyes are blue. They wind along
the bush tracks in their thousands, their voices endlessly shrilling, like
cicadas on a sun-lit hillside."
"What do you want me to do?" asked Te Kanawa.
"Give up the kiwi hunt?"
"All that I ask Te Kanawa," said his uncle, "is
that you leave the mountain before dark."
Soon afterwards Te Kanawa left for Pukemore,
with a party of hunters and dogs. As he made his way up the steep bush tracks,
his uncle's words were so much on his mind that he kept glancing uneasily
about. Then the first kiwi was flushed out by the dogs, and the hunt was on.
In the excitement that followed, the fairies
were forgotten. The hours passed quickly, with the dogs barking, and the
hunters dashing after them through the undergrowth and then crying out in
triumph as they captured the brown wingless birds, which they prized for their
Then, suddenly, Te Kanawa realised to his horror
that it was growing dark. Too late now to go down the mountain! In half an
hour it would be too dark to see the track. He thought of the sheer bluffs and
deep ravines that they had passed on the way up, and decided that they had no
choice but to spend the night on the mountain. As for the fairies - well it
was better not to think of them!
It was now growing cold as well as dark, and so
Tekanawa and his party built a fire, cooked and ate some kiwi flesh, and then
lay down between the enormous roots of a very large tree.
The others were soon asleep, but Te Kanawa lay
awake for a while, watching the firelight flickering on the tree trunks. The
cry of a kiwi caused his pulse to leap, and he reached for his greenstone club
and took it under his mat. The familiar feel of the cold worn handle was very
comforting, and, still gripping it, he fell asleep.
It was the dogs that heard them first. They
began to whimper and move about restlessly, waking up all the party. Then Te
Kanawa heard them, and, from the frightened looks on his companions' faces, he
knew that they had also heard them. Although almost paralysed with fear, he
forced himself to throw wood on the fire. The flames flared up, and he noticed
that the dogs, which had stopped whimpering, were trembling uncontrollably
under some bushes.
They were coming nearer!
At first Te Kanawa had heard only the
high-pitched humming sound of thousands of voices that distance had merged
together, but now he could distinguish many different voices - all shrill, all
Laughing, shouting, screaming, they swarmed
about the camp until they had surrounded it - then they fell silent. Te Kanawa
found this far more frightening than the uproar.
There they were - just as his uncle had
described them! Inquisitive as birds, they were pressing forward to get a good
look at him. Te Kanawa jumped to his feet and threw more wood on the fire. A
ripple of annoyance passed through the throng, as the flames drove them back.
But, regardless of the flames, they began to
press forward once again, until they stood in a circle round Te Kanawa,
looking at him with obvious pleasure. Then, chattering excitedly, they
withdrew, allowing others to come forward. Before long they withdrew, allowing
others to come forward. Before long the hordes of fairies were milling around
in their eagerness to look at him.
Te Kanawa was extremely handsome, but it never
occurred to him that his appearance might be the cause of their admiring
glances. He thought the fairies had been attracted by the jewels he was
wearing. They were priceless family heirlooms and he hated the thought of
having to part with them. But he sensed a growing menace, and he was convinced
that he had no time to lose if he were to prevent something terrible happening
to him and his companions.
A hush came over the assembly as he undid his
greenstone earrings and placed them on the ground. He placed beside them his
beautiful greenstone tiki, the little carved figure that he wore
round his neck. Then very carefully, so as not to cause alarm, he seized a
stick and with it gently pushed the jewels towards the nearest group of
"Ah!" The huge assembly cried out in pleasure.
Then they came forward, cautiously at first, then helter-skelter, all
gesticulating, laughing and talking eagerly. They paused as they approached
the jewels, then their leaders fell on their knees, reached down and picked
up, not the jewels themselves, but their shadows. They murmured reverently as
they gazed upon them, then they passed them back to their followers. The
shadows of the jewels were quickly passed from hand to hand amid a chorus of
delighted exclamations, until they had disappeared into the back of the crowd.
Te Kanawa was never quite sure what happened
next. In a moment he and his companions found themselves alone. The dogs got
up and stretched, then lay down again, as if nothing had ever happened. Te
Kanawa was suddenly very tired. He pulled his mat about him, yawned and was
soon asleep. They wasted no time getting off the mountain in the morning with
their precious feathers. The kiwis multiplied, and there was always a demand
for their feathers, which were used in making mats for high-born chiefs and
their families, but Te Kanawa and his companions never again set foot on
KAHUKURA AND THE FAIRY FISHERMEN
For some time now Kahukura had been troubled by
a recurring dream. In it he heard a voice as thin as a grasshopper's, urging
him to go to the far north to a place called Rangaiaowhia, near the lands of
the Rarawa people.
At last he could bear it no longer; he had to
leave at once. He made his decision known to his family, then, disregarding
their cries of warning, he set out on a journey that was to take him many
In time he arrived at Rangiaowhia, and was
walking along the beach early one morning when he came to a place where people
had been cleaning mackerel. He stopped and marvelled at the piles of entrails
that littered the sand for many yards around. ''he people of this place must
be marvellous fishermen," he thought to himself. "The remains indicate a very
large catch of fish - much larger than any I have heard of."
He was about to walk on, when suddenly he bent
down, a puzzled look on his face.
"Strange!" he thought. "These remains are quite
fresh. It is too early for the fish to have been caught today, so they must
have been caught last night."
A chill went up his spine, and he looked
uneasily about him. There was only the long empty beach, with the wet sand at
the water's edge shining in the early sun.
Kahukura knelt and examined the footmarks, and
his suspicions were confirmed. They were long and narrow and lightly imprinted
in the sand.
"These are the footmarks of the fairy folk," he
said, standing up. He was frightened, but at the same time intensely excited,
because he realised that he had stumbled on an important discovery.
And so, instead of going back to the village
where he was staying, he decided to spend the night in the sandhills, from
where he could keep an eye on the beach.
He was woken by thin excited voices: "Haul in
the net! Haul in the net!
Kahukura looked down and saw hundreds of slender
figures bracing their feet in the sand and singing joyfully, as they hauled in
Although half-fainting with terror, he
cautiously approached the fairies and began hauling with them. He relied on
the colour of his skin, which was almost as light as that of the fairies, to
save him from discovery. "Let down the net in the sea at Rangiaowhia," they
cried, "and haul it in at Mamaku."
They called out excitedly as a canoe was driven
on to the sand, and a group of fairies, who had completed their task of
dropping the net, rushed to help them.
All night Kahukura worked alongside the fairies,
until, jut before dawn, all the fish had been hauled ashore.
Immediately the fairies dropped the net and
began to collect the fish. But instead of sorting them into equal piles, one
for each fisherman present, as men do, they rushed about, each one grabbing
the best fish for himself.
As they strung the fish together by threading
lengths of flax through the gills, they kept urging each other along:
"Hurry, all of you! Time is running out. All the
fish must be collected before the sun comes up."
Kahukura worked as hard as the rest, and before
long he had a string full of fish. He went to lift them up, but their weight
forced apart the slipknot he had cunningly tied at the end of the string, and
the fish fell to the sand.
The fairies laughed good-naturedly, and one of
them came up to Kahukura, pointed at the end of the string, and tied a knot in
He had no sooner gone away than Kahukura untied
the knot, and tied another slipknot in its place. He then began stringing his
fish as before, and again, when he lifted them up, they fell to the ground.
The fairies once more paused and laughed, and another one of them came to his
He kept repeating this trick, thereby causing so
many delays that the sun rose before the fairy fishermen had finished their
work. On seeing that Kahukura was a man, they shrieked and fled in confusion,
leaving their entire catch of fish, their canoes which turned out to be
nothing more than pieces of dried flax stems, and, most important of all,
their net of flax.
Thus Kahukura acquired the first fishing net,
and from a close study of it he soon discovered how the fairy fishermen had
woven it. This knowledge he passed on to his son, and soon it had spread to
every part of New Zealand. The Maori people have been using fishing nets ever
THE MAGICAL WOODEN HEAD
The magical wooden head! Frightening thins were
told of it: it could kill from a distance, suddenly and without warning; to
hear even its slightest whisper meant sudden death!
The more credulous of the neighbouring villagers
believed that it was a flesh-eating monster whose fury could be appeased only
by the bodies of an army of its victims. //Not even Tawhirimatea, the god of
the winds, who delighted in bringing terror into the hearts of his victims
with his thunderbolts, commanded so much awe and respect. It even became a
kind of bogeyman that mothers found useful as a deterrent to bad behaviour.
"If you don't behave yourselves," they would
warn their children, "the wicked wooden head will come and eat you up."
In spite of its fearful reputation, men coveted
the wooden head for the magical powers it possessed. If they could capture it
and take it home, it would set up a protective barrier that would be fatal to
anyone who approached with hostile intentions.
And so, singly, in groups or in armies, fully
aware of the risks they were taking, brave men would make their way up the
desolate corpse-strewn valley towards the grim fortress on Mount Sacred - so
called, because the head was kept there; and without fail they were destroyed.
The mad priest Puarata, the guardian and servant
of the head, would look down from a watchtower behind the immensely strong
palisades of the fortress, and would gloat over their destruction.
Only one man had done within range, and lived to
tell the tale. He survived simply because of a disability that rendered him
invulnerable to the deadly power of the head: he was stone-deaf.
"It was horrible," he recounted afterwards. "We
were going up the valley, moving swiftly from rock to rock, and making steady
progress towards the fortress, when suddenly the ground began shaking beneath
our feet and rocks began falling from the cliffs above us. I looked round at
my companions and saw them writhing on the ground, with their hands clapped to
their ears. In a few minutes they were dead. I can offer no explanation except
that the head had killed them with magic."
But adventurers, such as he, set out for Mount
Sacred, aware that the penalty for failure was death. When they did not
return, many people felt that they had only themselves to blame. 'but the
deaths of innocent people, mostly travellers, who were unlucky enough to be in
the vicinity of Mount Sacred when the head was in full cry, were another
People stood round in silent groups, and the
same thought was in every mind. What will happen if the power of the magical
head remains unchecked? Will it keep increasing until it destroys every person
in the land?
Rumours began to spread from village to village,
acquiring fresh and more horrific details as they went along. Before long the
whole of the North Island had heard of the magical wooden head that had the
power to destroy whole armies. "Is it possible?" said Hakawau thoughtfully,
when the rumours reached him. He was a very powerful priest and magician who
lived in a village north of Whangaroa.
"If the rumours are true," he went on, thinking
aloud, "then there can only be one man behind it all. Puarata alone has the
magic to carve a head out of wood and invest it with enormous destructive
Hakawau resolved to test his powers against
those of Puarata. He retired to a secret cave in the heart of the bush, and
there he chanted incantations that put him in a deep sleep. When he at last
awoke he knew that he would conquer Puarata, because his guardian spirit had
appeared to him in a dream. It was so large that its head touched the sky,
while its feet rested on the ground. "Come," he said to his trusted servant.
"If we want to destroy the magical wooden head before it gets out of hand, we
have no time to lose."
Hakawau and his servant at once set off, taking
nothing but the mats they were wearing. They passed through Whangaroa, then
went on down the coast. For many days they travelled without stopping,
sometimes following the coast, sometimes crossing overland, until they reached
Maraetai, where the people tried to persuade them to spend the night. When
they refused, they asked them to stay for a meal.
"Oh, we ate only a little while ago,: they said.
"Not far from here we took some food." They were on a sacred expedition and
eating would have brought them bad luck.
They continued their journey, and soon crossed
the Mokau River and approached Waitara, where the servant of Hakawau became
alarmed and started to wail.
"Oh, Hakawau," he cried, "let us go back. I feel
the presence of evil spirits. We shall die in this place."
"We shall go on," said Hakawau, but he also felt
the oppressive presence of evil spirits, hovering over them like a black
cloud, and he began chanting his incantations to ward them off.
At Te Weta, Hakawau's servant again became
alarmed and started wailing.
"Oh, Hakawau," he cried, "let us go back. I feel
the presence of evil spirits. We shall die in this place."
But Hakawau chanted even more powerful
incantations than before, and once more dispersed the evil spirits, so that
they could go on.
They now passed through Waimatuku, where they
came upon the first dead bodies. They were mostly travellers who had been
walking in single file along the bush trails, when they had been struck down.
They were soon climbing a low scrub-covered
hill, and were appalled at the increasing number of dead bodies they passed.
All the time Hakawau kept up his incantations.
At last they reached the top of the hill, which
gave them a view of Mount Sacred and the grim fortress on its summit, and
there, for the time since they left their village, Hakawau and his servant
Hakawau lost no time in setting his plan in
motion. Uttering his most powerful incantations, he summoned up his good
spirits. Thousands upon thousands answered his call. They congregated in such
dense multitudes above his head, that they cast a shimmering shadow across the
Hakawau then directed the first wave of good
spirits to attack the fortress, and at once they swooped in a glittering arc
towards their target. There they were met by the entire force of evil spirits
who had been alerted by Puarata. They headed off the good spirits and pursued
them down the valley.
This was the opportunity Hakawau was waiting
for. He now dispatched his second wave who made a direct attack on the
unprotected fortress. The evil spirits at once swung round to come to its
defence, and were caught between Kawau's forces and utterly destroyed.
It was now quite safe to approach the fortress.
The evil spirits at once swung round to come to its defence, and were caught
between Hakawau's forces and utterly destroyed.
It was now quite safe to approach the fortress.
Puarata saw them coming and hurried into the presence of the magical wooden
head, crying aloud in supplication. "Two strangers are coming! Two strangers
are coming? Destroy them! Destroy them!"
But the head had derived most of its power from
the evil spirits, and now that they were dead, all it could do was to utter a
low moan, and then it became silent, and never spoke again.
Puarate knew it once that he was doomed, and
rushed wailing from the fortress. But the good spirits, who waiting for just
such a move, pounced on him and destroyed him. He continued his flight down
the mountain as a lump of charcoal.
Meanwhile, Hakawau and his servant had reached
the fortress, watched by a sullen crowd.
"You go in by the gate," said Hakawau. "I intend
to show the people here my power by scaling the palisades."
And so, to the horror of the residents, Hakawau
easily scaled the high palisades and dropped down into the fortress.
The people shouted angrily at him: "Why do you
shame us by scaling the palisades? You should have entered the fortress in the
proper manner, by coming through the gate."
But hakawau brushed past them without a word. He
sought out their sacred places and desecrated them by entering them in an
impure state. The great carved head, that had once been so powerful, he
knocked over with a careless thrust of his foot.
Hakawau and his servant spent many days resting
in the fortress. The people cooked for them and attended to all their needs.
But one morning Hakawau decided it was time for
them to return to their village in the far north.
"Let us go." he said to his servant.
The people were surprised that they were
leaving, and begged them to stay longer. When Hakawau shook his head
impatiently, they cried: "If you cannot stay, then eat before you go."
But Hakawau shook his head again and said, "Oh,
we are only a little while ago. Not far from here we ate some food."
He then struck with his hand the threshold of
the house where he and his servant had been living, and every one in the
fortress fell dead.
Thus, Hakawau avenged on Puarata and his people
the terrible slaughter caused by the magical wooden head.
THE STORY OF HINEMOA
It was the late afternoon of what had been a
very hot day. Two old women were sitting on the shore of Rotorua, enjoying the
cool breezes that wee now beginning to ruffle the still waters of the lake.
They were weaving baskets of flax, and talking idly.
"Why, when I was a girl," said one, "we never
had time to be love-sick. The men were larger than life in those days, and a
girl had only herself to blame if she felt lonely. Now, look at Hinemoa
--"Hinemoa," said the other severely, "is the highborn daughter of a great
chief. She can't go scampering off into the bushes with a man, like any common
"Common slut, indeed," said the second. "Now,
hush - here she comes."
Unaware that she was being discussed, Hinemoa
walked along the beach, tears streaming from her eyes. She had just told her
father, Amukaria, of her love for Tutanekai, and had been frightened by the
change that had come over his face.
"This young man," he asked, suddenly menacing,
"Have you been seeing him?"
"No, Father," she said, avoiding his eyes. "He
does not even know I love him."
"Ha!" he said, contemptuously. "How can you love
a man you do not even know?"
"But I do know him, Father," said Hinemoa.
"Be careful what you say," he warned.
"It was at the tribal gathering that I saw him,"
she said softly. "He had come with a party from Mokoia. He is a chief, Father,
and I have heard that on his island there is none to match him as a warrior."
"I do not know him," said her father, stiffly.
"He does not exist." "His eyes never once left my face," she went on dreamily,
as if she had not heard him, "but how could I let him know that all the time I
was aware of him? I liked his handsome looks well enough - what girl would
not? But when he took his flute and played it - Oh, Father! It was then I knew
I loved him."
"Enough, child," he said, impatiently. "You talk
like a fool. Now hear me carefully. Forget this man, for I have plans for you
more fitting to your rank. If you try to see him, I shall confine you to the
house. As for Tutanekai, if he sets foot anywhere near the village he will
die. Now go, and mark my words."
Now, a little later, Hinemoa was walking past
the two old women, her father's words still sounding in her ears.
"Oh, Tutanekai," she cried, "what will become of
us? Our love had scarcely begun - and now it seems to be over, killed by my
father's cruelty. Tutanekai - if only you could talk to me! You would tell me
what to do."
Then it seemed that the wind died down, and
faintly above the lapping of the water she heard the sound of a flute. Soft
and clear, it came across the darkening lake from the island of Mokoia.
Hinemoa stood enraptured. It was Tutanekai
telling her to be brave, for he loved her and would always lover her. She sat
listening to him, while the moon rose above the lake and laid a white path to
the island for her dreams to tread.
When she at last went home to face an angry
father, still the flute kept saying, "Be brave, Hinemoa, for I shall always be
Night after night she went down to the shore,
and, when she heard the flute, all her loneliness and frustration would fall
away, and she would become as a young girl at the foot of her lover, listening
to his voice encouraging her, filling her with hope.
Her father disapproved of the way she spent her
evenings. He had even tried to force her into staying indoors, but she had sat
motionless for hours and wept, so that he had to give in to her.
Now, whenever he heard the flute, he would
clench his fists and scowl. "If only the wind would blow from another
direction. It would end all this nonsense."
He ordered his priests to use all their magical
powers to turn the wind around, and when they had failed he dismissed them
Despite Amukaria's watchfulness, Tutanekai
managed to get a message to her through Tiki, his closest friend. He told her
what she already knew in her heart, an her joy was complete.
Her father noticed the change and became more
watchful than ever. He took the added precaution of having every canoe removed
from the beach and placed under guard. Hinemoa watched unmoved, for she had
already thought of a plan to outwit her father and join her lover on Mokoia.
She would tie six empty gourds together as floats, and she would swim to the
The distance was great, and even by day it would
have daunted most men. But she intended to swim by night when there would be
less risk that she would be discovered.
She waited for the next moonless night, and when
it grew dark she crept down to the beach. Taking off her cloak of kiwi
feathers, she slipped into the water, pushed herself forward on the floats,
and began swimming.
So far so good! All was quiet in the village. No
one had noticed her leave.
But how cold and dark the water was! Something
slimy brushed against her leg, and she almost panicked. But the voice of
Tutanekai, talking through the flute, encouraged her, and she forgot her
fears. On through the night she swam, until she grew so weak that several
times she almost drifted off the floats, and sank. But always the flute talked
to her and kept her going.
At last she felt the sharp stones of Mokoia
under her feet. She dragged herself on to the beach where she lay awhile,
exhausted and half-frozen. When she had recovered, she walked round the island
until she found a cave warmed by a hot spring, and there she slept.
Footsteps woke her early in the morning. She
looked out and saw a slave filling a calabash with water. Had she not seen him
at the tribal meeting, attending on Tutanekai?
Her eyes alive with mischief, she said, "Slave,
for whom are you fetching water?"
He was startled, and almost dropped the
calabash. "For Tutanekai," he said. "Are you a spirit?"
"I am thirsty," she said, "Give me a drink."
//He gave her the calabash, and she drank from it, and then dashed it against
a rock and broke it.
"Why did you do that?" he cried. "Now my master
will beat me." But Hinemoa said nothing, and the slave returned to the
village, full of foreboding. Tutanekai saw him arrive empty-handed, and he
shouted, "Where is the water that I asked you to fetch?"
The slave opened his mouth to speak, but
Tutanekai pushed a calabash into his hand and said sharply, "Fill it - and be
quick about it."
Hinemoa heard him return, and waited until he
had filled the calabash for the second time. Then again she asked for water,
and after she had drunk from the calabash she smashed it as she did the first.
Great was Tutanekai's anger, when he heard the slave's report. Seizing his
whale-bone club, he went to the cave and shouted. "Come out of there - and be
prepared to die."
Then Hinemoa appeared and, with downcast eyes,
she approached him, "O Tatanekai - would you kill your wife?"
The club dropped from his hand, and joyfu7l was
his cry: "Hinemoa!" "Hinemoa!" echoed the rocks. "Hinemoa!"
THE HOUTAEWA AND THE KUMARAS
North of Kaitaia is the tail of Te Ika a
Maui - the narrowest part of New Zealand. In some places you can see from
the road the sandhills on both sides of the island. On the west coast the
Ninety Mile Beach, washed by the Tasman Sea, stretches in a smooth unbroken
curve from Scott Point in the north to Ahipara in the south - a distance of
some 75 miles, not 90, as you might think.
The two main tribes of the Far North are the
Aupouri and Rarawa. The Aupouri live near the tip of New Zealand, in the bare,
wind-beaten country round Te Kao; the Rarawa round Ahipara where the soil is
better and life is easier. The story of Te Houtaewa is part of the history of
both these tribes. Today they live in peace, but when our story takes place -
about 1830 - they were bitter enemies. Te Houtaewa is specially interesting as
an example of a recent historical figure in the process of becoming a legend.
He is not one of the greatest of the Maori
heroes, but eh stories of his exploits make him easily the fastest runner who
ever lived. An Aupouri elder told the story of Te Houtaewa (possibly with
tongue in cheek) that he was eight feet tall and that his estimated top speed
was sixty miles per hour. He also said that the great runner was able to run
two lengths of the Ninety Mile Beach between high tide and low tide. Compared
with him the fastest of our modern athletes would have seemed as slow as men
So great was his fame that it spread throughout
New Zealand, bringing mana (glory) to his tribe and arousing envy in
the hearts of his enemies. When the Waikato people heard how fast he was they
sent their two greatest runners to challenge him in a foot race. This took
place on the Ninety Mile Beach, beginning at Hukatere. Te Houtaewa gave his
challenges a start, but at Ngapai he overtook the slower of the two and,
without losing any speed, he dashed out his brains with his club. Several
tremendous strides brought him up to the second man whom he killed in the same
way. After this, no one was so foolhardy as to challenge him again.
Te Houtaewa was an old-time Maori who honoured
the traditions and customs of his ancestors. He despised the new things that
the settlers were bringing into New Zealand. It is said that when his uncle
returned from a visit to England he brought back a double-barrelled musket and
an axe. He intended to give the musket to his nephew and keep the axe for
himself. But Te Houtaewa was so horrified when he saw his uncle shoot a bird
that he refused to accept the gift, saying that it was fit only for a coward.
He chose the axe, which he considered a more manly weapon.
In the Far North Te Houtaewa is a legendary
figure - the hero of many Maori children who have heard of his exploits from
their elders. Here is the most popular story that is told about him.
Te Houtaewa used to camp with his mother at
Kahokawa at the northern end of the Ninety Mike Beach. One day when she went
to prepare a meal she found they had nothing to eat but dried fish and
shellfish. She went to her son and told him the bad news.
"Do not worry, Mother," said Te Houtaewa, "We
shall have kumaras with our fish. Yesterday a war party returned from
the south with the news that on the hillsides at Ahipara are kumara
pits that are left unguarded. Our enemies have so much they can surely spare
His mother pleaded with him not to be so rash as
to go alone into enemy territory, but he laughed at her fears and said, "Light
up the fire, Mother, and before the stones are hot enough I shall be back with
the kumaras." He told her to fetch him the two largest flax bags she
could find and, with one in each hand, he set off. He took no weapon because
he meant to rely entirely on his speed to get him out of trouble; and he ran
naked so that the wind would not catch at his clothes and hold him back.
The beach stretched ahead of him, gleaming in
the morning sun. He ran where the sand was firm, just beyond the reach of the
breakers, his legs a blur as they devoured the miles.
Te Houtaewa's heart was full of joy. He liked
nothing better than running on the beach with the sea beside him. He loved the
slight give of the sand beneath his toes and the breeze whistling through his
hair. Even the thought of the danger ahead of him did not reduce his pleasure.
Instead it seemed to put steel springs into his legs so that each stride he
took measured more than fifty feet. For mile after mile he ran tirelessly,
slackening speed only when his feet became so hot with friction that he had to
run into the sea to cool them off.
Within an hour he reached Ahipara and hid in the
sandhills so that he could spy out the land. It was noon and the sun was very
hot. The whole village seemed to be sleeping, apart from a few dogs that were
too busy tearing at a carcase to be interested in him.
In a dozen giant strides Te Houtaewa reached the
kumara pits on the hillside, tore away the covering, and began filling the
first of his bags. He had half-filled it when a Rarawa woman came out of a
house and happened to look up. She recognised him at once and screamed out the
alarm: "Te Houtaewa - the thief! Surround and kill him!"
What a prize had fallen into their hands! The
man who stuck him down would be famous as the slayer of Te Houtaewa! Each man
gripped his weapon more firmly as the long line moved quickly and cautiously
up the hillside.
What was Te Houtaewa doing meanwhile? When the
old woman cried out he had almost panicked and fled, but he reminded himself
that he was Te Houtaewa who feared no man, least of all the Rarawa. Keeping an
eye on the advancing men and ignoring their fierce taunts and insults, he
filled his first bag and began on the second. They were now less than fifty
yards away and were hurrying to encircle him. It would be very dangerous to
delay any longer.
The Houtaewa picked up the full bags, one in
each hand, and looked for a gap in the cordon. He pretended to start his run,
and when the Rarawa scattered he jeered at them.
He then gathered his strength and with a shout,
he hurled himself down the hill with the speed of an avalanche. No man could
have stood in his way and lived. The cordon gave way, and in a flash Te
Houtaewa was through it and speeding towards the beach.
Halfway up the beach, he saw a flock of godwits,
and he decided to catch some to take home to his mother. He put his bags down,
crept as close as he could, and waited for the waves to break, for he knew
that godwits always faced the breakers and were then off their guard. When
that happened he swooped on them and gathered up an armful before they were
aware of their danger. Satisfied with his morning's work, he hurried home to
his mother, who was relieved that he had come to no harm and had brought back
the kumaras with him. //It is said that the two bags of kumaras
weighed forty pounds apiece, but such was Te Houtaewa's strength that his
journey home took only a little longer than his journey to Ahipara.
OTHER MAORI LEGENDS
A Maori myth tells of Hautupatu (or Hau for short), who
was the youngest of three brothers. When he fell out with them he went off into
the forest on his own. There he saw the ogress Kurangai Tupu. She was busy
catching birds by shooting out her lips at them. She saw him as he ran
away and took off, easily catching up with him, for she had wings on her arms.
Though she was very big and heavy, she was strong and could run fast. She caught
him and carried him to her cave. She ate the birds she had caught, giving
some to Hautupatu, but he was not hungry and did not like raw food. The next
morning the ogress left the cave to go hunting. Hautupatu cooked some of the
birds she had given him, and so stilled his hunger. Then he climbed out of the
cave. The exit had been blocked by the ogress to prevent him from escaping, but
Hautupatu knew a karakia for opening rock and other walls, so he made his
way out. Alas! there was a little bird in the cave, which flew out to where the
ogress was, singing: 'Kura, Kura, Kurangai, your prisoner has escaped!'
Although she was far away, Kurangai
could step over mountains as if they were molehills, for she too had a
karakia: 'Stretch out, stride along!' This made her legs longer than the
trees were tall, so she could walk over the forest as if it was a grassy field.
Soon she had caught sight of Hautupatu, crying, 'I'll catch you!'
But Hautupatu had learned another
karakia from his grandmother. It went like this: 'Matiti, matata',
which means roughly: 'Rock open, rock close.' He recited this karakia and
a door opened in a rock wall. Hautupatu went in, and it closed behind him
leaving no trace. He came out on the other side of the mountain and ran to his
house, but Kurangai Tuku spotted him again. Hautupatu then hid near the other
side of a bubbling hot spring and when Kurangai Tuku alighted she did not look
where she put her feet, so she fell into the boiling water and died.
Hema was the son of the goddess Waitiri and Kai Tangata in Maori myth. He
married the goddess Urutonga ('South-West'}; they had three children, two boys
and a girl. The youngest was Tawhaki, the God of Thunder and Good Health.
Hema was killed by the Ponaturi sea-spirits, and his two sons took
revenge for his death.
('Bright Lady') The Polynesian Goddess of the Moon in her full phase. As the
sister of the sun-God Maui she is comparable to Artemis-Diana the
'Radiant Goddess', sister of Apollo.
In one of the versions of the Maori
moon mythology, it is related that in her 'dead' phase the Moon-Goddess drifted
into the sea and was covered by weeds. She was washed ashore and a man
discovered her in human form under a tangle of kelp and seaweed. In another
version she saw him first and seeing that he was a handsome prince, as in
Andersen's tale, she rose from the water and changed from her fish form into a
beautiful maiden. The prince's name was Tini Rau, or Rupe in another
version of the myth. She fell in love with him, like Artemis in Endymion falling
in love with a mortal man. However, like the prince in Andersen's tale, he was
already married. Nevertheless they loved each other on the shore of a lagoon,
and in due course Hina gave birth to a son, Tuhuruhuru. It was a very difficult
birth so she composed and recited a powerful karakia which made the child
come out easily. This magic formula was still used by the women in New
Zealand earlier in this century. Thus Hina-Keha is also the Goddess of
Childbirth, like Diana. Also like Diana, she is often seen in the company of a
Hina-Keha also has many names, e.g.
Hine-Te-Iwa-Iwa. Iwa means 'nine', so this may be a reference to the 'nine moons
of carrying' preceding childbirth. In this appearance Hina is the patroness of
women and the arts and crafts. She is the one who received the first amulet,
beitiki, from her father Tane. Another name is Hine-Te-Ngaru-Moaana,
'The Lady of the Ocean Waves', when she is in her fish-like form.
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