Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 7, 1874
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1. Kaitangata and Whaitiri.

Kaitangata means a man-eater; but this formidable name had nothing to do with his character: on the contrary, Kaitangata was a simple, harmless, man; but there was a woman, named Whaitiri (Thunder), who dwelt in the sky, and who was very fond of human flesh. When she heard that there was a man on earth called Kaitangata, she believed him to be a real cannibal, and therefore came down and took him to her husband; but was disappointed, when she afterwards found that he was such a simple man.

Kaitangata's time was mostly occupied in fishing, to provide for their daily food; but he caught very little, and often came home without any fish because his hooks were not barbed. He was either too simple to understand his wife, who wanted to teach him better; or her designs were too wicked, and he was too good, to adopt them. At last she made a net for herself; and one day while her husband was out fishing, she saw a canoe passing by, with two men in it. Having armed herself with a stone weapon, and taking her net, she went and swam toward the canoe, now diving, now coming to the surface again. When the two men saw her they wondered if it were a bird or a human being. She had now reached the canoe and was diving under it. One of the men took a spear to have a thrust at her; but while he was bending over she came suddenly up and struck him with her weapon, ripping him quite open, when he fell into the sea and she caught him in her net. Now the other man tried to spear her, but met with the same fate as his companion. Then Whaitiri swam back to the shore, dragging her net behind her. She left the net in the water and went home and told the women there to go and fetch home the fish she had caught. By this time her husband had also come home and, as was often the case, without fish. So he assisted the women to draw up his wife's net; but they were horrified to find instead of fishes the net filled with arms and legs and other mangled parts of human bodies. Whaitiri insisted that they should be cooked.

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But now there arose a difficulty: there was no priest to perform a religious ceremony over the slain bodies, and without that it would not be safe for health or life to cook and to eat them. Then Whaitiri turned to her husband, Kaitangata, requesting him to perform that ceremony. But he answered, “I do not know how to pray.” His wife insisted that he should perform that ceremony, telling him that it was his duty for their child's sake—for she was then advanced in pregnancy. But to all her demands he only answered: “I do not know how to pray.” At last she tried herself, but not being initiated into that mystery, she could only imitate a priest's invocation, and produced nothing but a mumbling sound. After this the human flesh was cooked and eaten, but, as it appears, only by Whaitiri. The bones were tied up and hung under the roof of the house. Her husband afterwards used some of them for fish-hooks, with which he caught more fish than he had done before. In due time a son was born, who was named Hema, who will be the next link in this generation.

Some time after that cannibal-feast Whaitiri found that she was losing her eye-sight. Then one night while she was troubled in her mind about it, there appeared to her a woman from the nether world, who said: “It is because the bones of the slain men, lacking due invocation, have been used by thy husband as fish-hooks, and thou hast partaken of the fish so caught.” It may be wondered why her suffering was traced to such a secondary cause, through hooks and fish, and not direct to the eating of the men; but such is Maori reasoning.

Whaitiri's eye-sight did not get better; she was therefore generally sitting in the house. One day Kaitangata had visitors. They were all sitting outside talking, except Whaitiri, who alone stayed inside the house. Then one of the visitors, a female, asked Kaitangata: “What sort of woman is that wife of yours?” “That wife of mine!” he replied, “her skin is as cold as the wind, her heart is like snow.” He did not know that his wife had heard every word. When the visitors were gone and he came inside the house his wife asked him: “What have you been talking?” “Nothing in particular,” he replied. “What have you been talking about?” she repeated. “Only common talk,” he replied. “What have you been talking about me?” she asked again. “O, Whai-tane (man-pursuer or husband-hunter) asked about you, that is all,” he answered. But she had heard all and was sorely offended. She spoke to her son Hema thus: “You cannot come up to me. When you have posterity they may come up to me in the sky.” Then she jumped up. Her husband tried to catch her by the clothes to hold her back, but was too late. She went up to her former home in the sky, to a place called Puotetoe (bunches of reeds).