Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 7, 1874
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5. Rata.

When Rata grew up, he asked his mother: “What has become of my father?” “He has been murdered,” said the mother. “Who murdered him?” asked Rata. “Matuku did,” said the mother. Before you were born I had a fancy to eat a koko, and your father went into Matuku's forest, and there Matuku murdered him.” “Where is Matuku now?” asked Rata. “Look where the sun rises out of the sea: there, in that direction. It is far away; you cannot yet get there,” said the mother.

Some time after this conversation, the mother went into the forest to find a tree that could be made into a canoe. She found a large totara tree which would answer the purpose. A branch of this she took home with her, and in the evening she spake thus to her son: “I have been in the wood, and found

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a tree for you, a large totara tree, that can be made into a good canoe. Here is a branch of it. To-morrow you go and have a look at it.”

Next day Rata went, and when he came back in the evening he told his mother that he could not find the tree. But she told him to try again: “You cannot miss it,” she added, it is a large tree, with a rough bark.” Next day he went again, but came back in the evening without having found the tree. However, the mother encouraged him not to be disheartened at first failures, but to try again. The next day he found the tree, and felt more happy in the evening when he came home. He asked his mother how he should go to work. “There are the axes of your ancestors,” she said. Rata looked at them, and then said: “But they are blunt.” “There is the grindstone of your ancestors,” said the mother. Then Rata set to work, and the old grindstone made a noise which seemed to say: "Kia koi, kia koi! (to be sharp, to be sharp).

Next day, when the axes had been sharpened and tied to handles, Rata went into the forest and set to work to cut down his tree. At last it fell; and then, when he had chopped off the top it was evening, and he went home, well satisfied with his day's work. Next morning he went again, with the intention of working and shaping his tree into a canoe; but, to his great astonishment, he found his tree standing upright again, as if it never had been cut down. However, he would not be beaten, so he went through the same work again as the day before; cut the tree down, chopped off the top, and then went home, telling his mother of his strange experience. “Did you not invoke the spirits of your ancestors before you went to work?” she asked. “No,” said Rata, “I do not know how to do that.” However his mother encouraged him not to give up. Next morning he found his tree standing up again, as he had half expected, and he cut it down again and chopped off the top the third time. But now he did not go home, but hid himself under thick bushes near by. He had not sat long in his hiding place, when, in the waning twilight, in the solemn solitude of the forest, he heard a mysterious noise, like voices, by which his own name was mentioned. That noise glided into a singing tune; and then he heard distinctly the following incantation:—

O Rata! O Rata! Wahieroa's son!
Thou fellest, thou fellest, uninitiated,
In Tane's sacred grove,
Tane's flourishing tree.
Now fly the chips to the stump,
Now fly the chips to the top:
So they close; so they fit;
So the branches spread.
Now take hold, and up with him!

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Then the whole tree rose, and stood up again. Now Rata came forth from his hiding place, and just caught a glimpse of the spirits, who, shrinking together into themselves, vanished. Then Rata said: “So they have done with my tree; so they have undone my work, and I have been made a fool of.” Then a spirit's voice spoke to him saying: “Go home; leave the work for us, thine ancestors; we will finish the canoe.” So Rata went home and told his mother what had happened. Next morning, when they got up they found the new canoe quite finished, standing at the side of their house. Then there followed religious ceremonies, to free the canoe from the spirits, so that it could be put to common use. It was named “Niwaru.” When all was ready the canoe was launched and manned, and Rata went out on his first war expedition. But little of this is known or remembered, and that little seems more to have been a fight with rats than with human beings. However, kiore-roa (long rat,) and kiore-poto (short rat,) may have been proper names. They came back victors, but the mother declared that Wahieroa's death was not avenged so long as Matuku lived.

After this, Rata sailed to Puoronuku and Puororangi (the islands where Matuku lived). He went ashore, and found the former servant of his father, whom Matuku had carried away a prisoner. Rata asked him where Matuku was. “Yonder, in his cave,” replied the servant. “I am placed here to attend to the plantation.” “Will he not come this way?” asked Rata. “Not yet,” said the servant, “he comes in the seventh, or in the eighth month, to perform the ceremony before we begin our thistle-cutting.” Rata then requested the servant to show him Matuku's abode. It was a cave. Rata placed a noose over the entrance, and told the servant to stand in the plantation, and keep on calling for Matuku to come out. When all was ready, the servant called, “Matuku, e! come to perform the rites for our thistle-cutting.” Matuku answered in his cave, calling: “Thou art mistaken in the seasons of Matuku. In the seventh, in the eighth, months, I come to perform the rites of our thistle-cutting.” The servant called again: “Matuku, e! come to perform the rites for our thistle-cutting.” Now Matuku got angry. He called out: “Thou weariest the patience of Matuku. Now thou shalt see Matuku coming.” But as soon as he put his head through the entrance Rata pulled the rope, and Matuku's head was fastened in the noose. Then Rata killed him with an axe. Now Wahieroa's death was avenged.

Matuku is also the name of the slate-coloured herou.