Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 11, 1878
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1. The Slaying of Hotupuku.

Here is the tale of the valiant deeds of certain men of old, the ancestors of the chiefs of Rotorua. Their names were Purahokura, Reretai, Rongohaua, Rongohape, and Pitaka; they were all the children of one father, whose name was Tamaihutoroa. As they grew up to manhood they heard of several persons who had been killed in journeying over the roads leading by Tauhunui and Tuporo, and Tikitapu,—all places of that district.

People of Rotorua who had travelled to Taupo, or who went into the hill country to meet their relations, were never again heard of; while the folks of the villages who were expecting them were thinking all manner of things about their long absence, concluding that they were still at their respective places of abode; but, as it afterwards turned out, they were all dead in the wilderness!

At last a party left Taupo on a visit to Rotorua, to travel thither by those same roads where those former travelling parties had been consumed. Their friends at Taupo thought that they had, arrived at Rotorua, and were prolonging their stay there; but no, they, too, were all dead, lying in heaps in that very place in the wilderness!

Afterwards another travelling party started from Rotorua to Taupo; this party went by the lakes Tarawera and Rotomahana, and they all arrived safe at Taupo. On their arrival there many questions were asked on both sides respecting the people of Taupo who had gone to Rotorua, but nothing whatever could be learned of them. On hearing this the people of Taupo earnestly enquired of the newly-arrived party from Rotorua, by what road they came? They replied, “We came by the open plain of Kaingaroa, by the road to Tauhunui.” Then it was that the people of Taupo and the party from Rotorua put their heads together, and talked, and deeply considered, and said, “Surely those missing travellers must have fallen in with a marauding party of the enemy, for we all well know they have no kinsfolk in those parts.” Upon this the Taupo people determined on revenge, and so they proceeded to get together an army for that purpose, visiting the several villages of Taupo to arouse the people. All being ready, they commenced their march. They travelled all day, and slept at night by the road-side; and the next morning, at daylight, they crossed the river Waikato. Then they travelled on over the open plain of Kaingaroa until they came to a place called Kapenga, where dwelt a noxious monster, whose name was Hotupuku. When that monster smelt the odour of men, which had been wafted towards him from the army by the wind, it came out of its cave. At this time the band of men were travelling onwards in the

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direction of that cave, but were unseen by that monster; while that monster was also coming on towards them unseen by the party. Suddenly, however, the men looked up, and, lo! the monster was close upon them; on which, they immediately retreated in confusion. In appearance, it was like a moving hill of earth! Then the fear-awakening cry was heard, “Who is straggling behind? Look out, there! A monster, a monster, is coming upon you!” Then the whole army fled in all directions in dire dismay and confusion at seeing the dreadful spines and spear-like crest of the creature, all moving and brandishing in anger, resembling the gathering together of the spines, and spears, and spiny crests, and ridges of the dreadful marine monsters of the ocean. In the utter rout of the army, they fell foul of each other through fear, but, owing to their number, some escaped alive, though some were wounded and died. Then, alas! it was surely known that it was this evil monster which had completely destroyed all the people who had formerly travelled by this way.

The news of this was soon carried to all parts of the Rotorua district, and the brave warriors of the several tribes heard of it. They soon assembled together, 170 all told, took up their arms, and marched even until they came to Kapenga in the plain, and there they pitched their camp. Immediately they set to work, some to pull the leaves of the cabbage-tree (Cordyline australis), others to twist them into ropes; then it was that all the various arts of rope-making were seen and developed!—the round rope, the flat rope, the double-twisted rope, the three-strand rope, and the four-sided rope*; at last the rope-making was ended.

Then the several chiefs arose to make orations and speeches, encouraging each other to be brave, to go carefully to work, to be on the alert, and to be circumspect, and so to perform all the duties of the warrior. All this they did according to the old and established custom when going to fight the enemy.

One in particular of those chiefs said—Listen to me, let us go gently to work; let us not go too near to the monster, but stay at a distance from it, and when we perceive the wind blowing towards us over it, then we will get up closer, for if the wind should blow from us to the monster, and it smells us, it will suddenly rush out of its cave, and our work and schemes will be all upset.” To this advice the chiefs all assented, and then the men were all properly arranged for each and every side of the big rope snare they had contrived and made, so that they might all be ready to pull and haul away on the ropes when the proper time should come.

[Footnote] * This was still the custom in late years; their strongest common ropes were made from the leaves of the cabbage-tree, after steeping them in water, and a strong and very peculiar kind of 4-sided rope was made by them of it. I have had such made for me, but I almost fear the art is lost. Flax (or Phormium) leaves would not be suitable.

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Then they told off a certain number to go to the entrance of the cave where the monster dwelt, while others were well armed with hard-wood digging spades* and clubs, with long spears, and rib-bones of whales, and with short wooden cleavers or halberts. Last of all, they carefully placed and laid their ropes and nooses, so that the monster should be completely taken and snared in them; and then, when all was ready, the men who had been appointed to go up to the mouth of the cave to entice and provoke the creature to come forth, went forwards; but, lo! before they had got near to the cave, the monster had already smelt the odour of men.

Then it arose within its cave. And the men who had gone forth to provoke it heard the rumbling of its awful tread within the cave, resembling the grating noise of thunder. Notwithstanding, they courageously enticed it forwards by exposing themselves to danger and running towards it, that it might come well away from its cave; and when the monster saw the food for its maw by which it lived, it came forth from its den ramping with joy.

Now this monster had come fearlessly on with open mouth, and with its tongue darting forth after those men; but in the meanwhile they had themselves entered into the snares of ropes, and had passed on and through them, and were now got beyond the set snares—the ropes, and nooses, and snares, all lying in their proper positions on the level ground.

At this time those men were all standing-around below when the huge head of the beast appeared on the top of the little hill, and the other men were also ascending that hill and closing in gradually all around; the monster lowered his head awhile and then came on, and then the men, the little party of provokers, moved further away on to the top of another hillock, and the monster following them entered the snares! At this the men on that little hill stood still, then the monster moved on further and further towards them, climbing up that ascent also, so that when its head appeared on the top of that second hillock its fore legs were also within the set loops of the big snare.

Then it was that the simultaneous cry arose from the party who were standing on the top of the little hill watching intently, “Good! capital! it has entered! it is enclosed! pull! haul away!” And that other party, who were all holding on to the several ropes, anxiously waiting for the word of command, hearing this, pulled away heartily. And, lo! it came to pass exactly as they all had planned and wished for—the monster was caught fast in the very middle of its belly.

[Footnote] * This implement (called a ko) might be just as well termed a lance, or pick; it was narrow, pointed, and 6-7 feet long, and used for digging fern-root, &c., and sometimes, as here, as an offensive weapon.

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Now it began to lash about furiously with its tail, feeling more and more the pain arising from the severe constriction of its stomach by the ropes.

Then the bearers of arms leaped forth. A wonderful sight! The monster's tail was vigorously assaulted by them; they stabbed it over and over with their hardwood digging picks and their long spears, and pounded it with their clubs, so that even its head felt the great amount of pain inflicted on its tail, together with that arising from the severe constriction of the ropes on its softer parts. Now the monster began to rear and to knock about dreadfully with its head; on seeing this, the enticing band of provokers, who had still kept their position in front, again began to entice it to make straight forward after them, by going up close to it and then running away from it, when, on its attempting to stretch out after them, they suddenly faced about in a twinkling, and began to play away upon the monster's head with very good effect. Oh! it was truly wonderful to behold!

By this time, too, the party of rope-pullers had succeeded in making fast all their ropes to the several posts they had fixed in the earth all round about for that purpose; this done, they also seized their weapons and rushed forward to assist their comrades in beating the monster's head—this being now the part of it which reared and knocked about the most violently. Now, the assault on its head was carried on alternately by those men, combined with the others who began it, and who for that purpose divided themselves into two parties, when one party rushed forward and delivered their blows, and the hideous head was turned towards them, and they fell back a bit, the other band came on on the other side and delivered their battery, either party always beating in the same place. After a while the monster became less vigorous, although it still raged, for its whole body was fast becoming one vast mass of bruises through the incessant and hearty beating it was receiving.

Still the fight was prolonged; prodigies of strength and valour, ability, and nimbleness were shown that day by that valiant band of 170, whose repeated blows were rained upon the monster. At last the monster yielded quietly, and there it lay extended at full length on the ground, stretched out like an immense white larva* of the rotten white pine wood, quite dead.

By this time it was quite dark; indeed, night. So they left it until the morning. When the sun appeared they all arose to cut up this big fish. There it lay, dead! Looking at it as it lay extended, it resembled a very

[Footnote] * The word is huhu. I suppose this large grub has been selected for a comparison owing to its dying helplessly extended, and its plump, fat appearance.

[Footnote] † I have translated this word (ika), wherever it occurs in the story, by “fish,” this being one of its principal meanings; but it would carry a very different one to a New Zealander. Here it would be just synonymous with whale, or large marine animal.

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large whale,* but its general form or appearance was that of the great lizard, with rigid spiny crest, while the head, the legs, feet, and claws, the tail, the scales, the skin, and the general spiny ridges, all these resembled those of the more common lizards (tuatara). Its size was that of the sperm whale (paraoa).

Then this man-devouring monster was closely looked at and examined for the first time—the wretch, the monster, that had destroyed so many persons, so many bands of armed men and travelling parties! Long, indeed, was the gazing; great was the astonishment expressed. At last, one of the many chiefs said, “Let us throw off our clothing, and all hands turn to cut up this fish, that we may also see its stomach, which has swallowed so many of the children of men.

Then they began to cut it open, using obsidian and pitch-stone knives, and saws for cutting up flesh made of sharks' teeth, and the shells of sea and of fresh-water mussels (Unio). On the outside, beneath its skin, were enormous layers of belly fat (suet), thick and in many folds. Cutting still deeper into its great stomach or maw, there was an amazing sight. Lying in heaps were the whole bodies of men, of women, and of children! Some other bodies were severed in the middle, while some had their heads off, and some their arms, and some their legs; no doubt occasioned through the working of the monster's jaws and the forcible muscular action of its enormous throat in swallowing, when the strong blasts of its breath were emitted from its capacious and cavernous belly.

And with them were also swallowed all that appertained to them—their greenstone war-clubs, their short-knobbed clubs of hardwood, their weapons of whales' ribs both long and short, their travelling staves of rank, their halbert-shaped weapons, their staffs and spears—there they all were withiin the bowels of the monster, as if the place was a regular stored armoury of war. Here, also, were found their various ornaments of greenstone for both neck and ears, and sharks' teeth, too, in abundance (mako). Besides all those there were a great variety of garments found in its maw: fine bordered flax-mats; thick impervious war-mats, some with ornamented borders; chiefs' woven garments made of dogs' tails, of albatross feathers, of kiwi feathers, of red (parrot) feathers, and of seals' skin, and of white dogs' skin; also, white, black, and chequered mats made of woven flax, and garments of undressed flax (Phormium), and the long-leaved kahakaha (Astelia, species), and of many other kinds.

[Footnote] * Nui tohora.

[Footnote] † Tuatete, the angry, frightful lizard, now extinct.

[Footnote] ‡ Uri-o-Tiki: literally, descendants of Tiki; Tiki being, in their mythology, the creator or progenitor of man.

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All the dead bodies, and parts of bodies, the conquerors scooped out and threw into a heap, and buried in a pit which they dug there. And that work over they proceeded to cut up the fish into pieces; and when they had examined its fat and suet, they expressed its oil by clarifying it with heat, which was eaten by the tribe; and so they devoured and consumed in their own stomachs their implacable foe. This done, they all returned to Rotorua and dwelt there.