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Volume 14, 1881
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II. The Story of Ruatapu and Paikea.

Many years after those fightings Uenuku got a large canoe made; Haeora was the name of the skilful man who made it; and Te Huripureiata was the name of that canoe. When the canoe was built and finished, it was painted red, and fully ornamented with pigeon's feathers, and all its many adornments. All this took a long time. Then it was that Uenuku ordered his sons, and the sons of other chiefs, to assemble, in order that the hair of their heads might be combed and anointed and neatly tied up in a knot on the crown, and ornamented with a high dress comb stuck in behind (worn

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only by chiefs), so as to be regular and look beautiful,* that they might all go together and paddle the new canoe out on the sea. Uenuku himself performed this work of preparing and dressing and tying-up their hair. Those young men were 70 in number, all told, and Uenuku finished with Kahutiaterangi. All the 70 were fine able young men; there was not a boy among them. When all were done, Ruatapu called out to his father,—“O, honoured sir, see ! tie up and dress my hair also.” Uenuku replied to Ruatapu,—“Wherever shall a dress-comb be found for thy hair?” Ruatapu rejoined,—“Why not use one of those combs there by these?” Then Uenuku said,—“Why dost thou not ornament thy hair with one of the combs of thy elder brothers?” On hearing that, Ruatapu cried out,—“O noble sir, O noble sir, I was supposing that I was indeed thine own (son) ! but now I perceive that I am not thine !” Then his father said to him,—“O, sir, thou art indeed verily my own (son); but a son of little consequence, an offspring of inferior birth:” (meaning, that his mother was of no rank, being only a slave saved alive in war). § At this saying of

[Footnote] * Plenty of patterns of their hair so adorned are given in the plates of Cook's “Voyages,” and in Parkinson's “Journal,”—passim. (See Proverb, No. 130, “Trans. N. Z. Inst.,” Vol. XII., p. 133). When their heads were thus dressed they did not lay them down on pillows of any kind for several nights, lest they should disarrange them, but managed accordingly. This curious practice was also largely followed by other Polynesians. So in Africa, and, also, very anciently in Europe. (See Keller's “Lake Dwellings of Switzerland,”; pp. 175, 501, 565).

[Footnote] † This ceremony was always performed by a chief of rank, or by a priest (tohunga); Uenuku was both; the head being pre-eminently sacred (tapu), and never to be touched save by a tapu person.

[Footnote] ‡ I have sought to keep up in a translation the great difference in the modes of address here used between the father and the son; (see, also, p. 14, and the note there).

[Footnote] § In this dialogue three things are to be noticed: 1. Uenuku's quiet way of giving a gentle hint to his son, which tends to show that hitherto, throughout childhood and youth, no such great distinction had yet been made. 2. Ruatapu ought to have understood his father's meaning (see a similar mode of speaking, “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XIII., p. 42, and note there); he knew, as well as his father, that he could not possibly use one of his elder brothers' combs, as all were tapu, and each one strictly confined to its owner's own private use. 3. Uenuku's last words were very bitter and galling to the young man, and, no doubt, were spoken openly before all; and as they were spoken in highly figurative language I give them here in the original, with a strictly literal translation and full explanation:—“Ehika, naku tonu koe; he tama meamea koe nahaku; he moenga rau-kawakawa, he moenga hau!” lit. “O, sir, thou art indeed my own (son); thou art a son of inferior rank begotten by me; a begetting—or sleeping, or cohabiting,—(among) the leaves and branches of the strong-smelling kawakawa shrub,—a begetting, etc.—out of doors in the high wind.” The strong smell of the kawakawa (Piper excelsum) was particularly unpleasant to the New Zealanders; the whole also meaning, that Uenuku's taking Ruatapu's mother to wife was done without any festivities,—without any gifts of fine-woven mats for bedding,—and without a bride's house and other formalities. (See “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XIII., p. 45, bottom).

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Uenuku, Ruatapu was completely overcome with shame, and his whole heart was filled with grief and pain, and, loudly lamenting, he went away to the place where the canoe was, planning in his mind how he should best accomplish the murder of Uenuku's favourite sons, his elder brothers. He soon hit upon a plan; he got a stone chisel and he worked away with it at the bottom of the new canoe, until he had cut a hole through, which, when done, he plugged up and hid with wooden chips and scrapings, so that it should not be seen. Then he went back into the town, but he would not eat any food, for his heart was still deeply grieved at the lowering words which his father had used respecting him. The next morning early Ruatapu went and aroused and brought together the men of the place to drag the new canoe down to the sea. They all came and she was soon afloat, and then those young chiefs, 70 in number, who had been already prepared for that duty, entered on board of the canoe, he himself taking care that no boys* embarked with them, for some who came to do so he returned to their home. The canoe being well-manned with smart paddlers, and all being ready, away they paddled; Ruatapu himself going with them, seating himself in his own place on board, and keeping the heel of his foot firmly fixed on the hole which he had bored in her bottom. They paddled a very long way out to sea, when Ruatapu removed his foot from the hole, and the water rushed in. On seeing the water in the bottom of the canoe they cried out, “We shall be upset! turn her round to the shore !” but Ruatapu again fixing his heel on the hole, and also baling out the water, the canoe was soon free from it. They still paddled away further out, when some said, “Let us now return, for we have paddled to a very great distance.” On hearing this, Ruatapu answered, “We will soon return; let us first go a little further out.” So away they paddled, until they had got quite out of sight of land; then he again removed his heel from the hole, and the water rushed in ! All immediately called out, “Where is the baler? hasten; bale out the water; we are lost!” But Ruatapu had hidden the baler; and soon the canoe was filled with water, and was upset. Then Ruatapu made after his brothers, and quickly drowned several of them by plunging them under. Having done so, and seeing Paikea still swimming, he followed hard after him to drown him also; but Paikea repeatedly evaded him. At last Ruatapu said to Paikea, “Which of us two shall carry the tidings of our disaster to land?” And Paikea replied, “I will, for I can do it; for I am also a son of (or descended from) the sea.” And this was both the reason of his so saying and of his escaping drowning,—Paikea being descended from Rongomaitahanui, who was also descended from Te Petipeti, and Te

[Footnote] * The word may mean—younger sons.

[Footnote] † See proverb, No. 181, “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XII., p. 140.

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Rangahua. Then Ruatapu cried out, “Go thou, swim away to land; and note well, if I am lost here, then thou wilt surely know that I am not descended from our father; but if I escape from this calamity, then, verily, I am from our father. Go thou on; let the crowded parties of the summer season ever remember me, that I am also there, (I) shall not be hidden. When the squid and the jelly-fishes shall have reached the sandy beaches (in the summer season), then look out, I am but a little way behind them, going also towards the shore. Go on, swim away, proceed thou to the land; those who should be the survivors from this wreck (are) become as a pile of slain in a day of bloody battle. This is another word of mine to thee, Let Kahutuanui have the striking-up of the song, so that when (ye), the ample broad-chested, may be sitting closely together in a row by the side of the fire,* it shall be sung in parts,—in fruitful seasons and in unfruitful ones,—at the times of assembling together in companies, and at the times of living separately (in families); through this I shall be ever remembered.” Then Paikea said, “The tidings of our calamity shall be safely carried by me to our town, for I am verily descended from (those of) the sea,—Te Petipeti, Te Rangahua, and Te Aihumoana being my ancestors.” Here Ruatapu gave his last parting words to Paikea, “Go on, swim away to land, to the dear old home!” and so saying he held up his paddle. So Paikea proceeded on, swimming towards land, reciting as he went his powerful spell; and this was it:—


“Now shall be shown, now revealed, the vigour of the trembling heart; now shall be known the force of the anxious heart; now shall be seen the strength of the fluttering weak female heart.1

[Footnote] * For the common regular diversons of the evening, when the fires were lighted in their large houses.

[Footnote] † Paikea has now twice firmly asserted his descent from (beings of) the sea,—and he is not the first of the ancient Maori heroes who has done so. Of those four names of his ancestors here given by him, all are found in the Genealogical Roll (appended); but the first (Rongomaitahanui) and the last (Te Aihumoana) are, also, mythically known as ancient sea-demons (atua), and, so far, pre-historical. Paikea is also the proper name of a species of whale. I saw one about 34 years ago, which had been driven on shore here in Hawke's Bay in a severe gale; it was very long, with a sharpish snout, and its white belly was regularly and closely longitudinally fluted throughout. Its appearance reminded me strongly of the plate of Balæna boops in Rees' Cyclopædia.

[Footnote] ‡ There is a meaning here in this action of Ruatapu which should not be overlooked. To retain one's paddle (which was often highly carved and ornamented), in upsettings of canoes and in naval fights, was always an achievement, and a token of bravery, etc. Just as that of a young Spartan to retain his shield, or, in modern times, the colours, arms, etc.

[Footnote] 1 The very opposite feelings are to be here understood. Also in Uenuku's Spell, p. 7; and in Whakatau's Chant, “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XIII., p. 68; and the last line of Songs, 1 and 4, pp. 65 and 70, l.c.

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The big fish of the sea swims fleetly through strenuous exertion; blowing forth the blasts of sea-water from (its) nostrils; the big fish is lifted above the waters.


Space2 makes (it) buoyant; Sky2 upheaves (it) above the swell of Ocean.


Now, rushing forwards, a steep descent; anon (as if) climbing the fence of a fort! now a roughening squall of wind comes on; anon, as a bird's feather borne before it!


Ha! ha! thy heart (even as, or one with) my heart.3


Now the great enduring courageous heart of (the descendant from the) Sky, shall make itself to emerge through all difficulties and dangers to the habitable, to dwellings (of) light.


A full deliverance (for the) son of a chief, who was properly begotten the son of a chief.


Son above; son abroad; son according to the proper ceremonies (rightly or duly) performed; son according to the sign of the breaking-away of clouds, enlightening hitherwards from the outermost sides of the far-off horizon.4


Ha! abroad, far away on the deep (is) verily the place to exert strength, showing the straining of (one's) sinews.


Here, now, (is) the skid, I mount up on the top (of it); the very skid of Houtaiki;5 the skid satisfying the heart; the skid (that is) sure and fast.


Ha ! ha ! the cold wind (is) laughed at, defied; (so is) the cutting icy wind to the skin; so (is) the bitter cold penetrating and numbing vapour; and so the fainting internal feeling of sickness.


Here (is) the skid! I get up on (it); verily the same skid of Houtaiki so greatly desired and looked for.

[Footnote] 2 For Space and Sky, see “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XIII., pp. 68, 69, etc.

[Footnote] 2 For Space and Sky, see “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XIII., pp. 68, 69, etc.

[Footnote] 3 See the charm used for Rongoua's fractured skull, p. 11, Uenuku.

[Footnote] 4 These two verses (7 and 8) require explanation. Here there are six high reasons given by Paikea for asserting his nobility:—


“Son of a chief”—i.e., by both parents.


“Properly begotten”—i.e., with betrothal, and parental consent, and every proper preliminary arrangement;—see Kapi's wedding, “Trans. N.Z. inst.,” Vol. XIII., pp. 45, 46. (All this was wanting in the case of Paimahutanga, the mother of Ruatapu; see p. 18, note.)


“Son above”—i.e., in and with the approval of the Sky.


“Son abroad”—i.e., around,—in or with the approval of Space.


“Son according to ceremonies duly performed—i.e., by the priests (tohunga), at the early naming,—the cutting of hair,—the arriving at puberty, etc.


“Son according to the celestial signs”—i.e., these, such as are here referred to, were,—distant summer lightnings,—aurora australis,—peculiar red and other clouds, appearing on the horizon,—shooting stars, etc., etc.; and were always supposed and believed to have been given at, or shortly after, such ceremonial seasons, as tokens of approval, etc.

[Footnote] 5 The skid of Houtaiki.“Houtaiki is the name of one of Paikea's ancestors. Here, however, an allusion is made to the canoe of Houtaiki getting safely drawn up on its skids on the shore; it is a very ancient story. It was also used to denote a fixed safe barrier, or bounds, which were not to be passed, as at Taupo, etc.; and, also, known as “te puru o Houtaiki”—i.e., stoppage, obstacle, barrier. “Te rango o Houtaiki” is one of the names of the low isthmus connecting Table Cape Peninsula with the mainland. The name of Houtaiki often occurs in poetry, in connection with that of Houmea (infra).

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Once, twice, thrice, four times, five times, six times, seven times, eight times, nine times, ten times.


Let not the fastening roots of Taane6 be unloosed by thee: let not the hateful ill-omened winds to Taane be set free by thee.


Let the swimmings of a man in the ocean finally end; (let him) emerge at the habitable regions, at the lightsome (and) joyous dwellings.


Take up this descendant (of a line of chiefs); behold! he lives; (he) swims bravely.


Lo ! he swims on; the head first-born chief keeps pursuing; he follows on still swimming away.


Lo! he swims; behold! he swims strongly; still swimming onwards, enabled, enduring.


A head first-born chief follows on; still keeping at the swimming; lo! he swims.


Behold! he swims away, even Paikea (a) first-born chief, who keeps going forwards, still keeping on swimming.


Lo! he swims; behold! he swims; upborne he swims; upborne he continues; he keeps at it, swimming onwards, toiling manfully.


Now above (the surface), then below! anon rolling between the billows; all that ends in the very reaching of the shore by Taane himself.7


Lo! look out! there it is; coming onwards towards (me), like a huge rolling wave. Ugh! strike it down! fell it! with the famed axe of ancient times,—that which overturned the land.


Ha! ha! his own mighty first-born chief appears (to his succour); that is, Rongomaruawhatu,8 therefore it (the big) overwhelming wave, fled away, far off; ha!


The plugging and caulking stands good.


The fixing and lashing together stands good.9


Let (him or it) be uplifted and carefully carried.


Let (him or it) be raised and supported.


Let (him or it) be borne along.10


Alas! my distress, making me to toil laboriously at swimming; here, indeed, it is now being seen.


Make (thyself) to swim on courageously and well, as a skilful knowing one of old: truly so! here, indeed, is it now being shown.


In the midst of the great ocean; here, indeed, is it being seen.


In the midst of the desolate wild,11 far away from man; here, indeed, it is shown.


In the ragged first-appearings of daylight,—far off on the horizon, when first seen away there (from the shore); here, such is now being seen.

[Footnote] 6 Taane, the owner and creator of forests; (see “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XIII., p. 65;) here metonymically used;—“roots of Taane,”—i.e., of the trees of the forests. The strong westerly winds which often blow furiously in summer, sweeping down from the wooded heights and off the shore, East Coast, are here deprecated.

[Footnote] 7 Figurative, for a wooden canoe made out of a forest tree.

[Footnote] 8 One of Paikea's ancestors.

[Footnote] 9 These two verses (25 and 26) are spoken of a canoe.

[Footnote] 10 These last three verses (27–29) may mean, either Paikea, or the canoe coming to save him; there is nothing in the original to indicate gender.

[Footnote] 11 A term curiously used here,—as it means the uninhabited barren wilderness, far away from the dwellings of man.

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My bird is verily met above; yes! there (it is) now returning; here, indeed, it is shown.


Ruatapu stood upright (in the sea) grasping his paddle, his last token! Alas! (it) was bad.


One chief dies (or disappears), another succeeds.


Kahutiarangi took Te Panipani to wife; he was a great chief's son, highly esteemed by Whangara.


Here am I, still swimming on; floating, but, alas! going in no certain direction.


The big fish is beaten stiff in the tide of quick dashing waves.


Lo! there it comes! the canoe of Pakia12 is fleetly sailing hither.


O! big black-and-white sea-gull, flying aloft there; settle down hither on (the) sea from the sky.


O! Taane!13 enwrap (me), involve (me), with the garment of careless insensibility, that so I may quietly float to the shore.


Lie quietly down, O young chief, on the sea, which was purposely becalmed (for thee).


Carry safely forward thy brave swimming man to the shore.

[Possibly, there is some omission, or portion lost, here, W. C.] This, which follows, is the ending of the powerful and celebrated charm, which enabled Paikea to keep on swimming, and by it make his way through the ocean. In conclusion, he called on his ancestor, on Hikitaiorea; saying:—


“O Hikita! O! here am I making a great fish of myself.


O Hikita! O Hikitaiorea, O! lo! I am making a (drifting) waterlogged-whitepine canoe of myself.


O Hikita, O! O Hikitaiorea, O! I am making a sperm whale of myself, basking and rolling in the deep.


O Hikita, O! O Hikitaiorea, O! O Tuparara!14 seek me hither, carry me to the shore.


O Wehengakauki!14 fetch me hither, carry me to the shore.


Taane! fetch me hither, carry me to the shore, to my own land; on to the very shore there; to my father indeed, on the shore, there away: alas! alas!”

Then (he) warmed, cheered, and consoled himself, by remembering the name of another of his ancestors, who was called Mataiahuru, (lit. by, or through, the warm comforting sea, or tide,) and so recollecting, he cried:—


“Mataiahuru! Mataiahuru! through the warm sea, through the warm watertide, let my own skin now become warm; (let it now) become as if it were verily basking in the heat of the noon-tide sun suddenly shining on my own skin; let it now be, as if by the blaze of the fire brightly kindled up, that it may become hot.”

And with (or through) these last words, Paikea caused himself to possess comfortable and warm feelings. And so Paikea, at last, reached the shore, at (a place called) Ahuahu.

[Footnote] 12 Another of Paikea's ancestors.

[Footnote] 13 Taane is now, at last, invoked, to make him just as a tree-trunk, or log of wood, that so he may float unconsciously to the shore; (see, also, verses 22, 51;) Taane, is, also, used figuratively, for the Mainland, and is always placed in direct opposition to his enemy the Ocean.

[Footnote] 14 Names of two more of his ancestors.

[Footnote] 14 Names of two more of his ancestors.

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After some time residing there, he took to wife a woman of that place named Parawhenuamea, who bore him several children; one was named Marumuri, and there were others also named Maru (with some other affix). Afterwards he came further south to Whakatane, where he took another wife, who was named Te Manawatina; whence came the name of Whakatane from Manawatina. Thence he travelled still further south to Ohiwa, where he saw Muriwai within a cave; from which circumstance arose the name of Te Whakatohea, who dwelt at Opotiki. In course of time, and still travelling south, he came to Waiapu, where he took another woman named Hutu to wife; and she came on with him to his own place. She bore him Pouheni, etc., etc. (See Genealogy appended.)

This highly curious and ancient Maori rhapsody, the Spell of Paikea, is among the longest of the kind known to me, and was possibly thrown into its present semi-poetical form (in the original) the better to remember it. Although I have already given copious explanatory notes, a few of its more prominent features may further be briefly noticed.

Throughout it possesses just such words and imagery, as a man (particularly a Maori) in such a situation might be supposed to use and entertain. It seems, to me, very natural that one should speak (talk aloud) to himself in that manner, if only to keep his courage up! Many of the similes used are very natural and proper.

A kind of regular and progressive sequence almost dramatic runs through it.

There is great freedom from fear, both natural and superstitious; great dependence on himself; and little looking to any higher power for aid (save in one instance) other than to his own ancestors, whose names he repeats and also calls on, but mainly (as it seems) to encourage himself by reflecting on their meanings; this latter is an old peculiar trait in the Maori character, of which I have known many curious instances.

The invocation to Taane (v. 43), is evidently favourably answered by Taane (vv. 44, 45): there is also a second call on Taane (v. 51). It also appears, in other verses, as if some one supernatural power or personage were speaking to him, or for him (vv. 16, 27–29, 31).*

It is not said how long Paikea was struggling at sea; but, no doubt, the canoe had put off, according to their custom, in the calm of early morning, (indeed, such is nearly said in the story,) and Paikea, after long battling with the waves, feelingly alludes to the dawn of another day breaking; and to the early morning bird (of hope to him) appearing (vv. 34, 35).

[Footnote] * See, also, “Trans. N.Z. Inst.,” Vol. XIII., p. 59, bottom.

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In “the ragged first appearings of daylight,” is another very peculiar and poetical use of a common term; lit. it is, the ends of the irregular strands of scraped flax yarns (ravelings), hanging from the beginning of the weaving of a dress flax garment.

There are, also, some highly curious coincidences here, agreeing with several interesting particulars in Homer's two descriptions of Ulysses and his two long-shipwrecked boats at sea, each of many days continuance—one in reaching, and one in leaving Ogygia, Calypso's isle (Od., lib. V. and XII.); though Ulysses was at one time on a raft, and on another, at first, on part of the wreck of his ship, and afterwards for “two days and two nights” swimming. The coincidences are, (1) Ulysses spurting the brine from his nostrils, etc.; (2) his thoughts, words, and modes of encouraging himself; (3) the goddess, Leucothea, appearing to him in the shape of a cormorant, and alighting by him (giving him hope); and (4) Neptune's big billow, purposely sent, smiting Ulysses;—though, here, the “big billow,” rolling on to do so to Paikea, fled before his invoked ancestor. Of Paul, also, we read, of his having been “a night and a day in the deep;” probably floating on part of the wreck of his ship.

I would also offer a few brief remarks on this story of Uenuku's son, Ruatapu.

And first, I would premise, that while the details of a legend are always false, the legend itself always contains a kernel of truth; a mere invention never becomes a legend.

Ruatapu's revenge is terrible; but, as I take it, it was not carried out merely to avenge the great insult he had then received from his father, but to avenge his mother's and his tribe's great wrongs.

If he had succeeded in drowning Paikea also, and then had got safely back to land, which he might have done, in all probability he would have been the head young chief of Uenuku's people; as no one could have told the secret,—that he alone knew. No doubt he was very strong and brave.

His parting allusions to their home and people; his belief, and his directions, as to how he should live in their memories and songs; and his remarks on the annual recurrence of nature's signs on the sandy shore in the summer season, (which he must have often seen there when a merry boy, and perhaps that very time of the year 1) and of his being also with them in spirit, and of their festal meetings, and simple home evening diversions,—are all of an affecting kind. He left a wife (named Te Kiteora) and (at least) one son (named Hau), who are duly mentioned in several genealogical rolls, and from him some of the present East Coast Maoris trace their descent.

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In some other old legends which I have heard, Ruatapu is said to have foretold to Paikea, at their parting, of a great approaching flood, which would cover all the low-lying lands of the North Island of New Zealand; and that when its signs should appear, the people were to flee to the mountain, Hikurangi, near the East Cape. But this, in my opinion, is merely a straining and embellishing (after the usual manner) of what Ruatapu had said about his own returning (in spirit) to land from the sea in the summer seasons;—immensely strengthened, also, from his high rank, and from the fact of those sayings having been his last parting words, which always had great weight with the Maori people.