By The Waters Of Rakaunui. #1

in history •  2 months ago 

Calm, sunlit Kawhia Harbour lay spread out in a smooth plate of silver-and-pearl shell the morning we went boating across from Powewe township to the Rakaunui tidal river on the south side.

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It was the top of high water when we left the beach where the giant pohutukawa,

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ancient beyond reckoning, spread enormous branching heads of foliage and crimson flowers over the story-haunted beach.

Wonderful old trees; some of them have names of their own, such as Tangi-te-Korowhiti, the king of them all; in under its arching roots, there is a shallow cave which an old-time tohunga used as a dwelling.

In the shade of that tree and of its neighbour, Te Papa-o-Karewa, the rite of tohi-tu-tama, the ceremony of baptising a man child and dedicating him to Tu, the god of war, was performed by the priests.

On the outstretched lower branches the bodies of slain foes were aforetime hung.

Ghosts haunt those broad canopies of branch and leaf.

Even the young Maori avoid the tapu [sacred] trees after dark, and if compelled to go along the beach at night they will wade through the water, should the tide be in, sooner than walk under the black shadows of the pohutukawa.

Certain curiously-shaped rocky ledges on this beach-side have their names and legends.

A long red-streaked sandstone rock, like some sleeping saurian monster, is called Tatua-a-Kawharu, or Kawharu’s Girdle, and a singular hole like a giant footprint impressed in the rock is known as Kawharu’s Footstep.

This Kawharu was a locally renowned toa or hero of long ago, particularly celebrated for his jumping feats in storming forts and leaping at his foes.

Yonder never-failing water spring that bubbles out near the dwellings under the arching greenwood is named after Koata, a chieftainess of many generations ago, wife of Kawharu.

Above us we saw the terraced heights of Motu-ngaio Pa, once a fort of huge scarps and ditches, now peaceful and beautiful with pakeha [European] orchards and flower gardens.

The kahawai

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were leaping here and there, breaking the looking-glass surface.

A long fishing canoe, with two figures leisurely paddling, trawling kahawai lines, was silhouetted against the dazzle of the water.

We came to the low shores of the Rakaunui arm and entered the winding estuary.

Maori women were at work in a kumara

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garden at Taumaha, the beach on our right; there were maize patches and small potato fields, with pig-proof manuka fences.

A grey duck rose scuttling from the quiet water as we rounded a reed-fringed bend of the river.

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The low shores gave place to grey limestone cliffs, and the river narrowed in.

The rocks assumed strange shapes as we went on; they rose in castle-walls, with ledges and squared-off faces that almost seemed the work of human hands.

Twisty trees, mostly karaka,

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flax bushes, clumps of flowering koromiko, grew in the crevices of the cliffs.

At one place we passed a deserted camp of old, where grape vines trailed over the grey weathered rocks and dipped into the water.

Bushy and ferny dells opened out, and the song of the tui came ringing like a morning bell.

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Bands of semi-luminous fog still wreathed the hills; on the water ahead of us the sun was drawing up the little mists that presaged a hot day.

We landed at a small kainga [house] on the west bank of the Rakaunui, and the few Maori there came out to greet us with many loud calls of “Nau mai.” [welcome]

The first of the below posts has a list of the previous posts of Maori Myths and Legends

with thanks to son-of-satire for the banner

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