Volume 26 1917 > Volume 26, No. 3 > The legend of the Korotangi, by George Graham, p 138-140
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- 138

FOR some years past I have been striving to get some further evidence in connection with the above legend.

In “Transactions New Zealand Institute,” Vol. XXII., p. 140, will be found Major Wilson's article, which gives several waiatas (or songs) ably translated, and supplemented by a note from Mr. Tregear. Some doubt was subsequently cast on the authenticity of the stone relic which the article by Major Wilson described (vide “Proceedings,” Vol. XXII., p. 522). These doubts never appeared to be cleared up—perhaps they never will be now.

My enquiries have not resulted in anything that will shed any further light on the history of the stone relic said to be the identical object which was lost in ancient time, and lamented for in several waiatas. However, the legend is undoubtedly of great antiquity. I have heard it recited in varying form (as is usual in all folk lore) among the Waikato, Hauraki, Kaipara and Arawa people. The tradition does not seem to be known in the far north and far south, and I am inclined to believe it is of ‘Tainui’ origin.

A version of the waiata for Korotangi was sung for me by Noka Hukanui, an aged man of the Awataha settlement in Shoal Bay, Auckland. He claims descent from ‘Tainui’ crew and Waiohua tribe of these parts, and asserts that this was the form in which he had heard the waiata for Korotangi sung by the old people of Waitemata and Waikato:—

He waiata tenei mo te rironga o te manu ko Korota:—

Kaore te aroha o taku nei manu
Titoko tonu ake i te ahiahi
Ka tomo ki te whare taku ate kau ai
Tirohia iho, e hine, ma, ki te parera e tere atu na
Ehara tena he manu Maori. Me tikina
Me titiro ki te huruhuru whakairoiro mai no tawhiti.
Kei whea Korotau ka ngaro nei?
Tena ka riro, kei te kato kai
I te rau pohata nga whakangaeore.
E waiho ana koe hei tiaki whare
He korero taua ki taku taumata.
I koparea pea koe ki te huahua
Pohewahewa mai no Rotorua.
- 139

This is a lament for the loss of the bird Korota:—

Operwhelming is my affection for my bird
It prepossesses my soul's deepest depths at eventide
When I enter my house; and causes my heart to throb.
Look! oh daughters, at the duck which swims away yonder.
That is indeed no common bird. Bring it and
Observe its plumage ornamented abroad in distant parts.
Oh where is Korotau lost?
He has departed—to pluck food
From the leaves of the pohata (sow thistle)
With (his) deep thrusting bill.
You were left to guard the home
So that the hostile war-party might have cause to speak of my hill-top home.
Perhaps you turned your eyes away to the preserved birds
From Rotorua, causing you to stray from here.

In explanation of the waiata, Noka's wife gave me the following legend extant among her people, the Ngati-Kahukoka and Ngati-Te-Ata tribes (Manukau district). These tribes claim descent from ‘Tainui’ crew, and also from the ancient Waiohua tribe:—

“There was a man in olden times who came here in ‘Tainui.’ He settled in Manukau. He went to see his relatives at Kawhia, and married a female relative of that place. His name was forgotten when I was a child; my mother had forgotten it. Whilst he lived with his wife at Kawhia he went one day to catch fish by trailing the hook behind his canoe. He caught a bird on the hook, and drew in the line, intending to kill the bird. When, however, he saw the beauty of its plumage, he brought it home and kept it as a pet in a hut which he built for it, feeding it on the best of all foods he could procure, even feeding it on the much desired huahua (birds preserved in fat). Now his wife thought his idea very foolish, and that much good food was being wasted; especially as the bird was of no use—it was a mere ornament. So whenever her husband was absent fishing or hunting she shewed her illwill and teased the bird. She ate the huahua, and other good foods her husband had set aside for her to give the bird, which bird was a Korotangi. The bird fretted at its illtreatment and managed to escape—perhaps the woman let it go so that there might be no more waste of food, and that her husband might then devote more attention to her and his other duties. She wished herself to eat the huahua, which her people obtained in exchange from other tribes. She did not wish the bird to get any, for huahua was scarce, and came from distant parts—from the Arawa tribe—in exchange for the fine mats and garments her people made in Kawhia. When the husband returned he went to greet his pet bird Korotangi, but he found it had gone. He asked his wife where Korotangi was. She replied, ‘He has gone; he escaped and has - 140 swum away out to sea to the home from whence you caught him and brought him.’ So he went to seek his bird. In vain he went to the hill-top near their fortified village to scan the face of the ocean. In vain he went far out to sea in his canoe. He never again found Korotangi. All he found was some feathers it had shed on the ocean. So he brought the feathers home and wept over them, and composed the foregoing waiata for Korotangi. He made a carved box to hold them. Then his wife's people told him how his wife had purposely let the pet escape after illtreating it; how she fed it on pohata leaves only, whilst she ate the foods he had provided. Then he became distressed and left his wife. He journeyed homeward to his place at Manukau, and lived there until extreme old age. He sorrowed for his bird, and when he opened the carved box to gaze on the feather relics he wept and sang the waiata. When he died he was interred with the carved box and his feather relics, for that was the custom in ancient times. His bones were afterwards sent to his people at Kawhia, also the box of feathers. They were all made up in a bundle (pute) and smeared over with red ochre, hence the name of that place at Kawhia called ‘Te Pute,’ which belongs to Ngati-Apakura tribe.”

The expression “Korotangi” is still used as a term of endearment, or as a simile for any object treasured or loved. A mother lamenting the death of a child will, in her lament, refer to her lost one as her “Korotangi.” 1 No doubt the simile has its origin in the above tradition, which also seems to be a feasible explanation of the waiata. It certainly explains the reference to the eating of the pohata leaves and the huahua from Rotorua, as well as the allusion to the taumata (hill-top or ridge).

The variations ‘korota’ and ‘korotau’ are undoubtedly the result of what we would call poetic license; they are only used in waiatas.

Noka said the waiata was, and still is, sung as a funeral lament (tangi), and I myself have so heard it sung, with various additions suitable to the special occasion. This custom accounts for the varying forms of most Maori songs and proverbs.

It is, of course, possible that a stone relic known as “Korotangi” was brought in the ‘Tainui’ canoe. Perhaps the pet bird was called Korotangi because of such tradition brought from Hawaiki, and then extant in reference to a similar bird. The question has some connection with the problem of the “Whence of the Maori,” especially if there are any South Sea Island myths which can now be traced to a common origin. Here is a chance for the Polynesian scholar to make some useful research.

1   Korotangi appears as a place name at Mahurangi, said to be a pa of Maki's people there.