Volume 26 1917 > Volume 26, No. 3 > Traditions and legends, by H. Beattie, p 106-110
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PART VII. Continued from page 86 of this Volume.

THE publication of this information collected from the Southern Maoris has created remark. This is only natural when one notes the small amount collected by the two principal South Island historians—Wohlers (who went to Ruapuke in 1884) and Stack (Kaiapoi 1859). The present collector has been asked concerning the authenticity of his information. This is a reasonable and justifiable question, in view of the fact that it has been repeatedly stated in print that through the whalers coming into contact with the Southern Maoris the latter early lost their traditionary knowledge, and that the small remnant now left have preserved none of the olden lore. This is an altogether mistaken idea, and I have frequently been surprised at the way ancient beliefs, legends, superstitions and history still linger in the South. How this survival has come to pass I shall try to briefly relate.


Nearly all my informants in giving information would name the old men from whom they had got it, and on investigation we find that these old men had either acquired their knowledge in pre-Pakeha days or, if perchance their boyhood was in the whaling period, they had been brought up inland. For example, Kupa of Colac Bay, who is generally conceded to be the best living authority on Maori warfare in Otago and Southland, derived most of his knowledge from Rawiri te Awha, who was brought up at Lake Te Anau. Rawiri te Maire and Rakitapu, both old men well versed in ancient lore, and who both died in the nineties of last century, were brought up at Lakes Wanaka and Hawea. Among the other old men quoted as authorities were names such as Matiaha Tiramorehu, Tare Wetere te Kahu, - 107 Korako te Rehe, Takuma Tauwera, Te Makahi, Te Maiharoa, and others who had as boys and young men inbibed the teaching of the Wharekura, or Maori colleges. None of my informants had been initiated into the mysteries and rites of these schools because they were born at too late a day, but they say that their knowledge of the wars of old, the ancient canoes, and general lore, were gathered from men who had received such instruction, and who told them so that the memory of the past might not die out altogether. What little the collector gleaned about the Southern Maori institutions for perpetuating their ancient wisdom is here given.


One of my aged friends said:—“In the South here I have heard of at least three schools of teaching in the olden days. There was the Whare-tohuka (for the teaching of wizardry), the Whare-kura (for the teaching of history and agriculture), and the Whare-purakau (for the teaching of fighting; it was where weapons were kept—what you white people would call an armoury). A man who was sacred was called a takata tapu, and was invested with spirit māna. A tohuka was a professor, but he might not be tapu, although if he were a tohuka tapu he was a very sacred person. A seer of either sex was a matakite. A name for a seer in the South was ta-ura. Do not write tauira, which was the name for a pupil or copyist. 1 The tohukas were men of knowledge and taught the youths.”

Another of the old men said:—“There were two main schools for learning in the South as far as I know. One was the Whare-kura, where the cultivation of the ground was taught, and also karakia, or worship. The other was the Whare-puraka, or house where the youths were taught fighting and about wars. My father went through one of these schools, but not the other. We call the present white school-teachers mahita, a word which perhaps comes from the ancient times. 2 Although I never went through the Whare-kura, I was taught a number of karakia when I was a boy, and I used to repeat them before catching eels in certain lakes and streams, before meals when travelling in different places, when I saw a lizard, etc. Once I was at the Waimumu Gorge with two old men (one of whom was a man of māna), and they told me it had been a place of worship where the old tohukas used to go, and that everyone who went through it had to karakia. When I was there I said the karakia.” [The writer tried to secure some of his informant's karakias, but was met with a firm refusal.]

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One of my informants remarked:—“There used to be wharekuras and wharepurakaus all round the South, but not in this generation. I have sometimes heard one of those schools called the Whare-wanaka, but it was not a common name down here, although some of the North Islanders use it often. I believe, old Matiaha Tiramorehu and others ran a wharekura at Moeraki, about 1868, to teach the younger people some history, and that was the last one in the South Island.”

In some notes gathered by Mr. James Cowan in Canterbury in 1905, and kindly lent to the writer, occurs this passage:—“Te Whare-kura (or Te Whare-purakau). About 1868 or '70 Rawiri te Maire, a tangata-tapu, revived the whare-kura at Moeraki. They built a small house and here Te Maire, his son, Wi Pokuku, and others used to gather, and Te Maire and other elders would recite the history of old.”

The collector believes that through this revival of the whare-kura nearly fifty years ago, much history was preserved that would otherwise have faded into oblivion.


All my informants agreed about the extensive powers of the tohukas or priests, as will be seen from the following extracts:—“The tohukas were men of măna and could do wonderful things. Once at Otago Heads, a North Island and South Island tohuka were arguing about their gods, and the Southern priest brought down thunder and rain and won the contest. Another time a North Island tohunga came down here but went back North and told the people up there that the spirits were so strong down here that he could not manage them.”

“The tohukas were often skilled in navigation, and sometimes would steer the waka-unua (double canoes), when they would be called ‘tohuka-whakatere.’ An ordinary steersman was called a ‘takata-whakatere.’”

“The tohukas had power over the winds, and knew the karakia to calm and roughen the sea. The gentle winds ‘Hine-tu-whenua’ and ‘Hine-tapapa-uta’ were called up to smooth the waves and ‘Tawhiri-matea’ would be called up to bring on a storm.”

“The tohukas knew the stars. They knew all about Puaka, the star of Spring showing when planting comes round; Wero-i-te-ninihi and Wero-i-te-tokota the stars denoting Winter; Te-waka-a-Tama-rereti a very ancient canoe, but now a group of stars in the heavens; and Whiti-kaupeka or Te-ika-o-te-raki, which the Pakeha calls the Milky Way. The old tohukas knew all those things, most of which are now forgotten.”

“The tohukas of old knew very powerful karakia. When fugitives were fleeing over mountains they would pray, ‘ka karakia te Maori, - 109 ka tukua te kohu (that the mists might descend), and the tohukas of the pursuing party would pray, ‘kia watea te kohu’ (that the fog would clear).”

“The tohukas knew the omens of war. When Puoho made his raid on Tuturau [in 1836], Niho [of Westland] who was a tohuka, and the son of a tohuka, had a dream that a great shark lay across Te Wai Pounamu, and he warned Puoho not to come further, and told him what would happen to him, but Puoho scorned the warning and went on to his fate.”


One of my aged friends narrated his personal experience of the tohukas' powers, and firmly believes they were miracle-workers. He says:—“There were great tohukas long ago, such as Rakitauneke (of Oreti) and Pakoko (of Tuturau), but even in my time some of great măna remained. Such were Matiaha Tiramorehu (whose father Kareke was a celebrated tohuka), Pokihi (of Otakou), Tare Wetere te Kaku (of Otakou), Kahupatiti (of Ruapuke) and Te Merehau (of Murikauhaka). Te Merehau could bring on snow or thunder, and he knew a great deal about the heavenly bodies, and Pokihi was also a great tohuka. Only once did I see Pokihi show his powers and it was quite enough for me. It was the time the Scotch ships came to Otago [1848], and I was a boy at the kaika at Otago Heads. A North Island tohuka was visiting Otago, and he told Pokihi that the South had no gods and he defied him to prove that it had. The old man was angered and said karakia, and pushed a stick into the fire and pulled it out again. It was a fine day, but when he did this the thunder began to roll, and quickly great drops of rain came on and soon turned into a heavy shower. Crickets or grasshoppers (tukarakau) came down in the rain, and I saw them with my own eyes. The people were in a great state of fear, and getting worse, so Tare Wetere te Kahu went in and begged the old tohuka to stop, and he put the stick back in the fire and the rain stopped at once. The North Island visitor admitted that the gods in the South were more powerful than any he had known in the North, and he went back to tell the people up there what he had seen done down here.” [Note: The above incident was briefly referred to by another old man as quoted in an earlier part of this article.]


An intelligent old Native said to me:—“When I was a boy I went on voyages and knocking about with White sailors I lost my belief in the ancient ideas of my people, until a thing occurred which made me see that there was something in what the old tohukas had taught. I was at the Taiari kaika, near Henley, when the ‘Waimea’ - 110 a small two-masted schooner of about twenty-five tons came up the river on her way from Dunedin to the Bluff. The vessel lay at the bridge for about a week then sailed, taking a girl as passenger to the Neck at Stewart Island. This was about 1866 or 1867, and a fortnight passed with no word of the craft's arrival at the Bluff. At the end of three weeks the girl's relatives had given her up for dead, and were going to hold a taki-aue over her when the old tohuka Te Makahi bade them wait until he found out if the ‘Waimea’ was lost and the girl dead. They scoffed at him and said that he could not do it as the White men had driven away the măna of the Maori. ‘E kore e măna’ they said, but the old man said he would consult the spirits and see if there was not still power to tell these things. He said no one must follow or watch him and he went out into an orchard. I sneaked out the back door, in my stocking soles, and crept silently along. I could hear the old man reciting words I have never heard before or since and which I did not understand, and he seemed to be casting twigs in the air. All of a sudden he stopped his chanting and without looking round called out angrily, ‘There is someone watching me. It is you. … (naming me). Go inside at once or the măna will depart.’ I was so astonished that I obeyed him at once. Some time after he came in and said the vessel had been blown out to sea and was now sheltering in a place which he had never seen before but which he described exactly, and that all on board were well. The old tohuka was so sure of what he had seen that everyone believed him, and sure enough word reached us afterwards that the ‘Waimea’ had had to shelter in Waikawa Harbour in exactly the position he had told us. Te Makahi died soon after, but he opened my eyes as to what tohukas could do. Witchcraft by sticks or divining by twigs was called rotarota or niu, but I doubt if anyone has been able to do such for many years past.”

So much for the feats of the tohukas as told to me by men who firmly believed in the powers of those old-time “men of knowledge.” Some more of the history as preserved by the teachings of the southern wharekura will be given in later instalments.

(To be continued.)

1   The northern word tauira means a pupil, though in some of the islands the word taura means a priest.—Editor.
2   We think not. It is the Maori pronunciation of the English word master.—Editor.