There’s lots of stories about our guardian in the river that were told to me by my mother, but you know, there are all different versions. I’ve always liked to think that there is a guardian there, they had a name for it, it is called Te Pura. But you know, people have been writing different stories about our taniwha, I wonder if I have a book here about it, a story book about the taniwha…
When I was growing up my mother told me the story about, well it wasn’t my mother it was another chap, about the taniwha that lives in the Wairoa River and the taniwha that lived further on at Poripori. The two tani… two guardians you see, should just call them guardians, they lived there and the children from Poripori came down to the river to swim. And one of them got drowned and they started squabbling, the two taniwha started fighting one another. So apparently, I don’t believe it but it’s a story, it’s a story that’s told now and he was booted back to Poripori and this one stayed on the Wairoa River to look after the children from Wairoa.
We were bought up to believe that nothing would happen to us you know as we were learning to swim. I always had that in my mind and I knew I began to believe that there was a taniwha there. A guardian as you call them, noone had seem them. My mother used to say it was an eel, she said it was a big eel with a white band around it’s middle. And it wasn’t very long it was a short one. So there’s eels and there’s eels and I grabbed hold of that story.
But one thing happened to me, not so long ago. Gabrielle was with me. And I had gone out to Welcome Bay to dig potatoes. The owner came and said to me, ‘I’ve got a big patch of potatoes up there’, for me, to take someone out and dig as much as we like for me to use at home. For winter time, to store for the winter. And we had rented a house down at Wairoa, big house down there. And it had a lovely new bathroom you know. And on the way, when we’d finished digging the potatoes, I thought of it, I said ‘I can’t go and dirty that bathroom, so I’m going to go down to the river to clean up first. Have a walk through the paddock and a swim.’
So we both went down there. Gabrielle and I both went down and she got into the water and of course she could swim. Well, she was going to show me how well she could swim. And away she went, she started swimming out towards the piles you see and I said ‘Jingos girl’. She said ‘Oh I can swim here no sweat Mum!’ So I thought, oh I’ll show you how I can swim there too. So I started to swim there and she saw me swimming so she decided she was going to swim across you see. And anyway she started to swim across and so I started following her too. And I passed her on the way and I said, ‘Oh gee this is easy. Easy peasy you know’.
Because as kids we used to swim a lot and I was quite used to it. And I got from here to that door I suppose, yes the bank would have been that door. I started to find that I wasn’t moving, I was just in the same place. Just crashing around and tried swimming. And she was behind me and saw I was in difficulty so she said to me, ‘Don’t do anything Mum, just float.’ And of course when I did, that was when I would go down under and I would come up to the surface again. I did that two or three times. I started to become a wee bit scared in myself, because I noticed I was still in the same place.
And then I sort of thought, in my mind it came to me about this guardian in the river. And I just said to myself, I need your help. I need your help. And I was there doing this you know, and she was behind me, some distance behind me. But at that time I thought it was her, but now I come to think of it, it wasn’t her at all. A surge of water came behind my feet, just sssshhhhiiick and I just floated across to the bank. I was glad to get there and I really.., I looked around and I said thank-you. Thank-You. So she came out and of course she was glad I got to the top. The next day when I went to go have a look at the river, it was much wider than what we used to swim when we were kids. It’s the new bridge you see.
Anyway with that, my mind went back to a few years before that when I was a young girl and you know we had only tank water. People only relied on the tank water and we had no extra water for washing so all the children went down to the water to swim and clean. After it was really cool was the thing. And so I was one of those children too. And one night there was about five of us left there, I remember the boys, and the girls were myself and two Opapa girls swimming there. The sun was just beginning to go down; it was getting quite late in the evening. So we bundled up our clothes and I went up onto the old bridge, the concrete bridge that was there. And the sunset was lovely you know! I just went up onto the bridge and looked. The water was calm, nobody was swimming. The reflection on the river was something I wish i had a paintbrush or something to paint it.
And anyway so I just looked into the river like this, and I just looked down into the river and I saw these little eels! You know swimming in a little ring. All you know with their little tails on the outside of the ring. And suddenly there was this big one that seemed to come up from below and it started just rolling over and over. And it had a white band around it! Yeah and I just said to these boys, ‘Hey come and have a look at this, don’t make a noise’. And of course when they looked at it, well one was a bit of an idiot – he was full of mischief you see. And he bet down, picked up a whole lot of gravel, those little wee stones and threw it into the water! And they disappeared, they dispersed. But the little ones came back. I said to him ‘You stu.. something is going to happen to now, you know you shouldn’t have done that!’ and he said ‘Why’ and I said ‘Oh i think that’s the taniwha’. And he said, ‘Oh rubbish’. And I said ‘No’. And anyway form out of the depths, this thing came up again. It did the same thing and just rolled over and over. And then they got a fright, they really got scared. But I just looked at it for a while, I wasn’t scared or anything I just looked at it. And I said that’s amazing. That’s amazing!
So I went home and I was full of it. I went home and I told my Mum about it. She had her cousin there who was very old and steeped in that sort of thing. And I was telling my mother and my mother said to me, ‘Gee you’re a very lucky girl, a very lucky girl.’ And Mum’s cousin asked her what I was talking about, so she told her. And this woman said to her that I’d been blessed, you know that I’d been blessed. And sometimes you know when I think of myself at my age now, I think maybe you I had been. Because I had respected that guardian. And I felt so pleased that I was able to see it. It’s still in here, it’s still vivid.