AH · 64
NGĀTI AWA · NGĀI TŪHOE
As told to a Mata Aho member on the 9th Dec 2016
What I term as a ‘taniwha’ is a kaitiaki. For whatever reason, for anything, taniwha are kaitiaki for all sorts. You can class these *photos of the forest* as taniwha, they’re messengers. You can see an old man in there, that’s a big old Rimu tree up in Te Urewera. They show themselves in different forms like Waerore, she’s the taniwha that looks after the river up here, our river.
My korero I heard about her was that she had a passion for little boys, young boys but never hurt them. They experienced such thing that happened up there with a young boy that went from Tawera Bridge, going across the river up to the line work, up to Maynards – on Wairore. He never drowned, they thought he’d drowned but they saw him going upstream. And Wairore then was a log. She doesn’t just stay here, they move around.
When I went up to Waikato to do that ploughing, I had to stop at Taupiri and go down the river and mihimihi to the kaitiaki there, which is a taniwha in that pool that’s beside the road before the urupa. You know where they have all those accidents, on the main road to Auckland, before the Bombays; I was ploughing for paddocks in there. I had to go, I was sent there. Part of my journey there was to do this. My understanding of those, are guidelines for us if you’re at a level where you want to know yourself, or you tikanga, your culture – that will help you understand those parts of your culture as well. A taniwha, people think, is something evil, but it’s not. It’s a tohu of all sorts.
The reason why I was sent to do that ploughing was that a taniwha came out of a drain, and scared the shit out of all their workers! Except for the Pakeha ones because they have no knowledge of that. When Māori are brought up as kids, well the Māori of my age, know about taniwha. It was always kind of a scare tactic to keep the kids in line, but there’s another side to them too. So I went there and it was a black dog, that come out of the drain to scare these people. It shook its coat right off and stood there as a big spider, a huge giant spider. The Māori fullas who were working there were too scared to do the ploughing at night. But when I knew that I had to go to Koro to tell him, “my boss wants me to go over there”, and he told me the reason why. I was only a month into learning how to plough paddocks, and when I went over there we ploughed 5000 acres, for me it was a good experience. But I was slightly disappointed because I did all the night shifts and never saw a bloody thing!
But they’re just enough to wake you up for some reason. It is nature. If you want to put a name to it, it’s the closest wairua can get to nature.
One thing my kuia, our kuia always said, I always remember what she said to me; “don’t worry about the dead ones” – it’s the living ones you’ve got to worry about!
KT · 36
Ngāti Awa · Ngāi Tūhoe · Ngāti Pūkeko
All along Ohinemataroa we have many taniwha or our kaitiaki that look after their part of our awa. If you look after our awa they will look after us...which is something me and my whanau have always done....this is why I feel safe swimming and travelling up our river.
Ko Waerore te ingoa o te taniwha kei Owaka.
A person who was from Nga Puhi who had never been up the river, had an afternoon nap and dreamt about her and her husband (who was from Tūhoe), seeing two giant tuna (eels) throwing them up on the river bed and then the tuna disappeared. When she woke up she felt 'weirded out' and came over to tell us. To some, this is just a normal dream but to me/us, it was Waerore letting her know that they know she is in Te Urewera and she is safe. If it was attacking her in her dream that would be a very different story!!!
AT · 40
My taniwha story is a contemporary one.
It is about the most fearsome and fearless taniwha from Te Tai Hauauru.
She is a tipua who now lies on the ground she fought for, which was stolen from an evil empire.
Her people's whenua, became part of the war machine of this empire, with a half hearted promise of returning the land to it's rightful people. The empire swiftly forgot the loyalty of her people. Loyalty in offering (through the most evil weapon in the empire's arsenal the Public works act.)
During this time our taniwha was a young child, who witnessed her people slowly being stripped of not only their land, but also the control over their harbour, and the resources that lie within their area.
At the end of the empires war, the land which was promised to be returned, became the local golf club. The place of her ancestors, became bunkers and greens. Fairways but not fair ways were the kai for her people.
Inspired by the fight of her kuia and koroua, our taniwha took up the fight to have her stolen land returned by the evil empire.
She sat on her land, and told the golfers that they were on stolen Maori Land. She stood up to the local KKKouncil and she also stood up to her own people, who had forgotten that her fight, was their fight.
Arrested, taken to court and successfully winning back her land using the empires own weapons against themselves, the LAW. Our taniwha, didn't stop with her own peoples land, but also the aspirations of her other Maori relations.
Did I also mention that this taniwha was a mother, and grandmother and wife. She was a singer, a cruise ship performer, a baker, a PEP scheme operator. She had a massive ware whare full of the most exotic hokohoko shop clothes, fit for the most flamboyant of taniwha (which she was).
The last time I spent with this taniwha, was spent in the trenches of Rangiriri, the site of the great battle for the Waikato.
It was here that the taniwha told us of the origins of her name Hautai.
Hautai she said was a young boy who came to fight the pakeha at Rangiriri. He was Ngati Koata, and at the sacking of Rangiriri and the confiscations of the lands of the Kingitanga. Hautai fled south, he fled to his relatives on the Island also named Hautai.
She also spoke of Kereopa the eye swallower, and the rebel, who she also shared a name with.
Most people though knew her as Eva.
She is my Taniwha.
He Tipua, He Kaitiaki.
Whaingaroa Ngunguru i te Ao i te Po.
RF · 34
Ngāti Maniapoto · Pākehā
In te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) myth and actuality are a tangled tale. Often difficult to reconcile in contemporary times, elements of te ao tipua (the supernatural world) continue to be central to the beliefs of many Māori communities today. In recent decades such beliefs have become a source of confusion creating tension between customary expectations and contemporary sensibilities.
Ara-i-te-uru is a major new sculptural installation by artist Israel Tangaroa Birch which looks at these intersections between mythology and ideology, where legend becomes legacy. Referencing some of the major collaborative works created by Ralph Hotere and Bill Culbert, such as Aramoana–Pathway to the Sea (1991) and Blackwater(1999), Birch uses light and shadow to explore relationships between things in the physical world of te ao mārama (the world of light) and their metaphysical counterparts in te pō (the world of darkness).
To explore this idea Birch looks at taniwha as entities which have the paranormal ability to exist in between these realms. Customarily taniwha held an important position within te ao Māori as guides or guardians who often appeared to forewarn of imminent disaster. In a reversal of roles, Māori have in recent times become the protectors of the taniwha, causing controversy in the media and testing public opinion and tolerance of Māori worldviews.
In 2002 Transit New Zealand narrowly averted disaster by rerouting part of State Highway 1 near Meremere away from the domain of a taniwha named Karu Tahi after Ngāti Naho expressed concerns about the dangers of building on this site. Fourteen months after construction was completed the Waikato flooded swamping the lair of Karu Tahi. In the same year, Northland iwi unsuccessfully protested against Ngāwhā prison near Kaikohe being built on an old swampland kainga (home) of a taniwha named Takauere. In 2007, after ignoring the taniwha warning, the Government admitted the prison was sinking into the ground and now requires major structural repairs. The Auckland rail tunnel project proposed by Mayor Len Brown is also encountering issues with a Ngāti Whātua taniwha named Horotiu who lives in an ancient river which now flows beneath the Town Hall and runs along Queen Street out to sea.
In the installation Birch invokes his own ancestral taniwha from the Hokianga harbour, Ara-i-te-uru (also known as Āraiteuru meaning veil or path in the west), re-embodied as a river of light rippling across the water-like surface of a mirror. Here Ara-i-te-uru is visually present within the space yet is essentially a non-physical translucent manifestation. In this way Birch presents a tangible representation of an ethereal entity, inviting people to step out of linear understandings of the world and indulge in the mysteries of the unknown.
& after the meeting greeting speeching welcoming
& after the fry bread butter golden syrup jam cream the cockles split open by steam laid out as jewels on the tables
& after the komiti marae has spent many unpaid hours deciphering a thousand pages of mysterious signs
& after the pākeke have talked of how when economic crisis came & went & came again the people survived only by the gifts of hine-te-ariki
& after the kuia has told of how her ancestor hine-te-ariki struck out in all six sacred directions to create the arms of the harbor
& after the kaumātua has described how hine-te-ariki whispered to certain stars in such a way as to compel them to fall from the sky & live as pātiki pūpū tuan’i in the mudflats
& after the kaikaran’a has called out naming each & every bending of the land to the sea the swimming place of the mokos the gathering places of food fibre hōan’a stone the resting places of hine-te-ariki
& after the kaikarakia has spoken of how the proper words to honor the gifts of hine-te-ariki to the people have been chanted remembered passed along family lines for centuries
& after the tamariki have sung of how hine-te-ariki swallows all the water twice a day so that the harbour might remain clean the charcoal suit with shining shoes has
“so, how much room does this tanny-farr need to get past the new sewage ponds & pipe, like how may feet long & wide is it, exactly?”
a single question which hangs inert
over home heart land
awaiting the apparently inevitable
blue hiss & crackle
of the welding rod,
compressed sigh of air
& for the whump & whoof
to fuse to the rising clamour
of the rivet gun
*based on a true story. all names have been changed to protect the privacy of the taniwha involved. contains an unlicensed sample of hone tuwhare’s ‘the sea, to the mountains, to the river’
KH · 41
Ngāti Awa · Ngāi Tūhoe
I don't know loads about Taniwha except what we were told as kids. They were protectors of the area they were in and if you disrespected that area, the Taniwha would get you! Half the time I think it was to put the fear of god in us so that we wouldn't go there and misbehave lol but then there are more than likely to be more reasons behind the stories than I was ever told. I know we were told about a Taniwha that was in a river when I was younger so that scared the crap out of me and I never wanted to swim there. I guess that might have been Ben's way of making sure I didn't swim there and drown who knows, but it worked. I often thought of them as big dragons for some reason, I'm sure each kid had their own vision of what a Taniwha looked like. Sadly, I never saw my dragon or maybe you only saw them if you were naughty
SH · 30
Ngāti Awa · Ngāi Tūhoe · Ngāti Pūkeko
When I was a junior in high school, Garry John came to school excited to tell everyone that at the weekend he and his grandfather saw a taniwha. They were fishing and a pale white eel came out of the water. It wore an old, chiselled tā moko on its face and it spoke old Māori to them. This imagery has stuck with me my whole life, a memory of a memory.
I can smell the muddy-fresh essence of the water, I can hear the blades of grass parting on the bank of the stream. The taniwha would be protected in a thick translucent but blue-tinged slime. Imagine the exhilaration of such a manifestation. Garry John’s taniwha has never been far from my thoughts when I walk along a river. Every time, I search for a glimpse of the white eel in the water.
My dad told me about the taniwha that he knew. It appeared to people as a log that floated upstream. A taniwha like that might only be noticeable to those in-the-know; moving so slowly to communicate what it needed to a specific person at the time. Alternatively, it could be a frightening sight to anyone who could see a log whooshing up the river at speed. However it appears, I love the sense of the uncanny that a log acting out of character brings. Kids are taught from an early age to avoid logs and submerged trees in the water. At the beach, a wave/log combo could knock you out. In a river, one’s legs could get tangled in the branches below, a potential drowning hazard. For a lot of people, logs in water indicate that we must act cautiously; I like to think this taniwha was cruising their territory, just looking out for its people.
I’ve heard people talk about taniwha as not necessarily a (meta)physical being, but a concept. It was explained to me once as a sense of awe, something or someone awesome. When I think about taniwha like this, I really believe that there could be a taniwha around any bend of the river, any harbour, rock pool maybe even the office water-cooler if I needed it. To call upon this sense of awe, power, respect, whatever you want to call it; in times of need is a powerful act. It motivates me to know that acknowledging and learning from the taniwha around me could perhaps turn me into a taniwha one day.
TPA · 1.5
Ngāti Awa · Ngāi Tūhoe
One day a taniwha
Went swimming in the moana
He whispered in my taringa
"Won't you come along with me
There such a lot to see
Underneath the deep blue sea."
I said "Oh, no, no, no!
You'd better go, go, go,
Although I know we could be friends.
My Mama's waiting for me
Underneath the kowhai tree
Taniwha, haere ra!"
Kauhoe i te moana
Kohimu i taku taringa
"Kia haere taua
Tipi haere tirotiro
I raro i te moana."
Ka mea au "Kao, kao, kao!
Me haere, haere koe
Ahakoa he hoa taua.
Tatari ana taku Mama
Kei raro i te rakau kowhai
Taniwha, haere ra."
Written by Beatrice Yates, "Aunty Bea"
GR · 41
Ngāti Kahungunu · Ngāti Raukawa
I was 21 and living in Whanganui and had been invited to go on a trip up the river on a boat for a friend’s hen’s celebration on a Saturday afternoon/evening.
I had mahi to finish in the studio so I didn’t drink at all throughout the day and evening. My best friend was also on board.
We cruised up the river at about 3 in the afternoon and spent a quiet few hours there. It was a beautiful trip, being on the river and seeing the surrounding land from the water is a different and exciting experience of a place.
When it was time to make the return journey home my friend and I decided to stay on deck rather than in the cabin to experience seeing the town at night from the river. The river was completely different in darkness. It felt much wider and wilder – more itself and the sounds of the water and its inhabitants were much sharper and louder due to our sense of sight being limited by the low light.
We watched and listened, soaking in the experience and enjoying the solemnity and the depth of the great body of water. I felt a profound sense of reverence and wonder at being in that place… being able to feel its majesty, age and wisdom filled me with awe.
My friend and I heard a different sound, a splash that was louder than anything we had heard all day – so we turned concurrently to look overboard, toward the opposite shore where Putiki wharenui is sited. In the pitch black, inky water we both saw a form moving. It was quiet and otherworldly, despite its initial splash and its apparent size.
We did not turn in time to see its head – only its body which looked like a huge tuna (eel) about 60 cm in diameter, perhaps bigger – it was about 4 or 5 meters away from the boat. Its body was large, considering we may not have seen the broadest part of it. Its surface was smooth like a tuna or dolphin – I had heard stories that dolphins sometimes swam up river a little and were considered rahui, but the body of this creature was very long, it moved in a humped curve, like an upside-down ‘u’, – as if it had come up for air and had just dove back into the water. I would estimate that the length of the body would be 4 metres, possibly longer, if outstretched. It felt like it went on forever as we watched.
Later in life I saw
My friend and I looked at each other amazed and confounded. I think we were more shocked that we were both witnessing such an important and extraordinary thing than afraid. It is not every day that you feel transported through time, ‘history’ and have your deepest beliefs confirmed by simply seeing something. I am truly grateful to have had the privilege of beholding that taniwha, they do not have grace us with their presence.
The world is not what you think it is. Everything is possible.
GHR · 90
As told to a Mata Aho Collective member.
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.
LM · 40
Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Pukekō
In my opinion, and it’s only my opinion, a taniwha is not a big scary monster-like creature. Perceptions differ depending on your own beliefs and culture.
My perception of a taniwha is that they are either a kaitiaki or a ngangara.
A kaitiaki - A protector/guardian for the environment, for the whanau, hapu and iwi. They have many forms and are also known to shapeshift. An example is Waerore. Our kaitiaki from Hamua hapu at Waikirikiri whom lives in our awa Ohinemataroa. We believe that at the times when she has prevented drownings, all that can be seen is her long black hair through the water. She also takes the form of a log that floats upstream. Whanau who were living/hunting up the river would see this log and know that they needed to come out of the bush because someone had passed away. Individual whanau may also have their own kaitiaki - a specific bird, fish, insect, animal. Mine are the tuatara and the grasshopper.
A ngangara can be seen or unseen and can also take many forms. It's a bad omen. You can enable it by doing things you shouldn't be doing. ie Desecrating burial sites, wahi tapu. It acts like an insect/pest that bites/eats and spreads negativity, ugliness and disease in people and can even kill. It has its own agenda. I liken it to the drug P, once consumed it can and most certainly will take over a person's body and mind.
The only similarity between the kaitiaki and a ngangara is that they both convey messages ie: to invoke change, to right wrong doings, signs- good/bad, guidance or protection
TTT · 30
Rangitane ki Wairarapa
The Taniwha of Saagee Creek
When I was 8 years old I had this really good idea of how to trick my little brother and his friends.
I convinced my friend Chloe, who had come to play that day, to run up to the slingshot tree and tell the kids that she had seen the freakiest Taniwha ever swimming in the creek.
The slingshot tree was discovered by my older sister. It was the best place to sit and flick someone without being spotted. My brother and his friends had probably been there for hours waiting for me to walk past. Suckers.
In the distance I saw Chloe and all the kids running down towards the creek where I was waiting. They were screaming with excitement that they were actually going to see a real life Taniwha.
I panicked because they were getting close and I wasn’t ready.
My T-shirt was too bright, so I took it off. And my pants.
I plunged into the water and pulled out my hair tie so that my long hair could wave around me like the wild mane of a taniwha.
I kept my arms down and tried to move my body side to side like the eels that swam in there. For a moment, I felt like I had nailed it, I was the craftiest person I knew.
Unfortunately, I could only hold my breath for about ten seconds so I tried to come up for air with just my lips out of the water, smooshed together like a fish.
I heard muffled sounds from the bank of the creek - the kids were either shrieking in terror or laughing at my baggy undies. Our nana used to sew our undies, they ballooned up in the water like an extra floating device. Looking back I think that’s what gave me away.
TTRM · 80
Ngāti Kahungunu · Ngāpuhi
It was sunny but chilly when my sister and I went riding along an isolated beach on the Wairarapa coast. Dad had helped us saddle up, for I was only about ten and my sister eight. Although we loved spending time with him when he was working in the country, we were really town kids. He told us to keep away from the water, and that we had to return when we reached a small creek that ran out of a small patch of bush. We’d know which creek because it divided into two around a big rock.
“Don’t go near that rock,” he said firmly, “there’s a taniwha there.”
Everything was great until we reached that forbidden creek. My sister dared me to ride my horse into the wet sand in front of the rock. That horse had more sense than me! As I urged it forward it threw me over it’s head. I wasn’t hurt, but the moment I landed on all fours I knew I was in trouble. My hands and feet were sinking into quicksand! I scrambled headlong onto the dry sand, but not fast enough. One foot had sunk too deep. I’d lost one of my gumboots. We both watched as the sand sucked it out of sight.
We returned to the hut. Dad noted my bare foot and gave me a long look. He nodded and said, “So you met the taniwha.”
I’ve met a few more in the last 70 years. The second encounter where careless fun led to pain and unconsciousness, left me with an abiding respect not only for every riverbend , but with the knowledge that there is always a very real reason for those places and situations where they are said to dwell.
Rangitāne ki Wairarapa
The Mangatarere stream meanders down from the Tararua mountain range and like all of our local waterways, joins Wairarapa’s main river, the Ruamahanga. It flows under state highway two between Greytown and Carterton along with two other rivers, the beautiful Waiohine and the narrow Swamp creek. A Taniwha lurks there near the Mangatarere bridge.
I am unsure how the Taniwha established itself in the Mangaterere river but it may be related to the old Māori village that was once near its banks. The locals referred to the Waiohine bridge as ‘black bridge’ probably for that reason. It was said that the Taniwha would disturb the surface water causing it to bubble up and that no one knew what it really looked like.
One day friend Micheal and I were fishing near the bridge. We were watching a trout meandering in a deep hole and I loaded my spear gun and went after it. I missed the trout but noticed a huge eel emerge from the large boulders. It followed me to the surface and to my surprise partially came out onto to river bank in hot pursuit. I was intrigued but disturbed as I was now being hunted by the prey. Was this the work of the Mangaterere Taniwha?
My mother married a local eel merchant after my father passed away. We had to get up before college and check our nets. We harvested tons of eels from the local rivers and in later years realised that we had seriously impacted the population. One day I was in an accident at the factory. A heavy steel lid that covered the eel pond fell on my hand taking off the end of one of my fingers. I wondered if it was retribution from the Taniwha trying to protect the eels.
I have an affinity with eels now and see them as guardians or kaitiaki. They hold a special place for Māori as they originate from the heavens. They can live in and out of the water as they will cross over land to find water and sand bars to migrate back to their origin in the pacific in order to breed, changing from freshwater to saltwater fish. Their babies swim all the way back to the very stream that their parents came from. So their whakapapa is similar to ours, with Pacific origins.
One day a fisherman had caught a white eel with little horns on it’s head. It was taken away by the university to study as it was most unusual. I wondered if we had finally snared the Taniwha.
JPL · 47
He taniwha korero
My understanding of taniwha is that they represent a physical manifestation of strong elemental forces, often in a protectorial role and/or involving transformation of some kind. Popular cultural thought seems to have singularly branded them as “dragons” or large serpents of some kind, but I think this is largely due to a few children's books in the 70’s / 80’s and has been perpetuated ever since in various public arenas (stamps, Deviant Art Sites, school murals etc).
Although I do agree that the most common occurrence of taniwha in Maori narrative has them residing primarily in waterways (watery caves, inlets to the sea, strong bends in rivers etc) and often by described by Maori as appearing visually lizard or serpent like, I would suggest that this seems to have created an environment in popular perception where marakihau and even manaia are often misinterpreted as ‘taniwha’ and any google image search will attest to this.
I also feel that the “dragon” or great serpent analogy, especially from within an Anglo/Saxon context is problematic and potentially imbued with some negative associations. For example in Middle English lore St George slew a plague-bearing dragon that was terrorizing a township and eating its children and St Patrick drove the snakes and serpents out of Ireland for the protection of the people. Taniwha do appear in some Maori narrative in a similar context but I feel that this is dependant on the affect said taniwha has had on that particular group of individuals (child drowned in river or diseased crops = bad taniwha).
Te whanagnui a Tara has a narrative that involves two taniwha (Ngake and Whataiati) being trapped within the lagoon of the bay and racing around it in an attempt to escape to the beckoning sound of the sea. Ngake does indeed escape to sea, creating the entrance to the harbour while Whataitai becomes grounded on land, trapped and embedded forever in it. In time Whataitai transforms into a bird (Te Keo) which flies to the top of Matairangi (Mt Victoria) and then beyond.
What is now the peninsula of Miramar was at one time an island and Elsdon Best had recorded that local iwi spoke of a violent earthquake during the 1500’s where the land that is now Kilbirnie, Rongotai and Lyall Bay rose up out of the water. To me the connection between these two histories seems obvious. The taniwha symbolise or stand in for the elemental transformation of the area, from water to earth and then finally as air in the guise of Te Keo.
There are other examples of earthquakes being viewed or ‘explained’ as taniwha and strong currents in rivers are also described as such.
I am not trying to diminish or “describe away with logic” the idea of the grand, mystical, physical entity of taniwha (as I am a big ‘believer” of all things mystical!), but I am just suggesting that there is more to them than just the image of a big green ‘dragon’ at the bottom of a garden or riverbed!
WF · 6 & TAF · 3.5
Ngāi Tūhoe · Taranaki · Ngāti Hauiti · Ngāti Whakaue · Pākehā
The Adventures of Kaiarahi and Wāhine
There once were two taniwha whose names were Kaiarahi and Wāhine and they lived in the ocean. The ocean was called Te Kainga o Ngā Taniwha.
They were mean and scary taniwha but they were best friends. They were girl taniwha, not boy taniwha. They had a friend called Pākehā, he was a taniwha boy and he lived across the road from them.
Like any good taniwha, they could change forms into something else. Kaiarahi could turn into a seal, a shark, a killer whale or a dolphin. Wāhine could turn into a robot or a machine. When Wāhine was a machine, she had a good button and a bad button on her arm to push and go smash, smash, smash. Pākehā shapeshifted into scary creatures like bears and monsters and cheese and his brain.
One day, some baddies from the aquarium came. They were English. They wanted animals for their aquarium.
Kaiarahi transformed into a killer whale and the baddies saw her and they TOOK her to their aquarium.
Both of the taniwha were so sad because their friend was gone.
So one day, Wāhine decided to save Kaiarahi. She shapeshifted into a robot and went to the aquarium and threw the baddies into the water and they got eaten by sharks and died.
Then Wāhine smashed the aquarium apart and all the animals escaped into the ocean and were happy to be out and living together in the ocean.
MW · 30
Ngāi Tūhoe · Taranaki · Ngāti Hauiti · Ngāti Whakaue
The taniwha in my world have become abstracted by time. One echoes toward me from the Wairoa river where a friend once startled my childhood by recounting the taniwha in her awa that took the shape of a log. She told me that if you watched the log closely, you would see that it moved upstream. I believed her then.
Six years passed and I was sitting on the banks of another river, in a different region, watching a waka ama race and I spotted a log floating in the river. Watching it closely, I tried to determine how it managed to not move at all. Nobody else seemed to notice and the fireworks to celebrate the coming new year soon drew my attention away. Was that my first real sighting of a taniwha?
Recently I asked my father about the taniwha in our river, Ōhinemataroa. He told me of two. I’ve already forgotten one of their names and only remembered the other because it’s my sister’s name too: Maria. Dad says that Maria the taniwha lives in a particular bend of the river, and in that bend, no one has ever drowned.
My sister however is named after my mum’s younger sister. Her name was Maria but not pronounced in the same way. Aunty Maria’s name was pronounced like it was an English word: Ma-ree-ah. However, when mum and dad first took my sister home to Rūātoki my nan, dad’s mum, pronounced her name the Māori way: Mari-ah (roll that r). Her name has been pronounced the Māori way ever since.
We never met our Aunty Maria, she drowned at the age of 12 in yet another river. The river from my mum’s mum’s side of the whānau. Nanny Enid passed when mum was a kid so I don’t know whether or not there was a taniwha in that river to protect Aunty Maria. In this way, and others not mentioned, it would seem that my life has been punctured with rivers and death.
ML · 75
NGĀPUHI · TE HIKITU · IRISH · SCOTTISH · YORKSHIRE
Āraiteuru/Ara-i-te-uru: A Taniwha from Hokianga
The entrance to the Hokianga harbour is guarded by two headlands said to personify the two taniwha who accompanied our Ngapuhi ancestors from Hawaiki and escorted their waka, Ngatokimatawhaorua, safely into the harbour. Like all good stories there is more than one version for our two taniwha, and the spelling or pronunciation of their names varies slightly according to who is telling the story.
Āraiteuru (or Ara-i-te-uru) guards the south head and Nuia (or Niwa, Niniwa, Niwaniwa) guards the north head where the sandhills are. In some stories they are both male and in others Āraiteuru is female. The one I will focus on here is Āraiteuru/Ara-i-te-uru.
“Hokianga has two stories of the same taniwha. One is that two taniwha, Arai-te-uru and Niwa, were put in place to guard the harbour entrance. Arai-te-uru made his home on the south head and Niwa positioned himself at the north head. Their job was to lash out with their powerful tails and stir the waters into such frenzy that invading waka would be swamped and rendered helpless in the sea.
(A second story)…. begins with Arai-te-uru, whose brood of youngsters used to brawl amongst themselves as most youngsters have always done………”. Ross Gregory, 2001.
Another version of the second story states:
“…When she arrived, Āraiteuru gave birth to 11 sons. All went exploring, and on the way they dug trenches – creating the branches of the Hokianga Harbour. One son, Waihou, burrowed inland and lashed his tail about to form Lake Ōmāpere. Another, Ōhopa, was angered by the large number of rocks he encountered, and came to hate all living things. He terrorised the people near the Panguru mountains. Āraiteuru was a guardian of the Hokianga Harbour, and had her lair in a cave there. She lived at the south head of the harbour, and her companion, known by some as Niua, lived in the north head. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/taniwha/page-2
BR · 31
Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi
After the formalities. Of which there are a lot. And of which we have to wear dark clothes. Of which we have to sit in specific places, read, say and sing certain things. We go for a swim. We drive there of course. It’s only across the road. But the road was very busy and loud and quick. So we drive across the road and turn right down Taniwha place. It’s really called that – you can see it on Google. You can see the marae, the urupa, the river and Taniwha place, all there on Google. Another quick right and the car is hugging the bridge until there is room enough to go under it and we park up next to the picnic table.
Our river is brown. It’s warm. The sludge from the bottom squishes between your toes. Kid’s are jumping off the bridge, yelling and making us laugh. I don’t know these kids or the mum looking after them. But I’m pretty sure it’s is one of those spots only locals come to, so I’m no doubt related to them somehow. If Dad was here he would’ve known. He would’ve explained who they were and I would’ve asked ‘how are we related?’ and he would’ve clicked his tongue and said ‘Oh you just are’. An hour or so later he would’ve told me and an hour later I would’ve forgotten.
But he’s not here. My three siblings, two of their partners, four of my friends, a cousin and an uncle are though. My Uncle disappears for a while, we look around and see his head bobbing up and down on the other side of the river. A while later he’s back on the bank in the tall grass with us. He says it’s sad that the river is so dirty, that it never used to be this brown. We agree that it is sad. I wonder if I’ll get sick from the swim and I think on some level that I won’t because it is my river. I hope the same for our taniwha. I hope she swims out with the tide to the sea so the salt can clean her. Or perhaps she goes way up to the falls after a big rain to wash away the silt and slush. Perhaps she sits on the banks in the tall grass a lot more than she used to. I hope we don’t have to say goodbye to her too.
Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi
All I remember about the taniwha is that it lived across from the sandbar where we used to swim. If you swam across the river to the taniwha den, you had to be very quiet, so you wouldn't arouse it. Also any local Māori swimming there would not drown. Not sure 'bout that one.
Thats where the den is I think, maybe a little to the right. On this side there used to be a sandbar about 30m long, sadly its no longer there. Got washed away when the dam broke I think.
Yep you could taste the salt water on the in coming tide. You could catch decent size Kahawai back then. Heaps of Herring as well.
AI · 27
· Ngāpuhi ·
My Mother commissioned a carved marakihau as a gift to my father. I think she hoped the gift would help to bridge the cultural divide between the two of them.
A man called Dave Hegglun made it. She had asked Dave because she felt there was a strong relationship between her family and his, that they were connected somehow.
This marakihau was carved from beef bone, skin oil giving it yellowish patina over time.
His hair is tied in a topknot.
A long fluted tongue extrudes from his mouth.
His abdomen is muscled and from the waist down a long serpentine tail coils counterpoint to the curled tongue.
Half human, half taniwha!
After our parents split up, Dad didn’t want to wear it anymore. He said it wasn’t a true genuine Māori thing. Because a Pākehā made it I guess? He sent it to my brother in the mail.
My brother wore it and he said the cord was so long that it used to hit him in the face when he ran, bone on teeth.
He said that one time he took off his hoodie while playing cricket and it was gone. That he was so upset and didn’t know what to do he closed his eyes and walked around in the garden and when he stopped and opened them the marakihau was laid out on the bush before him.
He said he ran into Dave Hegglun at the Omaka marae as a child and he recognised the marakihau and told him he’d used only hand tools to carve it, that a marakihau guards the Hokianga harbour.
He wore it all the time he was living in Australia, a connection home. He told everyone it was made from a whale’s bone and they believed him.
He said he wore it until the cord was tight, and all the carved details wore off - the eyes, moko and abs. Then when the cord broke it fell off in his clothes. After that, he told me he didn’t need to wear it anymore.
Nanakia who was sometimes called Ngahakea is a taniwha who lives on Tararua Maunga up where the Hector River begins. Sometimes he used to make himself look just like a man so that he could go down to the Wairarapa valley and move among people. Once down on the plains Nanakia used to steal away with people into the night taking them back to his home in the mountains.
Patupaiarehe, the fairy folk also dwell up on Tararua. Fair skinned with long tasselled hair and eyes that shine like glowing embers the patupaiarehe are the descendents of a hapu that was banished from the valley. Over time the stature of our fairies has become shorter than normal humans with their nature turning to mischievous pranks and malicious assaults.
The patupaiarehe live in the tops of trees that are engulfed within the strangling embrace of rata. The encircling vines of the rata provide a ready made staircase. Although they seem to have given up the practice, in the past they would sneak down to villages on the plains. If they did not walk they would float down on vessels made of raupo stalks. Like Nanakia they were known to carry away children, preserved food, animals and occasionally wives!
Te Atiawa, Ngati Toarangatira, Ngati Raukawa
The Mermaid of Portland Lighthouse
Whilst I lived in England, every Summer, I visited the Isle of Portland. This beautiful Isle has a deep and rich history of sea merchants, prisoners and pirates, fishermen and stone quarrymen, archaeologists and artists. These days bird watches escape to the Isle to hide amongst the unique flora and fauna.
I loved it there because it was a place where the sea meets the sky and this union reminded me of home in Aotearoa. I spent my days carving at the Portland Quarry, walking home, tired and dusty, along the coastal paths towards the lighthouse where I stayed.
It was in Portland where I discovered the Mermaid of Portland Lighthouse. She was a colossal sea creature, larger and longer than any whale. A powerful and majestic swimmer. With a deliberate thrust of her fluke she could send tidal waves to the shore, if she wanted to. She saved the lives of many sailors without them knowing. As she swam deep below their ship she would displace the water with her powerful tail to navigate the ship out of harm’s way. Sometimes a rogue, undulating wave would erupt on the sea’s surface as a sign she was near. She was a creature from the deep.
By day, her favourite pastime was to watch the birds flying in the sky. When she swam in the cool, deep water below she imagined herself flying high in the heavens. It was an unusual dream for a mermaid to have so she kept it close to her heart. She could not resist asking the seabirds, when they landed on the water to rest, about flying. She loved it when the birds described the world from above; the terrain, patterns, colours and textures of the land; the winding paths of the rivers and the vastness of the oceans. She tried to imagine the world from above. The birds were happy to share their stories of flight but were always amused by her asking such questions. She knew it was an impossible dream to fly like a bird but she dreamt it anyway. The water was her home but the heavens was a place she longed to go to.
Most nights she visited the Portland Lighthouse as it was near the sea edge. She hid in the many caves around Portland. Her long, thick seaweed hair protected her from human eyes. She was mesmerised by the revolving light radiating out to sea, from the lighthouse. She liked to chase the beams of light hitting the water. The shards of light refracting in the water glistened like the stars in the sky. It was when the light from the lighthouse touched the water, she imagined herself flying amongst the stars.
Every night she would look up at the stars. Every night she told the stars her secret.
One brilliant starry night she does the unthinkable. She pulls herself out of the water with her powerful arms and torso and thrusts her tail around the base of the lighthouse. Every muscle in her body contorts and twists as she writhes up the lighthouse like a tuna that has been speared. As she reaches the top of the lighthouse, afraid and exhausted to let go, she extends her arms behind her to brace the column of the lighthouse so that she can push her chest and head towards the heavens. She cranes her neck back so that her head can rest on top of the light house lantern. Her seaweed hair cascades over the glass lamp blocking all light. The black night surrounds her. With a fatigued and painful inhalation of breath she opens her eyes towards the starry night. Her beautiful crystal blue eyes capture the reflection of all the stars in the sky. She hongi’s the heavens and connects to the stars. Alone with the stars, although briefly, she smiles to herself. She always knew she could fly.
In the early hours of the morning, I am woken up by a distant sound of a ship’s bell tolling far out at sea and the sea mist rolling and swirling through the tiny window of my lighthouse room. It was unusual to hear such an ancient sea sound as I was usually woken up by the passing ship’s brash and disturbing fog horns. I look out the window to see the Lighthouse fully engulfed in sea mist. The sea mist that swirled in my room, that morning, seemed to be dancing and whispering secrets about the Lighthouse Mermaid.
That day many local folks talked about strange happenings in the night.
I carved the Portland Lighthouse Mermaid in stone and gifted her to the people of Portland. Her story of courage and determination to leave the sea and climb their lighthouse to be closer to the stars in the night sky is a dream worth sharing.
You will find Raspberry – Sugar Mermaid in mid-flight doing a backward roll wearing a swimming cap and goggles. Raspberry- Sugar has the most delicate complexion. She is carved from an extraordinary coloured La Penn stone, of raspberry and cream markings. This is her story...
Raspberry -Sugar was not like the other mermaids. Her name suited her skin tone but certainly not her personality. She could not see the point of spending her days combing her long hair like the other mermaids. In fact, she found her long hair to be a nuisance especially when she went fishing with her Seal sisters. Her long flowing hair caused drag and slowed her down and whenever she needed to suddenly change direction to catch a darting fish, in the water, her hair washed over her face and covered her eyes. Those tasty fish always managed to get away. Her Seal sisters would tease her about her fishing conquests but always shared their kai moana with her.
Raspberry-Sugar’s rotund figure and plump puku suggested she was somewhat partial to kai moana. She needed this warm layer of flesh as she was often found in the coldest waters pursing the tastiest fish. Her long hair inhibited her swimming prowess. She knew if she was to cut her hair there would be a chance that she would be an outcast from her mermaid pod. Her pod meant everything to her. It was inconceivable to be a mermaid with short hair.
One morning, she gets a curious idea from watching some early morning human creatures swimming in the sea. She notices their goggles and swimming caps helps them to swim effectively in the water. She asks her friend, Pāpaka (crab) to go to the shore and obtain the cap and goggles for her. As soon as she puts on the cap and goggles she feels liberated and swims like she has never swam before. She goes to the deepest and coldest waters to bring back a huge fish to share with her pod. After everyone’s belly is full and there is a feeling of contentment. Raspberry - Sugar plucks up the courage to put on her swimming cap and goggles to show everyone how she caught the fish without her hair getting in the way. She is convinced that her swimming attire will be well received by her mermaid sisters and starts to do somersaults and acrobats in the water. There were some mermaid sisters that were fascinated and they cheered and encouraged her on. However, there were others that laughed and ridiculed her. Raspberry-Sugar suddenly felt embarrassed and insecure. She regretted showing her pod her new swimming attire.
Later, that day her sister finds Raspberry - Sugar hiding in a cave, crying. She reminds her that there will always be jealous mermaids who could never have the courage or the insight to wear a swimming cap and goggles.
“You must never be afraid of criticism. In fact, you should welcome it. How else are you going to learn and grow stronger in your thoughts and actions?”
Her sister then gives her a seaweed crochet bag full of tiny treasures she had collected. Raspberry – Sugar opens the bag to find seashells, feathers and colourful shiny buttons.
“Now then”, said her sister, “let us adorn your swimming cap and goggles with my gift to you, and let’s give those mermaids something to be jealous about. “
From that moment on Raspberry -Sugar wore her swimming cap and goggles with pride and sparkle!
Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toarangatira
A Taniwha can be a human dragon, male or female whos belly is full of fire, the fire of stories and beliefs of ones own dragon mentors and ancestors. To understand Taniwha is to understand who and where you are. Taniwha are within us. A Taniwha can be good - a Taniwha can be bad. If you are to become a Taniwha, be a good Taniwha.
The Prophecy of a Taniwha: the prophecy of Te Rauparaha (1780-1850)
(Ngati Mango) |
Werawera (male) = Parekohatu (female)
Te Rauparaha (male)
Mango was an ancestor of Werawera. The name Huia is the name of an extinct native bird from New Zealand. The tail feathers of the Huia were worn by male and female chiefs. Huia was also the name of the father of Korouaputa.
The time came for Werawera a young warrior chief of Ngati Mango to find himself a wife.
The home of Werawera and his tribe Ngati Mango was in Kawhia a coastal area west of Te Awamutu in the province of Waikato.
Werawera departed his home and travelled east inland to the forest mountain area of Maungatautari.
At Maungatautari Werawera met Korouaputa, a prominent elder and chief of Ngati Huia.
After formal greetings Werawera began the conversation:
"Oh Sir Koro (Korouaputa) the reason why I have come today is because it is time for me to find a good wife. Because of the strong connections between our two tribes and the well known beauty of your daughters I have come to ask for your permission and blessing, for one of them to be my wife."
The elderly chief Korouaputa sat and carefully pondered upon this request, his daughters and the future of his tribe.
Korouaputa then gave his response:
"My guest and friend, I have only one daughter left. She is my youngest, she is also my servant for carrying water".
Then Korouputa added:
"However all is well, without a doubt if she bears children, one will be a Taniwha, a great leader in time."
When Te Rauparaha was born, he had 6 toes on his left foot. This was seen as a sign that he was the Taniwha prophesied in the words of Korouputa.
Te Rauparaha was raised with the knowledge that one day he would become a great leader for his people.
We must also remember that Te Rauparaha was raised surrounded by Taniwha or Dragon mentors like his mother Parekohatu, her older sister Parewahawaha, and Te Rauparaha's own older sister Waitohi, to name a few.
In time he would lead his people from Kawhia to migrate south to Kapiti a famous island not far from Te Upoko o Te Ika, The Head of The Fish, the location our capital city today Wellington.
Te Rauparaha's tribe Ngāti Mango would eventually become Ngāti Toarangatira a fearless tribe and he would be known as Te Taniwha o Te Upoko o Te Ika, literally The Dragon of The Head of the Fish.