Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Haunui-a-Nanaia’s progress

The rivers themselves were named by a legendary figure, Haunui-a-Nanaia of the Rangitane tribe. A typical Maori folk hero with a flair for meeting trouble more than halfway, Hau had been refused a passage on the canoes bringing his people to New Zealand. He was on the shore to meet them when they arrived. Some said he had used a cloud for a canoe, some that he had been a stowaway for part of the journey and had slipped overboard to complete it in a whale's belly. At Mahia Peninsula, on the East Coast, where his tribe settled, Hau was soon in fresh trouble. His wife went off with another man and he crossed the island in search of the runaways. Travelling down the west coast, the first river he confronted had a wide mouth and he named it Whanganui ('big stretch of water'). The next was so near that he could splash the Whanganui waters into it and he called it Whangaehu (ehu: 'to bale a canoe by splashing'). The third, the Turakina ('to be felled'), was also close by, so close it seemed that a tree felled on the bank of the Whangaehu could reach it. But it was a weary walk before the present-day Rangitikei was reached and he called this the Tikei ('to stretch the legs'). Then he came to a river so wide that his heart stood still with fear, and that is the meaning of Manawatu; there was a gale blowing when he crossed the Hokio ('whistling wind') and at the next stream, the Ohau, he felt that by now he deserved to have something named after himself. And so Hau continued his pursuit, sticking his staff into the ground while wading the Otaki, peering along the Waikanae with wary eyes glinting like mullet, until finally, at the end of the Tararuas, he ran his wife to earth and turned her to a pillar of stone. Hau's river adventures were related in song at Rangitane firesides—a play-way geography lesson for every child.

P. 148 of Maurice Shadbolt's Shell Guide to New Zealand, 1973 revised edition.

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1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Truly worthy of re-print. We Pakeha have few stories so evocative of place, geography, time, and everything else.

PS Puts the Wanganui/Whanganui debate into perspective, really.