W hat I believe to be genuine and authentic the collected publications of William Colenso


(1.) Of their earliest Traditions concerning the Kumara



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(1.) Of their earliest Traditions concerning the Kumara.


First, it has a place in their primitive cosmogony, wherein it is stated, that it descended from the first elements, (or first male and female pair, whence all beings and things came), Rangi and Papa—Sky and Earth, being one of their numerous progeny, equally so with the fern-root.698 This, however, is denied by some tohungas (priests and skilled men), but mainly through the kumara being a tapu (tabooed, or sacred) plant, while the fern-root is not so; or, as I take it, the one is a plant only propagated through careful and particular cultivation and preserving, aided by charms; while the other is indigenous, common, grows wild, and is never cultivated; notwithstanding, the fern-root also carried a great and high figurative name, viz.—Arikinoanoa = little first-born lord, or lord of lesser rank, or lord of common things.

Another curious old legend has the following:—“This is the reason why the kumara was never joined together with the fern-root. The Kumara is Rongomaraeroa,699 and the Aruhe (fern-root) is Arikinoanoa; they are both children of Sky and Earth. Rongomaraeroa, or the kumara, was placed as an atua (superior being) to Tumatauenga, or the man; so that, in case the foe should come against him, the kumara should be ceremonially carried forth and laid in the road the war-party was to come, and there spells were also uttered, through which the war-party, in coming on over the sacred and charmed kumara, would be sure to be defeated, and caused to retreat, through their sacrilegiously trampling on the sacred kumara and spot,700 etc. [36]

That the kumara must have been known to the Maoris from very ancient times (from their historical traditionary beginnings, or even earlier times), may be also logically inferred,—(1) from their ancient common belief, that their deceased ancestors (chiefs) fed on it in the nether world, the Maori Hades (Reinga); and (2) from their strange stories of persons who had been ill and had died, and had gone thither, and came back again to life, bringing kumara with them (though generally losing them by the way!); and (3) from their state during dreams, when they firmly believed that the spirit left the body and wandered at will, sometimes even visiting the nether world, when, of course, it saw goodly visions of kumara; and (4) from the marvellous exploits of their pre-historic hero, Tawhaki, who, among other things, having climbed up into the sky, visited his ancestress, Whaitiri, who was blind from age, and on his arriving at her place of abode, he found her engaged in carefully counting her seed-kumara roots.701

Another quaint old ancient legend concerning the kumara, which partakes a little more of the historical element, runs thus:—



The Story of the fighting of Tumatauenga with his elder Brother Rongomaraeroa.

(Literally translated.)

Their angry contention arose about their kumara plantation; the name of that plantation was Pohutukawa. Then Tumatauenga went to see Rurutangiakau, to fetch weapons for himself; and Rurutangiakau gave to him his own child Te Akerautangi; it had two mouths, four eyes, four ears, and four nostrils to its two noses. Then their fighting began in earnest, and Rongomaraeroa with his people were killed, all slain by Tumatauenga. The name given to that battle was Moenga-toto (sleeping-in-blood, or bloody sleep). Tumatauenga also baked in an oven and ate his elder brother Rongomaraeroa, so that he was wholly devoured as food. Now the plain interpretation, or meaning, of these names in common words, is, that Rongomaraeroa is the kumara (root), and that Tumatauenga is man.

A remnant, however, of the Kumara (tribe) escaped destruction, and fled into a great lady named Pani to dwell; her stomach (puku) was wholly the storehouse for the kumara, and the kumara plantation was also the stomach of Pani. When the people of her town were greatly in want of vegetable food, Pani lit the firewood of her cooking-oven, as if for cooking largely, and it burnt well, and the oven was getting ready. The men (of the place) looking on, said, one to another, “Where can the vegetable food [37] possibly be for that big oven, now being prepared by that woman?” They did not know of her storehouse, she herself only knew. She went outside to the stream of water, and collected it (the food) in two gatherings only (or, two scrapings together with her hands); she filled her basket, and she returned to the village (pa), to place her food in the oven, and to attend to the baking of it; and when the kumara was properly cooked, she served it out to her people, distributing it evenly. And thus she did every morning and every evening for many days. Now the vegetable food of the time of war is fern-root (pounded and prepared in a mass), which (root) the Maoris commonly call, the Permanent-running-root-of-the-soil. In the morning of another day, Pani again went and lit the fire of her cooking-oven, to bake food for all her people; then she went outside, as before, to the stream of water, and seizing her big basket she sat down in the water, groping and collecting beneath her with her hands. While she was thus engaged in gathering the kumara together, there was a man hidden on the other side of that stream, his name was Patatai, and he was a moho; he, seeing her and her doings, suddenly made a loud startling noise with his lips (such as Maoris make to startle wood-pigeons), which Pani heard, and was wholly overcome with shame, at herself and her actions having been seen. The name of that water was Monariki. The woman returned crying to the village, through her great shame; and hence it was that the kumara was secured for man. The name of her husband was Mauiwharekino. From Pani came the several sacred forms of words (nga karakia) used ceremonially by the wise men (tohungas) at planting and at harvesting the kumara. It was Tumatauenga who destroyed the kumara, lest the strengthening virtues of Rongomaraeroa should come down (or become known) to the habitable earth (or to this land).

For the probable time of Pani, see Genealogical Appendix, p. 33, (supra) “Historical Incidents and Traditions.”



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