H I r a m a – Karakia 1 – Eye of the Storm
The Waikato chiefs were furious. They had gathered in secret. The enemies of Te Rauparaha, warrior chief of the Ngati Toa, were amassing on all sides of his life, preparing to encircle his tribe near the water's edge. It was the ripe time to drive the low-ranked pigeon of Kawhia from his perch. The chiefs of the Waikato had over four thousand warriors at their command, and they now sought to mount a swift, brutal invasion by land and sea.
Tukorehu of the fearsome Maniapoto tribe was animated, and his voice filled with hate.
'I have many grievances against the people of Kawhia and their allies. Was it not they, those of the Ngati Rarua, who called down upon me from their pa walls and compared my sacred head to a common cooking fire?’
The other chiefs called out ‘Hi! Ha!’ knowing what an unforgivable breach of tapu such a comment was. Tukorehu spoke louder.
‘Then it was Te Rauparaha who stood at the gates of my pa, and did not engage in battle. Perhaps he thinks I am not worthy of his single combat. We must defeat them, and defile all their bodies, and I wish for the sixth toe of Te Rauparaha’s left foot as my prize. I shall hang it from my ear for all to see. And then shall I be master of the taiaha.'
There was laughter before another of the Waikato chiefs spoke.
'And did not your wife consort with one of the dogs of the Ngati Rarua, kin of Te Rauparaha. Surely you have greater reason to hunt and eat that adulterer, Tukorehu?'
The Mahanga chief, Punatoto, spoke next.
'I too like Tukorehu have a grievance against our enemies. Honour has not yet been satisfied. The Ngati Tama dog Raparapa pursued my relative to Kawhia and slew him. I want the flesh of Raparapa to share amongst my people.'
'He is cunning, Te Rauparaha, and we should proceed wisely', stormed the supreme chief of the Maniapoto, the great warrior Te Rangituatea. And then he added.
'He is my relative, but I am here to lead the Maniapoto against him, and to destroy these irritating sandflies that bite persistently from the beaches at Kawhia. I owed him my life when he spared me in single taiaha combat, but time has worn that debt away.'
The assembly murmured and many recalled incidents deserving of revenge. Te Hiakai of the Ngati Pou spat passionately.
'And do not forget the memory of my father killed for nothing more than killing Te Hurinui, a guardian of the sacred treasures at Ahurei. They killed my father at Makomako, and cooked and ate him in their fleapit Pouewe, at Kawhia.’
And he added derisively.
‘Te Hurinui deserved to die for he would not disclose the hiding place of the sacred treasures of Ahurei. The korotangi, the sacred soil of Taputapuatea, and the pendant of three pieces. It is certain that he knew where they were hidden. A man who will not speak has no need of a voice, so I ate his tongue. The two eels of the fisherman’s boys and the matarau are the secret of our survival. And was it not Te Mara, the son of the Ngati Toa fisherman who exchanged the sacred pendant of Waitangi-ki-roto with his brother before he was swept to sea. The loss of the înanga pendant is their omen of doom.'
The chiefs were silent in awe of the hatred in the heart of Te Hiakai. He faced the others and drew the claws of the crab in the air with his greenstone mere. There was a further murmur of approval.
A chief shouted.
'The totems were of great importance and I fear their loss has led to this state amongst our people where brother is pitted against brother'.
There was another chorus of approval, and another impassioned chief shouted.
'And we too must avenge the death of our chief Te Aô-marama, for he too was killed by Te Rauparaha and eaten at Pouewe.'
Te Hiakai thundered.
'He came to Whaingaroa like a cloak of darkness and killed and ate our allies and other chiefs of the Mahanga and Ngati Pou, just because of the words in his niece Te Rangi Topeora’s scathing song, the kai oraora, in which she named the chiefs of our tribe that must be degraded and eaten. He listened to the words of a woman, and exacted revenge on her behest. They ate some of our bravest and greatest people. For this he must die. For this his people must be exterminated.'
Te Wherowhero of the Waikato confederation silenced the assembly with a single sweep of his digging stick, an elaborately carved ko.
'Enough of reasons, there are plenty. We must plan our final attack upon Kawhia. I say we encircle them as in the clutches of the crab's claws, as Hiakai suggests. I will be the crab's jaws and devour them after the seizure. Tukorehu, you and your warriors, how many do you number?'
‘Then you will be the claw that grabs from the south. And you Kiwi, how many can you muster to man the waka?’
Kiwi, a paramount chief of the northern tribes of the Tainui, reflected for a moment then answered in a considered tone.
'We have many waka, those of my people in Whaingaroa and those of our kinship tribes who live by us also. And Te Hiakai, you sound well ready for battle.’
‘I am Kiwi, as are my warriors.’
‘And Te Awa-i-taia, how are your forces?’
‘Yes, we are well prepared. My warriors itch to raze the pa of the Kawhia, and eat all who face them.’
Kiwi calculated the strength of his force, and then turned to Te Wherowhero.
‘We too have a thousand warriors, and waka to carry them in.’
Te Wherowhero calculated the size of the total force.
All were silent until he turned to speak.
'Kiwi, then you shall be the northern claw of the crab and land your waka at Aotea harbour and on the beach at Te Puia springs, near the ancient village of the old people. Tukorehu shall grab from the south and you will grab from the north. Together you will drive the Kawhia into our jaws. The force I will lead from the east is some two thousand, divided into three. The first includes the Mahuta, Te Wehi, Mahanga, Patupo and Reko. I will lead this force, and we too will number a thousand. The second group of half a thousand Ngati Hikairo will be led by Pikia, and the third, also of half a thousand warriors, will be your Maniapoto, Te Rangituatea.’
The mighty chief paused to consider the shape of the future battle and then announced.
‘Te Rangituatea, you know the people of Kawhia, as your raiding parties have probed their defences often. Your warriors have fattened upon their flesh. How many do we face?’
‘There would be no more than a thousand, perhaps much less. There may only be five hundred ready for battle. With the force you have just described we will outnumber them perhaps ten to one. Our invasion shall be swift and will have the deadliest of consequences.’
With the battle plan decided upon, Te Wherowhero, raised his ko and indicated that the meeting had ended with the words.
‘When the time is ripe for the attack on Kawhia, I shall send messengers to you.’
He then plunged his digging stick into the ground, to unite the wishes of mortals on earth with the gods in the twelve heavens.
Te Râ, son of the hirama Tana, was renamed after the loss of his twin brother Te Mara. This was the custom of the people of the land. He was now to be called Tawhiri, after Tawhiri-matea, the god of the wind and storms. He ran and ran, with fire breathing from his heels. Tawhiri was the fastest of runners in the children's races along the beach at Kawhia.
As he grew into manhood, he learnt to love the craft of the night fishermen, the hirama. But sometimes his mind was unsettled by the water's edge and he yearned to run through forests in search of the enemy like many of the older boys. He played with Karaka, Te Uri, Tunataitea, Te Whata, Te Huki, and other sons of the fishermen, as all ran into the forests in search of adventure.
Ta, as he was known to his friends, deeply loved Kawhia and the secrets of its shores, and learnt patiently at his father’s side as he unfolded the surrounding mysteries. He learnt of the land of his people of the land. When he was eleven lunar cycles old he was given an eeling spear, a matarau. Other boys were given taiaha appropriate to their size, and they learnt to wield it, in action dance and mock combat. Tana watched carefully as his son blossomed as a fisherman, in combat with eels and creatures of the deep. The Wind, as any whimsical child, blew in his own direction, at times, and sometimes joined in combat training of the other boys.
And Tawhiri was of the hawks, those who soared on the air currents in the mountains behind Kawhia. There was the bird he called Kahu, who was his sign in the sky. Many times when he was running there was always Kahu in the air above him. Many times Kahu alighted not far from Tawhiri and stared into his eyes. It was always as if Kahu had brought a message for the Wind from the home of the Bird Tribes far away across the Sea of Kiwa.
Tawhiri’s mother, Te Aroha, was of an ancient tribe of the hills of the Waitakere. She was the daughter of a marriage between a Kawerau, those known as ‘the peaceful ones who do not fight back’, and an Ngaoho man. That man was said to be part turehu, one of the fairy people of the kaka and huia forests. She was a strong woman but was saddened by the ghost of her past. Tawhiri often wondered why she seemed happy at times, and then wept uncontrollably. Tawhiri asked his father what was the source of his mother’s grief.
‘It is for your mother to tell you the full story when she thinks the time is right; it is her sadness, as it is mine, but she is the one to tell you everything. When your twin Te Mara was taken from us, by Tangaroa of the many ways and paths, your mother in her great sadness changed your name from Te Mara to Tawhiri. She had lost faith in he prophecies of old. There are things that happen in life over which we have no control. It is the will of the gods that precious treasures are sometimes taken from us.’
‘Father, can you please tell me the story of the eel pendant, the one Te Mara once wore.’
Tana had tears in his eye.
‘When Te Mara was lost to us he was wearing the pendant that you were chosen to wear. He must have exchanged it with you on the beach before he was swept to sea. I keep the dark pendant safe in the hope that the other will be found some day. The loss of the white înanga pendant was seen as an omen of misfortune by many of our tribe. The loss of my son was your mother’s and my greatest misfortune.’
Tawhiri’s knew not to ask too much about his brother. It was the true cause of Te Aroha’s sadness, and with continual questioning Tana would also become morose. The young fisherman decided to ask no more about it, and when he comforted his mother he would say.
‘You have the love of another son if that helps’,
Briefly the sun would sneak through the dark clouds of her inner torment, and she would discern the beauty of her present, and smile at her son.
Tawhiri grew strong building weirs, netting fish, and spearing eels. He learnt the way of the forest birds, and many times surprised the elders with the skill in which he snared them. He was a young master kite maker, and loved to use the kite he had built to draw his father’s lures deep into the ocean. And he was at one with his namesake, the god of the wind who used his breath to draw the lures seaward to the greatest of fish. Tawhiri was content at Kawhia, and dreamed of fishing peacefully forever, like his father.
Te Rauparaha squinted as he looked towards the sun dying on the horizon. Through the golden mist above the waves he could see the wind had turned, and he watched as the long white clouds blackened and swirled into ominous shapes. There was to be an unseasonable storm, and being mindful of the old truth ‘as above, so below’, he took this to be a very bad omen.
His spies had warned him repeatedly that the enemies of his tribe sought to destroy he and his people. There was much talk of war on the wind, but although surrounded on all sides by danger, Te Rauparaha had other woes to contend with. A war was raging inside his mortal form. His body ached from head to toe, plagued by a severe bout of boils, which he attributed to evil magic.
To combat this makutu, Te Rauparaha had returned to Tirau, and retired to his cliff dwelling Te Arataura, 'the way of the rope'. He’d lain for several days on an old flax mat covered with his dog skin cloak. His taiaha Kimihia, named in honour of his esteemed ancestor, was at his side but the chief didn't have the strength to wield it. Each day food and water were placed in calabashes below his cave. They were attached to a rope, and when he had the will he would pull them up into his lair. From his sickbed he could watch the sea, and hear it crashing against the rocky cliff. He pondered on the irony of being his least able at a time when he was most needed.
The chief was exhausted, mentally and physically, as he had travelled extensively throughout the island Te Ika a Maui in recent years with hardly any respite. His last expedition, which had commenced late in the pakeha year of 1819, had taken him far to the south to Taranaki, Horowhenua and Kapiti. It was during the time of this war party with the Ngapuhi, that the chief saw ships from foreign shores, the beauty and bounty of the south, and the fearsome advantage, in battle, of the pakeha musket. On his return he found his people cowering in fear of their marauding neighbours, the mighty Waikato.
Two of the night fishermen, the hirama, journeyed from Taharoa to bring the chief his favourite meal of smoked eels. They brought with them balms of kawakawa and the sticky paste of the flax from the tohunga, Ngatoro, for the boils that infested the chief's body.
Te Rauparaha always had time to spend with his hirama. He admired their skill and dexterity in snaring eels, which he compared to his own skill in the art of war, and the hirama were always the source of the tastiest of food. The rope ladder was lowered and the sick chief invited the two to ascend 'the way of the rope' and invited them to sit just outside the cave.
‘Whetu-kaituna and Kapowhai, you are welcome here. I thank you for your gift of eels. Come, sit closer, where I can see you.’
'We are honoured, our chief, that you should receive us here', replied Kapowhai, pushing the smoked eels within Te Rauparaha’s reach.
'Ahh… that is a smell I shall never grow weary of. Tell me Kapowhai, how is your son Tunataitea, and daughter Papango. How does your son fish for eels?'
'They are well, my chief. You know our art is a complex one and Tunataitea is a slow learner. It takes him much time to outwit an eel with the bob, even more with the net and, I am sad to add, he is not so skilled with the spear. Papango grows as beautiful as her mother, and is skilful in the kitchen. I have taught her all I know about the preparation of the tuna.'
‘And you Whetu-kaituna, how is your family?’
‘My mother and father are well. My wife’s mother is insistent as ever to empty every basket of eels that I bring home, and my wife Putu and daughter Whai are well also.'
‘I was saddened when your brother Parekura was killed on our southern expedition. Is his wife Patiki faring well?’
'Yes my chief. She has come to live with us in our whare. Fortunately she has no children. She grows larger daily, fattened upon the fruits of our success at the lake. She too empties many baskets.'
‘And Tana, the greatest of our hirama, what of him?’
'He is not far behind us, my chief. He spied some silverbellies in a stream and stopped to fish for them, so that he could bring you their sweet taste. He has spent many days fishing at Taharoa with his son Tawhiri. They fish so well, knowing full well that their contribution of food is perhaps more important in the coming days than their abilities to wield the mere and taiaha, or to fire the musket.'
Te Rauparaha had a deeper purpose for inviting the three men to join him. With enemy forces gathering, and the increasing chances of a forced heke, a migration, he wished to know the general feeling of his people. Te Rauparaha pointed out to the sea.
‘I saw my first great ship passing along this coast from here. I was with my father at the time and only in my second year, and it was not until later that my father told me that it was the ship of the pakeha Cook. I still see that great, many-sailed waka in my minds eye.’
The hirama listened intently. There was a call from the beach.
‘It is I, Tana, my chief.’
Te Rauparaha asked that the rope ladder be lowered so that Tana could ascend. When he reached the mouth of the cave the chief bade him to come inside and sit with the others. For a brief moment, Te Rauparaha, showed the lively sparkle in his eyes for which he was known, and his lower lip curved downwards in approval.
‘Welcome Tana, I hear you have brought me sweet silverbellies. I thank you. How goes your son Tawhiri, and Te Aroha, your wife? I believe she is soon to give birth.’
‘Yes, my chief, Te Aroha has told me that the midwife, the old kuia, believes our child will arrive with the next full moon. The old woman is preparing the herbal medicines and practising her chants. I hope, my chief, that this child will help her overcome her sadness. And Tawhiri, he is well. He learns quickly the ways of the fisherman, and is of great help to me at the lake and river.’
‘Yes, I have heard of his skill with the hook and line. But in these troubled times perhaps it would be wise for him to learn to wield the taiaha with as much grace and talent,’ added Te Rauparaha.
'My chief I also bring you kina and kutai, as I know how much you crave them. They are good medicine for your affliction. And I also have your favourite dried toheroa and pâtiki, cured in horopito powder. As for my son, I fear that he may be needed in the role of a warrior in our future with the storm that gathers about us. I, like others, have heard the talk in the village. Is it true, my chief, that we may soon be leaving Kawhia?'
Te Rauparaha sighed.
'For now, we must stand and fight, and not beat a retreat like disturbed pigeons. The time may come when you all may have to lay down your hooks, lines and bobs, and again take up your tools of war in defence of our women and children.’
‘We will all willingly give our lives to protect our tribe… and, forgive me for asking, great chief, but where would we go if we were to leave, for surely we are surrounded by our enemies?’ Tana added.
‘You all know that I think much of the southern lands at the head of the fish. There you will find a true bounty of eels in the rivers and lakes. The Mua-upoko and Rangitane hirama are as skilled as you, in their own waters, and you will have much to learn from them.'
With this last comment Te Rauparaha ended the audience. The three hirama bade their chief farewell, climbed down the rope ladder and set off towards Taharoa.
Te Rauparaha looked now out to a wild, wild sea - the waters of the west were enraged. The sea beat incessantly upon Taiaroa Head, and swirled into the normally quiet Kawhia Harbour. It threatened, at its peak, to roll the pa fortress Te Maika into the sea, and it battered upon Maketu. It threw spume about like snowflakes in a blizzard, and melted natural opposition with the speed of lightning.
Tangaroa, god of the sea, was angry and he sent his legions against the shore. There would be no respite. This was the year ending the second decade of the nineteenth century in the pakeha's calendar, 1820.
It had been a year of intense fighting, as well as one of exasperation for the Ngati Toa. Holding on to their much-coveted Kawhia harbour was becoming more dangerous and difficult for the small tribe, as their jealous neighbours became stronger, more ruthless and vengeful. Revenge raids were followed by enemy plundering raids, many pa were razed and their inhabitants eaten, insults were hurled and countermanded, and the initial reasons for the horror heaped upon horror, the take, had dissolved into the mists of time.
Tana sat beside Tawhiri at the edge of Lake Taharoa, and he related the words Te Rauparaha had spoken in his cave at ‘the way of the rope’.
‘The chief has hinted that you may be needed to learn the skills of the warrior. It may be the lot of all young men in our tribe in these troubled times. With our enemies closing in I hope that you are not drawn into the combat, as I feel that you are still too young.’
‘You know I value the peace here by the river with you. I often wonder why we lose so many of our people. It seems the village is always in mourning. But if my chief needs me to learn the taiaha I will do so willingly, in order to protect you, my mother, and my tribe.’
‘That is what I fear. With the many recent scouting parties of our enemies there have been many deaths in the tribe, many of those near to us, including some of the hirama’s sons. But now my son, the other hirama are coming. Let us prepare.’
Tonight Tana, Tawhiri and three hirama companions would fish for the special eels, the papaka. Unlike the yellow-bellies, these thrived at the muddy bottom of the lake, and they were most prized.
Taingakawa, Te Whanatangi and Te Kohere were all of similar age to Tana. And they were his dearest friends. They had learnt their craft alongside him, fought with him on many raids or taua when they were younger, and counselled him in family matters. They too were proud of their craft, that of the hirama. They settled beside the lake with Tana to lure the eels to the surface.
Taingakawa spoke in muffled tones.
'Tana. We are all fortunate. None of our offspring have been harmed by the enemy in the most recent raids.'
'I thank the gods for looking after our children' Tana added.
'Our mana is strengthened, and the papaka will sense that they must be much smarter today', interjected Te Kohere.
Te Whanatangi began to sing softly. He recalled a time when his people could bob for eels near their unfortified villages. A time before revenge, raiding parties, muskets and the pakeha. It was a peaceful song. It requested that the magician who protected the tuna call off their spells so that the fish can be captured. It pleaded with the eel to allow them to be caught. It invited the eel to approach the line, and siren-like was intended to stupefy them before the moment of capture.
Te Kohere’s son, Te Huki, joined him at the water’s edge.
His father whispered.
'I am proud of you my son. You were new to the ways of combat. You practised well before the raiding party and did well when we went south. And several days ago, you again acquitted yourself well.'
Te Huki pondered his father's words.
'Thank you my father. Your lessons stood me well. I am saddened at the loss of my friends...'
'They have gone on their journey to the homeland. They will be there to greet us when our time comes.'
'And the fishing father?'
'Te Whanatangi has called the tuna to us. We expect at least a tui of forty-four eels.'
'A rau of two hundred and twenty eels, more likely.'
'I'll be happy with a string of eels of any size. We have promised our great chiefs a feast nonetheless’, Te Kohere replied.
'A rau will be enough.' said Tana.
Soon the eels were biting at the baits. In short time, Tana soon had speared seven of the right size, two fingers thick, each of them. As each was beached Tana uttered the same ritual, thanking Tangaroa for the bounty and the eels for allowing their capture.
Whanatangi and Te Kohere both bobbed. Kohere used huhu grubs on his threaded bob and Whanatangi used earthworms. Sometimes they used spiders, but they could not be found at this time. Both had manuka rods.
The noses of the two hirama were itchy, a good sign, and soon they were jerking eels onto the bank. Some were clubbed as soon as they were beached, and others placed in the net that Tana had erected near his sitting place. The large, dark earthworms were particularly enticing so Whanatangi bore a grin from ear to ear.
Te Kohere switched to light-coloured worms in the hope that his fortune would improve. Soon these worms saw his baskets filling. He mused of the time he had been to the far north, Tai Tokerau, and fished by the light of burning kauri gum. His nostrils twitched at the thought of the pungent smell. And twitching nostrils meant good fortune for night fishermen.
Two more hirama arrived at Taharoa from Te Maika. One was Tunui and the other was Te Maihea-o-Kohatu. They were experts with the matarau spear, and both were huge men. Their appearance belied their nimbleness in the shallows. Without light they would have to wait for dawn before fishing. They were pleased to see their friends. Many times Tana had seen these two colossi wading through the raupo at the edge of Taharoa with several eels secured to their legs with a cord.
Tunui was saddened. He had lost two sons in recent raids. He had one more, Te Whata, who was a warrior and he feared that he might lose him also. But he was here to fish for his chief. At a time he had been one of the bravest of warriors. He had rushed at pa many times in his life, and he had eaten his enemy. His size was great, but with his leviathan form came a heart and soul full of compassion for all.
Several raiding parties had been despatched from Te Maika pa to search for enemy survivors from the recent unsuccessful raids. More hirama were needed at the lake to provision the search parties, as at times they combed the bush for weeks. As soon as word had reached Te Maika of any skirmish, scouts, then small raiding party were sent east of Kawhia Harbour to block escape routes back into Waikato territory.
Two weeks later, several of the hirama, returned to Taharoa. They, and their sons waited at the river’s edge. It was to be a particularly good day for fishing as the moon was to devour the sun. The tohunga of the night sky had predicted it, and he was always uncannily accurate. The full moon would be cast into bloodied darkness and the eels, used to its protection, would be thrown into confusion.
As they waited, began to tell each other stories - stories about fishermen, stories about the tohora or whales, and the aihe or dolphins, and always stories about eels. There were always stories about eels, the slipperiest, most cunning, longest, shortest, fattest, quickest, strongest, and most sacred. War was forgotten. Eating people was forgotten now, and the very world outside was forgotten. And all thoughts turned to the river, weir and spear. To the tuna, the eel, the sweetest and most sustaining of food. The food that could be easily carried by any trading or raiding party, food that forever sustained the tribes living at the water’s edge.
And how they, the eels, came back time and time again, called to these shores by their gods. Called to Aôtearoa from afar, the message of the dolphins and whales. Return. Be it as it always was - the sea to the river, to the swamp and lake, and into the sanctuary of the reeds.
After several nights in synchronicity with the moon and stars, and when the calmest of seas flickered into an explosion of soft quicksilver, they would return. They would flit from salt to freshwater with the slightest gasp, change their way of swimming from sea ebb and flow, to river current, dine on different gifts and watch for different perils. Not the peril of the sea but the peril of the enemy above the water, the enemy without gills that could not breathe below the water, the enemy that walked on land.
And then there would be a moment of truth when the creature of the sea collided with the two-legged creature with the spear. Sometimes the sea dwellers would swim away and the two-legged would thrust the spear or dip their bobs in vain. Sometimes the spear would find its mark, and sometimes the eel would cling to the folly of the flaxen bob.
The hirama would talk of all manner of things. There were deaths, births, times that lovers mated, kumara - the sweet potato, planting and harvesting, sacred trees felled for waka and houses, children, the bereaved, and the cosmic signals calling to the eels to return to their ancestral homeland, to breed and to die.
There were stories after stories, and the serious task of fishing, and life. The streams resounded with laughter. The hirama were happiest at the river and the eels continued to migrate. There was death always, slaughter above and below, above and below the waterline. And the same gods ruled above and below. They organised the tides, and the moon and the sun, and stars, and those coming from the underworld to the otherworld to the cosmos, the dancing when three worlds met. The weave was a most intricate pattern, tattooed faces interlaced into one giant design, multiplied to infinity.
And the hirama slept soundly, buoyed silently into the deepest of sleep by the most voluble of stories and a belly full of the sweetest of eels. The sun rose over Taharoa and the warmth of early morning sun loosened the shackles of entrapped night. The Wind prepared the fire and his father Tana tended to the nets. The hirama chattered as birdsong that greets the dawn.
The eels in his Lake Taharoa were river eels, the tuna. They had fled to the swamps when their young offspring were eagerly devoured by para, the frostfish. But the confines of the swamps and the narrow streams did not please para. He left for the open oceans with ngoiro the conger-eel and tuere, the blind-eel. Here they joined the seaweed, fish of scales and fish of shell, the descendants of Tangaroa, Hinemoana and Kiwa, respectively. In the swamps tuna was safe from Mango, the shark that grew to love the flesh of tuere.
Many tuna were wise and some became atua or gods. Tana knew where they resided and kept away from their lairs. He had grown up with the saying. ‘Tangaroa of the many paths or ways…’ a reference to his favoured adversary, the cunning eel, wily tuna that was slain by Maui for violating Hina, the female form of the moon.
Tana had been at the lakeside when the tohunga placed the mauri, a stone, near the shore of the lake. He had listened to the incantations of the tohunga as they summoned the gods to occupy and infuse the stone with attractive powers. Now only the good eels would come close to the traps. Bad eels would stay away. The tohunga protected the tuna with the sorcery they knew as makutu, their deadly method of ensuring all poachers would suffer after trespass. But such magic could not always contain the eels in one body of water. Tana had seen them climb trees in order to ascend streams, and knew well that they slithered across dry land in the dead of night. He had seen them swim with their heads erect across many lakes, and he knew that they sought the warmth.
In mighty Taupo he knew there were no eels. He knew that a combination of no moon and light rain were the ideal conditions in which to catch his favoured prize.
He had studied the tuna most of his life and he felt at ease applying his knowledge at the shores of the lake. He knew how to take the silver-bellied eel, the papaka, on the hook, and knew the tricks to discourage the yellow-bellied pehipehi. He knew when to set the eel baskets before the waters, laden with eels spilled from the lake. He had often burnt fern and rolled eels caught in his trap in the ashes before moving them to another lake. He knew exactly where he would find the hau, the small tasty variety of eel that his people favoured. He knew the dates of the heke or migrations of eels, and knew the place to build the trench where the eels would migrate many times in one season. He had used the eel-pot, the nets, hooks and the spear with great efficiency.
There was no moon and he knew perfectly well that the tuna would be moving. Without a moon there would be success. Perhaps Hina protected the tuna with her light, letting them peer through the surface of the water into the eyes of the hirama. They could entrance the hirama on such a night and make them set their traps in the wrong place. They knew where the hirama would bob or attempt to hook. Moonlight was their friend and they knew any hirama with the knowledge would not fish in such conditions.
And ceremony preceded every journey to river or lake. Tana would wash his hands meticulously before each journey, and at the end of each catch. He always cooked his eels upon a separate fire as tradition dictated, and he always went well away from the whare when he was preparing the bait. Before he ate eel he washed his mouth, and he washed his mouth again after eating. He avoided drinking from the stream in which he was fishing. If he was forced to do so he would take a calabash and scoop up the water, then pour it into another calabash before putting it to his lips.
Tana preferred to fish without the light of the moon. He fished for eels from Puna-kau-ariki, eels that had been sent as the offspring of Te Ihorangi, the being who personified rain. They had abandoned the dry regions of Puna-kau-ariki for the sanctuary of Papatuanuku. Tana was distracted from his thoughts by the voice of Tawhiri.
'We are lucky to be alive father.'
After the recent bloody fighting, almost forgotten at the soul-cleansing edge of the river, Tana's answer was ambivalent.
'Luck isn't important when we are eeling. Each moon cycle the tuna come and I try to catch more than the time before. When I think that they come time and time again we are lucky. Yes, Tawhiri, we are lucky to be alive.'
Tawhiri reflected on his father's answer and realised that here his father was happiest, and he decided not to talk more of the death of their friends and relatives in past fighting. Tana had found his antidote to tragedy at the river, and Tawhiri, in his developing wisdom, saw the sense in distancing such tragedy quickly.
'Fish, fish...' Tana laughed.
'I will father, I was thinking.'
'A man can only do one thing at a time if he is to do it properly. For you now it is thinking or fishing. Fishing is what you should do, for you will be thinking soon as we bury our dead, mourn their loss and then eat the flesh of our enemy. There will be more time for thinking than you will wish for. For now let us fish...'
Tawhiri sighed and baited his hook. He chanted a song to aid in the luring of Tangaroa’s children.
The eels were gathered and loaded into flax bags by the slaves to be carried to the fortified pa, Te Maika. The Ngati Toa were busy provisioning this and other pa sites. They feared soon being besieged by the encroaching Waikato people and their allies. The fishermen continued to chatter about fishing, not battles.
And a poet sang.
Sounded from afar
Celestial eels are ill omens
At blessed Kawhia
Eels slither into night
As moon illuminates
All in sight, O where,
Will rage the fight?
R_hua ascends the heavens
And calls upon Hinetuna –
‘Oh, sky of red
Your time is ripe
There is Takero
And there unite
Atutahi and R_hua
It is time for you
Return to Wainui
For your eyes are blue
Return to the depths
Go and give birth
But tell your children
Where to return to us
Before you die
Go my women
To be born again