Mahuika was the wife of Ruaimoko the head man at Rocky Outcrop before the village was taken over by the pakeha (white men) from across the sea. Sadly those men from far away who smelled so bad had found gold and other metals in the ground and creeks around her village and soon the people there had to work for the invaders or flee to Maori villages which did not attract the men with guns. Soon after Ruaimoko and Mahuika had settled at Gannet Island with Ruaimoko’s youngest daughter Hoku and her husband Aotea, Ruaimoko died. Mahuika however was happy to live close to Hoku and Aotea as she did not have children of her own.
She was a renowned storyteller and all the children of the village would gather around her to hear the Maori legends from her. She spoke in such a way that all her listeners were proud to be Maori with their history that stretched back to the days of the gods. They also knew that by the telling of stories of the old life that was disappearing their traditions were being implanted in the children’s minds so perhaps one day they would pass them on to their own children too.
Sometimes Mahuika went to Black Sands to visit Aotea’s family there too and it was not long before the children there would know it and seek her out and plead with her to tell them stories of the old ways, their gods and the heroes and heroines that had lived long ago. But most of all they liked the way she would tell the stories so that they too were involved and felt that they were there looking on perhaps hiding behind a rock or a tree as the events being told took place in front of them.
One evening the women and children at Gannet Island were on the beach picking up pipis and other shellfish and placing them in woven baskets when some of the children saw Mahuika sitting in the dunes resting so they rushed up to her. One boy noticed she was looking in the sky.
“What are you looking at Auntie?” he asked.
“The wind is blowing from the sea. Can you see those two birds flying high up in the sky?”
The boy nodded.
“Those are a pair of toroa (albatross) that have come too close to land. The wind has blown them here. They will fly away again soon.”
“Don’t they like it here then?” said a little girl that also joined them, looking up and trying to find the birds.
Mahuika shook her head. “Let me tell you a story about a pair of toroa from a long time ago.” By this time four or five other children had run up from the beach and sat down in front of her. She smiled and nodded at them all and began her story again.
1. The story of the Kumara
Many years ago a Maori man by the name of Pourangahua left his home one day and travelled by boat to the great land of Hawaiki which is where our ancestors came from. There he visited friends and ate their delicious kumara (sweet potato) for the first time. He stayed for many months for he was lucky to be guest the great chief named Raukapanga.When it came time for Pourangahua to return home, he asked Raukapanga if he could borrow two of his huge birds, the toroa (or albatross) that he kept as pets to help him take some kumara tubers home with him. Raukapanga was reluctant to loan his birds to Pourangahua because he loved them very much. Eventually he agreed but gave him strict instructions on how to care for them.
Pourangahua left on the back of one of the birds carrying two bags of kumara as a gift from the chief. The chief had explained to Pourangahua that once he reached the shore of his land Aotearoa, he would have to get off the bird and continue his journey on foot and carry the kumara himself. This is because the toroa much preferred flying over the sea as flying over the land would tire them out too much.
But Pourangahua was lazy and he made the birds fly him all the way home over the mountains and valleys to his village. Because they had to fly so far the bird that had carried him was very tired. When the birds were finally allowed to return home the one who had had the most to carry flew slower than normal and was attacked and killed by a huge evil spirit. Luckily the other bird made it home safely, with tears rolling down his eyes because he has lost his mate.
The chief in Hawaiiki was furious about this when he learned what had happened to his pet bird and so he sent a plague of caterpillars to destroy the kumara crop that Pourangahua had been planted from the kumara that he had given him as a gift; so Pourangahua gained nothing from his visit to Hawaiki
Pourangahua realized that the plague had been sent to destroy his crop was because he had done wrong, so he would never be able return to Hawaiki again as he would surely be killed for his cruelty to the pair of toroa..
Then Mahuika then said “Nowadays if you are lucky enough to see a toroa up close you will see that it still sheds tears every time it eats food as it remembers its mate so now they keep their distance from man. They do not trust us anymore.”
The children all looked back up the in the sky searching for a long time to see if the birds were still there but by now they had gone.