Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Whale is beached (No 39)

The continuing story of Ahu and Ahuahu her husband in a Maori village in Aotearoa before European settlement of New Zealand.

The village chief arranged that the cliff tops above the bays to the north of their village were patrolled each day. It was on the tenth day when the wind blew up from the south east that the lookout ran back into the village. He told the chief of a young whale probably a male that had been washed into the shallows and could not return to deeper water as he was already touching the bottom.

Quickly a recovery party was assembled and Ahuahu was assigned the task of taking some of the villagers and their boats to sea to discourage the other whales from coming in close as well.

“We may be too late, but we could taint the water there with blood or other offensive material to put them off.” said one man.

Ahuahu shook his head, “I think they may ignore that if they are already calling to each other.”

“Try to get between them and the stranded one then,” said the chief.

Ahuahu nodded and set off down to the beach with a group of men from the village. His friend Kamaka who was with him shook his head, “I am getting too old for this, and I will stay on shore to help there. If it is weak and distressed we should kill it quickly.”

With that Ahuahu was gone and Kamaka and the other men who would be on the beach set off in a different direction. Meanwhile the women were preparing their knives and containers to retrieve the precious harvest.

Luckily the stranded whale had been caught between some rocks and the other whales could not reach it and were frustrated that there were so many boats in the water.

The chief summoned the village priest and asked him to speak before they touched the whale. The tohunga called out and thanked Tangaroa the god of the sea and Paikea the tame white whale of legend for thinking of them. And while he was singing these praises the chief’s son Paikea did not know whether to weep or to be proud as he had never been involved in this ceremony before where his own name was being sung with great honour.

Out at sea Ahu and the other fishermen waited quietly, wondering whether the whale would make one last attempt to escape the rocks. All he could think of was that his elder son was named after the god of the sea and hoped he was with Ahu on the beach to be a witness to momentous event.

The chief on shore then made the sign that the whale should be put out of its misery and several harpoons were thrust into its body. Once again they heard the tohunga call out and wish it well on its journey back with Tangaroa.

“We must get the boats ashore now,” called out Ahuahu, “There is much work to be done there. But do not overload the boats. The bounty is for us not the sharks.”

The village was busy for two days, cutting the flesh and loading the blubber in whatever could hold it to take it back to the village.

When they had completed all they could do the second evening, the village men and women all left either by boat or carried their loads back to village. The beach was deserted except for the screaming of the gulls and a persistent sea eagle as they attacked what was left of the carcase. High on the cliff above the beach the scene was watched a small figure wondering what to do.

Ahuahu returned home after unloading his boat and Ahu looked aghast and laughed “What is that come to frighten us. Is it some demon all covered in blood and smells so bad?”

“I have already washed in the sea, do you want me to go back and do it again?”

“No husband,” replied Hatiti “we were much the same when we returned. Let us get the children to sleep then we will wash you again.”

Then Ahu called out from the far corner of the house, “There will be a hangi and much celebration tomorrow the children are already excited.”

“We must all get a long sleep tonight then. I really need it.” said Ahuahu.

The two women looked at each other in the near darkness and smiled with their eyes sparkling as they both shook their heads.

Tohunga - Priest


  1. If they get attacked in the night, I will not be a happy camper. I'd love to see them have a good time.

  2. Let's hope they have got some good herbs and spices with which to season the whalemeat. I remember having to eat it in 1946/7, as an alternative to the scarce beef. As Crocodile Dundee would have said, "You can live off it - but it tastes like shit!"
    Another great part!