A story of Ahu and Ahuahu and their family in a Maori village in Aotearoa during European settlement of New Zealand. (Click on Ahu in the labels bar for previous posts)
Aotea and Hoku spent most of their time now at Gannet Island in the rebuilt village there. Their whare had a view of Gannet Island through the trees just a short walk from the beach. Hoku loved it there. She had heard all of Ahu’s childhood stories of growing up with the golden sand to walk along and being able to fish from the beach. She respected the great mound of the island with the sea birds constantly circling it. It seemed to her those birds were constantly telling Ahu’s story of going there as a child, losing her parents and despite such a set back had become the most respected wife of the Head man at Black Springs.
Hoku felt that this too was now a really special place for her and Aotea to live with all their family traditions, even the ones about her village of Rocky Outcrop and that of Gannet Island fighting each other. Ahuahu had told her that Rocky Outcrop and Black Sands established a pact to ensure peace between them despite the pakeha trading guns with their neighbours. She knew now that Ahuahu had gained the confidence of her father to stop the fighting between their villages as the pakeha were the threat now not their own people.
Most of all she loved Aotea. She always had to push him reluctantly from her side in the mornings as he was so loathe to leave. They would often hear other villagers moving about outside before they could bear to let go of each other. So it was no surprise that she said to him one evening when he came home “Aotea, I am with child.” He said not a word but took her to their sleeping mat and laid her down and took her clothes off and nuzzled her tummy. As she wrapped her arms around him he said “Who should we tell first. Perhaps it should be your father. Let us hope he will live to see the baby.”
“Why, do you think he is not well?”
“He told me once that he wants to come to live here with us as he is very tired. I think he is worn out from defending the land at Rocky Outcrop from the pakeha. He loves all his family but you are the most precious thing in the world to him.”
Ruaimoko her father was indeed an old man. Hoku thought that he was well over fifty years old. He had a number of sons that had produced large families for him and she alone of her sisters remained in the area. Her father even found it difficult to walk far now.
Ruaimoko took the unusual step in relinquishing his position as head man at Rocky Outcrop and told their village council to choose a successor. Only one of his wives remained alive. Although she was not Hoku’s mother she too wanted to live at Gannet Island as she was frightened of the pakeha settling so close to them.
There were well over fifty villagers from the Rocky Outcrop and Black Sands community living now in the village opposite Gannet Island. The remaining families left from the little settlement at Fern Gully joined them too for safety. They hoped that by banding together they would discourage the pakeha from taking any more land from them.
Already there were white farmers who had camped close to Rocky Outcrop who had started building homes and clearing the land. There were miners there too looking for metal in the ground and especially the highly prized metal gold in the streams. There were travelling traders that came on their pack horses or wheeled wagons selling goods to the white settlers. Some time ago Ruaimoko and Ahuahu wisely decided it would be better to re-establish the village at Gannet Island closer to Black Sands so they were adjoining communities and less likely to have their land stolen from them.
So eventually Ruaimoko came down to Gannet Island with his second wife Mahuika. She came from Ahuriri a coastal settlement many days walk south. Aotea had a whare built for them close to theirs so that they too could see the view of Gannet Island. They were accompanied on their journey down by two men from Rocky Outcrop as Ruaimoko had such difficulty in walking. It took them two days and he was clearly distressed when he arrived.
Hoku even though she was several months pregnant tended him while he recovered with the help of Mahuika. Gradually his energy returned and after that the older couple were often seen walking slowly around the village and even sitting on the beach facing Gannet Island.
In the evenings Mahuika would tell them old stories of the past. Aotea had not heard a storyteller such as this before. Most of the stories he had heard were of the gods that controlled their lives or what his family or ancestors had done but Mahuika would tell the legends of her childhood.
The first story Mahuika’s told was from Ahuriri where she was born. Ruaimoko was lying on his mat with one hand holding her onto Mahuika. Aotea was leaning against a wall post and Hoku was nestled into him and holding his hand on her swelling tummy as Mahuika began her story:
“Pania of the Reef was a beautiful maiden who lived in the sea on the east coast of our land. By daytime she swam about with other creatures in her reef world but after sunset would swim up a freshwater stream that ran into the bay where my family have always lived. She would travel up the stream to an area where she could sit among the flax bushes. She was an adventurous creature that dared to discover the world outside the sea. Karitoki who lived nearby, was the handsome son of a former chief and quenched his thirst every evening with the sweet water from the stream where Pania rested amongst the flax. For many weeks he was unaware that she was watching him until one night she whispered a faint spell. It carried on the wind to Karitoki who then turned around to see Pania emerge naked from her hiding place.”
“Karitoki had never seen someone so beautiful and instantly fell in love. Pania fell in love with him too and they pledged their lives to each other and were secretly married. Pania and Karitoki went to his whare but because it was dark no-one saw them enter. At sunrise, Pania prepared to leave but Karitoki tried to stop her. She explained that she was a creature of the ocean and the sirens of the sea called her to return each morning. She told him she could not survive if she did not go to them. She promised to return every evening and for weeks their marriage continued on that basis.”
“Karitoki boasted to his friends about his beautiful wife, but no one believed him because they had never seen her. Frustrated by this, Karitoki consulted a kaumatua or wise man in the village and told him about Pania. The wise man believed Karitoki as he knew that ocean maidens did exist. The kaumatua told Karitoki that being a sea creature, Pania would not be allowed to return to the sea if she swallowed the cooked food that the Maori themselves ate.”
“That night as Pania slept after making love, Karitoki took a morsel of cooked food and put it in Pania's mouth. As he did so a Ruru owl that was sitting in the branches of a tree outside Karitoki’s whare called a loud warning and it woke Pania from her sleep. She found that some cooked food had been placed in her mouth and spat it out. She was horrified that Karitoki had played a trick on her and put her life in jeopardy. So Pania jumped up and fled from the whare, jumped into the stream and swam back down to the sea. Her own people sensed she was in danger and came to the surface and drew her down into the depths before Karitoki could catch her as he swam frantically about the ocean searching for her in the dark. Karitoki never saw her again.”
“When people now look deep into the water over the reef, some say they can see Pania with arms outstretched, appealing to her former lover. No one knows whether she is imploring him to explain his treachery, or calling for him to join her as she still loved him. Pania bore a child for Karitoki and named him Moremore but he wisely stayed in the ocean.”
“I was born by the sea where Pania lived”, Mahuika said, “It is now protected by Moremore, the son of Pania and Karitoki. He is the kaitiaki or guardian of the area, a taniwha who often disguises himself as a predatory fish such as a shark or stingray or even a large octopus to ensure that no other sea maidens are tempted to visit the land.”