Monday, 10 June 2013

Whatihua and Turongo, Tawhao's Competitive Sons.


WHATIHUA AND TURONGO were the sons of the Kawhia Chief Tawhao from different mothers. As discussed in the previous article on Tawhao, it was Whatihua who was born first from Marutehiakina, Tawhao's junior wife, and Turongo a short while after from Puniatekore, the senior wife and older sister of Marutehiakina. 

However, when Tawhao married Punuiatekore it appeared that she was unable to conceive. To the old Maori it was critical that a married couple have issue as soon as possible as the firstborn child carried the next generation. With this came rank and titles.

Punuiatekore, understanding the problem, suggested to her husband that he take her younger sister for a second wife and that way ensure they had a child to keep the mana (leadership, power, title etc.) in the family. Whatihua readily agreed to her proposal and married Marutehiakina.

As fate would have it, Punuiatekore surprised everyone and fell pregnant at about the same time as Marutehiakina. Marutehiakina delivered first with Punuiatekore giving birth shortly after. Marutehiakina, having delivered first claimed the right of the firstborn for her son whom she named Whatihua. This did not please Punuiatekore who believed that as the senior wife that right went to Turongo, her son. It was a bone of contention that would plague the family for years to come.

It was largely because of this contention that the two boys grew up constantly competing with each other. However, it was Whatihua who was the more aggressive, always striving to get the better of his younger half-brother in everything they did. Turongo, for his part, was more obliging and good natured and as a result nearly always came second to Whatihua.

In his youth Whatihua especially excelled in the contests that required physical prowess and craftiness. His brother Turongo, being more cerebral, excelled in such things as bird snaring, house building, singing and oratory. He was also exceptionally handsome and appealing to the ladies.

As they matured into men of marrying age - probably around nineteen years old - Turongo set off on a trip south to the Taranaki district and met a young woman of high rank famed for her exceptional beauty. Her name was Ruaputahanga, a direct descendant of Turi, captain of the Aotea canoe, which, like Tainui, had made the trip from Hawaiki. The two were deemed an excellent match and became betrothed. Highly pleased that he had captured the heart of such a beauty and madly in love, Turongo immediately returned to Kawhia to build a suitable house for his beloved.

By now, Whatihua was showing all the signs of becoming a prominent chief and had become highly skilled as an agriculturalist, his kumara gardens undoubtedly the best in the district. He lived at Aotea a few miles north of Kawhia and built himself a grand house which he named Wharenui (Big House).

As soon as Turongo got home he felled a large tree for the ridgepole of his new house, and being in good spirits and more trusting in nature, he sought the advice of Whatihua. Upon observing that Turongo's ridgepole was much bigger than the one he had in his house, Whatihua became envious and true to his crafty disposition told Turongo that it was too long to hold the weight that would be put upon it. It would be much stronger if shortened. Believing the advice to be good, Turongo shortened the pole and as a result his finished house, which he named Whare-e-ngarere, ended up considerably smaller than Whatihua's Wharenui.

Turongo also constructed a couple of sizeable storehouses and still trusting his brother's counsel, asked him about filling them. Again Whatihua took the opportunity to outwit Turongo by telling him to wait until spring when the food would be fresh. He then went back and promptly filled his own storehouses to capacity. Another version of this story says he told Turongo he had it on sound inside advice that Ruaputahanga much preferred small kumara to fat ones, whereupon Turongo carefully selected small kumara and filled his storehouses with them.

In due course Ruaputahanga and her extensive retinue set out from Patea for Kawhia arriving early summer. She received a welcome befitting a woman of her rank and beauty and to Turongo's delight everything seemed to be going splendidly. The welcome and feasting over, he proudly introduced his bride-to-be to the new house he had built for her and the storehouses filled with kumaras chosen to her specifications. Ruaputahanga, being proud and haughty due to her upbringing, scorned the kumaras for their size and scoffed at the smallness of the house, claiming it was insufficient to house and feed her and her entourage. Turongo began to panic.

Right on cue, Whatihua showed up and greeting the beautiful Ruaputahanga offered the services of his larger house to allow Turongo the time to make the necessary corrections to his place. She accepted and went with Whatihua. While there, Whatihua made sure to treat her royally by plying her with the fattest kumaras and the best delicacies from river, forest and sea. He also intimated to her that his brother was like a calabash full of holes, meaning he lacked the ability to be a good host. Before long she became convinced that Whatihua was by far the better provider and turned her heart away from Turongo to become his wife.

It didn't take long for Turongo to see he had been bested yet again. This time, however, was particularly galling and the already strained relationship with his half-brother now hit rock-bottom.

Turongo's heart was broken and his pride sorely dented. He often went to sit on the beach and cry out his laments to the sea. But, after a while he pulled himself together and taking his loss on the chin set out for the Hawkes Bay in search of another famous puhi even more beautiful than Ruaputahanga. Her name was Mahina-a-rangi, the daughter of the great Kahungunu chief, Tuaka.

In a very short time he worked his way into the hearts of Tuaka and his people because not only was he good-looking with an appealing personality, he was also a superb bird hunter, carver, house builder, dancer, and singer. Te Angiangi, Mahina-a-rangi’s mother was so impressed she spoke to her daughter and said, “You should marry Turongo and let him be your lord; he is indeed an industrious food gatherer.” Turongo, for his part had been keeping a careful eye on Mahina-a-rangi and soon fell in love. Not only was she of the best blood in the land, she was also stunningly beautiful and skilled in weaving and other womanly arts. When she danced the poi or played the stick game her movements were deft and graceful, and when she sang the rousing songs of her folk, her eyes flashed and sparkled as she turned her head in a side-long haughty stare; none could match her for perfection of performance. She was irresistible.

While at the Kahungunu pa (village) Tuaka, now with a strong liking for his guest, suggested he take a bride from the tribe before returning to Kawhia. Turongo agreed on the condition he chooses for himself.

Meanwhile, Mahina-a-rangi had given her mother’s words much thought and decided it was good advice, for she had, by this time, fallen for the handsome young Tainui. But she wondered how to tell him of her love without being too forward.

Every evening Turongo would retire to the Whare-puni (the assembly house) for evening talks with the other men. The guest house he lived in was a short distance from the village along a narrow path through some trees. One evening before moonrise, Mahina-a-rangi dressed in her finest woven garments and on her feather cloak sprinkled some of her special perfume made from the raukawa flower. Then, from her door she kept a watchful eye on the assembly house. As soon as Turongo appeared on his way home for the night she hurried across the village courtyard and as if by chance bumped into him in such a way he had to take her in his arms. Startled abruptly from his thoughts, he was about to exclaim something but was cut short by Mahina-a-rangi’s soft lips at his ear and her whispered; “Taku aroha e te tau; taku aroha!” (My love, oh beloved; my love!). Then she tore herself away and vanished into the night before Turongo had a chance to collect his wits. Long into the night he was unable to sleep; the words of the young maiden and the haunting smell of her perfume playing on his mind.

Turongo hoped it was Mahina-a-rangi who had accosted him, and the next day when he spied the village girls sitting together merrily playing tititorea (the stick game), he sidled up to them and acting like a casual spectator, sauntered around the group and passed behind each girl in turn. As he approached Mahina-a-rangi, she became agitated and dropped her sticks. Turongo continued to act casually; he didn’t want to betray his intention because if his accoster was not Mahina-a-rangi he would be bitterly disappointed.

As he came to Mahina-a-rangi he stooped low over the player next to her, pretending to be engrossed in the game but secretly trying to trace the distinctive scent of raukawa. Just as he approached the kneeling Mahina-a-rangi, she became so flustered she dropped the sticks as they were passed to her. Agitated and embarrassed she sprang to her feet and announced she was tired of the game. As she fled from the group she brushed against Turongo, causing his whole being to quiver with delight as the smell of raukawa flower assailed his senses.

For the next few days Turongo was beside himself with joy, and Mahina-a-rangi, her identity now exposed, was more approachable. Desperate to know her true feelings he arranged a secret meeting place where they might talk privately. The time agreed was the following night after the moon had risen.

Turongo arrived at the secret place and waited for his beloved. While he waited he shuddered at the thought that Tuaka would reject a stranger marrying his high-born daughter. Then he thought about how respected he had become and how friendly Tuaka had always been to him. It also went through his mind that he, Turongo, was also a high-born ariki. These thoughts gave him more confidence.

Presently, to his delight, Mahina-a-rangi came running into his embrace and her ardour for him was as strong as his was for her. In breathless ecstasy they clung to each other.

Later in the evening Mahina-a-rangi entered the Whare-puni after Tuaka and other tribal elders had finished talking about the festivities planned for the dedication of a new house Turongo had helped build, and took a seat next to her father. Nestling up to him she let her head slip down onto his lap then looked up at him with her beautiful round eyes.

“What is it?” he softly enquired, after which she poured her heart out to him. Tuaka’s eyes, sparkling with happiness, beamed down on his daughter. Her heart leapt for joy when she knew her choice of husband had found favour with her father.

“Ka ora koe i a Turongo,” (Turongo will cherish you), he said as he instructed her to fetch her husband-to-be. Turongo had been lingering apprehensively outside the Whare-puni and when he entered Tuaka gravely rose from his place and greeted him with hongi (pressed noses) and took him to sit at his right hand, the place of honour for visiting chiefs.

Amid great rejoicing and celebration, Turongo and Mahina-a-rangi were soon married and sometime later he began the long journey back to Kawhia. Mahina-a-rangi would join him at a suitable time in the near future.

There are other versions of the Turongo~Mahina-a-rangi story but this is by far the best one.

Tawhao was delighted by the match and called his two sons together and informed them he was ready to divide his extensive territory in two. Whatihua would have all the lands from the Puniu River (between Te Awamutu and Pirongia) all the way north to Tamaki (Auckland), and Turongo was to take the land south of the Puniu River; the Kopua flats, Kakepuku, then further south to Otorohanga and beyond. This was an important time in Tainui history; it marked the division of the Tainui people into those tribes descending from Turongo (Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Maniapoto to mention two) and those from Whatihua - the Waikato tribes and our own Ngati Hikairo.

Here we leave Turongo who by all accounts successfully managed his affairs and went on to become a renowned chief. He quickly took over his inheritance and set up his headquarters near what is Te Awamutu today and eagerly sent for his wife. It was a good nine months before she set off for Te Awamutu because she was heavily pregnant and gave birth to a son along the way. She named him Raukawa to commemorate the story of her marriage to Turongo. From this son grew the Raukawa tribe. Whatihua also went on to become a prominent chief in his own right, but along the way ran into some serious domestic turbulence.

Whatihua's problems began when he took another wife. Her name was Apakura and she was also a high-born woman sixth in line from the great Ngatoroirangi, the tohunga on the Arawa canoe. From the start there appears to have been some jealousies and animosity between the two women and Whatihua's increasing preference for Apakura over Ruaputahanga wouldn't have helped matters. It all came to a head when Apakura, who had a great fondness for eels, persistently petitioned her husband to keep her well supplied with the best of that fish. It was not easy catching sufficient eels for the tribe and at the same time pleasing his wife with the fattest of those succulent creatures.

There was one solution, however, that would both delight her and keep her well stocked with eel meat for a long time; on a certain bend on the big river was a deep, dark hole in which lived a giant eel that had broken the lines and hooks of everyone that attempted to catch him. So strong was this eel that he had acquired great mana in his own right and had been elevated to the status of taniwha. Whatihua believed that if he could catch this monster not only would he satisfy Apakura, he would also take the mana from the taniwha and elevate his own status among his people. He set about putting his gear together to catch the giant eel.

Now, his second wife, Ruaputahanga, had brought from her home country a powerful talisman for catching eels and other fish. True to his crafty nature Whatihua sneaked into Ruaputahanga's house while she was out and took her talisman. Then, taking his slave, set off in his canoe to lair of the giant eel.

They arrived a day or two later and taking his best hook and strongest line baited up and cast it right into the deepest part of the black hole. Holding the talisman and all the while chanting a call to the taniwha, he waited for the strike. He didn't have long to wait; without warning the line went tight then pulled away with astonishing fury. The taniwha was hooked!


Whatihua pulled with all his might and cried to the talisman to keep the line strong and the hook fast. For over two hours the river monster pounded and thrashed about sending geysers of water shooting into the air, until bit-by-bit it began to tire and Whatihua was able to pull it to shore. Exhausted as it was, the eel still fought like a dragon, snarling and snapping at Whatihua with its razor sharp rows of teeth. Whatihua took his axe and beat at the taniwha as it writhed and flung itself at him, trying to wrap itself around his body to drag him into the water. Whatihua knew that if the eel got him into his own element he would win the battle, so he kept out of reach and pulled on the line with all his might until the monster was far away from the river. The eel, desperate to get back into the water, made a frantic dash for the stream, leaving an opening for Whatihua. With a mighty swing of the axe he severed the head of the huge beast. As is the way with eels, for a long time after losing his head he writhed and squirmed and still tried to attack his tormentor. But with his head detached from his body he had no sense of direction and eventually exhausted himself and expired.

Whatihua walked triumphantly into his village and presented Apakura with the prize. Needless to say, she was overwhelmed with joy and when the full tale was told, Whatihua's mana among his people increased exponentially.

Ruaputahanga, though, was suspicious. She wondered how her husband was able to subdue such a monster without some kind of otherworldly help. She went to check her talisman and found it gone. Confronting Whatihua he was forced to admit he had 'borrowed' it. It was an insult and affront too much for the proud Ruaputahanga to bear. Not only had he done the unforgivable by taking her sacred talisman without consent, he had done so to catch a special eel for the other wife - even more unforgivable! She determined in her heart that she would leave for her home country, forthwith.

The next morning before sunrise she packed some food in a kete and taking little Uenukutapu, her youngest son, departed the village. But her departure did not go unnoticed. When one of Whatihua's slaves got up he saw her in the distance hurrying along the beach away from Aotea and quickly alerted his master.

Whatihua immediately set off in pursuit to persuade her to return but her mind was set and spying him coming around Matatua Point she hastened her steps. Whatihua was quickly gaining on her so to buy time she buried little Uenukutapu up to his neck in the sand right on the line of the incoming tide so that Whatihua would be forced to save him. Then, running to the edge of the channel, dived in and swam across to Te Maika.

Whatihua, arriving at the place, found his son and pulled him out of the sand. He was compelled to run back to the village with the baby and by the time he returned the tide was rushing in making it impossible to swim the channel. His only recourse was to take the more circuitous route around the headland, hoping to catch up with his fleeing wife at Marakopa. However, her lead was too great and she arrived long before him and, wanting to have the last say, rested on the high wall overlooking the chasm that separated her from the safety of her home country, to await his arrival. It was believed that in that chasm dwelt a taniwha that lay in wait for any unsuspecting soul to cross and become his meal.

In due course Whatihua arrived, and relieved, spotted his wife and called out to her, pleading with her to return with him. She responded by rising from her seat and diving into the chasm. She was a powerful swimmer so she had no trouble getting across before the taniwha knew she was there.

Whatihua, rushed to the cliff in time to see Ruaputahanga standing on the hill opposite. When he shouted another plea across the chasm, she called back. "Ka-tu-nga-tai-a-Rakeimata-a taniwha-rau; the tide of Rakei-of-a-hundred-eyes has arisen!" Being a poor swimmer and afraid of Rakei, Whatihua could do nothing more than watch Ruaputahanga disappear behind the hill and leave his life forever.

Another version says Ruaputahanga crossed the chasm at low tide when it was shallow. At low tide the taniwha was forced to vacate his premises until the next high tide. By the time Whatihua got there the tide was fully in creating a strong current as the water washed through it. Not only was Whatihua a weak swimmer, he was also aware of the man-eating taniwha that lived there. Whatever version one prefers, the end result was the same; Whatihua lost Ruaputahanga and he had to trudge back to Kawhia, defeated.

Mana was a vital aspect of early Maori life. It might be defined as some kind of spiritual force that some people have which resonates in the souls of those around them. It can be inherited by the circumstances of birth, or it can be gained by meritorious deeds. It might be gained through acts of valour, kindness, hospitality, or in many other ways. Not only human beings but properties and objects such as mauri (life essence) stones, weapons and prized fish hooks could acquire mana; even animals. Mana didn't always differentiate between good and evil. A chief could become a man of immense mana by being cruel and bloodthirsty, or, by being knowledgeable, hospitable, and benevolent. Whatever did the job best acquired mana. But, as quickly as one gained it, one could lose it.

Something as simple as an unavenged insult, a raid gone wrong, or the wrath of a scorned woman had the potential to strip a man of his mana. This must have been the case with Whatihua because after a while he packed up his tribe and moved across the Aotea Harbour to Manuaiti, an elevated plateau overlooking the sea. There he remained until his old age, frequently retiring to a cave set high on a limestone cliff-face. From this favourite spot he could look out across the ocean and enjoy solitude, fresh air and peace. When he died his body was interred there.

It is generally accepted that Whatihua somehow lost his mana, hence his retirement to Manuaiti when he should have become a more dominant force throughout the Kawhia-Waikato regions after the departure of Turongo to the King Country. It is very likely he never recovered from the loss of Ruaputahanga. Another indication of his increasing drop in status as he grew old is the story of a subordinate chief at Manuaiti who subjected him to the ultimate insult by forcing him to walk between his legs while he urinated on his head. This is likely just a story to illustrate how feeble Whatihua had become, because urinating on a chief's head would have been such an intolerable insult that only a mortal enemy would do it and no-one would rest until vengeance had been done; even for a declining chief like Whatihua. 

There is a story that goes with Whatihua's departure from this world of light.

It is said that when the hair on his head grew white with age and his end was imminent, he was seen walking to the edge of the cliff above his cave. Suddenly, he leaped from the precipice to plummet to his death. The people rushed to where he disappeared but they could not see out far enough to view the bottom so they rushed to the path going down and searched in vain for his body. Wailing in sorrow, they returned to the pa on the plateau. A little while later, his body was discovered in his cave, reposing peacefully and dressed in his finest raiment.

It was a miracle that gave Whatihua a departure befitting a great chief.

Written by David Bell

Sources used: 


  1. May I please reference your work for my study research. This by far is most defiantly the greats puurakau I have ever read in my life, and I have read many!

  2. Love the retelling of this puurakau :) Arohanui