PUHIWAHINE - MAORI POETESS
THE LAST DAYS OF PUHIWAHINE
Puhiwahine mourned the loss of her husband for many months and her only comfort was the company of her grandchildren, the children of John. With the passing years most of her friends had passed away. In her sorrow and lone-liness her thoughts turned more and more towards the home of her people in the valley of the Taringamotu, where she first saw the light of day. Like a true Maori she felt a great longing to return to her natal soil and end her days there.
She made known her wish to her son, John, and he wrote to his brother, George, informing him of their mother's melancholy state and of her wish. George was at his home at Ongarue at the time, and receiving his brother's letter he lost no time and within a few days he had arrived at Ohinepuhiawe, the home of his brother John. It was a sad leave-taking when Puhiwahine left.
George took her to Miringa, the main settlement of the Ngati-Hinenihi at that time. Miringa is a short distance down the Taringamotu Stream from Petania where she was born. George left her there and returned to his home at Ongarue. Sometime later an invitation was received from the Maniapoto tribe at Te Kuiti for the Ngati-Hinemihi to take Puhiwahine through, as they wished to commiserate with her on her bereavement, as was—and still is—the custom of our people.
A hari mate group (Party of mourners) of the Hinemihi people and representatives of the neighbouring tribes of Ngati-Raerae of Ongarue, the Ngati-Haua of Taumarunui, Ngati Pahere of Te Koura, and the Ngati-Te Ihingarangi of Waimiha. It was a well organised company for a hari mate visit, as was befitting the occasion, and included in their numbers were the leading orators, the song leaders, and the singers of the chorus songs, chants and laments. As a historical note, the writer will name some of them, and they were: Kahutopuni Waata, of Ongarue—a grandaunt of the writer; Hema Rangawhenua, a sister-in-law of George; Puangarangi Te Haeata, Petera, the elder chief of the Ngati-Hinemihi; daughter of Te Haeata Petera, the elder chief of the Hinemihi; and among the chiefs were: Tutahanga Rotohiko Te Wano and his brother, Te Hurinui Te Wano, granduncles of the writer, and first cousins of Kahutopuni Waata; Te Haeata Petera, already mentioned above; Te Hihi Rangawhenua, brother-in-law of George; and Ngatokowha te Rangituatea, of Te Koura.
On arrival at Te Kuiti, the visitors learnt that the full ceremonies for the occasion of the visit of the hari mate had been transferred to Oparure, in deference to the wishes of the Ngati-Kinohaku and their elder chief, none other than Puhiwahine's cousin lover, Te Mahutu Te Teko.
At the time appointed, the visitors—escorted by Tawhana, Te Haeata's cousin—moved off, with their hosts of Ngati-Rora of Te Kuiti, by way of the Mangaokewa river-flats to the marae, or courtyard, at Oparure. The visitors on arrival went through the solemn ceremony of the tangi, or lamentation ceremony. After a time the lamentation died down; and different ones, both among the local people and the visitors, moved away and retired to the bounds of the marae. Finally the only two left standing were Puhiwahine and Te Mahutu Te Teko.
Puhiwahine soon noticed that she and Te Mahutu were the only ones left, and with her fine sense of the dramatic she straightened herself and slowly glanced round at the assembled people; then with a shrug of her shoulders, she dropped her shawl off her shoulders and wrapped it around her waist. There was a short pause then, in the silence that could almost be felt, Puhiwahine burst into song with all the allure and passion of her youthful days. The people were spell-bound and looked up at her in wonder and admiration as they strained their ears to catch every note of her song.
This account from the time the visitors arrived at Te Kuiti is from the story as told to the writer by the late Tu Tawhiao who was present at the time (Tu Tawhiao's Obituary notice is in Te Ao Hou No. 16). We shall now continue with the story. Puhiwahine accompanied her singing with the appropriate gestures for which she was far-famed, and the technique of her performance was altogether a thing of joy. The song she sang was her love song for Te Mahutu (Chapter 4).
Tu Tawhiao, when he told me this story, said it was a dramatic moment, and it was a highly emotional experience for all who were there.
Puhiwahine seemed to have regained her youth; she sang with feeling, and her sweet voice, which never taltered, held the listening multitude in thrall. In voice and gesture she gave a polished performance to the last triumphant note in her singing of her rhapsody of love.
Te Mahutu remained standing throughout. At the end of her song, Puhiwahine unfastened her shawl and throwing it over her shoulders she sat down and sobbed softly to herself. Te Mahutu looked up with a whimsical smile on his tattooed face then, glancing round to his people, he beckoned them to come near, and with his mere in his hand he delivered his speech of welcome. As the song for his speech he sang his own song for Puhiwahine (Chapter 4). His song had been well rehearsed, his voice rang clear, and to the lilt of the song he flourished his mere now high and then close to his breast. His people joined in the singing, and at the end of each verse, from their ranks would come the question, “Where is she, O Ma’?” In the presence of Puhiwahine, Te Mahutu's answer was—in a voice charged with emotion—“E haria mai nei e tana iwi.” (Over yonder, escorted hither by her people.)
At the end of his song Te Mahutu came forward slowly to where Puhiwahine was sitting with her head bent low; and there—surrounded by their tribespeople—the two greeted each other in the hongi, the time-honoured touching of noses in greeting of their race. This was a climax to a poignant scene which touched every heart; and a moment, not without pathos, the like of which had never before—or since—been witnessed.
Puhiwahine on her return from Oparure stayed on at Ongarue in the care of her son George.
Among the earliest recollections of the writer was of Puhiwahine strolling along the roadway through our little village at Ongarue. She would often come among the little children playing their games, and with a softly spoken word she would affectionately pat a bobbing little head as she passed on her way. The last recollection is of the old lady coming towards the writer, softly humming a tune. A few paces away she stopped and looked intently at the apprehensive child before her, and then suddenly without warning she began to sing quite loudly. The child panicked and ran off to his mother. The writer was to learn later of the Hauauru romance from his granduncle, Te Hurinui Te Wano. His explanation for Puhiwahine's behaviour that day was because she must have learnt at that time that the writer was of the same family as Hauauru, and that she only did it in fun and meant no harm.
From all accounts Puhiwahine lived a happy life at Ongarue. From the front door of George's home and to the east the valley of the Mangakaahu opened up a grand view of the Tuhua range. At its southern foothills nestled the Ngati-Hinemihi village of Petania, her birthplace. The writer opines that this view of Tuhua gave solace to her soul, and peace of mind; and that she found happiness and contentment in her declining years at Ongarue.
The dawnlight of a summer's morn was lighting up the high bush-clad range of Tuhua when Puhiwahine passed away to join the many in the Whare Kura o Matangi-reia, The Temple of Fragrant Breezes.
Editor's Note. This concludes Mr Jones' biography of the life and art of Puhiwahine, but a final instalment will appear in the next issue, giving the whakapapa of Puhiwahine, and a fantasy by Mr Jones seeking to throw what light he can on the relationship of Puhiwahine to the great German poet, Goethe.
Te Keehi Kati, widow of Maraku Kati. (These two were also first cousins.) She is wearing two family heirlooms, a rounded piece of greenstone which at one time belonged to Te Rauparaha, and which he presented to Puhiwahine, and a greenstone tiki called Maunganui, which has been a family heirloom for several generations. The photograph was taken in 1958.