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No. 38 (March 1962)
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Kites Were Magic Once

Based on an article by Archdeacon Walsh in vol. XLV of the Transactions of the N.Z. Institute

In the old days kite-flying was very important. Especially if you know nothing about aeroplanes, there is something magical about sending a kite high up into the wind. It is the furthest you can get from the earth, and the nearest to the sun and stars.

Children had toy kites, but adults flew kites too, and some of their kites were huge. Sometimes they were so big that it took quite a large number of men to get one into the air. In the Auckland Museum there is a kite which is twelve feet long, and some kites were probably bigger than this. There were all sorts of different shapes; for example there were manukaahu (hawk-birds) and manuwhara (sail-birds), and some which were shaped like men.

The body of one of these big kites was usually made from raupo leaves or toetoe stalks, fastened to a framework of light twigs. The head, and sometimes the body too, was often made from the bark of the paper-mulberry tree (aute). This bark was like paper. Sometimes the head had tattoo (moko) painted on it, like the kites over the page, and sometimes it had two long, sharp horns attached to it. The head and its horns were decorated with strings of pigeon and albatross feathers. (The head of the carved figure on the prow of a war-canoe used to be decorated with horns and feathers in the same way—so the war-canoe, going over the water, and the kite, going up in the air, looked rather like each other.)

The heads of these kites were hollow, and inside there were light shells, or else the bones of young birds, put there to make a rattling, rumbling sound as the kite went up.

It was very exciting when the men flew a kite. Many years ago an old man called Te Rangi described what used to happen. It was a difficult, dangerous business to get a big kite launched into the air, because of the straining of the huge wings under the pressure of the wind. For if a false start were made, the old man said, and the kite struck a man as it swooped to the ground, the horns would pierce his body—‘he would be driven into the earth; he woudl never rise again. This is what caused such fear when the manuwhara swooped about like a hawk skimming over the earth; and that is why it required such a number of men to hold it.’

The flying of a kite like this was a great event. There would be large numbers of people there to watch, probably including some from neighbouring villages, some of whom would perhaps bring their own kites to join in a flying match. The ‘great games’, as Te Rangi called them, would be held in a suitable place such as a windy hill, or perhaps a broad beach, when the fine-weather wind was blowing in strong from the sea. There would be the elders, the Kaumatua, sitting with their more distinguished visitors on some rising ground where they had a good view of the proceedings. There would be the chief women also, sitting in a group apart, with the general public in the background, and a host of children running all over the place. All of them would be discussing the merits of the kites, and in the background there would be the steam from the ovens, where the food to be eaten afterwards was cooking.

Then the big kite is brought out and held up by a number of men facing the wind, while a party of young warriors, in their feathers and war-paint, are squatting down together some distance in front, ready to jump up and salute the kite with a haka as it starts on its flight.

And now the excitement rises to fever-heat. ‘The men who were holding the kite,’ said Te Rangi, ‘were as if they were mad, owing to the straining of the wings and the blowing of the wind. As they held it in their hands, a man came running forth from the front rank of the haka, quivering his hands,’ like the challenger of a war-party. At last the kite is let away. Soaring up like a giant hawk, it takes all the men's strength to hold it as they pay out the line, and ‘as it goes up from the hands of the holders, there is heard the rattling of the young ones’, the birds' bones in the head.

Then all the warriors jump to their feet with a shout as of one man. ‘A—haha! Me te kete kainga e ringi ana ki te pari,’ and join in the maddening haka, as the great bird, with its human head festooned and feathered, sails away with waving antennae and long streamers floating in the wind.

A Tuhoe Maori said many years ago that, as the kite ascended, ‘the karakia [the kite flying song] would be repeated. Then a round object, a disc, would be sent up the cord, along which it would travel. It was to take water to the kite, and show that the kite had reached the heavens. And it would reach the kite, although the latter might be so distant as to be out of sight. Then the cord would be drawn in, and finally the kite would

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be recovered. And on being looked at it would be found quite wet. A peculiar wetness this that clings to the kite: it is not like the water which flows here below; it is like dew, or the misty wet which settles on the ranges.’

Kite-flying was not always a game. In the real old times it often had a religious meaning. Maui compelled the winds with his kite, and in the hands of a powerful tohunga the manuaute could do wonderful things. It was sometimes used as a way of finding the solution to a problem, as in the story of Tarakiuta and Tarakitai, and in the case of decisions made in war time. Sometimes it was used as a means of claiming new territory for a tribe. For instance, it is said that the Ngapuhi ancestores, together with those of the Rarawa and the Aopouri, came to New Zealand in the sacred canoe Matawhaorua, in which Kupe had earlier sailed to this country. The voyage was accomplished in safety, and the party landed at Hokianga—so called because it was the place of returning (hokinga)—that is, the place from where Kupe had returned to Hawaiki. The people settled down near the place where they landed, but after a time this place became too small for them, so that a chief named Kaharau decided to go further out and seek land for his descendants. He flew a kite named Tuoronuku from Pakanae, near the mouth of the Hokianga River, and as it went forth this turu manu, or kite song, was sung:

Taku manu, Ke turua atu nei,
He Karipiripi, ke kaeaea;
Turu taku manu,
hoka taku manu,
Ki tua te haha-wai;
Koia Atutahi, koia Rehua,
Whakahoro tau tara,
Ki te Kapua, Koia E!

(Fly away from me, my bird, glance restlessly as you dart about on high; swoon down like the bush hawk in search of its prey. Fly ever higher, beautiful bird, soar beyond the clouds and over the trough of the sea, onward to Caropus, onward to Antares, speed to the clouds like a warrior about to do battle, onward!)

Caropus and Antares are the names of stars.

As the string was let go the kite drifted along before the wind, and fell to the ground at Kaikohe, twenty-five miles away from Pakanae, thus conveying the mana of the tribe to this new land. The people followed the kite, and ever since, the district of Kaikohe has been occupied by a branch of the Ngapuhi Tribe.

These huge kites disappeared soon after the pakehas came. The place of the manuaute has been taken by other things. When we have the post office, there is no need to send a message by kite. Neither would it be worth while to take the matter out of the hands of the police and hunt round with a kite for the body of a missing relative. And the place of the ‘great games’ has been taken by the races and football.


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Geoff Hatu, winner of the Carnival Baby Box Contest.

Maoris Win Rotorua Carnival

Yonine Waka (left) was Carnival Queen in Rotorua last November.

There were six finalists in the Queen contest, and Rotorua Maoris won first place for Yonine with a contribution of over £6,000, as well as winning Geoff Hatu first place with over £900.

In the photograph Yonine has just heard of her success, and is being congratulated by another competitor.

Yonine's prize is a little blue Miniminor car.

Profits from the carnival were far above the target of £15,000. They will go towards a Health and Recreation Centre for Rotorua.

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These were some of the people we met when Te Ao Hou visited Wellington Hospital recently.

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Turina Lake lives at Paraparaumu.

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Denise Wanitana is from Wairoa.

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Mrs Lillian Ripley, photographed with her daughter, Rose-Marie, comes from Ruatoria, but lives in Wellington now. Her maiden name was Awatere.