How the Kumara
Came to Aotearoa
Pourangahua was a man who lived on the east coast of the North Island, near where the town of Gisborne now stands. He and his wife had a small son whom they loved very much.
Now when this child grew big enough to run about, they noticed something very strange. Their son kept on poking out his tongue, and he did this always in the same direction, toward the sea. If he was walking along he would turn around and poke it out; if he was lying down he would roll over and do so.
Pourangahua and his wife asked themselves what this could mean. They thought of many things, but in the end Pourangahua said, ‘Perhaps our son is hungry’, and his wife agreed that this must be so. Then the two of them brought the child great quantities of the best food they could find: fernroot and berries, fish, eels, pigeons and tuis. But it was no use; still he continued to poke his tongue in the direction of the sea.
Then Pourangahua said, ‘The food for which our son hungers must be across the sea. I will go in my canoe to find it’. So he said farewell to his wife and son, and paddled out into the vast ocean. For many days he travelled, and saw no land. Then at last he reached an island. The people on this island made him welcome and took him to their village. There they set before him a strange food. Porangahua ate this, and found that it was much better than any food he had ever tasted. It was the kumara, which was not grown in his own land. Then Pourangahua knew that it was the Kumara for which his son had been hungry.
Pourangahua stayed for some time on the island as a guest of that people and their priest Tane. But after a while he became homesick, and wished to go again to his own country. However his canoe had disappeared, and there was no way for him to return.
Tane saw that his friend was sad, and asked
him the cause of this. When Pourangahua had told him, Tane said, ‘There is a way for you to go. But it is very dangerous; only the bravest of men could attempt it. If you wish to return to your own land, I will lend you my bird; you must sit upon its back, and it will carry you across the ocean’.
This bird was a pet of Tane's, a fierce and beautiful creature with huge wings.
‘And there is yet more danger’, Tane said. ‘After a time you will come to a mountain called Hikurangi. On this mountain there lives the monster Tama, and as you fly past him he will attack you. Therefore you must go past as the sun is setting. At this time of day the level rays of the sun will blind his eyes, so that he will not be able to see you, and you will escape his clutches.
‘There are, as well, two conditions which I will require of you if you borrow my bird. You must treat him with kindness, and you must alight from his back as soon as you reach your country. Otherwise he will not be able to return past the monster at the time when it is safe to do so’.
Pourangahua promised Tane that he would abide by these conditions, and he climbed on to the bird's huge back. He took with him a basket of kumaras, so that he might grow this wonderful food in his own land.
Then the bird clapped its great wings and rose in the air. It flew fast and high above the ocean until it came to the mountain where the monster Tama lived. Then the monster reached out to catch and devour them, but the sun was almost setting, and its rays came straight across the water and blinded Tama's eyes, and thus they escaped this peril.
At last Pourangahua saw in the distance the hills of his home. But then he forgot the two promises he had made to Tane. He had said he would treat the bird with kindness, but now he reached out and pulled a long feather from its back. This feather sank down through the water beneath them, and at the bottom of the ocean it grew into a tall spreading tree; but that is another story. Pourangahua had also promised that he would alight from the bird as soon as they came to his country. But now he was so eager to see his wife and son again that he forgot this, and made the bird take him all the way to his own village. Because of this, by the time the bird flew back it was the middle of the day. At this time the monster's eyes were not blinded by the sun, and as the bird came past him, he seized and devoured it.
When he heard of the fate of his bird, the priest Tane through his magic sent across the sea the three diseases which attack the kumara. So it is because of Pourangahua that the Maori people have the kumara, but it is because of Pourangahua's unkindness that they must work so hard to cultivate it, and it does not always flourish.
When a 20-year-old Auckland Maori shoe-making apprentice won the £12,000 first prize in the Golden Kiwi a few months ago, he sought to buy a house for his wife and himself. When the youth pleasant, presentable and well-dressed, told a group housing salesman he wanted something about £4,000 and would pay cash, the salesman laughed—and lost a sale.
After buying a house from a vendor who took him seriously, the youth sought to buy furniture for it from a leading city furniture store. The salesman showed him only junk, would not listen when told the customer wanted quality—and lost a three-figure order.
Mr F. B. Katene has recently retired from his position as District Welfare Officer for the Ikaroa district, an extensive district which extends from Cook's Strait South to the Manawatu, Wairarapa, Wellington and Hawkes Bay. He served four years overseas in active service during World War I, worked for a time as Land Agent in Wellington, then in the New Zealand Railways till 1940. Since then he has been with the Maori Affairs Department for a period of 22 years.
In Wellington Mr Katene is better known as ‘Uncle Fred’, perhaps a phrase that explains the virtues of this sympathetic, kindly and quiet gentleman. His work has not been a job to him, but a life's work of sheer devotion to the needs of the Maori people and the mission of racial harmony on a personal and group level.
Without men like Fred Katene, the Ngati Poneke Association would not be the respected and vigorous organisation that it is today. There have been many times when I felt Mr Katene was the Ngati-Poneke Association.
Like all men in ‘needle’ positions he has been subject to frequent criticism, many destructive, but with a smile and a shrug he has carried on his merry way, with continued success. Wherever there is ‘dirty’ work to be done during or after social gatherings, there you will find ‘Uncle Fred’—keeping things going and planning behind the scenes.
In his daily Welfare duties he has always been energetic and persistent. Where-ever he is—and usually he is there, whether it be the Magistrate's Court, conferences, tribal meetings, youth gatherings or church meetings—‘Uncle Fred’ stands out as a distinctive and alert personality.
His retiring from the ‘old school’ of Welfare Officers means the passing of an era—his day was not the day of the trained social scientist, but a time when success depended more on an officer's personality, personal sacrifices, devotion and sheer ‘guts’.