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No. 50 (March 1965)
– 6 –

A TRAVELLER'S
PRAYER

I arrive where an unknown earth is under my feet,
I arrive where a new sky is above me,
I arrive at this land,
A resting-place for me.
O spirit of the earth! The stranger humbly offers his heart as food for thee.
Ka u ki Matanuku
Ka u ki Matarangi
Ka u ki tenei whenua
Hei whenua,
He kai mau te ate o te tauhou.

In former times it was believed that certain rocks, trees and springs were the homes of spirits (tipua). Travellers passing by one of these enchanted places would recite this prayer to the spirit who lived there, at the same time pulling up a twig, a frond of fern or a handful of grass, and throwing it as an offering on to the rock, or into the waters of the spring. In this way they propitiated the spirit of the place, which might otherwise have been angry at the intrusion.

Especially Important for Strangers

This ceremony was usually performed whenever a person came to one of these shrines, but it was especially important that a stranger should perform it when he approached the place for the first time. If he were to neglect to do so, the spirit would certainly take its revenge.

The spell given above is recorded in G. S. Cooper's ‘Journal of an Expedition Overland from Auckland to Taranaki’ (1851), pp. 40–42. When the expedition, led by Governor Grey, reached Te Aroha near the Thames River, Cooper was taken to see the hot spring at the foot of the mountain (Te Korokoro o Hura). As he was a stranger there, he was taught this ceremony.

Cooper gives the following explanation of the spell.

‘Matanuku’ (synonymous with Nuku, Papa, and Papatuanuku) signifies the earth. It is used here for the place to which the stranger has come. ‘Matarangi’ signifies the sky; in this unknown place, the traveller is said to have a new sky above him. In the last line, he offers his heart as food for the spirit. It was a terrible curse for one man to refer to another as being food to be eaten, and by describing himself in this way the stranger made the most humble gesture possible, hoping to conciliate the spirit and avoid its anger.

Cooper refers to this ceremony as ‘tupuna whenua’; other writers who mention it use the expression ‘uruuru whenua’. In some accounts of the great migration to Aotearoa, we are told that when the leaders of the people first set foot here, they performed the uruuru whenua ceremony in order to appease the hostile spirits of this unknown land in which they were intruders.

Many Versions Recorded

The spell must be an ancient one, for it has been recorded, with some variants, in many different parts of the country (see, for example, Richard Taylor's ‘Te Ika a Maui’, p. 171, and Elsdon Best's article ‘Maori Forest Lore’ in the ‘Transactions of the New Zealand Institute’, vol. 40, p. 192. John White, in his unpublished papers, gives a Ngapuhi version of it).

Some of these ancient shrines are still known today, one of the most famous being the tree Hinehopu on Hongi's Track. Another well-known one, Hatupatu's rock at Atiamuri, is mentioned in an article on page 11 of this issue of Te Ao Hou.

It would be interesting to hear from readers who could tell us of other such places in their own districts. Why not send a note to Te Ao Hou, at Box 2390, Wellington.

the christchurch maoris' National Marae Organisation has bought an acre of city land on which to build a community centre.

the new principal of Te Wai Pounamu Maori Girls' College in Christchurch is Miss A. Wederell, who for three years has been first assistant at the college. The former principal, Miss E. M. Trounce, retired last year.

mr j. t. piki, a Waipukurau businessman who for many years has given outstanding service to the Returned Servicemen's Association in his district, was recently awarded the association's merit badge and certificate, in recognition of his work for the organisation. The award was presented at a special function held in his honour.

Mr Piki, a member of the Ngaitahu tribe, comes originally from Tuahiwi, North Canterbury.