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No. 56 (September 1966)
– 22 –

A Note on the Manuscripts
Of Mohi Ruatapu and Henare Potae

In the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington there are two manuscript books, each of 160 pages, entitled ‘Maori Manuscripts of Mohi Ruatapu and Henare Potae’. These books were among some papers of Elsdon Best's which the library acquired in 1952. They contain the text of myths, legends, ritual chants and songs.

In 1928 and 1929 Elsdon Best published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society four texts from these manuscripts, with translations; they are the Story of Rua and Tangaroa (vol. 37, p. 257), the Story of Ngae and Tutununui (vol. 37, p. 261), the Story of Tawhaki (vol. 37, p. 359) and the Maui Myths (vol. 38, p. 1). In one of these articles Best tells us that the stories were written by ‘Mohi Ruatapu and Henare Potae of the East Coast’; in another place he says that the stories are ‘as narrated by the natives of Tolago Bay’, and elsewhere that they are ‘written by Henare Potae of Uawa, and Mohi Ruatapu, for Samuel Locke’. A note in Best's writing on the manuscript identifies as Samuel Locke an individual named Raka who is several times addressed in the text, for example in the story of Ngati Pakura published above. Samuel Locke was a well-known Maori scholar of the last century who collected much East Coast material.

On one page of the manuscript there occurs the date June 4, 1876.

In 1880 and 1881 William Colenso published in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute (vols. XIII and XIV) two articles giving translations of Maori manuscripts which, he implies, he had himself collected. However his translations are of stories in the manuscript books in question, and he must have borrowed them from Samuel Locke, who was also living in Napier about this time. Later John White reprinted some of Colenso's translations in his ‘Ancient History of the Maori’.

A note at the end of the manuscript reads. ‘Na Mohi Ruatapu kei Ouawiwa tona kainga. Na H. Potae te puka whaki, o Tokomaru’ (By Mohi Ruatapu of Ouawiwi. H. Potae of Tokomaru wrote it down). I have no been able to discover the whereabout of Ouawiwi; perhaps it was a small settlement. Henare Potae of Tokomaru Bay was at this time a well-known figure on the East Coast.

It seems likely that this Mohi Ruatapu was the author of a similar manuscript, dated 1871, a copy of which is among the papers of the Maori Purposes Fund Board in the Alexander Turnbull Library. In an introductory note to this manuscript W. L. Williams writes, ‘This book was given to me by the late Major Ropata Wahawaha … the authorit ybeing Mohi Ruatapu of Tokomaru, an old tohung’. W. E. Gudgeon, a contemporary expert on Maori history, speaks of a Mohi Ruatapu as being ‘the most learned of all the Ngati Porou tohungas’ (J.P.S. vol. 4, p. 17).

In the original text the stories have no titles. The story of the quarrel between Tuere and Tangihaere, and Te Awariki, is in vol. 1, pp. 91–93. The story of the woman and the ngarara is in vol. 2, pp. 145–148, and the story of Ngati Pakura is in vol. 2, pp. 154–158.