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No. 63 (June 1968)
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The Fairies of Moehau

Fairies, or patupaiarehe, were said to be much like human beings, but with white skins and red hair. They lived on the mountain tops. Most of the time they could not be seen, though sometimes on a misty day a tohunga might catch a glimpse of them.

One of the places most frequented by the fairies was Moehau, the high mountain at Cape Colville on the Coromandel Peninsula. Edward Tregear, in his book The Maori Race (p. 523), tells us that Moehau was so sacred to the fairies that few people dared approach it, but that ‘those who did so had wonderful stories to relate of seeing fairy-forts made of interlaced supplejack, and of finding plantations of gourds. If anyone attempted to lift one of these gourds it was found to be too heavy to move’.

John White says that the fairies' pa were in dense forest on the heights of the mountain, and that no man could make a way through the woven supplejack that surrounded them (Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. 33, p. 211).

The mountain was tapu, or sacred, both because of the fairies and because it was Tamatekapua's burial place. The famous ancestor Tamatekapua was captain of the Arawa canoe during the migration to this country. For an account of his burial on the summit of Moehau, see Edward Shortland's book Maori Religion and Mythology, p. 52. Perhaps it was thought that the presence of Tamatekapua lessened the power of the fairies.

The last sentence of the account published here is a graceful, if somewhat ambiguous, compliment to Sir George Grey. It implies that of all men, only Governor Grey has sufficient mana to ascend the sacred mountain—though this would be an act that would destroy much of its sacredness.

The manuscript is in the Auckland Public Library manuscript collection (GNZMMSS 7). It was collected by Sir George Grey, and is undated. It may have been among the traditions that Grey collected in 1849, during a journey through the Thames district. It is headed, in a different hand, ‘The origin of mana of Thames tribe’. This must refer to the fact that Moehau was the sacred mountain of the people of the district.

The Fairies of Moehau

E hoa, he pono anō tēnei hanga te patuparehe, mai anō i mua, i a Tamatekapua e ora ana. Koia te kaupapa o taua hanga, a, nō tana matenga, kāhore he nohoanga mō rātou. I tanumia hoki a ia ki Moehau, a, kei reira te tino pukenga o taua iwi i a tāua e noho nei. Tēnā anō te ana ōna e tanu nei kei te tihi o Moehau; te tohu, he korau nui whakaharahara.

Tēnā, i noho kaupapa-kore taua iwi, ā, taea noatia ngā rā o tēnei iwi o Ngāti Rongou, arā, o Ngāti Rongoi, ka waiho te rangatira o taua hapū, a Matatahi, hei kaupapa.

A, ka haere ētahi o ngā tāngata o taua hapū ki te patu poaka i Moehau; ko te

 

The fairies do exist, my friend, and have done so since the early days, when Tamatekapua was alive. The reason for their hostility was that from the time of his death there was no dwelling-place for them. Tamatekapua was buried on Moehau, which right down to the present day has been the place most treasured by the fairies. His burial cave is there on the peak of Moehau; an enormous tree-fern marks the spot.

Nevertheless, they had no quarrel with us until the time of this people Ngati Rongou, also known as Ngai Rongoi. Then Matatahi, the chief of this sub-tribe, gained their enmity.

Some men from the sub-tribe went pig-

 
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takiwā tēnei o mua i a Ngāti Paoa, i a Ngāti Maru kiano i nui noa. Na, ka haere taua hunga, a, ka tae ki taua rākau nei, he rewarewa, e mau ana koa te puku i taua rākau. Na, he tahā nei; a, ka pōutokia e taua hunga, ka motu, [ka] taunaha [taua] ipu mā rātou.

A, ka haere atu, ka tae ki taua wāhi i te ara e ārai mai ana te ara i te kareao; ko te kareao e tupu ana anō, otiia he mea whakapiko e rātou, e te patuparehe—arā, e te patupaearehe—hei tāepa, arā, hei nohoanaga mō rātou; ko roto o taua tāepa he raurēkau, he otaota, he aha, he aha, hei nohoanga.

Ka haere tau[a] tokorima, a, ka mau tā rātou poaka, he poaka ngako; a, ka pōutokia. Ka motu mā tēnei, mā tēnei, a, ka whakawahaa mai, ā, ka tae mai ki te tahā i taunaha rā, ka pīkaua e tētahi o rātou; a, kīhai i mataara mai. Ka noho, ka okioki i te taimaha, a, ka nuku mai, ka okioki anō. Ka karanga atu ngā hoa, ‘E hoa, kia horo mai!’

Ka mea ake tērā, ‘E pā mā, he taimaha nō taku pīkaunga.’

[I] te mōhio te tangata rā e pēhia ana a ia e te parehe, otiia kīhai rātou i kite i aua hanga rā, nō te mea he wairua; e riri ana hoki rātou mō tā rātou tahā i tapahia mai rā. Kātahi ka mahue taua tahā rā, a, tae rawa atu taua tokorima ki te kāinga.

Kua pōuri; whakatarea ana tā rātou poaka, he poaka mōmona taua poaka. Tēnā, e ao ake te rā, ka taona taua poaka e rātou; a, nō ka hukea te hāngi, he hāwareware kau anō; kāhore he kiko, kāhore he aha. Kātahi ka mōhiotia e rātou, nā te parehe i kino ai mō tā rātou tahā i pōutokia rā.

A, ka pō, ka tae mai aua parehe ki te kāinga o taua iwi rā, o Ngāti Rongoi, a, tōia ana te tangata ki waho nāna i waha mai taua ipu. Ka nui hoki te kaha o taua iwi parehe; ka pupuri taua tangata ki te rākau, mahua katoa taua rākau—ka mau anō he rākau, ka mahua anō. Kawea ana e rātou ki te wai, rumakina ana, ka mate. Ka hokia anō e rātou ki te kāinga, patua ana te tokowhā, ka mate.

E hoa, kei kī koe e noa ana i Moehau, kāore, e tapu tonu ana te tihi. Kāhore anō i taea e te tangata o muri mai o Tamatekapua, engari pea mā Kāwana Kerei e taea ai.

 

hunting at Moehau; this district used to belong to Ngati Paoa before Ngati Maru became so numerous. They set off, and they came to a tree, a rewarewa, to which there was attached a rounded object. It was a calabash. The men cut it down and claimed it as their own.

They went further on, and came to a place where the path was blocked by supplejack; the supplejack was still growing, but it had been bent round by the fairies so as to form an enclosure within which they lived. Inside the fence there were rangiora and all kinds of other plants, where they had their home.

The five men continued on their way and caught their pig, a fat one. They cut it up and divided the pieces amongst them, carrying them on their backs. When they came to the calabash they had claimed, one of them took it on his back.

Soon he was not able to stay awake. He sat down and rested because of the weight, then went on, then rested again. His companions called, ‘Hurry up, friend!’

He said, ‘Friends, it is because my load is so heavy!’

He knew it was the fairies that were weighing him down, but the men could not see the fairies, for they were spirits; they were furious because their calabash had been cut down. So the five men abandoned the calabash, and finally reached their village.

By now it was dark. They hung up their pig—it was a fat one. Next morning they cooked it, and when the oven was opened there was nothing but skin and bone—there was no flesh at all. They knew then that the fairies were persecuting them because of the calabash they had cut down.

When night fell, the fairies came to the village of Ngati Rongoi and dragged out the man who had carried the calabash. The fairies were very strong indeed; the man held on to a tree, but it was pulled right out of the ground. He took hold of another tree, but it was also pulled from the ground. They carried him to the water, and they drowned him. Then they went back to the village and attacked and killed the other four men.

My friend, do not imagine that Moehau is now free from tapu—no, the peak is still tapu. No man since Tamatekapua has ever attained the peak, though it may be that Governor Grey will do so.