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Legends of the Maori

Episode II. The Seeking of the Spell

Episode II. The Seeking of the Spell.

The Akaroa chief grieved long for his slain daughter Maid-of-Light; then he set about his task of vengeance. Now, the Maori did not always take the most direct path to the attainment of his passion for blood-payment. Te Aké’s first impulse was to raise a war-party and march on page 98 Turaki-po’s swamp-pa, and slaughter the wizard chief and all his house and hapu. But as Turaki-po would doubtless be prepared, since the news of Hine-ao’s death had spread over the countryside, the father chose a more circumspect but not less deadly form of retribution.

So soon as the period of mourning for the dead girl was ended, Te Aké, with his brother and two or three slaves to carry their bundles of mats and food for the trail, set out on a long journey northward. For many days he and his companions travelled through the grassy plains and over the ranges until they reached at last a little coast kainga, where there dwelt the tohunga Tautini, the great sorcerer, the grey old keeper of all the occult wisdom of Ngai-Tahu. Untold stores of ancient lore, knowledge handed down through long generations from the days when the ancestors of the Maori lived on Asiatic shores, spell upon spell for all the purposes of life and death were locked in the brains that lay behind the shaggy brows of that wise old man. Steeped in tapu through and through, his sleeping hut, even the floor mats on which he rested as he squatted in the sun in his thatched porch-front, so sacred that none but he might touch them, the medicine-man was at once the venerated ariki, or priestly chieftain, and the dread of his tribespeople. From him and his co-priest Irirangi came most of such remnants of the ancient sacred knowledge as have been preserved to this day in the South Island by Ngai-Tahu.

To these mentors then Te Aké resorted to learn such spells and rites as might enable him to work vengeance on his blood-enemy Turaki-po and appease the mana of his murdered daughter. His brother, tradition says, troubled not about spells and such esoteric matters but employed his time in making love to the girls of the seaside village. But Te Aké, with grim purpose, made request of the learned man Tautini that he should teach him his most powerful man-slaying incantations and rites, the thrice-tapu ritual of the makutu. He had laid before the sorcerer, as he made greeting, his baskets of presents from the south, greenstone ornaments and finely woven flax and feather garments, and carved pottles of preserved birds. These gifts opened the heart of the grim priest, and night after night, when other men slept, he imparted to Te Aké the dread secrets of his art, and after a curious rite intended to make his pupil’s memory retentive, he recited karakia after karakia, which sank into the memory of Te Aké never to be forgotten. It was from Tautini that Turaki-po’s incantations had been learned; but Te Aké had now acquired spells even more powerful than those of his enemy, whom he held henceforth in the hollow of his hand. And from Irirangi also, the second of the great priests, Te Aké learned karakia of incalculable potency, which enabled him to call the gods to his aid, the gods of earth, sky and ocean. Like Tautini and Irirangi, indeed, he was now a god in himself.