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Legends of the Maori

Episode III. The Launching of the Spell

page 99

Episode III. The Launching of the Spell.

When Te Aké returned from his expedition to the north, it was the time of summer, when the inland people came down to the sea coast and camped there, and spent long, glorious days in fishing and in scouring the rock coast and its far-stretching sandy beaches for oysters and mussels and the great pawa shellfish. And the dwellers in the riverbank pa, Pohoareare, men, women and children, launched their canoes and paddled down the slow Opaawaho, across the shallows of Ohikaparuparu, or, literally, “Fall-in-the-mud,” and so out past the black, tooth-like rock of Rapanui to the firm beach sands, where Sumner township stands to-day. With Turaki-po at their head they pitched their camp, and they hauled their great seines in the surf and paddled out to the hapuku and rock cod grounds, and speared flounders by torchlight in the shallows on the quiet summer nights, and their bivouac fires blazed cheerfully along the beach and under the shadow of the Cave Rock; and on the warm sands within the great cave itself, many a whariki sleeping-mat of flax was spread out by the brown fisher-folk after their long and happy day’s work in the gathering of the salt sea food.

* * *

Te Aké sat alone on a lookout crag that butted like a great sperm whale’s head into the Pacific, on the north-eastern face of Banks Peninsula. Far below he saw the smoke of fishermen’s camp fires rising through the mild, sweet air of the summer afternoon; the womenfolk were making ready for the evening meal against their men’s return from the sea. He saw the bold front of Otokitoki, where the Godley Head lighthouse stands to-day, topping fire-fused cliffs hundreds of feet above the snowy foam. Beyond, on the north, where the coast curved quickly into the bay, he knew his blood-foe was camped, and even as he looked he could see out on the gently breathing sea the dots that he knew were Turaki-po’s canoes making homeward after their day’s fishing. And sitting there on the sentry cape, naked, the deadly purpose of the vendetta giving a ferocity to his face, his eyes glittering, the chief of Akaroa repeated in a tense monotone his karakia to raise vengeance-working spirits from the deep. For from the deep sea must the death come upon Turaki-po; and so it was to Tangaroa and to the god-fish Tuhirangi and all the miracle-working maraki-hau and the countless demons of the ocean that Te Aké addressed his invocations. For a death stroke from the sea he called, an aitua which should come upon the fishers as a monster in the night. The Maori sorcerer of old, by dark virtue of his occult rites and his mana of hereditary priesthood, and his strange rhythmic incantations, held dominion over the creatures of the sea, page 100 and they came to his call from the waters of Tangaroa’s world. So say the old people to whom the tale of these mystic doings has come down.

Long Te Aké sat there on his solitary rock-top, making his appeal to the gods of wind and wave and all strange life that lies in the black waters. He ended at last, with a quick jerk forward of his shaggy head, his eyes set in a glare, and seeming almost to start out of their sockets as he uttered the final words of his cursing prayer, “Ki te Po” (“To the Night”).