Legends of the Maori
The Curse Falls
The Curse Falls.
Next morning’s sun rose on a strangely silent camp. No early risers sang their snatches of song in mimicry of the gurgling and whistling tui; no smoke of oven fires coiled up in thin blue columns as the first flush of sunshine set the cave-riddled lava palisade of Redcliffs aglow with a rosy adumbration of the long-dead volcanic fires. The fishing canoes lay hauled up on the hard sands. The seagulls were astir, seeking their morning’s food, and a flock of sharp-beaked scavengers squabbled over the hacked carcase of the ika moana that evilly scented the good salt air. Motionless, soundless figures lay scattered about the camp fires, some out on the open sands, some in the mouth of the great black Cave Rock. They lay in contorted attitudes, their legs drawn up, their faces twisted and pain disfigured, their hands clenched and dug into the sand. It was a camp of the dead.
The sun rose higher, and curious seagulls came reconnoitring the silent bivouac; their shrill screams rang with echoes upon echoes through the hollow rock. At last one of the prone figures, a woman, stirred, rose with slow and staggering movements, as if awaking from a long trance. She stood awhile looking dazed on the sleepers around her. She called them, but no answer came. She shook one, and then another, but they were stiff and cold, and she uttered a yell of terror. Death had smitten her companions while she slept the heavy sleep of the surfeited.
The savage woman, aghast with horror, rushed from the rock of death, and raced along the beach towards the narrows where the great rock of Rapanui stood in craggy sentry-go over the tideway. Clambering round the point where the overhanging cliffs leaned above the trail, she ran along the muddy shores of Ohikaparuparu until she came upon a little camp of fisher-people from over the hills. To these she told the terrible tale, and then she passes out of our story again. Her name has been preserved in the oral tradition; she was Hineroto, and she was a daughter of the warrior chief Wheke, the son of the conqueror Te Rangiwhakaputa. She was close of kin to Te Aké, and that was how—says the Maori—she happened to be the only one spared when the angel of death smote the campers on the sand.
“Ha! Kua ea te maté!” was Te Aké’s exclamation, when the news reached him at Akaroa. His words meant that his daughter’s death had been paid for, that vengeance had been wrought. That Turaki-po had page 105 escaped the fate of the rest was a pity, but to the Maori mind it was perfectly just and correct that his tribe should suffer for his misdoings. In Te Aké’s heart there was no possible doubt that it was his powerful karakia that had brought the death-dealing whale ashore at the camp of his enemy’s tribe. And Turaki-po—he, too, divined the hand of the gods in that tipi or death-stroke from the ocean. The great fish, it was clear, was saturated with a most terrible tapu, soaked through and through with tapu as whale oil soaks a mat, and it was clear also that this tapu it was that had slain the sleeping feasters as they lay there gorged with the monster’s flesh, and twisted them up in strange and terrifying contortions, suffering, as was the penalty of kinship, vicarious retribution for the murder wrought by their chief.
And from that day onward Tuawera Rock was shunned by the Maori fishers, for it was tapu to the witchcraft-smitten folk of Poho-areare, and never again did the summer-time flounder-spearers and the mussel hunters spread their sleeping-mats in its shadow. It was a place of ghosts, of dead men’s spirits, that whistled in the night. And the name by which the rock became known has carried down to our own times the memory of that midnight death-stroke from the gods.