Legends of the Maori
The Omen of the Flax Bush
The Omen of the Flax Bush.
A lament sung by the East Coast tribes at a tangihanga over the dead.
Haere re e koro!
Koutou ko o matua.
Unuhia i te rito o te harakeke,
Ka tu i te aroakapa.
Aku nui aku wehi,
Aku whakatamarahi ki te rangi.
Waiho te iwi nana i mae noa.
Kia mate ia nei koe, e koro!
Ko Atamira te waka, ko Hotutaihirangi,
Ko Tai-o-puapua, ko te Raro-tua-maheni,
Ko Araiteuru, ko Nuku-tai-memeha,
Ko te waka i hiia ai
Te whenua nui nei e!
Farewell, O Friend!
Depart to thine ancestral company.
Thou’rt plucked from us
As the flax-shoot is plucked from the bush
And held aloft before the warriors.
Thou that wert our boast, our pride,
Whose name has soared on high.
Thy people now are sad and desolate.
Indeed thou’rt gone, O Friend!
Thou’rt vanished like our ancestral ships,
The famed canoes Atamira, Hotutaihirangi,
Tai-o-puapua, Te Raro-tua-maheni,
The Araiteuru; and Nuku-tai-memeha,
The canoe that drew up from the sea
This solid land.
The allusion in this poem to the “shoot of the flax bush” (te rito-harakeke) was a reference to one of the old-time methods of divination practised by the priests before a war-party set out on the enemy’s trail. The omen-reader would pluck up the rito, or middle shoot of a flax plant. If the end broke off evenly and straight, it was a good sign, presaging an easy victory. If it were jagged and gapped, or torn, that was a tohu kino, or evil omen, a warning that a leading chief of the war party would be slain.
The Nuku-tai-memeha in East Coast legend is the canoe in which Maui discovered New Zealand, or, as the Maori has it, fished up the land from the ocean depths.