By Arthur James Iles (1870 – 1943) – Photographer (New Zealander) Born in Oamaru, New Zealand. Dead in Rotorua, New Zealand. Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In the myths and legends of the Ngai Tahu people who live on Te Waipounamu also known as the South Island of New Zealand, Poutini was a water spirit they called a Taniwha. Poutini was the protector of the people and was also the guardian of several types of mineral including nephrite jade, serpentine, and bowenite and often known collectively as greenstone today. The Ngai Tahu people called the greenstone, Pounamu and it was a highly prized mineral in their culture used for carving jewelry and ornaments in particular. They believed that all things had a life force or essence they called mauri and Poutini was the guardian of the life force of this special mineral.
Poutini was believed to have his home in the wild seas off the West Coast of the South Island, or “Te Tai o Poutini”. There was once a time when he would roam far from home. One day while he was basking in the warm waters off Tuhua, which is now known as Mayor Island which lies off the Bay of Plenty of the North Island, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life and he wanted her for himself. Without further thought, he lunged forward and grabbed her and carried her off to the mainland. The woman’s name was Waitaiki and she was married to a mighty chief named Tama-ahua who was skilled in the magical arts and the ways of the world of the spirits. As soon as he realized his wife had been kidnapped he threw a magical dart high into the air. The dart pointed the way and Tama-ahua paddled his canoe across the sea following the dart.
Meanwhile, Poutini had reached the mainland and Waitaiki was chilled through to the bone. He lit a fire to warm her but he hearing Tama-ahua coming he immediately took up Waitaiki and carried her across country with Tama-ahua hard on his trail. The chase continued but every now and then Poutini was forced to stop to light a fire to warm his shivering captive. Each place he stopped at to light a fire became an important source of Pounamu.
The Tears of Waitaiki
With Tama-ahua hot on the trail Poutini carried Waitaiki southward to Piopiotahi which is now called Milford Sound. All this time poor Waitaiki was weeping, frightened and very, very cold and she begged and begged Poutini to take her home. Poutini would not listen and was still inflamed with lust for her and carried her up the Arahura River to its headwaters hoping to lose his pursuer. However, Tama-ahua was still being guided by his magical dart and whichever way Poutini went trying to throw Tama-ahua off his trail the dart pointed the way. It was only a matter of time before Tama-ahua caught up. When he found his wife’s tears that she had shed that had turned to stone he redoubled his efforts in anger. The Ngai Tahu people find these petrified tears of Waitaiki and call it Tangiwai which means tears that come from great sorrow. They are clear like glass but are found in various shades and are also called Bowenite.
By Vassil (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Turned to Pounamu
Realising Poutini had changed direction he followed his dart along the seashore to the Arahura River. He followed the river upstream until nightfall and decided to stop and rest for the night so that he could be strong and as fresh as possible for the final confrontation with Poutini being confident he would catch up with him the next day.
Poutini knew that Tama-ahua was closing in on him and while carrying Waitiki he could not go any faster and he grew afraid. He feared the strength and courage of Tama-ahua and feared his magic but vowed he would never give up Waitaiki. He made up his mind that if he could not have her no one else would. Summoning up his own magical powers he changed Waitaiki into his own essence which was the same as that of Pounamu and placed her on the river’s bed.
The Children of Waitaiki
Then he sneaked past Tama-ahua while he was asleep and headed back downstream towards the sea. When Tama-ahua awoke he followed the river upstream until he came to the headwaters where he expected to find Poutini, but he had gone. Looking around Tama-ahua found Waitiki laid out on the riverbed. Her body was hard and cold and had been turned into the greenstone that the Ngai Tahu people call the Mother of Pounamu. To them, her children were the fragments that break off her as the river washed over her and were carried down to the sea and she became the motherlode of all of the pounamu of the Arahura River.
The Tangi of Tama-ahua
By Captain Richard Aldworth Oliver delt. Dickinson & Co. lith. [London, 1852] [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Poutini went back home where he still swims along the coast and remains the guardian of pounamu. As for Tama-ahua, overcome with grief he composed his Tangi which is a song of mourning. He sang this with all his heart and soul and his voice is said to still resonate in the mountains today.
07/06/2016 zteve t evans
Reference, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright June 7th, 2017 zteve t evans
- Mythology – Ngai Tahu Pounamu
- Pounamu – Wikipedia
- The origins of pounamu – Te Ara
- File:Arthur James Iles – Maori woman, Thames, New Zealand – Google Art Project.jpg From Wikimedia Commons – Maori woman, Thames, New Zealand – Photograph by Arthur James Iles (1870 – 1943) – Public Domain
- File:MAP Expo Maori Hameçon 13012012 2.jpg From Wikimedia Commons – End of a fishing hook, nephrite, Maori culture, 1800-1900. by Vassil – Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.
- File:Te Nangihaeta, New Zealand chief, Capt Oliver delt. Dickinson & Co. lith. London, 1852.jpg From Wikimedia Commons – Author: Captain Richard Aldworth Oliver delt. Dickinson & Co. lith. [London, 1852] – Public Domain