Saturday, June 19, 2010

Arai Te Uru

Kia ora (Hello)

In yesterday’s post I had three photos of a rocky mountain with a dark blur across it and wondered if I’d captured the taniwha of Hokianga.   Thanks to the people who suggested what the problem may have been.  Yes, it may have been dirt, pollen or a smudge on the lens.  I prefer to stay in my romantic world and believe it was the mythical Taniwha of Hokianga.  (When pronouncing taniwha, the wh makes the “f” sound.) 
Taniwha is a mythological creature living in watery places. I equate them to the Australian Aboriginal mythology bunyip which I secretly believed in as a child. Taniwha habitat was near ominous places. These legendary Maori beings are both perceived as hostile beings as well as guardians of individuals or tribes. Taniwha have the ability to shift shape. Once in the water they could appear as sharks, giant squids, or big sea snakes while on land they turned into giant lizzards or even dragons. They were feared by many.

While  they were dangerous beasts, when treated with respect by humans Taniwha could be their guardians. Each tribe had its own Taniwha saving members from drowning, protecting them from approaching enemy tribes and, fighting alongside the tribe.

From a more spiritual point of view the Taniwha was considered a connection between the human life on earth and the spiritual world of the gods, ancestors and stars. In this matter the mythological creature functioned as a link between common daily life and ancestral heritage.

No part of Aotearoa (New Zealand) can claim a more storied past than Hokianga. From both the Maori and Pakeha (European) aspects, it can be said to tell the history of the land.

Arai Te Uru Hokianga Harbour entrance1

Hokianga has two stories of the same taniwha . One is that two taniwha, Arai-te-uru and Niwa, were put in place to guard the harbour entrance. Arai-te-uru made his home on the south head and Niwa (in the other story his name is Hiwa)  positioned himself at the north head. (I was photographing Arai-te-uru when the dark blur appeared.) Their job was to lash out with their powerful tails and stir the waters into such frenzy that invading waka (canoes) would be swamped and rendered helpless in the sea.

The sea below Arai-te-uru, at the entrance to Hokianga Harbour, looks like the work of powerful tails.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be entering that harbour in any sort of craft, least of all a canoe.

Hokianga Harbour entrance1

The other story:
Some say that it was the great waka (canoe) Mamari, others will say Takitimu, that was accompanied by a female guardian taniwha named Araiteuru.  She was pregnant at the time and not long after the great arrival she gave birth to eleven babies, all boys.

As they grew they would set out to explore and would use their noses to dig trenches as they went. This created the many branches of the Hokianga Harbour.

Araiteuru lives in a cave on the south head of the Hokianga Harbour and is regarded as the guardian of that district.  Her Partner, Hiwa resides on the north Head of the harbour.  At earlier times it was thought that her anger would raise storms to wreck ships on the bar and also it was believed that the leading tohunga (priest), Te Waenga, of the Hokianga people had the power to command her to send heavy seas or to calm them.  This was around 1830.

There is a cave not too far away from Araiteuru's own that has been used through the ages to lay to rest the bones of people from that area.  Perhaps they felt that she would guard them in death also.

A few of her children chose to stay with their mother and probably reside in the Hokianga Harbour even today.

Thanks to for the stories behind the legend.

To learn more about Maori culture:

Ka kite ano - Until I see you again


  1. I like the second story best....but eleven baby boys. Good grief! No wonder she was angry all the time and sank ships at sea.
    Wonderful myths and stories. Very interesting.

  2. Thanks for sharing the story bout Taniwha. When i was a kid, I love listening to my aunties any mythological stories.

  3. This is a nice post about Taniwha and I had never heard of it before. I also like the photos that are used to illustrate it.

  4. Interesting story. I also enjoyed your spotlight interview on FSO.

  5. Thank you for these stories about the heads of our mighty Hokianga.

  6. The stories are fascinating - as most mythology is. The last photo though is what captured my interest. Such sea at a harbour entrance. I think I'd wait for a calmer day!


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