The Witch’s Rock — A Maori Legend

The Witch's Rock, famous in Maori legend.

I Suppose I had been hopeful in trying to make Hine believe me. Hine is a Maori who has lived for ten years in the bush, some forty miles from civilisation, all his necessary supplies being taken to his whare by his son. He was proud of the fact that he had been able to cut himself, off so effectively from the rest of the world and live the life of a hermit for so long, though he admitted he was pleased to have someone to talk to for the evening—I took that as a hint that I was to stay for the one night only.

Hine had listened patiently till I had finished telling him how men were now flying half way round the globe in less than three days. I had told him about the new aeroplanes that were being flown across the Pacific and the Tasman Sea. But when I had finished, Hine just grinned and told me he didn’t believe it.

He had a better story—and the proof. Would I like to hear it? And so I heard the fascinating story of the Witch’s Rock—and was shown the proof, a torn and rather grimy photograph of the rock with its cleft side.

“Once, in the caves away behind Atiamuri, there lived a bird woman, Kurangaituku, who used to snare birds and keep them for birds or as pets. One day, when Kurangaituku was out hunting, Hatupatu, who was her servant, killed and ate all the birds except one fantail, which flew off into the bush to tell Kurangaituku of Hatupatu’s crime, and brought her hurrying back to the caves.

“Hatupatu heard her coming through the bush and started to run away, for he knew that Kurangaituku would kill him if she could. And so the race carried them for almost four miles, until Hatupatu came to a great rock. ‘Matiti matata’ breathed Hatupatu, and the rock opened to receive him.” (I wondered if Hine had heard the tale of Alibaba and the Forty Thieves.) The legend continued, “Almost exhausted Hatupatu stepped through the opening, hoping to escape the terrible wrath of Kurangaituku, and the rock closed.

“When the bird woman arrived at the rock, just as it closed she stamped around it, turning it over and over and clawing at the crack which marked the opening. But she could not get Hatupatu out, nor could she open it. After a long time Hatupatu emerged from the rock which again opened at his prayer.

“He looked about him but saw nobody, but he had travelled scarcely a hundred yards when, turning round he saw his pursuer emerging from behind a hill where she had lain waiting. Once more the race led them toward the Moerangi Hills. But Kurangaituku was closer than before, and to escape her, the fugitive dived into the ground, came up, ran a short distance and dived again. So the chase continued, and to-day you can see for yourself the holes made in the ground by Hatupatu. They all turned into hot pools but many of them have since dried up.”

Hine paused and glanced at me. In spite of myself I could not help being interested. “And did this ogress catch Hatupatu?” For though Hatupatu had killed all her birds and deserved punishment, I looked on the bird woman as something relentless and cruel. Apparently my question, or rather my interest, pleased the old Maori, for he smiled and spoke again, though not in answer to my question.

“Kurangaituku then chased Hatupatu over the Moerangi Hills behind Whaka-rewarewa, and the Maoris there will show you the track over which they ran. Several rocks still show the marks where Kurangaituku dragged her finger – nails. Down into Whaka-rewarewa they travelled and at last Hatupatu saw his chance to lose his pursuer.”

As this was obviously the climax of the story I leaned forward. “How,” I asked, “did he lose her?”

“Hatupatu dodged in and out amongst the hot, bubbling pools, and Kurangaituku, in her eagerness to keep the man in sight, fell into one of the boiling springs, Whangapipiro, and was scalded to death.”

“That’s a wonderful story, Hine,” I said simply, for, though I had intended to be incredulous, the old man so obviously believed the whole tale that it would have hurt him to be disbelieved.

“There is still a bit more,” he answered. “After he had rested, Hatupatu swam to the island in Lake Rotorua, Mokoia. When he reached it he walked a short distance up the shore, and, taking a sprig of totara from his hair, he threw it away. If you go to Mokoia Island you will see only one totara tree growing there. It grew from the slip that Hatupatu threw away.”

“I saw a totara tree there last year, and was told it was the only one on the island. But I wasn’t told how it had grown there. But this,” I said, holding up the photograph,’ “how could I see this Witch’s Rock, to take a picture of it?”

“It stands beside the road near Atiamuri,” answered Hine, “but if you are going to see it I will tell you something: else. When you reach it the first thing you must do is to take a twig of green manuka or bracken and place it in the opening of the rock, and say this chant: ‘Mau e kai te manawa o te tauhou’.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means: ‘Spirit of the land take for good the heart of the stranger.’ By paying this homage to the spirits of the land of, Hatupatu and of Kurangaituku the traveller is assured of fine weather for his journey.”

Two days later, as I passed the Witch’s Rock on the Atiamuri Road I murmured, as I threw a piece of green manuka into the opening: “Mau e kai te manawa o te tauhou.”

(By J. H. Bomford )

Source: The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 8 (November 1, 1938)