Fairy Folk Tales of the Maori
Chapter IX — The Battle of The Mountains
The Battle of The Mountains
There is a lonely mountain set like a great blue pyramidal monument on the northern boundary of the old King Country; a peak of bold simplicity in outline, sweeping evenly down to the plain in classic lines of repose; saucer-like of summit, an ancient volcanic crater; its gully-riven sides softly furred with fern and forest. Not a lofty mountain; its altitude is but a matter of some fifteen hundred feet, but its sharply cut commanding form and its isolation give it character and dignity. Its blue-hazed upper valleys are fairy-haunted, in local legend. Kakepuku the Maoris call it, or in full Kakepuku-o-Kahurere, “The Swelled Neck of Flying-Hawk.” And the story goes that it was so named six centuries ago by Rakataura, the priest and magician of the Maori immigrant ship Tainui, a great sailing-canoe from the Eastern Pacific. Raka' with his wife Kahurere explored all this wild new country from Kawhia eastward and southward and gave names to the page 102 features of the landscapes. Long generations after their day, some of their descendants built two lofty earthwork forts —one on each side of Kakepuku's crater-rim.
But far back beyond Raka's day, very far back indeed, do the poetic folk-tales of Ngati-Maniapoto carry Kakepuku. This is a story of the days when the world was young. A nature-myth which seems to hold a geologic truth, in symbolic form, the history of these volcanic high places.
There was a time long, long ago, said one of my old Ngati-Maniapoto friends, when this mountain did not stand on the Waipa plains. He came from the south searching for his father. “He” is correct, because he is a man mountain. Know you that there is sex among mountains even as among human beings. Why, it is plain to the eye; you can often tell by looking at a mountain whether it is male or female; the shape declares the sex. Kakepuku came to the spot where he now stands, on this eastern side of the Waipa River, and here he beheld the softly rounded beautiful form of Kawa Hill, the female mountain standing yonder; she was the daughter of Mount Pirongia and that graceful peak Taupiri, page 103 which raises its tapu head above the most beautiful bend of the Waikato River. His love went forth to Kawa of the tender limbs and the swelling breast and he settled himself on the plain here by her side. But he had rivals. One was Puke-tarata, yon ferny range to the south, on the far side of yon great swamp; the other was Karewa, a dark rocky peak which then stood exactly where the eel-lagoons of the Kawa swamp lay glistening among the reedy marshes in later times. These hills were males, and they were all in love with beautiful Kawa, the only female mountain for many leagues. Both Karewa and Puke-tarata resented Kakepuku's coming and they essayed to eject him from their territory; the more fiercely because they saw that Kakepuku was favoured by the fair Kawa.
Puke-tarata, small and unshapely, was soon worsted; but the jealous Karewa fought Kakepuku with desperate energy. Both mountains summoned up all their tremendous volcanic powers to the struggle. Flames burst from their mighty mouths; they hurled molten rocks and streams of liquid fire and burning clouds of ash at each other; the earth shook and the heavens trembled at page 104 the thunder of their awful artillery. Long they fought there for the lovely prize that stood by calmly watching the battle.
At last Kakepuku prevailed, and the sorely battered Karewa fled the field, leaving Kawa to his rival. He uprooted himself in the night, and retreated westward, pursued by the flaming rocks hurled by his triumphant rival. All the long night he strode westward in terror and rage. It was evening when he began his mountainous flight; it was dawn when he halted (for daylight halts the march in all these tales of faerie and marvel). He remained fixed where the first rays of the morning sun found him. By that time he had entered the ocean, still fleeing westward; and in the deep salt sea he set root again and there he stands to-day, a lone, high rocky island; and his name on the pakeha maps is Gannet Island. So Kakepuku gained Kawa, his heart's desire, and she returns his aroha, and though a plain extends between them—and the pakeha's Main Trunk Railway runs between them, too, along those ferny levels—they are united as in the wonderful days of old. They send their love to each other on the wings of the east and west winds, and when page 105 the white wet night mists come down and enfold their fern-clothed forms and wrap the world in vaporous stillness and when long swathes of fog stretch from mountain to mountain across the dark valley, the Maoris say, “This is the night for the marriage of Kakepuku and Kawa.” For, see you, they say, how Kawa extends her beautiful gently rounded limbs towards her husband Kakepuku. Her contour inclines towards him; she is receptive, awaiting him. And see you, too, how she turns her back on that faint-hearted lover Puke-tarata, yonder to the south. She will have none of him; her aroha is for Kakepuku, ake, ake tonu atu, from this day ever onward until the end of time.
Yet, that vanquished lover Karewa, far distant in the ocean foam, has not forgotten the lost Kawa. Sometimes you will see a long streamer of vapour drifting in from the sea across the wooded ranges, drifting in before the steady west wind until it passes Kakepuku, and maybe wisps of that lightsome cloud descend and settle on Kawa's head. That is the sorrowful token of despairing but unceasing love from the ever-sighing vanquished Karewa, the page 106 lonely sentinel rock in the eternal surges of the western sea.
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Viewing those hills of faerie today one who has heard the curious folk-tale may with a little imagination enter into the spirit of the Maori story. Kakepuku with his powerful poise of blue shoulder and his commanding head is the dominating male; Kawa is the inviting ever-fascinating female. The Main Trunk railway today passes close under the western foot of Kawa, and the traveller may mark how tenderly her easy contour inclines towards her mountain lord. Kawa's ferny flanks enclose a winding crater valley, the existence of which would not be suspected from the eastern side. There she presents the aspect of a nippled hill as symmetrical as if carved. Kawa's firm round bosom is wonderfully tattooed in line after line of scarp, rising in regular tiers of entrenchment, to the summit; the work of the marvellous fortbuilders of old-time. Tarao, the warrior, held that fort many a generation ago until he was ousted by Kawhia invaders, and a singular story there is thereto. Brown warriors and hill-carvers long have been page 107 gathered to their earth-mother; the pakeha's cattle and sheep graze over the slopes of the immemorial fortress; but the lover-mountains remain, facing each other day-long with steadfast gaze, ever renewing the ancient tale of love in the murmurous night winds and the soft mists that make the trail of aroha across the sleeping vale of Kawa. For in the night of faerie the old gods live again.page break