Story: Patupaiarehe

Page 2. Encounters with patupaiarehe

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Patupaiarehe were known to lure people, especially attractive women, to their midst. A patupaiarehe would use hypnotic magical sounds from his flute to lure a young woman to his side, and then take her back to his camp. There he would make love to her before taking her home. The spell he had cast on her meant that he could call her at any time and she would be compelled to return to him.

The urukehu (red-heads) and albinos among Māori were said to be the descendants of such unions of patupaiarehe and mortal women. Men who were captured were either mistreated and then released, or killed.

Warding them off

There were different methods of avoiding the sometimes evil intentions of the patupaiarehe. Homes would be smeared with kōkōwai (iron oxide mixed with shark oil) when patupaiarehe were known to be close. Also the cooking ovens were put into operation. The smell coming from both the kōkōwai and cooked food was repugnant to patupaiarehe, and kept them at bay.

Patupaiarehe were also afraid of the light of open fires, so as long as the campfire was still glowing at night, people considered themselves safe. Young children too were warned not to stray from the village ‘in case the patupaiarehe gets you’.


Pakepakehā is another word for patupaiarehe. It may have given rise to the term Pākehā (a New Zealander of European descent). To Māori, Europeans resembled the pakepakehā or patupaiarehe, with their fair skin and light-coloured hair.

How Māori came to use a net for fishing

One traditional account tells of a chief, Kahukura, who when travelling north found himself on a lonely beach just as night set in. He slept in the sand dunes, but was awoken by the sounds of voices and laughter. At the water’s edge were a group of patupaiarehe, the fairy people, catching great numbers of fish in a net of woven flax. Despite his fear Kahukura crept among them, hoping to take the net and find out how it was made. As it was dark, and he was short and fair like the patupaiarehe, they did not notice him as being different. He knew that if he could delay them until dawn they would flee to avoid the sun, leaving the net behind. He helped thread the gutted fish onto lines, but tied his knots so they would come undone again. This tactic worked, and the fairy people fled as the sun rose, leaving behind their net and the fish. From this Kahukura discovered the secret to making the net, and taught it to his people.


A patupaiarehe named Miru is credited with giving Māori the sacred knowledge and wisdom of his mysterious world. Married to a mortal woman, Miru took his father-in-law to his world and taught him these things. In this way the rites of mākutu (magic arts), ātahu (love charms) and other priestly skills were passed on to the Māori world. Miru’s people also taught the visitors whai (string games) and tititorea (stick games).

How to cite this page:

Martin Wikaira, 'Patupaiarehe - Encounters with patupaiarehe', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 April 2024)

Story by Martin Wikaira, published 24 Sep 2007