This story of the man-eating monster, Kaiwhakaruaki, is set in the area near Parapara, in present-day Golden Bay. Pictured here is Parapara inlet (which drains Mt Parapara), complete with a kōtuku or white heron. The story was based on similar tales originally told in the Pacific.
Kaiwhakaruaki was a taniwha (monster) who had an insatiable appetite for human flesh. He lived in the Parapara district of Mohua (in Golden Bay), where he terrorised travellers on the major land and sea routes through or near Parapara. Once sighted, a party of travellers was doomed – not a single person could escape. Eventually however, the local chiefs Potoru and Koheta devised a scheme to ambush and destroy the dreaded beast.
Potoru felled a sacred pōhutukawa tree, the only one growing in the bay, and each of his 340 warriors fashioned a special weapon from its branches and trunks. Prepared physically, and supported by prayers, the army formed three battalions – a central body of 140 men to take a frontal assault, and two platoons of 100 warriors to be hidden on each flank.
The action was launched by a brave but foolhardy warrior who attracted the monster from his lair with a lure of red ochre dye, and then enticed him into the shallows, where the two did battle. Although the young man landed a couple of blows, within seconds the brute had ensnared his weapon hand and dragged him between its jaws.
However, the diversion was sufficient to allow Potoru’s warriors, working in concert to attack from the front and sides, to subdue and kill the beast.
While there are a number of questionable elements in the local story, it remains significant for at least two reasons. The tale of a taniwha may have deterred outsiders with an interest in the region’s important mineral resources, which included dyestuffs (iron oxide clays).
More important is the story’s historical significance. It is a local version of the legend of the Polynesian monster ’Aifa’arua’i, the scourge of voyagers between the Pacific islands of Parapara, Ta’a’a, Motue’a and Ara’ura. The tale transplants these island names, which are still in use today – Parapara, Tākaka, Motueka and Arahura on the West Coast.
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Photograph by Jock Phillips
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