The Spirit of Lake Waikaremoana

The Spirit of Lake Waikaremoana

Many cultures which have developed around large bodies of water have invented a fantastical monster to scare their children away from the hidden dangers of strong currents and underwater tides. In England, the fearsome river hag Jenny Greenteeth prowls beneath the surface waiting to snatch any who came within her grasp. In Japan, the mysterious Kappa water spirit lurks in the shallows, its amazing strength matched only by its impeccable manners. Bow to a kappa and it will be forced to bow in return, draining the water from its head and in turn, the source of its power.

The Maori of New Zealand have their own water spirit; the Taniwha, which lives in the deep waters of the many lakes and in the sea which surrounds the many islands which make up the southern country. Some taniwha are protective guardians who watch over the people, warning of approaching danger and saving those who would drown. Others are dangerous and malicious creatures which drown the unweary and lust after the beautiful women on the land. It is said that if you have dealings with a taniwha in life then you will become one after death.

Te Urewere is an isolated country of hills and dense forest and is home to the tribe of Tuhoe. At its heart is the great lake of Waikaremoana. Before the Tuhoe came to Urewere there was no lake, although the land was ribboned with many rivers. An old man and his daughter lived by such a river at Hopuruahine, near Ruatahuna. The daughter’s name was Haumapuia.

The old man did not love Haumapuia as he should. He sent her out to do many tasks for him, but when she returned he did not praise her. One evening he came to Haumapuia and told her that he was very thirsty.

“Haumapuia, go at once to the river and fetch water, otherwise I will die of thirst!” he cried.

Haumapuia knew that it was not wise to go out at dusk on any errand, as the forests were wild and the river’s currents more so. Yet she was dutiful and went out into the darkness to fetch water. When she came back, the old man took the water without thanks and drank it all.

The next night the old man once again declared that he was thirsty, and that he would die if Haumapuia did not go at once to the river. She refused to go, as it was much later and the skies were an inky black. The winds howled about the tiny hut.

“Many creatures prowl among the trees at night, father,” she replied.

The old man muttered angrily but gave Haumapuia a torch and bade her return with haste. She was afraid, but headed out into the night with the torch in her hand. She had not gotten half-way to the river before a strong gust of wind blew out the torch and she was forced to return to relight it.

The old man was incensed, and this time when she left he followed her into the night. When she reached the river and knelt down to take some water, the old man pushed her into the fast-flowing river to drown her. Thinking himself freed of a lazy and disobedient daughter, he was surprised to see a taniwha swimming along the river and down among the hills. It was Haumapuia, who had drowned and become a great taniwha.

In fear and rage Haumapuia thrashed around in the shallow water of the river, in a desperate attempt to reach the deep waters of the sea. However, she never reached the sea; in her throes she had created a valley among the hills so deep that the rivers all around poured into it. The valley was flooded and soon became a lake, which we now call Waikaremoana. If you ever visit the great lake, look out upon the water; you may catch a far off glimpse of Haumapuia as she returns to the surface to look upon the land on which she once lived.

Photo credit: Bruce Collingwood

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