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Puuraakau Ruakapanga

Ruakapanga was a descendant of Ruuaumoko and lived in far away Hawaiki. He owned two great birds, known by the names Haarongaarangi and Tiungaarangi, and was also a tohunga in the cultivation of kumara. Ruakapanga, together with his birds, is credited with introducing the kumara to Te Tairaawhiti and their story is indelibly etched into the traditions of the Uawa region.

When Kupe eventually returned to Hawaiki and spoke of his journey to Aotearoa, Ruakapanga decided to look into the possibility of cultivating kumara in this far off land. With that in mind, he sent one of his protégés, Tairangahue, to investigate.

Tairangahue and a crew of helpers, who included Pourangahua and his wife Kanioro, set sail for Aotearoa and made landfall in Turanga. They were greeted by the sound of singing birds [the shining cuckoo, the fantail, the kiwi and the weka] and the splendour of blossoming kowhai trees. Spring was in the air and Tairangahue also assessed that the soil was well suited to the growing of kumara. He and Pourangahua immediately sailed back to Hawaiki to tell Ruakapanga, leaving behind Kanioro and others of his crew in Turanga.

Once home, he reported to Raukapanga all that he had seen and heard, and that the land on the eastern seaboard would be an excellent place to grow kumara. Ruakapanga agreed and ordered Pourangahua to return to Aotearoa immediately with the kumara tubers in order to catch what remained of the planting season. Ruakapanga entrusted his prized birds, Haarongaarangi and Tiungaarangi, to the care of Pourangahua to hasten his return to Aotearoa. He also gave some equipment to take with him. Two kete named Houtaakerenuku and Houtaakererangi, which contained the kumara tubers, and two koo named Mamaenuku and Mamaerangi.

Pourangahua was to fly on Haarongaarangi while the kete, with the kumara tubers, and the koo would be carried by Tiungaarangi.

Ruakapanga gave Pourangahua strict instructions as to the treatment of the birds. “Do not fly near Hikurangi lest Tamaiwaho snares you for his dinner. And what ever you do, do not pull out any of the feathers.” He was also given incantations to perform on the birds when they arrived in Turanga and for their safe return home. Simple enough, Pourangahua thought, and off he flew on the prized birds of Ruakapanga.

As Pourangahua neared the northern coastal reaches of Te Tairaawhiti, so excited was he at the prospect of seeing his wife, Kanioro, that he totally forgot about Ruakapanga’s instructions. To shorten his journey he flew over Hikurangi and was attacked by Tamaiwaho. He was lucky to survive this attack but the birds were the worse for it. As he neared Tuuranga the birds circled around looking for a suitable place to land. But Pourangahua became impatient and pulled out one of the feathers of Haarongaarangi to hasten his descent. When they finally did land Pourangahua greeted his wife and his comrades, forgetting about the birds until he heard their cries. He was overcome with shame and hastily chanted the karakia that Ruakapanga had given him for their safe return to Hawaiki.

The journey home wasn’t without drama, for the birds were set upon by the spirit guardians, Tuunuioteika and Huataketake.

By the time they arrived back to their master they were completely exhausted and in a state of collapse. Ruakapanga was furious. To avenge the maltreatment of his prized birds, he dispatched three pests that would forever blight the kumara of Pourangahua . The anuhe to eat the buds, the mokoroa to eat the shoots and the mokowhiti to eat the leaves. To this day, these grubs continue to ravage kumara crops throughout Aotearoa, reminding us of the neglect of the birds of Ruakapanga by Pourangahua.

Another aspect of this story is that the feather pulled by Pourangahua, which was cast into the ocean, took root on Tokaahuru, more commonly known as Aerial Reef, a fishing spot near Tatapoouri. There it grew into a makauri tree and bloomed in all respects similar to those that grow on shore.

There are tribal variations to this story but all are consistent with the fact that Ruakapanga, his prized birds and Pourangahua were responsible for bringing Kumara to Aotearoa.

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