Manutīmori and the giant bird

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By Carmen Parahi

When the giant bird, Endeavour, settled on the horizon the old man knew it heralded a sea change.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, Captain James Cook arrived in the land we now call Aotearoa New Zealand.

The islands were inhabited for hundreds of years before then by people who had developed a unique tribal culture. Later, they would collectively be known as Māori.

What was tribal life like before the foreigners landed?

Manutīmori is a fictional character, created by Stuff, who also lived 250 years ago. His story is drawn from the patchwork of oral tribal history, academic books and scientific papers.

It starts near the end of his life, as Manutīmori prepares his ōhākī.

Toitū he kāinga, whatu ngarongaro he tangata

While the land remains, the inhabitants are gone


Dying speech


Manutīmori had lived a full life, but he was here to warn them.

As he moved through the whare tapere, fumes wafted into his nostrils. The old man inhaled deeply to give him strength for what he must do tonight.

Beneath his cloak, he wore a small pūkeko skin sack he had immersed in oils; tītoki, the scent of his childhood, mānuka for vitality and kawakawa to remember his ancestors.

His people, the Tāngata Manu hāpu were there to support him and had a part to play during the ngā-mahi-a-te-rehia event.

This was the last day Manutīmori would spend at Rehua pā, the home place of the Tūmanako ki Rehua tribe.

Tomorrow, he would return to the ancient forest, to his family’s kāinga Tāne-a-Rore, to die.

Manutīmori longed to taste the poroporo, the sweet fruit of his childhood, and hear the sweeping whistle of the Huia.


By his reckoning he’d lived about 40 harvest seasons, marked by the number of times he’d noted the first appearance of Whānui, the Vega star. Few people lived as long.

His teeth had worn down from years of eating grit in his food. Unlike some of the others he’d not suffered as badly from malnutrition because he was a bird snarer.

Since the passing of his wife, Maiao, Manutīmori had kept his hair cropped short by using a flake of obsidian.

To prepare for tonight, he’d gone through a water cleansing tohi at the sacred spring with his older brother Tūroa, a tohunga of forest lore.

Huia e, huia tangata kotahi

Huia, your destiny is to bring everyone together

Hōrū was applied to his torso to keep insects from biting him but also because the colour would help emphasise his performance tonight.

Inserted in one earlobe was the stout, straight bill of a male Huia. A pounamu hung from his other lobe. A prized tail feather from the same bird was tied into the back of his hair.

Maire, the wood of light and little smoke, burned in the small pits sunk into the floor. 

The old man was now ready for his ōhākī.

He was afraid, not for himself but for the future of his people and the environment they lived in. All were connected but change was coming.

He tikanga nui, he tikanga whai mana te ōhākī

The dying speech is an important custom, one with authority


Ngā rā o te tama: a boy's life


A boy’s life


Manutīmori was born on the night of Oturu. A full moon and the star Rehua were visible in the sky. It was the Hakihea period in the warm season of Raumati.

In the ancient forest pōhutakawa, rātā and kōwhai were starting to bloom. Karaka berries were ripening and birds were nesting.

Up to 200 people from the Tāngata Manu hapū lived in his village called Tāne-a-Rore, but numbers fluctuated, depending on the seasons.

His father, Tame-te-wai was the third of four sons of some rank. His tupuna was a tohunga responsible for the spiritual safety of all those living in the kāinga when it was established a few years after Rehua pā.

A story about the tohunga had passed from generation to generation, and told of a time when the bird harvest had been poor for two seasons. To restore the mauri of their hunting area, the tohunga reluctantly killed his last wife, a young woman captured during a skirmish. He offered her heart to appease the atua.

At the time of Manutīmori, the clan had moved away from this practice instead dedicating the first harvest or catch to the gods and deities.

Hineawe, his mother, was not highborn but she had earned her status as a master weaver, the same as her mother and grandmother. Their family had benefited from the many raranga and kākahu made over the years including the highly prized kaitaka, with its patterned border.

As she aged, Hineawe would sometimes lead the village haka, mimicking the kārearea striking its prey. It was a fearsome sight.


Aitia te wahine i roto i te pā harakeke

Marry the woman found in the flax plantation

Near the time of his birth, Hineawe was moved to a restricted place, a temporary shelter called a whare kahu on the outskirts of the village. In some tribes, the hut was burnt down after the birth or only the highborn families cared for by the tohunga. It was not the kawa or practice of Tāngata Manu.

Every woman giving birth and their babies were taken care of because all were needed to uphold the status of the clan’s birding skills. Female tapuhi would stay with near-term women and attend to their needs including the birth and after care. They were skilled in herb lore to help with the birthing process. The tohunga would come and go to ensure they were spiritually safe and to physically assist if required.

A tohi rite, an ancient custom of baptism, was performed connecting every child to Io, the supreme being. The ceremony took place in the stream, where the tohunga would stand facing east. Once the child was dedicated, a bird was released.

The name given to him at birth was Tamaora, the healthy boy, because the brother born before him did not live longer than a year.

The firstborn sibling, Tūroa, was chosen to go into the whare wānanga to learn the lore of Tāne Māhuta, the God of the forest. Their sister, Waimārie learned about everything connected to weaving and became another accomplished maker of fine kākahu.

The pito and whenua of all the babies were buried in an area set apart from the village. The ritual tied them to the land and provided a place to stand, tūrangawaewae.

When Tamaora was a baby, the adults including his father would nurse him wrapped in their kākahu, feeding him and singing oriori.

As a child, he was usually left naked to run around and play games with the others. Tamaora, like all the tamariki, was indulged and cared for by his parents and extended family. They were all responsible for his upbringing, teaching him as he played and helping him to learn as they worked.

Ko te mahi a te tamariki, he wāwāhi tahā

The activities of children break calabashes

A rangatira died when Tamaora was a child. The body was prepared first by being trussed up with cords in a sitting position. It was placed inside totara bark smeared with tarata tree sap and tītoki oil. When it was dried, more sap was used to close the pores and slow down the decay.

The deceased chief was placed in the middle of the kāinga facing east, he received many visitors and gifts. He was later buried. Other tribes dried their corpses over a fire and brought them out in public at different times but it wasn’t the way of Tāngata Manu.

A year or so after the rangatira was buried, his remains were exhumed and the bones cleaned. A large ceremony took place, whaikōrero and a hākari. The remains were then placed in a pukatea tree deep in the ancient forest.

Not everyone went through this process - it depended on status - but the bones of all who died were hidden in a tree, cave or a clay pit. It was to protect the bones from being used by their enemies for needles or fish hooks.

Ka ngaro he tētēkura, ka whakaete mai he tētēkura

As one fern frond disappears, another one thrusts upwards

Catching a bird in a tree

Tamaora loved climbing trees and became an expert at it. The skill helped him become one of the most accomplished at setting snares. He would scale a tree unaided or use either a toeke or a rou, poles lashed to the trunk and tied with a vine.

The main fowling season in the forest was the cooling period between Hōtoke and Raumati, before the festivities of Matariki. Birds were not taken during the breeding season.

The tohunga would travel into the ancient forest to examine the quantity, condition and number of different game birds. If he believed the signs were right for a bountiful but sustainable harvest he would declare the season open.

Karakia and rituals were used throughout the entire operation.

Bird hunters did not carry cooked food with them nor would they talk about the game they were about to kill. Any plucked feathers were hidden away.

Trees that birds would return to annually were rendered tapu, protected and given names. Charms were used over the snares as they were being set.

A whare mātā was set aside for storing the equipment involved in hunting birds. Women weren’t allowed to enter the building.

Sometimes if they had to travel deep into the forest they would set up a temporary camp and would not leave until they had enough game.

He toa piki rakau, he kai na te pakiaka

A tree climbing expert is food for roots

Tamaora taught himself how to play different musical instruments. He would use the kōauau and nguru to mimic various birds, attracting them to the area. He also made use of leaves and seed pods, blowing into them to make sounds.

There were many types of snares including noose and water troughs. Tamaora would use long spears to stab at birds especially the tūī and kākā.

The kākā loved the tāwari, rātā and kōwhai so traps were set around the trees. The kēreru would stuff itself full of miro berries, easy pickings for skilled hunters.

The ripe orange poroporo was a favourite treat of the tamariki. The kererū, tūī, and kōrimako loved them too, gorging themselves on the berries, so traps were set in the bushes.


A hunter hidden by foliage on a perch would snatch at the legs of birds. Traps were set on the ground for the flightless birds and dogs were sometimes used to hunt them.

The kākā and kākāriki were tricked by tying down live decoy birds. One memorable season Tamaora snared many birds with the decoys and his music. His name was changed to Manutīmori, the enticer of birds, in honour of his actions.

Varieties of ducks were caught while moulting in the hot Raumati season. Manutīmori could catch the birds by hand or would place snares under fern fronds near streams and the small lake near the kāinga.

The birds would be plucked, cooked and the meat was left in their rendered fat to be stored in poutaka. 

When he was an adult, Manutīmori spent more time at Rehua pā but travelled home often especially to help during the bird season.

E koekoe te tūī, e ketekete te kākā, e kūkū te kererū

The tūī chatters, the parrot gabbles, the wood pigeon coos


He ora Māori: Ordinary life


Ordinary life


In the time of Manutīmori the tribes had an estimated population of 100,000 living in large fortified settlements and villages.

Life centred around securing resources through warfare, marriage or occupation. Tracts of land, water and sea were claimed, large gardens and seasonal food industries were established and maintained to sustain the tribal groups.

Rehua pā was established about 150 years before Manutīmori was born. Wharepuni of various sizes spread out across the pā on the flats and up the hill, where the palisade had been built on different levels.

Everyone was expected to work, to have some understanding of the maramataka system of natural cycles, relationships between humans, nature and atua. But not all would become an expert on these matters, that was left to the tohunga.

Ka taumahatia, ka karakiatia, kia noho ai te wairua tohunga ki roto i a ia

The ritual chant was recited so the priest’s spirit would remain inside him

Tohunga were experts in various crafts, natural and spiritual lore including the dark arts. They had reverence for what they worked with and expressed this through karakia and ceremony. Some were performed in public, others were too sacred. 

The experts received oratory instruction about all of the different realms and rankings of the many atua. In their specialities they would learn the whakapapa of everything, all had names and were related to each other.

Every tribe had its own set of specific spiritual lore. It ruled the daily lives of everyone, in connection with the natural and supernatural world.

All people at different times in their lives would naturally be in a sacred state of tapu or an ordinary condition of noa. Prayers and ceremonies by a tohunga would help lift or place a tapu.


The focus of the whole tribe was in the procuring and maintenance of seasonal food sources. It kept them busy and healthy but did not guarantee a long life.

At Rehua, there were divisions of labour based on gender but generally everyone was involved in most things.

Three large gardens near the river were maintained for valuable kumara and hue. In case of a siege, two medium-sized plots were established inside the palisade. Areas for foraging aruhe, tī kōuka and tī rauriki were maintained.

Tapa grew in a small garden. It was so rare and difficult to keep alive, a dedicated gardener was responsible for it. He was tapu when he worked in the garden. Tapa strips were only used by the chief and his kin who would wear it in their hair or in their garments.

He tau hāwere tētahi, he tau tukuroa tētahi

One year of abundance, another year of famine

Grayling fish

Fish was a major part of the diet. On the river, dammed pens were created for tuna and upokororo.

During the kahawai season, schools of the fish could be found near the river mouth. Punga, the tohunga of sea lore, would use the maramataka to determine when to net them. Men and women in a number of waka would take different parts of weighted nets, surround the fish and move towards the shore where the fish were clubbed to death.

In the early days of settlement, the tribe had not yet set up all of its food infrastructure and survived on subsistence foraging, small catches of birds, fish and eels.

In one particularly hard season, many of their kurī used for hunting and as pets, had to be killed and consumed too.

Fortunately, a tohorā was found dead on a beach to the south of Rehua. The whole community feasted on every part of it. The teeth and bones were highly prized and made into a variety of taonga for the tribe including a patu. It was named and blessed by a tohunga and given to the rangatira. The event was turned into songs and stories for the tribe to remember for many generations.

During the eel and fishing seasons large racks were used for drying the meat and covered cooking pits for smoking the flesh. Food was stored in the underground ruakai pits and pataka, small huts on stilts, to keep out the rats. Traps were set near the pataka so the rats could be caught and eaten.

Bull kelp growing on the exposed headland south of Rehua was used to store and cook food. Kaimoana, kōura and fish were stuffed into pōha and thrown onto a fire to cook. It was a juicy, delicious meal and a favourite of Manutīmori.

Te tohu o te rangatira, he manaaki

The sign of a chief is generosity

In the centre of the pā stood two wharenui and a large space in front of them was used for gatherings and to welcome large groups of visitors.

The two central buildings displayed the best carvings and weaving from the tribe. The wharenui were created in remembrance of a male and female ancestor, Te Rongomai-o-te-rangi and Papamaioha.

This is where hui, public discussions about proposals and activities between whānau, hapū and the tribe would take place. The oratory skills and leadership qualities of rangatira would be on display during these hui.

A wahine sitting wearing a Korowai

Both males and females wore a variety of kākahu. A piupiu was worn around the shoulders. A maro covered the front and was tied around the waist. Korowai and rāpaki of varying quality and styles, made from harakeke and tī kouka, were worn.

Most of the men and women wore their hair long. It was tied in a top knot, feathers or a bone comb used for adornment. Older women would wear their hair shorter and sometimes during mourning, men and women would cut off their hair.

Although children were expected to help work, they spent a lot of time playing too. They played a variety of games using their hands, string, sticks, stones, potaka and mako saplings for stilts. 

All the children were taught to swim and be fearless in water. They would surf the waves, with or without crude boards and in small waka. A tarere had been set up by the river where the children and adults would swing out into the water.

At Rehua, they held a variety of competitions for everyone including distance running, wrestling, waka races and manu aute flying contests. A favourite activity for Manutīmori, was the teka throwing competitions in which he excelled.

E rua ngā mea tino nui e matea ana e te tangata: Ko te ora roa, ko te hari

The two main things needed by a person are: A long life and happiness

During one of his wrestling bouts, Manutīmori saw a girl named Maiao watching him intently. He smiled at her and waved taking his eye off his opponent. It was the only time he lost.

At first, Maiao did not return his affection. So Manutīmori used a tradition to gain her favour. He trained a miromiro bird to land on her shoulder so she was obliged to acknowledge him. What she did not know until much later was he had sneakily placed kōtukutuku flowers and beetles on her kākahu. The bird landed on her to eat them.


Their marriage was not a betrothal so they didn’t have to go through deliberate arrangements or rituals. However, their interests of each other were discussed openly with both families and anyone could object to their union, fortunately no-one did.

They had three children together. His brother Tūroa had three wives, but he only wanted one. 

Manutīmori and Maiao participated in learning all types of waiata, haka and poi not just for fun but also as a way of transmitting knowledge.

Work and recreation kept everyone fit, agile and ensured they were battle ready at short notice. All were expected to fight if required. Maiao and Manutīmori learned how to use a variety of different weapons.

He wāhine, he whenua, ka ngaro te tangata

For a woman and land, men perish

Tūmanako ki Rehua had lived on the east coast in relative peace since migrating south six generations ago, away from its larger, more antagonistic tribe, Ngāti Tūmanako.

The tribal split came after a disagreement between two brothers from a whānau rangatira. Tū-teitei the rangatira believed the mana of their tribe was in securing more resources through warfare. His younger brother, Teina disagreed.

In every battle, they would lose warriors, both men and women who were also responsible for daily, vital tasks in the large village and other kāinga linked to it. Teina was concerned about their survival.

After many debates, he was given permission to leave with his supporters. Before they did, a great feast was held to honour them.

Under the protection and guidance of the atua Rongomai, the group headed south. They would only stop in pā where they had kinship ties or set up temporary camps in safe places they had scouted ahead of time.

It took two seasons before they settled but it came at a cost to Teina. His wife and firstborn son were foraging with her sisters in the ancient forest when they were attacked by bird hunters. The wife’s younger sister escaped with the baby, while the older women stayed to fight the hunters. The two women were killed.

Once Rehua was settled, Teina led a disguised war party of men, women and a tohunga to the kāinga of the hunters. The two tribes were distantly related through marriage, so they were welcomed in to discuss the establishment of Rehua and claims to hunting grounds.

To emphasise the mana of their claims in the ancient forest, the hau kāinga spoke of killing two women who broke their tapu. The locals did not know the victims were connected to the visitors.

During his negotiations, Teina asked the unsuspecting hunters to take his group back to the area so they could acknowledge the land claim. They led Teina near the spot and his war party attacked killing everyone. 

A son of the rangatira was identified amongst the hunters. His body was taken back to Rehua where it was cooked. Only Teina and the tohunga ate parts of the young man. This act, an uncommon practice, was used to end the chiefly line, patu i te whakapapa

After this incident, Teina became known as Rongomai, taking on the mantle of the tribe’s protector. He married his wife’s younger sister and their descendants maintained the rangatira line up to the time of Manutīmori.

Huia feather

The two tribes continued to fight sporadically for a few more years until a taumau was arranged between them. The other tribe was eventually subsumed into Tūmanako ki Rehua.

These events, whakapapa and the landmarks surrounding Rehua pā were an integral part of how Manutīmori and the tribe identified themselves.

Genealogical links with other tribes helped Manutīmori on his travels to the land of pounamu in the south. What he discovered there about his ancestors, the moa and other birds disturbed him.

Ka mate te kāinga tahi, ka ora te kāinga rua

When one house dies, a second lives



From Hawaiki


The trading route between Rehua pā and the southern land was well established when Manutīmori started his travels.

The crew would only travel when the weather was favourable, usually during the warm season of Raumati. The single sail, double-hulled waka was called Wakanui.

On behalf of his hapū, Manutīmori would take poutaka, tools, varieties of gourd, oils, feathers and fine kākahu to trade for pounamu and anything else they did not have.

During his travels, Manutīmori learned many tribes migrated south around the same time as Tūmanako ki Rehua. A few ended up in the southern lands including their relations from the east coast. Those tribes either established themselves at the top or made their way further south, conquering, marrying or setting up alliances as they went.

The Wakanui crew was a mix of men and women led by Punga, the tohunga of sea lore and navigation. Manutīmori would watch the habits of the seabirds then set traps on the waka or use a bait lure in the water to catch the birds for food.

Sometimes they would encounter pods of dolphins and different types of whales. These tohu of the sea, the weather and relationships with Tangaroa and other atua were all interpreted by Punga. He would change their course, order the nets or hooks in or out of the sea and decide when it was time to land depending on what he observed.

If a mangopare was seen during their voyage it was referred to as Te Mangopare-a-Atiu. Punga would call out to the creature and chant. He watched it carefully and made decisions for the crew based on its behaviour just as their ancestors had done when they followed it from Hawaiki.

Not all trips were successful, some crew members died on different voyages and once, in the early establishment of the trade route, a waka did not return.

The Wakanui would sail near the coastline stopping at various safe bays mapped in the past to stock up on fresh supplies of water and wild foods. The crew would spend a few days with hapū they were related to in both the northern and southern lands swapping stories and trading. Kinship connections ensured safety for the crew and strengthened ties.

Te amorangi ki mua, te hāpai ō ki muri

The priests are in front, the bearers of provisions in the rear

Punga told them many stories about the relationships with the stars, land and sea. It was through Punga and the other tohunga that Manutīmori developed more of an understanding of the ancestors from Hawaiki.

He knew the cultural principles of the Hawaikians underpinned the customary practices used by all of the tribes of his time. The old ones had used the stars, weather patterns, seabird and marine life to navigate the vast Pacifc ocean during their migration. They brought their own culture, language, science and systems of knowledge from different islands in the central and eastern Pacific.

The principles of the Hawaikians included generosity and hospitality, the most important being kinship or whanaungatanga. Everyone was expected to be responsible to the collective in lieu of individual rights. But value was placed on an individual’s mana, their reputation and standing in the community.

People were not only related to each other, they were connected to their ancestors, the physical world and spiritual realms. Atua ruled over the natural and supernatural world. Everything had a name and whakapapa, all were related and bound together.

A mauri or inner life force existed in all things and were intimately linked, human to non-human.

Punga told Manutīmori this land was nothing like the small islands of Hawaiki. It had a cooler climate, mountains and giant forests filled with strange birds, insects, reptiles and flora that evolved untouched by humans.

When the Hawaikians first arrived, they had no connection with the land, no ancestral ties or whakapapa. They could not yet align their own atua with the ancient natural world. Without whanaungatanga there was no prohibition for the migrants on their arrival.

Punga recounted to Manutīmori how the Hawaikians deliberately lit fires. These flames destroyed nearly half of the ancient forests on both islands, especially in the east. The land was transformed into scrub, grassland and forest. Manutīmori did not understand why they burned so much, he would not set fire to the ancient forest now.

Ka ngaro ā-moa te iwi nei

The people will disappear like the moa

Manutīmori also learned about the moa, other large birds and mammals that disappeared through the actions of his ancestors.

Moa running

The first time he saw a fur seal it popped its head out of the sea surprising Manutīmori. The instinct of the crew was to try and catch it but it was too quick. Punga explained what it was and why Manutīmori had not seen the creature before.

During the early time of the Hawaikians, hunting was the main food practice of mobile kin groups moving up and down the main lands searching for large prey.

Fur seals had vanished from areas populated by humans in the north and the south.

Every type of moa, other large birds and their eggs were slaughtered to extinction in the north and south. The giant eagle, pouākai, lost its main prey and vanished not long after the moa.

Large numbers of kiore and kurī introduced by the Hawaikians feasted unchecked on smaller creatures and eggs, extinguishing more species.

Pouakai swooping in for prey

Me pukumahara i te tōnuitanga, kia whai tahua ai i te tau nihoroa

Be cautious in times of plenty so that you have reserves in years of scarcity

Manutīmori was astounded by how his ancestors could waste so much and not ensure the survival of species as was their customary practice now. He would have enjoyed tasting the meat of the giant birds.

Punga cautioned Manutīmori for thinking little of their ancestors. The Hawaikians were new to the land and had not learned the resource was limited. Also, the old ones had not established the whanaungatanga of the creatures, how they were linked to the environment and the reliance of species to each other.

After the disappearance of the megafauna the Hawaikians were forced to focus on fixed settlements, sustainable food gathering practices and cultivation.

Unfamiliar plants and animals were given names from the past or new names were created such as kiwi, tūī, pōhutukawa and kōwhai. Unique art forms emerged reflecting the resources and patterns found in the new landscape. Old technologies were adapted to local conditions and new ones were invented.

Pōhutukawa flower

New sets of rules or cultural practices were developed to take responsibility for interactions with nature called kaitiakitanga.

The body of specific knowledge they developed from the time of the first settlers was called matauranga.

Over hundreds of years, the ancient land transformed the Hawaikians into Manutīmori and his people.

E kore au e ngaro, te kākano i ruia mai Rangiatea

I shall not perish but as a seed sent forth from Rangiatea I shall flourish

When travelling around the northern coastal area of the land of pounamu, Manutīmori learned more about the hunting camps and the giant hangi pits used by his ancestors to cook the moa and seals. He traded a skull and leg bone of the moa to show his people.

He came across unfamiliar species such as the kākāpō and kea. Manutīmori was fascinated by the tuatara, its taste and the stories of the people linked to the ancient creature. It was thought to be a descendant of Punga and Peketua, sons of Tangaroa. 

On his last voyage in the Wakanui, Manutīmori travelled to the place of the heaped sand. The local tribe had migrated from the north and were related to Ngātī Tūmanako. They told the crew about an event that occurred a few years after Rehua pā was established.

Two large waka with many sails were seen and challenged by their ancestors. The vessels were filled with tāngata pora. The tribe rammed them with a waka taua. The two groups clashed and four foreigners were killed. But one of their own warriors died after loud, fire-sticks were pointed at them. The foreigners then sailed away.

Whenever he returned on the Wakanui, Manutīmori would always seek out the tohunga kōkōrangi Rangimaia and tell him all about his adventures, what he had traded and the stories he collected. They would discuss all he learned late into the night.

He koromiko te wahie i taona ai te moa

The moa was cooked with the wood of the koromiko


Mate ā-moa: Dead as the moa


Dead as the moa


During the long dark night of Otane, the storytelling event, ngā-mahi-a-te-rehia, was coming to an end inside the whare tapere.

It was the last time Manutīmori would speak at Rehua pā.

He boldly performed a parody comparing tribal people to the characteristics of birds. Fortunately the targets of his humour, including his brother Tūroa, laughed along with the crowd, enhancing their mana further.

Tāngata Manu joined with him to sing waiata from their own kāinga, the ancient forest and the exploits of their tupuna Rongomai. In one song, Manutīmori used his kōauau and nguru to mimic bird sounds.

He retold one of the tribe’s pūrakau shared with every generation. It was about a taniwha located at the river mouth. The creature would lure children into the sea by using its tail to make the sea calm. It then grabbed the child’s legs, turning them into stones.

Like all stories about taniwha it was based on fact. Rips in the sea, the tail of the taniwha, were known to appear around the beach and river mouth. Those rips had claimed lives in the past.

Manutīmori scared the children with his own pūrakau about a giant bird woman. A ferocious creature with wings that swooped down and tore apart all those who passed her cave.

Giant bird woman taniwha

In his tale a boy befriended the lonely monster. When his people planned to kill her the boy tried to plead her case telling them she was the rangatira of birds, without her leadership all of nature would descend into chaos. But he could not save her and lamented her passing, the last of her kind. After she died, many species disappeared, their whakapapa extinguished.

It was a reference to the pouākai and how their demise impacted all of nature.

He brought them to tears when he wove the destruction of the moa into a story while swinging his wind instrument, the pūrerehua. The mournful sound reflecting their sad end.

Manutīmori encouraged them to hold to their customary practices of whanaungatanga and kaitiakitanga, so they remained linked to all things, protecting each other and the environment.

But when the crowd thought Manutīmori was done, he had one final surprise.

Te Rangimaia, the tohunga, stood up. He began to relate a series of events that began with Kōpū crossing the face of the sun.

The tohunga relayed a story he was told by a relation from the north.

A giant bird was seen sitting on the sea, travelling along the coastline. Two days later the bird became a large waka and sat in the harbour, known as the waiting place of Kiwa.

Two waka seen coming off the larger vessel came ashore. One landed then crossed the river. Four men from one of the three local tribes surprised the foreigners. Three loud, echoing bangs were heard. Witnesses said it came from a fire-stick being pointed at the men.

The fire-stick was later called a pū.

One man fell to the ground, the others carried him some way then dropped him and ran off. The foreigners inspected the dead man and left him there, returning to their waka.

The next day, two other tribes challenged the crew who had come ashore by performing a haka on the beach. The pū was heard again and the haka stopped.

Travelling with the crew was a man from Rangiatea called Tupaia. He called out to the tribes encouraging them to greet them and his leader named Cook. One man from the haka group came forward and on a rock in the middle of the river the two men greeted each other with a hongi.

Tupaia told them Cook had followed Kōpū from his own land faraway. They had watched the planet cross the face of the sun in Tahiti before coming to this land.

A haka was performed again and more warriors approached trying to exchange their own weapons for the pū. One man grabbed at a long cutting weapon belonging to a foreigner. He was killed by a pū.

The warriors retreated but three returned to challenge the crew. Cook, Tupaia and another man raised their pū and the warriors fell dead. A loud lament began after the killings.

The Endeavour

The foreigners returned to their waka and headed south where they came across two waka out fishing. One got away but the other did not. Four men in the waka were killed by the pū and three boys taken captive. They were released the next day.

The man from the north told the tohunga the giant bird left, travelling south down the coast before it was seen turning around and heading further north. News had filtered to those in the lands of Kiwa, of encounters between Cook and other tribes.

Rangimaia told his people the foreigners, pū and rare Kōpū events troubled him. He believed there was a connection to their southern relations based at the top of the land of pounamu, near the place of the heaped up sand.

Rangimaia surmised, the weapons used in the south many years ago, were the pū described by the man from the north.

He prophesied a time of great change and started reciting an old chant few had heard before. The crowd was nervous.

Manutīmori had pulled the korowai up over his mouth, a common sitting position, during the kōrero from Rangimaia. The tohunga had already spoken about his concerns with Manutīmori.

The old man was prepared. He inhaled the oil fumes deeply from the pūkeko skin tied around his neck.

When Rangimaia finished his chant he nodded towards Manutīmori. The crowd turned their heads.

Manutīmori holding up a moa skull and delivering his ohākī

The old man looked up sharply.

Now was the time to deliver the warning, his ohākī. If his people were not alert to the coming of the foreigners then they too would perish like the moa. 

His face distorted into a pūkana, bulging eyes, tongue stretched out across the bottom lip in a grimace.

As he rose to stand, Manutīmori stretched out his arms and the feathered korowai opened wide to reveal the yellowed skull of a large bird.

Tied loosely around his neck it jolted around his oiled torso covered in red ochre. Every time he moved the skull would jerk as if it was alive.

He called out in a loud, booming voice, startling the children.

He raru ki tai,
Kia tūpato,
Ko te huna i te moa.

He grabbed the skull and held it up towards the fire for everyone to see. The large, empty eye sockets stared out at the crowd.

The firelight cast across the old man created terrifying shadows on the walls and he seemed to grow in stature.

It created the illusion a moa had appeared amongst them.

The old man called out again.

He raru ki tai,
Kia manawanui,
Kua ngaro i te ngaro o te moa

On cue, Tāngata Manu stood up next to the old man and the two tohunga, Rangimaia and Tūroa, joined them.

The crowd was enthralled. This whare tapere would be remembered and talked about for a long time.

Still holding the moa skull out towards the people, the old man stamped his foot, the people standing with him joined the rhythm and he began the haka.

Mate ā-moa,
Mate ā-moa,
Mate ā-moa,
i ā hā hā...


WORDS Carmen Parahi



EDITOR Ian Allen


Manutīmori is a fictional character, based on a range of academic and official resources.

The author interviewed Rereata Makiha, maramataka and te reo Māori expert.

Thank you to Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand for the use of extinct bird call recreations.

The following published material was also drawn upon:

The report of the Waitangi Tribunal in WAI262 Ko Aotearoa Tenei

Māori Dictionary

Te Ara, The encyclopaedia of New Zealand


Ecosystems - Prehistoric settlement

Prehistoric settlement - Human arrival

Prehistoric settlement - Deforestation


How the white men came to New Zealand, A W Reed

Māori Bird Lore, Murdoch Riley (2001)

The Penguin History of New Zealand, Michael King (First 2003, 2012)

Making Peoples, James Belich (First 1996, 2007)

The Māori As He Was, Elsdon Best (First 1924, 1952)

Forest Lore of the Māori, Elsdon Best 

The Story of Old Wairoa and the East Coast of New Zealand (First 1925, 1998)

The Art of Māori Carving, Sidney M Mead (1961)

Pathway of the Birds, Andrew Crowe (2018)

Ngāi Tahu A Migration History, Atholl Anderson, Te Maire Tau (June 2008)

Tikao Talks, Teone Taare Tikao to Herries Beattie

Matariki, the star of the year, Rangi Matamua (2017)

Takitimu, a history of the Ngāti Kahungunu people, J H Mitchell (1972 Edition)


The Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 91 1982, Volume 91 No 1 Māori settlement in the interior of Southern New Zealand from the early 18th to late 19th centuries, by A Anderson, p 53-80

The Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 37 1928, Volume 37, No. 145 Bird-snaring, etc., in the Whanganui river district, by T. W. Downes, p 1-29

Human Perceptions of Megafaunal Extinction Events Revealed by Linguistic Analysis of Indigenous Oral Traditions, by Priscilla M Wehi, Murray P. Cox, Tom Roa, Hēmi Whaanga, 4 June 2018

Dead as the moa: oral traditions show that early Māori recognised extinction, by Priscilla M Wehi, Murray P. Cox, Tom Roa, Hēmi Whaanga, 6 September 2018

Moa were many, by Neil J. Gemmell, Michael K. Schwartz and Bruce C. Robertson, 17 November 2004

On the identity of the Moa hunters with the present Māori race. Alexander McKay, of the Geological Survey Department, Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 8 August 1874

Holdaway, R. N. et al. An extremely low-density human population exterminated New Zealand moa. Nat. Commun. 5:5436 doi: 10.1038/ncomms6436 (2014).

Volume 41 1932 > Volume 41, No. 162 > The material culture of the Moa-hunters in Murihiku, by David Teviotdale, p 81-120

McGlone: Polynesian settlement and biotic changes of New Zealand, Journal of Ecology, Vol 12, (supplement) 1989

Volume 67 1958 > Volume 67, No. 3 > Ranginui, captive chief of Doubtless Bay, 1769, by R. R. D. Milligan, p 179-203

Iho - a cord between two worlds. Traditional Māori Birthing Practices by Kelly Tikao. Thesis, Master of Science Communication, Otago University. December 2012.

Historical address of the arrival in 1769 of Captain Cook and the Endeavour to Turanganui a Kiwa given on behalf of the constituent hapu of the Tairawhiti at Te Poho o Rawiri marae. Friday, 19 January 1996

The debate over kai tangata (Māori cannibalism): New perspectives from the correspondence of the Marists, William Jennings,  University of Waikato, Volume 120, 2011

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They're not all korowai, Verenoa Hetet, The Spinoff. 16 April, 2018