During the research for a post on Auckland’s volcanoes I found an interesting Maori story about how the volcanoes came to be. The story referred to the Patupaiarehe but who or what were the Patupaiarehe? Obviously a bit of research was required…
In Maori tradition the Patupaiarehe (also sometimes referred to as turehu or pakepakeha) were the first people of New Zealand – the first Tangata Whenua. They are supernatural beings who are rarely seen, fairy creatures of the deep forests and mountains, their houses built from the swirling mists.
They have light skin, red or fair hair and unlike the Maori are never tattooed. There is some debate regarding their size, some say small, others say they are the same size as humans but then there are the traditions where they are giants. Sunlight was a curse to the Patupaiarehe, they only venture out in the night or when the mist was heavy enough to shield them from the sun.
They were hunter/gatherers who ate only raw food – cooked food is an abomination to them. In some stories albino birds and eels, red flax and red eels were considered to be the sole property of the Patupaiarehe and woe betide any Maori caught taking these.
The Patupaiarehe men were known to lure people away from their homes, particularly attractive young women, they used the magical sounds of the koauau or putorino (types of flutes). No harm would befall the young women and they would eventually be returned home. It was believed the cases of red heads and albinos (the urukehu) among Maori were a result of the union between Patupaiarehe and Maori. Unfortunately, Maori men suffered much more, often being mistreated and in some cases killed.
Of course, if you did not want to be abducted by the Patupaiarehe there were several options available. Firstly, you could smear your house with kokowai, this was a mixture of iron oxide with shark oil – the smell was repugnant to them. Secondly, the uses of the cooking ovens or a fire as Patupaiarehe are very much afraid of fire and the smell of cooked food was enough to scare them away.
However, not all was bad between the Patupaiarehe and the Maori. Traditions tell how Maori gained knowledge of net making from the Patupaiarehe as well as makatu (magic arts) and atahu (love charms). String and stick games are also said to have come from these supernatural beings.
In 1894 an elder of the Ngati Maru, Hoani Nahe spoke of the Patupaiarehe and his words were recorded.
“Now listen. When the migration arrived here they found people living in the land – Ngati Kura, Ngati Korakorako and Ngati Turehu, all hapu or sub-tribes of the people called Patupaiarehe. The chiefs of this people were named Tahurangi, Whanawhana, Nukupori, Tuku, Ripiroaitu, -te-uru and Te Rangipouri. The dwelling places of these people were on the sharp peaks of the high mountains – those in the district of Hauraki (Thames) are Moehau mountain (Cape Colville), Motutere (Castle Hill, Coromandel), Maumaupaki, Whakairi, Kaitarakihi, Te Koronga, Horehore, Whakaperu, Te Aroha-a-uta, Te Aroha-a-tai, and lastly Pirongia, at Waikato. The pa, villages, and houses of this people are not visible, nor actually to be seen by mortal ( Maori) eyes – that is, their actual forms. But sometimes some forms are seen, though not actually known to be these people … Sometimes this people is met with by the Maori people in the forests, and they are heard conversing and calling out, as they pass along, but at the same time they never meet face to face, or so that they mutually see one another, but the voices are heard in conversation or shouting, but the people are never actually seen.
On some occasions also, during the night, they are heard paddling their canoes … At such times are heard these questions: ‘What is it?’ ‘Who are the people who were heard urging forward their canoes on the sea during the night?’ or, ‘Who were heard conversing and shouting in the forest?’ The answer would be as follows: ‘They were not Tangata Maori, they were , Patupaiarehe, Turehu, or Korakorako.”
Like with so many stories there are those who believe the patupaiarehe are something more than just myth. There is a subculture within New Zealand who firmly believe that they were the descendents of Celtic tribes who discovered New Zealand some 3000 years before the first Polynesians, pointing at tribal groups such as the Ngati Hotu who historically had instances of red hair and fair skin amongst their people when little or no intermarriages were known. This is a complicated issue and not one that can be dealt with lightly, whether true or not, the jury is still out on that one…
Celtic New Zealand – Please note that whilst I do not necessarily agree with all that is written on this site I do believe we are all entitled to conduct research.
Stories and traditions are what make our cultures rich and the Maori have their fair share. Often such traditions are used to make sense of the world around us, I would dare anyone to venture deep into the New Zealand bush and not see the supernatural in its deepest darkest places.