Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 13, May 1970
by Athol McKinnon
NOTE (You will find among our illustrations [see below - E] one of a beautiful little carved casket which is the work of Mr. Athol McKinnon who has generously presented it to the Paeroa Historical Society. Its inspiration was the interpretation of the name of our River and District. For the excellent photograph of it we are indebted to Mr. Alan Beck who has already done so much for us.) Ed.
According to Maori folklore, a small pa near the area we now know as Turner's Hill was occupied by a sub-tribe which, because of its lack of strength, lived in peace with its neighbours. It came to pass that a marauding tribe chanced to turn its attention to this pa and had no difficulty in making all its inhabitants flee. All, that is, excepting the chief's daughter who, at that time, was away gathering food. On her return she was dismayed to find enemies in occupation and she turned to run - but where?
At this juncture a taniwha who lived in the deep cave which is reputed to extend downward from the top of Turner's Hill to the river below, took pity and, guiding her inside the cave, blocked the entrance with a large rock. This rock was so large that no number of men could have moved it; even if they could have, who would have faced a fearsome taniwha? There they stayed, the taniwha and the maid until the old chief, gathering his friends around him, came to drive the intruders away and reclaim his daughter. The taniwha, who had fallen in love with the maiden disappeared and was never seen again and, as far as is known, was the last of its kind to inhabit the river, which was given the name, "OHINEMURI", meaning "THE MAID WHO WAS LEFT BEHIND".
NOTES ON THE FORSAKEN MAIDEN OF OHINEMURI
by A.M. Isdale
The Maori word "taniwha" is sometimes translated "dragon" or "goblin". But its real meaning is some kind of spirit of unusual power, often causing fear thereby. It may not even have a body. Thus an unusually knowing or friendly seal or dolphin is a taniwha, like Ureia of Waiomu. But the force along a fault line, prone to produce earthquakes, is also a taniwha, like the one in Hawkes Bay which changed the course of a river. A man of unusual spiritual force or quality can also be a taniwha, like Horeta called "the taniwha". (As a small boy Horeta te Taniwha had seen the arrival of Cook's ship at Mercury Bay).
Thus the taniwha that loved the forsaken maiden of Ohinemuri would obviously be a man, but with some strangeness, of power. Possibly he would be of a remnant race, like Etruscan survivors among the Romans, frequently treated with some awe as wizards and witches. The association with an artificial tunnel could point to a certain old strain.
Among the ancient peoples of New Zealand were "the people of the Hollows", who did a good deal of excavating, making semi-sunken houses, and tunnels. These "people of the Hollows" seem at one time to have been widespread in different regions of the world. Some of their techniques still survive in certain localities, such as covering the entrances of caves or tunnels with heavy stones, so balanced as to be quickly rolled across the opening, but requiring much greater power to shift. (Christ's tomb was thought to have been "safely" secured in this way).
Such a man could well have been left in his tunnel behind a tapu barrier and provided with food like an Indian holy man, while the village carried on its life outside. Thus when Hawkes Bay people disapproved of the doings of Rongokako who lived in a cave and sallied out killing, they resorted to smoking him out, indicating a tapu barrier even bold warriors dared not pass. The sealing stone, however, would be needed against outsiders, who might not know of the tapu protecting the tunnel, and would not feel its effects till after getting in.
(From Elsden Best's outstanding book "The Maori as he was", we learn of a myth concerning the turehu - which had powers similar to that of the Taniwha. They were reputed to be fair, forest dwelling beings favouring bush clad hills and places where edible fern root was gathered. Alice Kenny who was a Paeroa writer of note early in the century left us a poem about the turehu.) Ed.
Petewai walks in the shadows,
And covers her face from the day;
Walks in the shadows, and sorrows,
Since the Turehu stole her away.
She was too pretty a maiden
Alone on the beaches to roam -
The terrible turehu saw her
And bore her away to their home!
Rewa, the valorous sought her
Through forests, and lake-lands wide
Till twice had the Pohutukawa
Strewn its blood-red bloom on the tide.
But alas for the heart of Rewa -
The fairies her spirit had reft,
And only the shape of the maiden,
Lamenting and timid was left.