Maori Mythology by Charity Norman

Maori Mythology by Charity Norman

The taniwha have a place even in modern culture. For example, in 2002 the building of a new road was bitterly objected to because it would obliterate the lair of a particular taniwha known as Karutahi. The authorities eventually agreed to alter the route of their highway.

The patupaiarehe were also enigmatic, and legends about them abound. The name is often translated as ‘fairy’, but the patupaiarehe weren’t at all like European fairies and were generally considered cunning and dangerous rather than cute. These supernatural beings were humanlike but with very pale skin and red hair. They lived in the mountain tops and depths of the forests, and could sometimes be heard singing ethereal songs. Their magical powers included the ability to lure human beings with the music of the Putorino, a kind of flute. Some tales tell of human women who were abducted and as a result conceived children; fair-haired Maori were thought to be their descendants. Another of their tricks was to put a spell on sleeping people so that they seemed to have died – though such victims would revive when dragged outside and doused in water.

One school of thought insists that the myth is evidence that there was a pre-Maori wave of settlement in New Zealand, whose people fled to the most remote forests and mountains when under threat. It’s even been suggested – romantically – that a handful of this ancient race may be hiding in their secret villages to this very day.