The story of Hinemoa.

A maori folklore tale  by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

When I think of Lake Rotorua in the middle of the North Island of New Zealand I see it at night. As a child I used to go there quite often and watch the silver moon shining over the water. It never seemed to be a rough or difficult lake - always rippling. Seeing the island of Mokoia in the middle of it I always picture. Hinemoa swimming to her hero, her warrior, Tutanekai, and I always imagined her as a kind of fairy princess. This is her story.

    There was once a very handsome warrior called Tutanekai who used to hunt and fish with his step-brothers on their island home of Mokoia. From time to time he would daydream about the woman he would marry. But winning a bride would not be easy: his step-brothers were serious ' rivals and they were always boasting that they would marry the most beautiful of women and have the most children. On the mainland there was a legendary beauty called Hinemoa. Her father was a very great but gruff warrior, and he adored Hinemoa. He would not let anybody, not anybody at all, marry his Hinemoa. Many handsome chiefs had come to him to ask for her hand in marriage, but not one of them was good enough for his daughter.
    Now the tribes sometimes gathered on the mainland for meetings and on these occasions there was much competition as to who had the most land or the biggest house for Hinemoa.
    One day Hinemoa and Tutanekai caught sight of each other at one of these tribal gatherings. They could not speak to each other, as Hinemoa's father made sure that she was protected from the advances of any of the young men. But they had seen each other and that was enough: it was love at first sight. Once the tribes had all returned to their homes Hinemoa began to
think about Tutanekai, night after night.
    Tutanekai was something of a loner. He was most at peace when he could go off on his own and play his flute. As soon as he returned home he felt sure that Hinemoa was the love of his dreams. She really was the most beautiful girl with her long wavy hair, round olive face and dark brown eyes.Night after night Tutanekai would think of Hinemoa and give voice to his emotions on the flute. Everyone in her tribe would listen to this music, but most of all Hinemoa would listen to its soulful, haunting sounds. It made her feel sad and once again she would think of Tutanekai, far away on the island of Mokoia. Little did she know that this was his music.
    Time passed and there were several tribal gatherings. The more Tutanekai came to these meetings and Hinemoa saw him, the more they fell in love with each other.
    One day Hinemoa and Tutanekai finally had a few moments together alone, and although they were very shy they knew that their love for each other was growing all the time. Hinemoa felt Tutanekai's great strength and she felt the protection of his powerful body and kind, handsome face.
    Tutanekai wondered how they might persuade her father to agree to their marriage. Hinemoa was terrified.
    'No,' she cried 'this has happened so many times that I cannot see my father ever giving permission for us to get married.'
    Tutanekai said, 'Look, we are in love, we should be married! Come to my island of Mokoia with me.'
    'It is not possible,' replied Hinemoa. 'They would see us and bring me back to Rotorua and I would never be allowed to see you again, ever!'
    But Tutanekai was determined. He said, 'No, you are to be mine. I want you as my wife. I have a plan. When your tribe is sleeping and I am back in Mokoia you must go down to the water's edge and push out a canoe and paddle it to me.'
'But how will I find you? How will I find the island of Mokoia?'
'I have a flute,' said Tutanekai. 'I play my music every night.'
    'So that's your flute! After all these nights, I didn't realize it was your music playing to me. Of course I know where you are. I've known where you've been for so many days and nights now. Yes! I do have the courage. I will be able to find you.'
    Tutanekai returned to his island with his step-brothers and his father, and Hinemoa waited. That night there was no moon. When she heard the flute she rushed down to the water's edge to find a canoe. But there was none. She could not find a single one. They were all high up on the shore. It was impossible for her to push one down, even though she tried and tried again - the canoes were very heavy and she was not strong enough.
    Frustrated, she crept back to her sleeping mat and cried herself to sleep, thinking 'I can hear the sound of the flute and I can't come to you. I will try again tomorrow night.'
    The following night the moon was still hidden and when darkness fell Hinemoa once again heard her lover's flute. It was time to go. She rushed down to the water's edge. Impossible! Not a single canoe could she find.
    Night after night the same thing happened. With the sound of Tutanekai's music floating over the water Hinernoa became desperate. She must get to Mokoia. She decided to go without the help of a canoe. During the day she found some dried gourds and hid them away. That night she went down to the water clutching the gourds and, without even glancing back, she tied the gourds together and floated them on the water. Then she lay on them and pushed herself out into the dark lake. She started to paddle in the direction of the flute playing. The music guided her through the moonless night and although she was exhausted, she kept on paddling.
    She was getting nearer to Mokoia but the cold water had chilled her to the bone and she began to feel very weak. The music sounded faint now but all the same it gave her courage to press on. Suddenly she felt as if she might be within shouting distance of the island. She put a foot down in the water and touched some waving weed. A moment later she felt solid land and climbed, stiffly, out of the water.
    Terrified of the darkness and the stillness, she took a few hesitant steps on to the dry land which felt warm under her feet. The rest of her body still felt cold - she was quite naked as she had thrown off her cloak when she plunged in. The warm rocks reminded her of the geysers back on the mainland. As she walked a little further the land became hotter and soon Hinemoa caught the welcome sound of hissing water. Geysers! A few steps further and she found herself beside a beautiful pool of hot sulphurous water. She lowered herself in and lay there, soaking up the warmth.
    She lay for quite some time, and gradually her fingers and toes felt like they belonged to her once again. She wondered what she should do.
'Now, I know Tutanekai is here, but I can't go down to the village with just my hair covering my body! I must find a way of making him come to me.'
       Just then she heard footsteps, so she lay very still. As they came closer she called out, disguising her voice,'Who is there?'
A terrified voice answered 'Who is that?'
Then Hinemoa called out again, 'What are you doing here?'
    The same voice blurted out, 'I am getting water for my master, Tutanekai .'
'Give me the water bag,' demanded Hinemoa.
    Hinemao could just make out the shape of a man holding a bag at arm's length. As soon as she reached out to take it he ran off. She had a drink and then sank back into the pool. What should she do now?
    Soon she heard more voices. She lay very quietly and saw a large shadow approaching the pool. She began to panic. 'On no!' she thought, 'it's a monster. Something terrible will happen to me and I will never see Tutanekai again.' She closed her eyes, hoping it would disappear. When she opened them, she couldn't believe what she saw: there was Tutanekai, who also could
not believe his eyes, standing right before her.
'Hinemoa,' he said, 'How did you get here? How long have you been here?'
    Once Hinemoa had recovered from the shock of seeing Tutanekai, she told him the story of her flight from the mainland, and how terrified she was of the cold water, and how this beautiful, hot, bubbling pool seemed to have been put there specially for her comfort and warmth.
    When she had finished Tutanekai said, 'Come quickly. While it is still dark I will take you down to my village. There we'll find some clothing for you.'
    They went to his hut and talked and talked for most of the night about their love for each other and their desire to spend the rest of their lives together.
    The next morning, when the rest of Tutanekai's family were up and about, there was no sign of Tutanekai. 'Why isn't he here?' they asked. So they sent one of the servants to rouse him, who soon rushed back saying 'I cannot believe it! There is someone else with Tutanekai, and I... I... they are both asleep in there, and it's... it's a woman, a woman there with Tutanekai!'
    The rest of the tribe looked at each other, amazed. Could there be a stranger in the village? They had not heard anyone come into the village in the night. And why had Tutanekai not told them about this stranger, this woman? They were just about to dispatch the same servant to find out who this stranger was, when Tutanekai and Hinemoa appeared, walking towards them. As
soon as Tutanekai's family saw their radiant faces they knew that they were in love. They knew, too, that this beautiful woman was Hinemoa.
    All of Tutanekai's tribe were happy for them but were also worried abou what Hinemoa's father would do. He might declare war on them, they said, in order to get his daughter back. So that day they sent a group of warriors to him. They told him that Hinemoa was safe and asked him to agree to her marriage with Tutanekai.
    At first Hinemoa's father was annoyed, but he soon relented, realizing how his brave daughter had suffered so for the love of her warrior Tutanekai. Throughout the whole area there was great feasting, night after night, and Hinemoa and Tutanekai were finally married. To this day the warm
bubbling pool where Hinemoa revived herself is known as Hinemoa's Bath.
 

 
 
 email me at rickja@ihug.co.nz if you want another story like this one
 
 
 Back to  Home page