As we know there are many stories in our oral histories that are in conflict with each other, and they are all correct.
A classic example of this is our local Rongokako born of Tato, who never gets a mention. Tato is from Tata, who is from Rere, who is from Rauru, who is from Hingunu a Rangi, who is from Awanui a Rangi, who is from Rongo Ueroa, who is from Toi Kai Rākau who arrived here from Whāngārā in Hawaiiki looking for his mokopuna Whātonga. We know all about his Dad though, who is always mentioned, however Tamatea, as Admiral of Takitimu on this side of the whakapapa, arrived down-under in the last shower to these shores. With the landing of Tākitimu at Mauao in Tauranga Moana, a local female by the name of Toto harnessed Tamatea Ariki Nui and forced him into submission – somewhat weakened after a lengthy voyage. This resulted in a child Rongokako who was to become the grandfather of Kahungunu.
One can see Rongokako from Flaxmere looking east, you will see a person lying down. You will see the face, Te Mata, a mouth, nose and brow of Rongokako on the upper points of the skyline. His head to the south and his feet to the north. This is where the different oral histories start, extending from down South to Wairarapa to Bay of Plenty via Havelock North, Cape Kidnappers, Mahia, Whāngārā and Hauraki. These are love stories locally and from outside of Hawke’s Bay.
In one version many moons ago in Heretaunga was a giant of a man, Rongokako. He loved eating people. Particularly those travelling from the Heretaunga Plains to the ocean at Waimarama – but anybody would do. To stop this Hinerākau, a young belle from Pakipaki, was chosen to swiftly harness him and force him into submission. However they both fell in love with each other.
The hapū of Heretaunga Plains wanted revenge and set tasks for Rongokako to prove his devotion to Hinerākau – seemingly impossible tasks, of which the last was to be fatal. Rongokako was coerced into biting his way through hillock from inner plain to ocean on the premise of an easier path of travel between hinterland and sea. This mammoth task choked him and he died according to plan. Called Pari Kārangaranga it is the space of the missing mouthful of hillock seen today and the cliffs created are known to echo. Hinerākau, bereft, leapt to her death from a cliff on the Waimarama side of Te Mata o Rongokako.
Venture east to the land of the whale rider and it’s a totally different version. It is said that Kiwa sent Rongokako to Tūranganui a Kiwa to investigate the late arrival of Horouta waka. Stepping through Ōhiwa he met Pāoa and they had a tussle. Apparently Pāoa’s wife had a thing for Rongokako and he did not want his wife to have her way with Rongokako. While Pāoa was no match for Rongokako, Paoa’s wife frightened Rongokako and he fled leaving footprints at Wharekahika Hicks Bay, at Kaiora in Whangara South, in Tūranga, Nukutaurua Mahia, Te Matau a Māui Cape Kidnappers, down to Wellington and across the Cook Strait more commonly known as Raukawa and then into oblivion. Such was the impact of Pāoa’s wife.
Meanwhile, back in Hawke’s Bay, another version says due to Rongokako devouring people, the locals simply burnt him out of his cave and he ran away leaving his footprints to the east as we know them. Pāoa lay a trap for him in the Bay of Plenty fearing the amorous nature of his wife. These versions and many others are all correct.
Published in Hawke’s Bay Today on 14 January 2023 and written by Te Hira Henderson, Curator Taonga Maori at MTG Hawke’s Bay.
Image credit: Te Mata o Rongokako, the Sleeping Giant. Hawke’s Bay Today. Photo by Warren Buckland.
30 January 2023
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