I am reading Rangatira, by New Zealand author Paula Morris (of English and Ngati Wai (Maori) descent), and came across this evocative description of landscape and myth:
Ngati Wai chief Paratene te Manu is remembering his past while the Bohemian painter Gottfried Lindauer paints the portrait that you can see on the cover of the book.
The island is really Hauturu-o-toi, because Toi-te-huatahi, the great explorer, named it. His grandson was lost at sea, so Toi searched for him, following the path of the stars from Hawaiki south across the ocean. He didn’t find his grandson, but he found Aotea and Hauturu, and decided to stay for a while. His grandson eventually turned up safe and sound in Hawaiki, as the young will do, oblivious to the fuss they’ve caused.
Hauturu is not like other islands. It’s a place of secrets and resistance. The mountain always wears a cloak of cloud. Some say that an atua* lives up there, and when it descends, disguised in grey swirls of mist, no one is safe. The waves crash and the winds blow, warning us of its descent.
The island is guarded by its sheer ridges and slashed with deep gullies, which is why it was easy to defend. The streams only flow during the rains of winter. There are no beaches, and if the wind blows from the south-west, it’s impossible either to land or leave. Toi himself couldn’t find a landing place, so he sent a slave, guarded by Toi’s beloved dog, Moi-pahu-roa, to find a suitable spot.
Perhaps the dog was reluctant to swim ashore, or perhaps the slave just wanted to escape his watch. For one reason or another, near the wet boulders near Titoki point, the slave dashed the dog’s head with a sharp rock. he’d forgotten that the dog was Toi’s property and therefore tapu**. Before his eyes, the dog turned into a slab of stone. You can see it there now, lying in the water, as flat as the boulders near it are round. It’s still tapu. If anyone strikes that stone, he will die within one month.
Rangatira, by Paula Morris, Penguin New Zealand, 2011, p 134-5
* atua = ancestor with continuing influence, god, demon, supernatural being, deity, ghost, object of superstitious regard, strange being – although often translated as ‘god’ and used for the Christian God, this is a misconception of the real meaning. Many Māori trace their ancestry from atua in their whakapapa and they are regarded as ancestors with influence over particular domains. These atua also were a way of rationalising and perceiving the world.
** tapu = sacred, prohibited
(Source: The Maori Dictionary)
Rangatira was the winner of the fiction category in both the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards and the 2012 Nga Kupu Ora Maori Book Awards.