Pitaka and Pekehaua
(refer to Pekehaua and the Awahou River
for alternative version)
Taniwha are mysterious creatures who often live in rivers, lakes and springs and sometimes on land where they can be seen in many forms and shapes. Some taniwha are kaitiaki or guardians of the people who live nearby and others are mischievous and can cause danger to the people who meet them unexpectedly.
There was a rumour that a taniwha called Pekehaua living in Te Awahou river had been capturing and killing travellers passing by. The people were so worried about this that they sent a group of 170 warriors to find and kill this creature. They went into the forest and gathered supplies for the journey ahead. They picked supplejack vines to weave a trap in which to capture the taniwha.
After travelling some way, they reached a deep water-hole named Te Waro-Uri where the taniwha was said to live. They brought out the large woven trap they had made which was covered in kereru feathers and tied with rope and stone and laid it by the riverside. A chief named Pītaka volunteered to be the one to dive deep down into the dark hole where the creature lived. He dived as deeply as he could into the spring while the group spoke powerful incantations to soothe the beast.
The karakia and chants they performed made the taniwha quiet and the spines on his back softened so that Pitaka was able to slip the rope on to it. They began to pull with all their might while they continued chanting to make them stronger. The taniwha thrashed and pulled some of the men beneath the water but still they held onto the rope tightly. After a tiring battle, the men were finally able to drag the great creature out of the river and on to the shore.
The taniwha must have been quite a sight for the people who had never seen such a creature. People came from all around to see the creature which looked like a whale from the sea but with sharp spikes. The men pulled its flesh and inside its puku (belly) found many human bones, torn clothing, mats, tools, darts and spears which the taniwha had eaten over the years.
That night there was a great feast as the people cut up, cooked and ate the flesh of the taniwha known as Pekehaua, happy that they would now be safe from the hungry beast who had once lived in those waters.
Qualities: identity, relationships
Did you know?
The people of Ngāti Rangiwewehi have a very different story about Pekehaua. They believe that he was not a dangerous monster but a guardian of their waters and people. Some say that he was never captured and that he still lives in Te Awahou river today helping to keep swimmers in the river safe and can sometimes be heard swimming peacefully in the deep water.
You can read their version of Pekehaua’s story on the related entry listed below.
Read more here:
For younger tamariki:
One day a taniwha (Aunty Bea Yates)
This entry is related to these other entries:
Pekehaua and the Awahou River
Te Arawa: A History of the Arawa People, Don Stafford, A.H & A.W Reed, 1967
2. The Killing of Pekehaua, Volume 11, 1878, Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand Institute 1878 at
Alexander Turnbull Library