The Story of Haunui-a-nanaia

In: Stories, Traditional stories

Popoto and his wife Nanaia had a son called Haunuiananaia who was the ancestor of the Te Ati Hau a Paparangi people of the Whanganui region. Haunui had reason to pursue his errant wife Wairaka who had run off with a slave. He set out from his home at Te Matau a Maui following the path of Wairaka and her lover across the island and down the west coast. After exacting his revenge he decided to go home via the East Coast. Haunui named many of the landmark features that he came across during his mission.

He started back towards Te Matau a Maui. He climbed a high mountain and on reaching the top he sat down to rest. There he thought about what he had done. He named the mountain Remutaka -‘to sit down’. It is now known as Rimutaka. As Haunui sat there he saw a lake before him. When he looked towards the lake the reflection of the sun caught his eyes and made them water. It was this incident that led to the name – Wairarapa. It was not so much the glistening water but the reflection of the sun that caught his eye and made them water. The full saying is found in a number of old waiata that have been left behind, ‘ka rarapa nga kanohi ko Wairarapa’ – his eyes sparkled hence Wairarapa.

After resting a while Haunui stood up and saw in the distance, at the northern end of the valley, a high mountain standing alone. He concentrated on this mountain as a navigational landmark and named it Rangitumau – meaning ‘standing up to the sky’ or alternatively ‘holding up the sky’.

Haunui descended Remutaka and travelled into and up the valley. At the first river he came to he discovered a whare or maemae, the walls and roof of which were thatched with Nikau Palm leaves. He named this river Tauwharenikau -‘the house made of nikau’.

At the next river crossing he sat down on a bank to rest and as he looked down into the water he imagined he could see Wairaka’s face which made him sad. This river he named Wai o Hine Wairaka –‘water for his woman’ referring to the tears he shed. We know it today as ‘Waiohine’.

He named the river we know as Waingawa – Waiawangawanga, awangawanga meaning uncertain or troubled because the river appeared to go in all directions with many bends. It did not look like it knew where it was going.

At the next river he tested the depth with his tokotoko/walking stick and gave it the name Waipoua. Another term for tokotoko is pou and wai is water.

The final river that Haunui named was Ruamahanga meaning ‘twin forks’ which can refer to the many tributaries that join the river or also to a waka-inuwai (bird snare trough) that he found placed in a fork in a tree by the river.

Haunui returned home on his god Rongomai, a giant eagle that is today seen in the form of a meteor, but before doing so visited Rangitumau to look back over the land he had come from.