Spirit ships

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Looking towards Taupo Point from near Parapara

Looking towards Taupo Point from near Parapara

Diary: Taupo Pa, Mohua

Yesterday was just a normal summer day. It was beautiful; sunny, warm and calm.

We were busy weeding the kumara fields, the children were playing in the sea, and the men were fishing and making.

But today, everything has changed.

First thing this morning there was shouting. There was smoke coming from above Puponga.

The signal fires were lit!

We could see the smoke across the bay, but had no idea what the danger was, except that it was serious. Smoke from the Puponga hills had to be serious.

We have our own people in both directions from the Bay; to Rangitoto in the East, and to Hokitika down the coast. People often pass this way, most often our own, and they use our Bay to refresh themselves either before or after travelling the west coast. Sometimes there are people from other tribes. They have already passed many of our own to get here, so we are cautious, but don’t expect trouble from them. They explain who they are and their purpose, and make their oblations. They take only what they need, and no more. Then they go, usually in pursuit of stones; Pounamu and Pahautane.

People trading or travelling come along the coast; it is the safe way. It is dangerous to cross the open sea, and anyone doing so is either foolish or of foul purpose. If someone wanted to sneak up on us, then they would come from the open sea; from Taranaki, or Whanganui.

That’s why we have the watchers. And this morning, they have lit the fires.

Some of the men took off in boats, to see the people further around the Bay and find out what was happening. We could only sit and wait and wonder.

Soon enough the messages were coming back from across the Bay, and down from up the hill.

Two boats have been seen, coming from Whanganui. This would normally be cause enough for concern; attacks have come from the Whanganui direction in the past, but this news was even more alarming.

They are not ordinary boats. They are Spirit Ships, or the work of some powerful sorcery.

The men say boats are very very big, much longer than anything we have ever seen, and very, very fat. They say the boats must be enchanted as they stand very high above the water, but they don’t tip over, even though they have just a single hull, without any outriggers or anything else to hold them upright.

They had been seen at dawn by the sentries near Wharariki and the others along the Puponga ridge.

The boats had come towards them and then turned towards the sun, which lit their enormous sails. The sails are so white it seems like they are made of tapa… but no tapa can be made that strong. The sails are very high and very wide, and they are squares which go sideways across the boats, not triangles along their length like ours.

The men say they do not know how these sails can make the boats move, or how they are pushed so high, or why the wind doesn’t overturn them.

People from the tops above Wainui and Taupo said the boats were moving slowly along Onetahua and would reach the end by nightfall.

They could be in the Bay any time after that.

Early Maori settlement in Golden Bay

Early Maori settlements in Golden Bay

By the evening we could see them from our hill, but we couldn’t make out any detail. They were just two marks on the horizon, a little back from the point of the spit and as far out to sea.

At night the two boats turned into stars, but the stars didn’t move.

Nobody knows what they are or what it means, though there are many stories starting; stories of goblins and fairy folk and taniwha, of witchcraft and sorcery, ghosts and spirits … but nobody knows.

Runners have gone up the valley, and over the hill, boats have gone around to our cousins at Totaranui and to the bays between and beyond. Word will reach Motueka and Whakatu soon.

We have moved the small children and the old ones out to the Pa at Taupo point, and are moving our Taonga, and food there as fast as we can. The Pa is a good place if trouble comes into the Bay. There are two ways to run, if that’s what we have to do; we can flee into the Bay, or away from it.

Taupo Pa

The Pa at Taupo Point, drawn in 1844.
Citation: Messenger, Arthur Herbert, 1877-1962. Messenger, Arthur Herbert 1877-1962 :Taupo, Massacre Bay. 1921 [i.e 1844]. Ref: A-173-015. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

The men are assembling with their weapons, and are getting the best boats together. They are working as fast as they can to make them ready and are lashing more into pairs; they are better for fighting from like that.

All around the Bay the other families are doing the same; at Tata, Parapara, Aorere, Pakawau and Puponga.

There will be sentries on the lookout all night, so we won’t be taken by surprise, but I don’t think we will sleep much anyway.

What do they want with us? Will they go past, or will they come in? Will they come in the dark? Will there be fighting? Will we all be killed… or taken?

May the spirits of our ancestors keep us safe.

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