Mokoia Island Wai Ora Experiences
Mokoia Island Wai Ora Experiences, Rotorua, New Zealand
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The legend of Hinemoa and Tutanekai


The love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai is a Maori legend set on Mokoia Island

Strolling through Rotorua city, you will come across the intersection in the middle of town, sheltered by a canopy and called the City Focus, which commemorates one of our greatest love stories. We would like to invite you to share more of our Maori legends and customs while you visit our unique island.

At one time there lived a beautiful and high ranking young maiden by the name of Hinemoa, the daughter of a very influential chief at the time. They lived at Owhata on the eastern shores of Lake Rotorua. Because of her rank, Hinemoa was declared puhi (tapu or sacred). A husband would be chosen for her when she reached maturity by the elders in her hapu (subtribe) and her family. Many people came from far and wide to seek the hand of Hinemoa whose beauty and grace were well known. However none of the suitors gained the approval of the tribe.

On Mokoia Island in the centre of Lake Rotorua lived a family of several brothers. Tutanekai was the youngest of them. Their mother had had an illicit affair with Tuwharetoa who hailed from another tribe and of their union had Tutanekai been born. Her husband, however agreed to take her back and to raise Tutanekai as his own son.

Each of the elder brothers had declared their love for Hinemoa and set out to win her hand. None of them won approval from Hinemoa's people.

There were in those times many meetings to discuss matters of state regarding the tribe, and at these meetings many young chiefs saw Hinemoa and fell in love with her. Such was the fate of Tutanekai who knew because of his lowly birth would never win approval from Hinemoa's people. Tutanekai was extremely handsome and excelled at the games of the time which Maori used to develop co-ordination and skills for battle.

They were played at gatherings such as this. It was Tutanekai's prowess at these games and his good looks which caught Hinemoa's eye. She fell in love with Tutanekai also and at each subsequent tribal meeting they would fall more deeply for one another. They were able only to convey their feelings through furtive glances on longing and never once had the opportunity to speak with one another.

It was such a sad state of affairs, as neither could see any way their love would ever be requited. Tutanekai would sit on the shores of Mokoia Island with his friend Tiki and play sad music on his flute. The music would waft, on still evenings, across the lake to where Hinemoa sat aching also with passion. She was filled with sadness and knew she could never marry anyone but Tutanekai. Her people began to suspect this was the case, and in order to prevent her sneaking away to her secret love, they pulled all the canoes up on to the shore, so they were too heavy for her to move alone.

Night after night she listened to the strains of her would be lover until her heart was overcome with sadness and she knew she could take no more. It was then she decided, if she could not use a canoe, she would have to swim. The next night, she told her people she was going to watch the evening entertainment, but in fact she headed for the lakefront, after collecting six calabashes from the cooking house.

She rested at the rock Iri iri kapua (which can still be seen at Owhata) while she made the calabashes into primitive style waterwings.

She then slipped in to the water at a beach called Wairerewai and swam for Mokoia. It was of course very dark, so she was reliant upon the strains of the flute played by her sweetheart Tutanekai. She rested at a large stump in the lake briefly, and carried onward guided by the music. She finally made it to Mokoia Island, but she had become so cold during her swim, she headed straight for the hot pool Waikimihia, near Tutanekai's house.

Once she had warmed herself, Hinemoa became conscious she was naked and was too shy to approach Tutanekai's house without clothes. It so happened at this time Tutanekai became thirsty, so he sent his slave down to fetch a calabash of water. The slave had to pass quite close to where Hinemoa sat warming herself. As he passed the pool, a gruff voice called out to him 'Mo wai te wai?' (For whom is the water?).

The slave answered; Mo Tutanekai' (For Tutanekai) 'give it to me' demanded Hinemoa, and as soon as the slave did so she smashed the calabash on the side of the pool. When the slave returned to Tutanekai and told him what had happened, Tutanekai made him go again. Again Hinemoa challenged the slave and once again smashed the calabash.

This time Tutanekai became angry and decided to go down to the pool himself. He dressed himself, and took his mere (greenstone weapon) and headed for the pool. Once there, he challenged whoever was in the pool to show themselves. No one moved. Hinemoa had moved under a hanging rock which provided some protection for her naked body. She stayed as still as a mouse. Then, Tutanekai felt around the edge of the rock and came to where Hinemoa hid. He grabbed her by her hair and pulled her clear.

'Who are you?' he cried. 'Who dares annoy me!. She answered, 'It is I, Hinemoa, who has come to you'. Tutanekai couldn't believe his ears. And when she stepped out of the water, he was sure he had never seen such a beautiful woman. Tutanekai took off his cloak and wrapped it about Hinemoa and they returned to his house to sleep.

The next morning the people of the village (pa) rose to prepare the morning meal and remarked that this day Tutanekai was sleeping late. He always rose first. After a while, his father began to think him ill so sent a slave to check on him. The slave went to Tutanekai's whare (house) and as he peeked in saw four feet instead of two poking out from beneath the covers. The slave ran back to report this to his master and was sent back to investigate further. It was then he recognised Hinemoa. Such was his surprise, he began to call out 'It is Hinemoa. It is Hinemoa who lies with Tutanekai'.

The brothers would not believe the slave, and nor did any other, but in the commotion, Tutanekai indeed stepped from his house with Hinemoa on his arm. It was then, the people noticed canoes heading toward the island, and knowing it would be Hinemoa's family, they feared war and anticipated Hinemoa would be taken from Tutanekai forever. However, upon arrival there was much rejoicing between the two tribes, and lasting peace was forged between the two tribes.

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