The story of Hinemoa and 38) Tutanekai has been handed down from generation to generation. It was first put into print in the 19th century.
While the love story follows a typical heterosexual course there is the added element of another love story, that of Tutanekai and his friend Tiki. Throughout the oral history of the story Tutanekai and Tiki are called “takatapui”, the word often still used in the lgbt community in New Zealand and which originally meant an intimate companion of the same sex.
Tutanekai was the illegitimate son of a chief and raised in the tribal homeland on the small island of Mokoia in the middle of Lake Rotorua. The lake itself was formed in the crater of an old volcano, which means there are hot springs dotted around the island.
Tiki was a member of the same tribe and formed an intimate friendship with Tutanekai in their childhood. Both were very musical and they made traditional flute instruments to play. Tutanekai’s flute had a special significance for him because it was made from the leg bone of the Maori spiritual leader who had “baptised” him as an infant. Unfortunately, the spiritual leader broke a sacred tribal tradition shortly afterwards and was executed. Legend says that this gave the flute an extra resonance which other flutes didn’t have. Its ethereal sound was carried further than other flutes.
Tiki played a smaller, ordinary flute and the two friends would sit on a little platform on the shores of Mokoia in the evening and play music together.
Over on the mainland on the south shore of Lake Rotorua lived another tribe. Among the tribal leader’s family was a beautiful young woman called Hinemoa. Every night when Tutanekai and Tiki were playing their music Hinemoa sat on the shore outside her village and listened, captivated by the almost magical sound.
Hinemoa knew who was playing the music. She and Tutanekai had attended tribal gatherings and had admired each other’s beauty from afar but they couldn’t bring themselves to approach each other to discover if that love was mutual. Hinemoa’s father, the chief, was aware of her growing love for Tutanekai but had resolved to keep the two apart because even though Tutanekai was the son of a chief he was illegitimate and not considered to be of lower social rank than his daughter. He ordered that all the canoes be hidden at night to ensure that she could not paddle across to Mokoia. After many days Hinemoa decided the only option was to swim to the island.
After an arduous swim across Lake Rotorua in the dead of night, with only the sound of Tutanekai playing his flute for guidance, Hinemoa arrived at the island. When she reached the shore she refreshed herself in one of the hot springs.
At about this time Tutanekai had become thirsty through playing his music and he sent a servant to fetch some water from the hot spring. It so happened that the servant went to the same spring where Hinemoa was bathing. She hid when the servant arrived to fill a hollow gourd with water. The servant suspected someone was there and called out. Hinemoa replied, in a deep voice and hiding in the shadows to disguise she was a woman, “Who is the water for?” “Tutanekai”, said the servant. “Let me taste it before you take it to him”, said Hinemoa and she took a swig of water and smashed the gourd on the rocks.
The servant was rather taken aback by this. He went back to Tutanekai and told him what happened. Tutanekai sent the servant back for some more water with another gourd, and Hinemoa did the same thing – twice. Tutanekai was very annoyed by now and stormed down to the spring.
After a few minutes of “hide and seek” Tutanekai realised that the mysterious person as the spring was Hinemoa and the two rejoiced that they were together at last. Tutanekai took Hinemoa back to his house, and his bed, and it was there that the two were discovered the following morning. Tribal law decreed that they had now become man and wife.
As for Tiki this was sad news. When Tutanekai brought Hinemoa home he left them in peace. Now that he was married Tiki would see very little of his intimate friend and became depressed. Tutanekai was also unhappy for his friend and came up with a solution. Tiki married Tutanekai’s sister and was brought into the family home. And so there was a happy ending all round.
This legend of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, not to mention Tiki, is well enough known in New Zealand for it to be turned into dance, song, play, movie and art. One song in particular has been adapted to allude to the story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai and was sung by a very unusual choir in 2013. When the New Zealand parliament voted to legalise same-sex marriage the assembled politicians broke spontaneously into song, and the song they sang was “Pokarekare Ana”. Here’s a video of the occasion:
“Pokarekare Ana” originates in its present format a century ago as a popular song sung by Maori soldiers leaving New Zealand to fight in Europe during World War I. As such it was also reminiscent in the sentiment of being reunited with a loved one to another popular song sung by troops in World War I, “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, written by 39) Ivor Novello (1893-1951).
Next time: Tarzan speaks and Mexico revolts.