Teuira Henry, from Ancient Tahiti (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1928)
A prince named Vahi-e-roa (Far-off-place) once lived in Pare, Tahiti To‘erau (North Tahiti). His wife was Matamata-taua (Endless-strife), who also inherited the name of the land, Tahiti To‘erau as her rightful title because she was high chiefess of the realm.
To these two royal persons was born a son, whose arrival gave them great joy. They named him Rata (“Tame”).
On the night of his birth, his parents left him in charge of his paternal grandmother, ‘Ui-‘ura (“Red-whetstone”). They could not resist the temptation to join in a torchlight fishing party on hearing the joyous singing of the torchlighters on the seashore close by:
Now let my torches be made!
Long, to last the long night.
Torches are there,
Torches to light.
Light my torch,
To light the torch
The god Pi-‘a-rire is invoked.
[Pi-‘a-rire, “Splash-and-applaud,” a god of fishermen].
Vahi-e-roa held a torch in the bow of a canoe, and his wife sat just behind him watching with delight the success of the party and of others in neighboring canoes. But the happy couple had not been out long when the great demon bird Matutu-ta‘ota‘o (Searcher-in-thick-darkness) cast its shadow over them, as black as the region whence he came. He was chief of an army of demon birds (manu-varua-‘ino) of King Puna (Water-spring), who ruled a land called Hiti-marama (Border-of-the-moon), which stood northward from Pitcairn and Elizabeth islands, but has long since disappeared beneath the sea.
Engrossed in fishing, the people did not notice the bird until after it descended and with one sweep caught up the prince and his wife with its great talons and flew away swiftly to the land of the rising moon.
There the demon bird separated the unfortunate couple; the wife he gave to the spouse of King Puna, whose name was Te-vahine-hua-rei (The-woman-of-inflated-neck). She placed Tahiti To‘erau head downwards in the ground, with her shoulders and arms propping her body, and her feet up in the air to serve as a stand from which to hang baskets of food for her majesty. In this painful position the gods kept Tahiti To‘erau alive without food. But her poor husband came to an untimely and ignominious death. His head was bitten off and swallowed whole by the demon bird, and his body was cast out to be devoured by the king’s fish gods of the sea, the chief of which was a great bivalve named Pahua-tu-tahi (a giant clam), which stood open in mid-ocean to entrap its prey. The other gods of the sea were a shoal of monsters, a great a‘u (swordfish), a possessed urua (cavalla fish), and an aiea (consuming ghost) of the mid-ocean rocks.
The sad fate of the prince and his wife was revealed to the priests of Pare by their gods. The good old woman ‘Ui‘ura took care to conceal the fate of his parents from her grandson, who grew up under her tender care, believing that she was his mother.
Rata led a happy and uneventful life until he became a lad and sought the company of children of his own age, when the sad fate of his parents was revealed to him.
One day he joined a party of boys who were making toy canoes out of purau wood for a race on the sea, and he modelled one out of clay hoping that it would beat the others. He let his canoe dry in the sun and set a rudder to it, but it had no masts while those of his companions were fully rigged. When the race took place, the wooden canoes soon sailed away, leaving far behind the earthen one, which beat sidewise against the wind. When Rata eagerly called out to his canoe to hasten forward and beat the others, his companions tauntingly said: “Do you think your canoe can win when your father’s head has been swallowed by a demon bird and your mother serves as a stand for the food of a ferocious queen?”
The lad heard these words, and they weighed upon his mind. He went home to his grandmother and asked her who his parents were. The old woman replied: “I am your parent.” But this answer did not satisfy his inquisitive mind.
“But where is my father?”
“In that post there,” the grandmother answered, pointing to the central pillar of their home.
So the boy dug around the post to find his father, until the old woman told him he would cause the house to fall down. Then the lad desperately exclaimed: “Let me see you call forth my father!”
She answered evasively that she was both his father and mother, but this answer did not satisfy him, and he wept bitterly from disappointment.
The following day, Rata went again to play with his companions, and while they made more purau canoes, he made his of bamboo. As they were launching them into the sea, he said to his canoe: “Oh! toy canoe, beat all before you; the tens and the thousands that may follow you!”
Then his canoe went forward and left all the others far behind, which enraged the other boys, and they taunted him: “Your canoe has outrun ours; but is the resting place of your father’s spirit sacred when his head has been swallowed by Matutu-ta‘ota‘o, and your mother serves as a food-stand for the queen Vahine-hue-rei?”
Then Rata, just before so elated at his success, returned home crestfallen and insisted his grandmother tell him about his parent. So she did, after which he manfully inquired: “And how can I go to that land of the rising moon?”
“You would lose your life were you to go there, my child,” replied the grandmother. “Your parents are lost there and let that suffice; remain here with me in my old age.”
But the lad said resolutely: “How can I go to that land?”
“Make a canoe, and you can sail there.”
So it came to pass that Rata received from ‘Ui’s hands an ancestral axe, which his father had carefully laid away, and finding it dull the old woman directed him to sharpen it by rubbing its edge upon her back while she chanted these words: “The sacred back of ‘Ui-‘ura must indeed be rubbed!”
Then the axe was sharpened and filled with magic to aid the stripling in accomplishing the arduous task ahead.
He asked his grandmother where he should go to find a tree suitable for his canoe, and she replied: “In the sacred recess of the god To‘a-hiti [Bordering-rock] of jovial face, of the valley. Long, long endures the love for one’s parents; sorrow for them cannot easily subside!”
“I agree,” said Rata. So early in the morning he took a hearty meal and equipped himself in working attire, which consisted of a strong maro, or loin cloth, and a wreath of leaves to shade his head.
Rata went far up the deep valley, the recess of which was sacred to the inland god, To‘a-hiti, and his numerous elves of all sizes. Rata chose a fine tree, which he chopped down with wonderful skill. He had trimmed off the branches and made the trunk ready to hew out when nightfall came. Then he returned home to have supper and rest until the next day.
Rata’s grandmother welcomed him home, and while he sat enjoying his supper she inquired whether his errand had been propitious, and he answered enthusiastically that it had. She, being a clairvoyant, replied ambiguously: “The foliage of your tree is standing up,” a remark that he did not regard as ominous, as he thought she was referring to the fresh branches lying scattered on the ground, as he had left them.
But when Rata returned to his work the next morning, he was bewildered to find his tree standing erect among the other trees with all its branches and leaves restored, and he could not see upon the ground any trace of his recent work. At length he realized that all his previous day’s labor had been undone and that the elves of the valley had restored the tree to its former condition. So he again set to work and felled the tree, and this time he did not cut off the branches but concealed himself among the thickest of them and sat watching for the return of the mysterious beings.
At length Rata heard strange voices up in the air, and before long he saw approaching the tree a host of odd little beings, some stout and others slender. He saw good jovial To‘a-hiti with his little muscular canoe artisan, named Ta-va‘a (Canoe-hewer), heading the train of merry elves in attendance on him! While they lighted upon the branches, Rata kept still, and soon they sang gently and harmoniously:
Fly hither, fly hither,
Branches of my tree!
Come gently, come enraged,
Fly hither, fly hither!
Watery sap of my tree,
Adhesive gum, stand-
Stand the tree erect!
But Rata held the tree down, so that it could not rise again. Not seeing him, the gods wondered what prevented the tree from rising, and then their artisan, Ta-va‘a, said, “Let us drive away the anger of ‘Ui,” and ran from end to end of the tree. Then they sang gently again:
Fly hither, fly hither!
Watery sap of my tree,
Come gently, come enraged!
Adhesive gum stand-
Stand the tree erect!
And up went the tree with all the gods upon the branches, while Rata remained still hidden in the foliage. They then adjusted the leaves and were ready to take their departure when Rata gave a shout and shook the branches, which so startled them that they rushed out confusedly, tumbling head first over one another, sideways through the air, not heeding what they were doing, from their surprise at seeing a man intrude upon their sacred ground. Never before had mortal dared to cut a tree from their beautiful forest so high inland!
As soon as order was reestablished and all were again perched up in the tree, Ta-va‘a said to Rata: “What is your desire here in this recess of the valley sacred to us?”
Rata answered in brief, faltering words: “I want a canoe!”
“Your person is sacred,” replied the artisan, “because of our friendship for your parents, whom we adopted. Yes, Rata, you shall have a canoe! Our dear grandson, long, long endures the love for one’s parents, and sorrow for them cannot subside! You furnish us with the tools and the sennit and leave the building of your canoe to us.”
Rata was delighted at this promise and readily agreed to furnish all that the artisan desired. So he went home quickly and told his grandmother all that had happened, and she soon aided him in obtaining the things that were required for the making of the canoe. Most of the tools they already had. Moreover, Rata was provided with a present of red feathers and fine girdles and mats as offerings for those gods.
When everything was ready, Rata carried inland all he had gathered and placed everything beside the trunk of the tree he had chosen. Then he returned home with a light heart. His grandmother said, “Now your canoe will soon be done!” They had supper and went to bed.
Towards midnight, as Rata slept, he dreamed about his canoe, and as he dreamed he chanted:
Oh, my eyes are closed!
My dream is to stand, to be a champion;
My dream is to demolish,
Aided by the master in ‘ura feathers, Tane,
This is Tane’s evening
My sleep is amid boards, I am awakened
By the song of the thrush,
That sings in the day, sings at night,
Chirps, and spreads [its wings];
And the fountains flow in the dream of night.
It is the gods, O it is the gods
That excite one in sleep!
“I have been dreaming,” said Rata, “about my canoe, and believe it is here on the right side of our house!” So saying, he fell asleep again, and just before daybreak he had the same dream and chanted in the same strain as before, after which he awoke and said to his grandmother: “Oh, my dream! I have had it again, and I feel certain that my canoe is here, near our door.”
The old woman replied: “Take some fara seeds and throw them out to where you think the canoe is, and you cannot mistake the sound that they will make against the side of the canoe if it is there.”
So, groping in the dark, he went and got a handful of edible fara seeds from a basket, threw them with force into the dense shade on the right, just outside of the door; and they heard the desired noise of the seeds falling against boards. Highly delighted, the lad went out and felt his canoe to make quite sure it was there, and returning to the house he impatiently waited for dawn to see his canoe.
At length daylight arrived, and Rata and his grandmother went joyously to inspect the canoe. It was beautiful and complete! The seams of the planks were sewn tightly together with sennit and made waterproof with breadfruit gum. A long magical spear for Rata, named “Tevao-roa-ia-Rata” (The-distant-recess-of-Rata), had been placed at the stern of the vessel. The masts and rigging were of the strongest and best quality, and there were strong mats for sails.
To‘a-hiti and his band, keeping themselves invisible, were present, ready to help Rata launch the canoe. Unconsciously impelled by them, he went without assistance to draw the canoe into the sea, not far off, and it moved as if by magic, and was soon in deep water. But it had yet to be baptized, or made to drink. Not knowing this, Rata was surprised to see it sink below the surface of the sea, and rise again full of water. Then he exclaimed to his grandmother: “This is a bad canoe, it sinks for no reason!”
The grandmother replied: “Tow the canoe in and dedicate it to To‘a-hiti.”
“How shall I dedicate it?”
“In these words,” said the old woman:
Go, go and encounter! Go, go upheld
By To‘a-hiti of jovial face,
And rise up bows
Of Tua-a-Rata [Company-of-Rata]!
So Rata did as she told him, after which he desired to know what should be done next, and his grandmother directed him to make a cooking place of sand upon the deck and to take plenty of food and water and store them in the canoe for the voyage, while she braided him a round basket of fara leaves lined with soft tapa, in which to receive his father’s head.
Rata prepared the food and placed it into the canoe and put the basket carefully away in the marae that he had made in the canoe. Then he said to his grandmother: “I shall now see if you are right in all you have instructed me to do, my dear grandmother.”
He again launched the vessel with invisible help and chanted thus, with his eyes looking steadfastly ahead:
To Motu-tapu [“Sacred-island”]
I shall smite, smite, smite
With warrior’s blows, with deep feeling!
When Rata looked up at his canoe as it lay well balanced upon the water, he perceived the elves there also, and Ta-va‘a was sitting at the bow as a guide for the voyage. To‘a-hiti had returned home to the mountains, to reappear in the canoe when needed.
They set sail, and were soon caught by a good breeze. Then Rata looked back upon the shore and bade farewell to his grandmother, and they wept for each other.
As the land grew distant, he took leave of it in the following strain:
Oh my land standing forth!
Hide thy face
Be lost, lost [to view] in the voyage.
Let me be lost in launching away from land,
With the marae;
Let my land standing out be lost!
Hide thy face as I bid farewell;
And bid me conceal,
Hide my feelings as I say adieu,
Say adieu to the woods of my land
Till by and by.
Then Rata looked out to sea; the land disappeared behind him. For days and nights he smoothly sailed on the broad ocean, and early one clear morning he saw at the horizon, a thick shoal of monster fish, and thought it was land, but Ta-va‘a said it was not land, but that foes were approaching him. So Rata went to the bow of the canoe and stood with his spear to meet them. Soon the fish came rushing forward, intending to load down the canoe and make it sink; but the lad dexterously struck all those that sprang up and killed and scattered the greater part of the shoal, which soon disappeared. Then Rata presented to the gods guiding him the fish that he had killed, after which all partook of the flesh.
They were sailing on their course when the great a‘u (swordfish), came into sight, and Rata mistook it for land; but Ta-va‘a said it was not land, but another foe. So Rata stood prepared again for battle, and when the monster approached the side of the canoe, intending to pierce it, he killed it with his spear and presented the body to the elves as before. Thus that demon was exterminated and his flesh eaten by all.
They sailed on, and they met the great urua (cavalla fish), which looked like land, but Ta-va‘a told Rata it was the cavalla fish sent by King Puna to kill him. The fish darted forward to carry away Rata, but he stood ready and as soon as it approached him, he thrust his spear into its throat and killed it; and it was also eaten by all
Next they met the great Pahua-tu-tahi (a giant clam), which appeared like a mountain looming up from the sea. But Ta-va‘a said, “It is not land; it is the giant clam,” and Rata prepared for the inevitable encounter, as his vessel was being drawn up into it.
The clam had opened its great valves and was sucking in the waves upon which the canoe, Tua-a-Rata, was sailing. The lad stood at the bow with his spear, and as soon as they reached the center of the clam he pierced it through its vital part, severing its flesh from the shell, so that it could not close upon him. He presented the clam to his spirit company to annihilate, and as soon as the canoe was safely away, the dead clam sank into the deep sea.
Soon afterwards, the sun was obscured and the sky was darkened by the great, black, spreading wings of Matutu-ta‘ota‘o, the terrible demon bird that had carried away Rata’s parents and swallowed his father’s head!
Rata, standing at the helm, said rain was coming; but Ta-va‘a replied: “No! It is not rain, it is the bird, Matutu-ta‘ota‘o, coming to devour you and sink your canoe in this deep ocean. Be strong!”
“I am ready,” said the lad, and he ran to the bows; not finding his position good there, he went to the middle of the canoe; but seeing that the masts and rigging were in his way, he ran to the helm and stood upon the outer side. Not finding that suitable, he stepped onto the steering paddle, which was attached to the canoe, and there stood so that the water came up to his waist. Then he said: “This is a good place, O Ta-va‘a, hold firm the helm and guide our canoe.”
The god artisan took good hold of the paddle Rata stood on and steered steadily as the canoe sailed on. He also held the round basket in readiness for Rata, who chanted:
The front pillar [of heaven], the front pillar,
The back pillar, the back pillar,
The middle pillar, the middle pillar,
Would that they were overturned!
Let darkness descend,
While Rata stands behind
Upon that helm, upon that helm.
But he will come in contact,
But he will come in contact,
Far-soaring bird, with energy, energy,
Bird far-soaring, far-soaring,
Of musical, musical darkness,
A bird, far-soaring!
Rata was exulting in his good position, and soon the great bird approached the canoe and with a trumpet-like voice cried out: “Come hither, my friend!”
After poising itself overhead it was descending to snatch up Rata, when Rata shouted to Ta-va‘a: “Submerge me in the water!”
Immediately the great paddle was lowered beneath the waves; and while the bird extended his broad wings watching for Rata to rise again, the lad darted his spear up out of the sea and broke off the bird’s right wing, which fell into the water beside him. Rata picked it up and presented it to To‘a-hiti of jovial face, who stood it up as a great sail for the canoe.
The bird screeched fiercely and hovered one-sidedly over Rata, who was plunged again by Ta-va‘a beneath the waves. It could not guide itself flying, and in trying to descend upon Rata, it spun around and fell. Rata quickly broke off the other wing with his spear and guided the body into the canoe. So the terrible monster was disabled and captured by the young son whose parents it had cruelly snatched away. Rata leaped up onto the canoe, took the basket from the hands of Ta-va‘a, and placed it over the beak of the bird, which rendered up the head of his father still sound. As he was receiving it he wept and said sobbing:
Roll out here, roll out here, oh!
Here is the safe receptacle, oh!
Here is the safe receptacle, oh!
Then he reverently placed the basket and its sacred contents in the marae. He slew the bird and presented it to the presiding gods, so that Matutu-ta‘ota‘o was no more in this world; his wicked spirit was banished to Po (Darkness) to dwell forever with evil spirits there.
Rata and the gods set up the bird’s second wing as a sail also. They plucked off all the shining black feathers of the bird, which were immense, and fastened them over the masts, sails, and ropes of the canoe, so that none of the rigging could be seen. Ta-va‘a still guided the canoe.
Night came as they sailed steadily on with gentle breezes and calm sea, and early in the morning they perceived land ahead. It was the desired goal, the dreaded island of Hiti-marama! So Rata hid himself away, and the gods made themselves invisible as they entered the haven.
They sailed into a smooth and spacious lagoon, the mirror of the rising moon, surrounded with shores of white sand and gently rising ground covered with verdure, above which waved the graceful leaves of coconut trees. In the center of the land was one solitary, cone-shaped mountain, which was white with the blossoms of the waving ‘a‘eho cane, from which it derived its name, Mou‘a-pua-‘a‘eho (Mountain-of-the-‘a‘eho-blossom).
At its base was an abyss, dark and fathomless, extending down to the netherlands, the home of Matutu-ta‘ota‘o and his innumerable army of demons, which was visited occasionally only by Puna, the giant half-demon king of the island. In different directions gushed forth from the mountain bright, clear springs of pure water, spreading out into mirror-like pools, which the inhabitants frequented.
Soon all the people of the various villages gathered around their king to enquire of him what that strange monstrous thing swimming in their sea could be. No canoe of that dimension, called a pahi, had ever entered that port before. Such a thing was only known to the people in their songs and legends. But the great wings with the sails and the general effect of the black feathers covering all, with no visible person moving on board, baffled all alike, and the king answered: “It is a god from the deep become visible to us because of the calm clearness of the atmosphere.”
The canoe was guided towards the shore where all the throng had gathered. Near shore, Ta-va‘a told Rata to come out of his hiding place and take the helm, while he, still invisible, took his post at his side to instruct him what to do in the coming encounter; all the elves also remained invisible.
As soon as the people saw the lad at the helm and the wooden hull and paddles, they exclaimed: “It is a canoe! It is a canoe!”
King Puna said to two of his attendant chiefs Tupa-uta and Tupa-tai (Inland-crab and Shore-crab): “Something wrong has happened; our great bird Matutu-ta‘ota‘o has been killed, and those are his feathers that we see decorating that canoe! Go and cause it to get stranded out on the rocks, so that the waves may dash it to pieces when the wind rises.”
All were astonished to see that a boy had slain the bird. So the chiefs went to the shore, and pretended to aid Rata in steering among the rocks to the landing place, not knowing that he was guided by a spirit. When they said, “Steer to the right,” the spirit told Rata, “To the left”; when they said “To the left,” the spirit said, “To the right.”
So Rata arrived safely in the haven, and all the spectators were amazed at his skill in navigation. But they wondered still more when they saw Rata descend from his canoe with his axe, and after obtaining permission, go to chop rollers, which he carried manfully and laid upon the sand in proper order for drawing his canoe up on to the shore. They said to one another: “Surely that lad will not undertake to drag up his canoe alone!”
But very soon they saw him go down into the sea and draw the canoe with ease, swim into shallow water, and then push it from behind over the rollers high onto the shore. He stopped when he arrived at a shady place, and then went into the canoe and rested. Some of the people befriended him, brought him food, and wished to take him home; but he preferred living in his canoe, and so there he remained.
No one dared question Rata about himself, his family, or his land, for they had never seen a boy so strong, and they began to fear him as a god. But King Puna, planning anew to put an end to him, ordered a great house to be built not far from the canoe and placed the house at Rata’s disposal.
So all the warriors of the land quickly built a royal house for Rata, and when it was finished the king sent his daughter, Tie-maofe (Handsome-stem), a beautiful young girl, to invite him to take possession of it. Rata, being told by the spirits what to do, accepted, and taking his spear with him, he was conducted by the princess into the spacious house, which was nicely furnished with beds and mats and everything for his comfort. He also found a feast prepared for him. The princess Tiemaofe and other young pcople were told to entertain and amuse the young stranger until late at night, when they were all to pretend to go to sleep. Then when they saw he had fallen into a sound sleep, they were to leave him.
So the young people kept up their amusements until very late, and at last, when all were resting and Rata appeared fast asleep, the others approached him and tried to rouse him. But as they found that he did not stir, they concluded that he was exhausted from his late labors and could not be awakened, so it was the right moment to leave him alone.
The princess admired the brave lad and felt herself growing attached to him, and casting a lingering look upon his handsome face and form in repose, in the light of candle-nut tapers, she exclaimed: “Oh, what a comely youth you are to die!”
Reluctantly she went her way with her companions to her home, as an obedient daughter.
But Rata was not asleep, and he quietly awaited his assailants, who were not long in coming. He soon heard men come, saw them tie up the doors with strong cords, and set fire to the thatch, the flames completely encircling the house. Now was the moment for Rata to act. He took his long spear, Te-va‘o-roa-ia-Rata, planted it in the ground against a middle post, climbed to the upper thatch, and made an opening through which he went, drawing his spear with him. So while King Puna and all his people were exulting over the rising flames that were to consume Rata, he quietly slipped on to a spreading branch of the great tree that shaded his canoe and part of the house. From the tree he climbed down into his canoe unhurt.
The tree was badly burned, and the canoe was scorched by the heat. Rata was kept busy extinguishing sparks of fire that kept falling around him. The house gradually became a great, burning mass; and Puna and his people, listening in vain for the cries of the lad, concluded that he was sleeping too soundly to be awakened by the crackling of the conflagration. At length the structure fell in and was soon leveled to the ground, but still no cry! On seeing the beams in blazing piles where Rata had last been seen sleeping, they exclaimed: “Ah, it is well, our evil genius is dead.”
The king said the canoe was now his property.
So when it was daylight the people went to take possession of the canoe in the king’s name; but to their great surprise they saw the lad Rata quietly sitting there, and they stood abashed and soon went away one by one to their own houses. Then the king said to his daughter: “You must have been sleeping yourself, for Rata is alive and safe in his canoe.”
Now it was Rata’s turn to employ deceits upon the people of Hiti-marama.
One evening Rata saw the two chiefs Tupa-uta and Tupa-tai, who had tried to wreck his canoe the day he arrived in their port, preparing torches to go land-crab hunting, and so he also provided himself a torch and a basket. When they left, he followed them a little in the rear, so that they might not recognize him in the dark. They crossed the belt of land to the outer shore of the island. Soon the men began to pick up crabs and pluck off their legs, leaving one on each as they placed them in their baskets. Rata called out: “How many legs are you leaving on your crabs ?”
“One,” they answered. Then Rata broke little sticks to imitate the sound of crab legs breaking and said: “I am leaving one on mine, too.”
Sometimes when he inquired, they replied that they were leaving two legs on, and then he said that he was also leaving two, as he went on breaking little sticks. At last, the men’s baskets were filled, and they turned to go homeward, Rata following as before.
But as the torches had run out and it was late, the men decided to camp out for the night in a fishing hut on the beach in a bay leading into the king’s village; and Rata said: “I shall sleep here with you.”
They all hung their baskets up on a fara tree close by and settled down for the night.
When the men fell asleep, Rata went out, tore holes in the bottom of their baskets, and let all their crabs fall into his basket, which was empty; and without being perceived, he returned to the hut and slept till morning.
At dawn all three awoke and went out to get their crabs. But the two chiefs were surprised to find their crabs gone, and great holes torn in their baskets. Rata pretended to be as much surprised as they, and looking into his basket of crabs said: “That’s strange; here are mine, all safe!”
And the others answered: “Oh yes, you still have yours,” without detecting the fraud. They returned empty handed to King Puna’s house, while Rata carried away all the crabs for himself to eat in his canoe.
Another day, Tupa-uta and Tupa-tai were preparing to go out fishing, and when Rata asked permission to go with them, they agreed . He made himself a fishhook out of a shell and obtained a very long line, which he put into his basket, and they all set out.
They paddled their canoe out into the open sea until the land was so distant that they could no longer discern the reeds upon the cone-shaped mountain; and they at last arrived at an extensive rocky shoal, covered with seaweed and teeming with fishes. Here and there towered great black crags high above the sea-the haunts of aquatic birds. There was also a yawning cavern, the home of King Puna’s sea gods. Then they dropped anchor, and when Tupa-uta was preparing his hook for fish, Rata looked at it and said: “You will hook a shark, but it will get away.” And to Tupa-tai he said: “You will hook an urua [cavalla fish]; but it will break your hook and escape.”
The shark and the urua soon bit the bait of the respective fishermen, and Rata’s predictions were fulfilled.
Then he threw out his hook, and the friendly gods that all the time had been with him took possession of it. For some seemingly unaccountable reason, the hook went out along the surface of the sea, extending the line with it and travelled thus for miles, until it arrived somewhere on the mainland, and there it held fast. Rata sat in the middle of the canoe, letting out his line, and as it went against the man in the bow, he exchanged places with him; and at last, when the hook caught, he drew in the line, which was held fast, and instead of his prize coming to him, the canoe was being drawn forcibly by it. So the anchor was pulled up, and the canoe rushed through the water toward the land at an amazing speed.
They soon saw the sea breaking upon the barrier reef along the shore and the reeds upon the mountain waving to and fro, and then they neared the passage and went on into the lagoon, the hook still drawing them, until they reached a shady nook that was a favorite resort of fowls and birds. There they saw the line being drawn by a large fat white rooster! It was King Puna’s sacred rooster that had swallowed the hook, impelled by Rata’s Tahitian spirits. They caused the rooster to be caught with the hook so that he might die and no longer crow at night to announce the approach of day to the King or serve him as an augur. When Rata saw this, he took the fowl as his lawful property to his canoe and cooked it for supper.
So time went on, and Rata, who had his father’s head carefully put away with his god on the marae in his canoe, had not yet gained access to the king’s house, where his mother was being so cruelly used as a foodstand for the queen. Revenge he must taken for the cruel treatment of his parents, and so he devised a plans.
Stealing up to the mountain cavern one day, he broke open the small entrance and let in the rays of the sun, which startled the great army of the bird Matutu-ta‘ota‘o. While he was opening their stronghold, some hideous bats and other winged monsters attacked him, but he soon killed them. Other monsters descended beyond the reach of man, whence they never again dared return to face the sun.
Before this deed was discovered, Rata sailed out of the lagoon, ostensibly leaving the island for good. Two days he remained out of sight, after which time the Tahitian gods caused a strong wind to blow, making the sea high. Then Rata sailed at midnight into the bay of the outer shore, where he once went crab hunting. From there, accompanied by Ta-va‘a, he crossed over to King Puna’s house. They found the king shivering with cold under a thick covering of tapa and saying: “This storm is good! Now Rata will die at sea.”
The lad and the god stood on either side of Puna. After a little while, on seeing them, Puna observed that it was very cold, thinking they were some of his retainers, and never suspecting that the wind was sent for Rata’s benefit. King Puna grew colder and colder, and said to Rata and Ta-va‘a, who were still standing by him: “O, people here! O, people here, I am suffering from a fever.”
Then he fell into a deep stupor, unable to descry anything about him, and all of his household were sound asleep, likewise stupefied by the gods from Tahiti. Rata and Ta-va‘a took a rope and noosed the king, bound his feet together with a rope rendered strong by enchantment, and tied them to a long stone column. This stone tapered from the ends towards the middle, from frequent use in attaching to it men destined to be slain for the king’s table, which lay upon the grass-covered floor not far from the great ogre’s bed. Owing to its shape the stone was named Papa-‘ari‘ari (Stone-tapering-towards-the-middle).
Soon after this, day began to dawn, and the king became restless in his slumbers. Perceiving that he was a prisoner, as in a dream, he snapped the noose from around his neck with his hands and with a tremendous jerk he drew in his feet and broke the tapering stone in two. Bewildered from his feverish sleep, with rage he roused himself and endeavored to stand up to detach his feet from the entanglement, when immediately Rata speared him through the body and Ta-va‘a struck him in the neck, so that he fell down dead, unperceived by his still slumbering wife and daughter and other inmates of the house.
Rata then went to his mother, whose inverted body he now discerned in the twilight, and dug around her head with his spear to release her. Soon he held her in his arms and was removing the dirt from her face, when she, quite blind, supposing that her hour had come to be killed and cooked for the king, accommodatingly said in a low, soft voice: “You will have to wash off the dirt from me before you eat me!”
Freely weeping, Rata answered, “I am your son Rata”; but his mother did not believe him. She answered that it was not possible for anyone to approach the dreaded land of Hiti-marama, and she enumerated all the denizens that guarded its shores, not having heard that they had been slain by her valiant son. Still more affected, Rata wept aloud and chanted:
There was no pity shown indeed!
Moving, moving here,
Creeping, creeping here,
I came and struck,
There was no pity shown indeed;
Moving, moving here,
Your son has come!
Then the poor mother knew indeed that this was her son, and they embraced each other and wept.
Soon Rata took his mother to bathe in the royal bathing-pool close by and arrayed her in royal tapa from the slain king’s wardrobe. Still unobserved by the populace whom Rata’s gods caused to sleep heavily, he carried her in his arms, and Ta-va‘a, assisted by other elves, bore away the dazed widow queen and daughter of Puna to the canoe, which was in waiting by the shore. They went out of the harbor long before any of the inhabitants of the land had time to molest them.
Then the wind and sea rose fiercely over the island, which soon became submerged and sank forever, even the mountain peak, into unknown depths. [On the old charts of the Tuamotu Islands, a group of five islets encricled by a reef, marked “Minerva” and lying northeast of the Gambiers, has entirely disappeared and so quietly that it was only missed in 1880 by the French ship-of-war “Alert” which sought for it carefully in its course among the islands. That little group was the farthest east of all the Tuamotus, and the land Hitimarama of former days could not have stood far from it.]
Out to the fishing shoal (before mentioned), the Tahitians went. They found the great cavern under shelving rocks within which were King Puna’s demon monsters of the sea, to whom he had been accustomed to offer invocations and sacrifices. The cavern they closed in with rocks, while numerous fiendish fish guardians assaulted them. These they annihilated, and the priest committed their souls to the region below, to rejoin the king and his people of the sunken island of Hitimarama.
So Rata returned triumphantly home as a great hero, though still a mere lad. He never forgot the kindness of the elves of the mountains, tried friends, whom he occasionally visited and who manifested much interest in all that concerned him. Rata’s grandmother, ‘Ui-‘ura rejoiced to meet him once more, and all at home wept with both joy and sorrow over his recovered mother, who was hopelessly blind. All his former companions who once heaped contempt upon him came forward respectfully to greet him because he had redeemed the honor of his household and saved their land from the great ogre black bird and its rapacious army of demons.
The widowed queen and her beautiful daughter were kindly received into the home of Rata. They soon adapted themselves to the ways of his people, though they ever mourned for King Puna and their beautiful land and race, now known only in folklore. The two mothers and grandmother became attached to one another and lived happily together. The head of Rata’s father, which was possessed with his spirit, was dried carefully, wrapped in sweet-scented tapa, and kept in the house as a family oracle, according to the custom of ancient times. Rata became the happy husband of Princess Tie-maofe, who was beloved of all the people of North Tahiti for her amiable qualities. By this marriage all past grievances of the two families were wiped away, and the young people commenced life with an unclouded future.
So Rata’s canoe had fulfilled the destiny for which it was named by the elves of the forest, Va‘a-i-ama (Canoe-that-burned), though it still retained the name ‘Ui-‘ura had given it, Tua-a-Rata (Company of Rata). The names Va‘a-i-ama, Va‘ai-a, and Va‘a-i‘ura-all meaning the same-are found in the genealogy of the Pomare family to commemorate the famous canoe.
After these exploits, which rendered Rata famous in Tahiti, it is stated in one story that he went away to explore unknown regions and never returned to Tahiti, and that for ages afterwards navigators saw in the bright hazy distance, when far out at sea, the giant Rata with his spirit ancestors sailing in his canoe, which they could never overtake. According to another story, once Hiro saw Rata in his canoe with some other navigators being spun around towards the center of a whirlpool. (Generally known to ancient Polynesian voyagers, these whirlpools may have been caused by shoals long since sunken.) From this predicament Hiro drew them out, and in gratitude for this deliverance, Rata gave Hiro the canoe, which was named by its new possessor Va‘a-i-hutia-mai (Canoe-that-was-drawn-back).
This Tuamotuan version of Rata is from Teuira Henry’s Ancient Tahiti (495-512); the story was obtained in 1893 “by Mrs. Walker from the scholar Taroi.” A Tahitian version of the story is found on pages 468-495 of Henry’s book. The story of Vahieroa and Rata continue the tradition of Hema and Tafa‘i, told in the previous story. (Vahieroa is the son of Tafa‘i.)
Hawaiian versions of the traditions of Hema, Kaha‘i (Tafa‘i), Wahieloa (Vahieroa), and Laka (Rata) are told in chants in S.M. Kamakau’s Tales and Traditions of the People of Old (138-147). The Hawaiian traditions are summarized in Beckwith. Beckwith also summarizes accounts of these Pan-Polynesian heroes from various islands--Aotearoa (New Zealand); Rarotonga, Aitutaki, and Mangaia; (Cook Islands); Hiva (Marquesas Islands); Vaituptu (Ellice Islands), Pukapuka, Samoa, and Tonga.(238-275); the various traditions are discussed in Henry (512-515; 565-575).