Topic: Tama’s Revenge by Gwyneth Jones

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here

On a flat reef of rock that thrust itself through the swell of waves, Tama stood upright and stared once more in the direction of the volcano Rangitoto. It was as though he was searching for more than was visible to his eyes. Tama had visited the islands around Rangitoto regularly during the bird egg seasons, the eggs being a delicacy for the tribe. And on every trip Tama had been filled with the same uneasiness, especially when Rangitoto spat and sent little fountains of fire into the sky.

Now, as the sinking sun caused cold air to rise over the land, he hurried to join the other canoe makers who were already making their way across the muddy papatika to climb the headland to their pa.

The year was 1709 on the English calendar and at that time the Wai-o-hua occupied the whole of the Isthmus. It was a time of prosperity for the Maori people, their lives full with fishing and hunting, making clothes and weapons and tending their food gardens.

Tama was an apprentice canoe-maker and showed much promise of becoming a chief carver some day. That evening during games, Tama spoke to his best friend, Ropata, “Hoa, do you not feel something strange tonight as you look to Rangitoto?”

“Aie,” Ropata replied. “The way Rangitoto grumbles I fear she has eaten bad kai!”

Tama smiled at his friend’s wit and being encouraged to voice the thoughts that troubled him, he murmured softly, “I fear that our elders’ legend of the great pahuu will take place.”

Ropata could see that Tama was in earnest with his fear so he suggested the matter should be reported to the tohunga as he, the wise one, would know what to do.

Within a short time the tohunga had gathered the people together and told them of Tama’s fear. He then asked for the protection of the Gods. The people took part earnestly and the ceremony lasted late into the night. In reply Rangitoto growled and spat even louder.

The next day dawned crisp and clear although much colder than it should have been for the season. The absence of Rangitoto growling brought joyousness to the pa dwellers. At morning kai the tohunga announced that as protection for the people had been granted that they must go about their work as usual.

Tama and Ropata walked silently across the mud flat to the sandy beach where their canoe was being carved from a single totara trunk. There was a bond between them that required no words.

A gaggle of children danced around them as they walked, for even though the young ones did not fully understand the significance of last night’s ceremony, they knew there was something special about Tama and Ropata, so they stayed close by not wanting to miss should anything happen.

Tama took up his place at the canoe but he could not settle. He looked across to Waiheke then south to Maraetai and all looked well. Then once again, drawn against his will, he turned his eyes to Rangitoto. The sea was as smooth as the surface of a greenstone mere but the day felt abnormally still and a feeling of unease gripped Tama again.

His lips barely moved as he formed words in a whisper, “Atua whakaputa i te ihu maatau.”

Rangitoto, a sharp silhouette on the horizon of the strange calm sea, sat brooding, uttering no sound. This stillness lay over the land until the sun had climbed high up in the sky. Then, with a whisper, the sea shivered. Little waves, faster than any tide, crept up the sand to reach the feet of the carvers. 

The terrified people began to run towards the mudflats in a bid to get to the safety of their pa. But before they had gone any distance several terrifying events took place. The sea went far out revealing land never seen before. Rangitoto roared, belched and bellowed shaking the ground. Red-hot lava a mile wide spewed upwards, then, with amazing speed spread outwards dropping to earth in all manner of places. It raced rapidly up the carver’s beach, gobbling up their unfinished canoe and snatching at the feet of the carvers and the children as they attempted to escape.  

At the very same time as the boiling lava reached their feet the sea surged forth again and washed over the lava cooling the flow and trapping the feet forever.

Tama was enraged at being trapped in the lava. He turned his body from the waist and looked back at his enemy Rangitoto, now exhausted and shrouded in a black ash-filled cloud. He shook his fist with what little strength he had left and shouted to Rangitoto, “Kotahi whiro! You will not have my spirit for I shall remain here and tell of your evil.”

In reply Rangitoto gave a tired hiss.

Tama’s ancestors observing the event saw how brave he had been to challenge the volcano when he was so weak and full of pain, so they released his spirit and allowed it to settle on a young pohutukawa tree growing on the cliff above.

“Remain there, brave warrior, and rest well. Much time will pass before you can tell of today's events."

“I shall wait,” replied Tama. “For it must be told.”

“Ngaki tatari,” they whispered and were gone.




Hugh and Bronnie Jones moved into their new home in Omana at Christmas 1982. During the gorgeous summer that followed they took long walks to explore the splendid local scenery. This day, Bronnie, tired from their walk around the muddy flats to Shelley Beach, sat down heavily on a red lava rock.

Once settled she feasted her eyes on the view of Rangitoto from where she sat. Rangitoto sat low-slung and gloating in a sea that glittered like a jewel casket as it reflected the gleam of the sun near to setting. Rangitoto had sat smugly like this for nearly three hundred years.

As Bronnie lay back she noticed indentations in the flat rock that were unusual in their shape.

“Hugh,” she called to her husband. “Look at these marks in this red rock. They look just like people’s footprints.”

“Hmm.” Hugh’s glance was disinterest.

But Bronnie was fascinated with her discovery of the footprints and as she moved over the large plateau of red rock she came upon more. Big ones, little ones, it was as if long ago a group of people had been trapped here. She spoke out loud.

“I wonder what could have happened here to make these shapes?”

In response a gnarled old pohutukawa tree high above, resplendent in its spiny red headdress, trembled. Some of the red spines fell around Bronnie’s feet forming a delicate lace pattern. The spirit of Tama had stirred.

“At last,” he whispered, “at last there comes one who is curious.”

Bronnie shivered as Tama slipped silently down beside her, for he was anxious now to be rid of the burden he had held for so long and join his ancestors. Bronnie’s Celtic blood made her responsive to Tama’s spirit and without fear she witnessed through Tama the terrible events of that day long ago when Rangitoto had erupted.

Tama asked that she record the story so that no one would ever trust the wicked volcano again.  Then, convinced that in accordance with custom vengeance had been done, he allowed his spirit to soar upwards high over Rangitoto.

As Bronnie watched the thin raggy cloud disappear she sensed Tama’s happiness as his spirit sped on towards Te Rienga. When she could see him no more, she hurried home to record Tama’s story as he had asked.

To this day the footprints can be seen in the hardened lava rock at the south end of Shelly Beach just before the mud flats that lead to the relics of an old Maori Pa at Omana.


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