The Legend of Rata's Waka by Hana Weka

Long ago Rata wandered sadly along the bank of the stream. He thought of his father who had died.

"I must bring him home," thought Rata, "but how am I going to do that?"

He stared at the trees in the forest and said to himself, "I need a waka, a canoe that will be big enough to hold many warriors."

He walked through the forest looking for a suitable tree. "Miro... rimu... kahikatea… Tawa tanekaha ... totora. Yes., totora it shall be."

Early the next morning Rata returned to the forest and chopped down the totora tree. He left it where it fell and went home to rest. The next day, when he returned, the tree trunk was no longer lying on the ground. There were no chips of wood lying around nor any twigs or leaves. Rata stared at the trees around him and with a start, he recognised the totora tree that he had chopped down yesterday.

The totora was growing tall and proud again as though it had never been touched. Rata was puzzled and a little fearful.

He took up his axe and began to chop down the totora tree again. The chips flew into the air and after a while the totora fell to the ground once more. Rata trimmed the tree trunk. He stripped off the bark and when the night came he returned home.

The next morning when he arrived to haul the log out of the forest Rata could not find it anywhere. All he found was the totora tree standing tall and silent.

For the third Time Rata chopped the tree ~ He trimmed it. He shaped it. He began to scoop out the inside of the canoe from the trunk. When night fell, he left the half-formed canoe and returned home.

Later that night, he took down his fighting spear.. crept out of his house and quietly stole back into the forest. As he approached he could hear strange singing and he could see light shining through the trees. He held his breath and crept closer.

Then he stared in amazement.

Birds were scurrying backwards and forwards, carrying leaves and twigs in their beaks, thousands of insects swarmed all over the log replacing chips and filling up the hollow. And as he watched, the half-formed canoe disappeared and was replaced with a smooth trunk that glowed red in the light. Then the birds scurried around the trunk pushing twigs, leaves and branches on to the rapidly forming tree.
Branches that he had hacked and tossed away so carelessly were slowly dragged by hundreds of little creatures towards the fallen totora. Every piece of bark that Rata had flicked off with his axe was hunted for and taken back to the tree.

All the while, the strange singing floated in the air above the forest. Rata could not bear to be hidden any longer. He stood up and stepped into the light. At once the singing stopped and the light went out. Rata was alone.

"Come back," he whispered. "Come back. I am sorry I cut down the totora tree. Please forgive me. I did not mean to harm it. I just wanted to build a canoe to go and fetch my father. My father is dead and I have to go and find him. Please come back. I can help you lift up the totora tree. I'll do anything you want to make up for what I have done."

He began to lift the heavy tree and then all at once he felt it move, turn slowly, lift off the ground and then settle on the stump he had cut it from. Rata put his arms around the tree and said, "Please forgive me, totora, I did not think I was harming you when I cut you down."

And as he held on to the tree, he felt thousands of little legs run over his body and on to the tree trunk. Rata shut his eyes for a moment and then very slowly bent down until he was able to pick up the little creatures and lift them into the tree.

When the dawn came, Rata was alone. The totora tree was whole again. Every little creature had disappeared.

"I shall never cut down another tree again," said Rata

"You may," said a voice close to him. "But you must ask Tane Mahuta, god of the forest and birds, for permission. He created all these trees and birds for Papatuanuku the Earth Mother. Ask him when you want to use any of it."

Rata turned to see who was speaking. There was no one beside him. With a sigh, Rata turned to go home promising that he would not disturb the totora tree any more.

His heart leapt when he saw a war canoe sitting on logs that stretched in an endless line through the forest.

"Mine?" he whispered.

"Yes," replied the voice.

"Rata's waka."

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