Monday, February 20, 2017

The Land of the Long White Cloud (Following folktales around the world 13. - New Zealand)

Today I continue new blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

After a long voyage and many islands, today we arrive to New Zealand. 

Land of the Long White Cloud
Maori myths, tales and legends
Kiri Te Kanawa
Arcade Publishers, 1990.

This time I diverged from reading heavy folklore publications, and picked a picture book instead. I was intrigued by this volume, written by opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa who wanted to preserve the Maori legends she heard from her father and family as a child. I kept running into this book as I searched for stories, and I finally decided to read it. It was a good choice.
The volume itself is gorgeous, with full-page color illustrations. Kiri wrote down the tales as she remembered them (showing off oral tradition in action), but each one comes with a short note explaining some of the folkloric details, and how her telling might be different from the tradition. The nineteen stories are all beautifully written and exciting; so much so that I was having a really hard time trying to pick a favorite.


There was a movie in 1914
It would be hard to list all of them. Maybe because I did not encounter many on the journey through Oceania, I was especially intrigued by the love stories - all of them came with some kind of an unexpected twist. In the legend of Putawai, a mortal girl was abducted by spirits of the Underworld; a friendly spirit (wairua) rescued and married her. Eventually, she returned to her mortal love, but she was pregnant with a spirit-child. When the child was old enough to be weaned, its father came and took it away (since spirits can't exist in the sunlight), and the girl lived happily with her mortal husband. I also loved the tale of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, where a girl swam across a lake, following the sound of her lover's flute, and then hid in some hot springs until he came and found her (and got her some clothes). One of the most interesting stories was that of Hutu and Pare, where a girl killed herself when the warrior she loved rejected her (he already had a family). The warrior, feeling sorry for her, willed his spirit to leave his body, and went to the Underworld to get her back; the best part was that they shot themselves back to the surface with a bent-down palm tree...
There were multiple stories about the "fairies" of Maori mythology, named patupaiarehe. They are described as light-skinned and light-haired; in one tale they taught people how to make a fishing net, and in another they were afraid of fire, but intrigued by the humans' jewelry. Other stories had other kinds of spirit-people, all with their unique looks and customs.
There were two monster-killing legends in the book; the monsters were called taniwha, and they resembled water-dragons. There was even a mention of warriors who were expert taniwha-hunters. One of the monsters could actually talk, and if someone scratched its back, it was even willing to negotiate - but the tales usually ended with the taniwha's death anyway.


Picture from here
It goes without saying that Maui the Trickster once again made an appearance - in four stories out of the nineteen in the book, including some of the classics such as fishing up the islands of New Zealand from the sea, or capturing the Sun (the latter done with the help of a whole lot of other people, yay teamwork!). I especially liked the story of his birth - he was raised by a foster-father, who was "both mother and father" to him, and only found his siblings and his birth-mother once he was grown up. It was a beautiful story.
Once again, we got to visit the Underworld, and see where spirits go after people die. Some residents of this world were friendly, while others were... not so much. Some of them occasionally married mortals, and/or had children with them.

All in all, it was a lovely book, with a lot of great stories. I highly recommend it.

Where to next?
Next week, we reach Australia!

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