Korimako and Te Taniwha

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Korimako and Te Taniwha


It is early te koanga, spring. Korimako's bare feet scrunch on the loose stones outside her whare. Brushing past the tall clump of harakeke her lichen coloured hat is swept upwards, revealing pale blue eyes. The parting leaves alert Piwakawaka, whose tail flits and whose insistent peep is met with a melodious reply from Korimako: “e pehia ana koe?”. “Peep, peep”. “Feeling fine ai?”.


Her feet now pad the smooth pathway, trotting, a faded kawe backpack bouncing lightly with its frayed straps passing over her bare shoulders. At the top of the steep path leading into the pingao-covered dunes, Korimako pauses. She pays respect to Mopanui her mauka, her special mountain that maintains watch over her and her whanau.


Creeping past Tuatara, basking at the mouth of her burrow with eyes staring balankly, ridged back, golden, in the first of the morning sun, Korimako scrambles down the track. She sees - then smells - the dark forms lying on the lengthy beach. At the edge of the trickling creek, Korimako picks up a large kutai shell, gently breaking its edge on the exposed rocks. She runs her calloused and grimey thumb along the shell's jagged edge, smiling happily at it's sharpness and runs towards the closest, motionless, form.


Discarding her bag Korimako grabs a large handful of rimurimu. Pulling slippery lines of bubbly brown kelp to arm's length from the mound, she slashes and tugs, throwing tangled strands of seaweed into piles. Continuing until she has a small heap which she drags into the shallow creek.


With her pack back on, Korimako jogs along the beach, keeping to the edge of low dunes, the soft sand slowing her to a fast stride. Her own flowing footprints disturbing many three toed trails. She stops to inspect driftwood, picking up and discarding until at last she settles on a bone coloured piece. Balanced in her strong left hand, she studies it’s weight and then finally thrusts its sharpest end into the dry sand. The rakau had chosen its finder.


Heading back onto the wet tideless sand, she keeps an eye on Karoro whose shallow dives between waves indicate she is hunting for tuatua. After much flapping the black-backed gull rises clumsily from the sea, wings beating the air, higher, higher. Circling slowly, once, twice, then from her bill she lets the fat and heavy shell fall.


The tumbling tuatua smashes open onto the hard sand. The hinged shells fractured enough to allow nimble fingers to prize open. Korimako slurps down the wet and slightly sandy shellfish. A drip of salty juice falls from her already grubby chin. "Ka pai to kai, e hoa!”. Meanwhile Karoro's indignant screeches slowly fade, as Korimako continues her journey along the beach.


The tall trees in the distance signal to Korimako that she is now entering Te Taniwha's territory, his rohe. Te Taniwha is the kaitiaki of Okahau, the guardian of the beach. Looking about her, Korimako chooses her koha, a donation with swirls of turquoise hues - paua, the treasure shell. Rubbing the sand from the bowl she reaches over her shoulder to drop the shell in her kete.


As she nears Te Taniwha her pace slackens and she begins to chant her favourite karakia, "Whakataka te hou". Korimako facing towards the distant mountain tops, turns and lets her gaze fall beyond the tip of the crackling breakers. The rakau raised defiantly above her head, knuckles white, outwards, hands widely spaced, her face a challenge of pukana seriousness.


Te Taniwha, the silent one, his back turned towards her, his eyes fixated on spiralling waves, curling around a smooth topped headland, Korimako senses Te Taniwha's deep embedded presence, his stillness doesn't fool her.


Briefly taking a hand from the rakau, she shrugs off her kete and removes the paua shell. Taking the final few paces towards Te Taniwha's head, right arm out, she presents the paua gift. She is careful, with her left hand behind her back, rakau held firmly, ready to spin forward at a moments’ notice. Korimako, stepping slowly, avoiding looking into Te Taniwha's eyes, she reaches up to place the shell koha onto the aged beast's gnarled brow.


Korimako's paua sat on a small pile of gifts, seaweed necklaces and sand - smoothed driftwood, but mainly it was the white washed tuatua shells. Their brittle edges worn smooth and rounded by the washing motion of Te Moana nui a kiwa, the pleasant pacific ocean.


With a quick hand Korimako grabs a few sun warmed shells, gently pats Te Taniwha's rough jowls and runs her fingers along his smooth shoulders. Where the arch of his back enters the sand she steps carefully onto him. Korimako's nimble feet scuttle the length of the beach bleached log.


The old red gum known as Te Taniwha had washed up in a storm before Korimako was born. It had become a marker for her hapu, her people's territory, and the tapu tahuna, the birds breeding and feeding ground. It was also a place where Korimako did her best thinking, her loudest singing and became ‘warrior queen”. No pretend battles or contemplations today as Korimako was in a hurry.


Skipping off Te Taniwha, she begins to skim tua tua shells. Short run, then release, spinning shells settling and disappearing, between curling waves. As one of her shells sails, then disappears underwater, Korimako is aware of a shadow passing over her.


A waka kuaka, a huge flock of godwits, circling, flying in unison. “Kuaka” she says to herself, smiling, she turns back to Te Taniwha. “E noho ra my old friend” she sings “stay well till next time” and she begins, to run back, along the tide darkened beach.


At the mound of seaweed in the creek Korimako halts, roughly shakes the water off and stuffs slimy handfuls into her kete. With dripping sandy water trickling down her back, Korimako dashes up the steep track using her rakau to steady her way and jogs home.


Outside her whare Korimako carefully places the rakau in a small gap in a driftwood and harakeke fence. Securing it with a long flax leaf she steps back and admires her handiwork. Satisfied she loudly calls out to the distant swamp - “That will stop you Pukeko!! No more free feeds for you and your whanau from now on!!”


Korimako pulls open the gate to her hua whenua, the whanau's vegetable garden, enclosed by the rough fence. Looking bright and lush with new spring growth, a large kowhai radiant in its yellow blossomed glow stands beside an old plum tree on the boundary. Korimako pulls from her kete the washed kelp and places it around the flowering currant bushes, food for them, food for her.


A kereru flaps heavily overhead towards the plum tree and as she notices its full belly Korimako hears the familiar whirr of her hākui's electric bicycle. As it pulls up to the whare Korimako sprints into her mothers arms shouting “Kuaka, the kuaka have returned!”