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Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Taniwha

"Suddenly below us, I spotted a dragon! Well, I knew it couldn't be a dragon as dragons aren’t real. But it certainly looked sort of like a dragon. It had a large whale-like body, but its head was more that of a lizard. We must have only been a hundred metres off the ground when I spotted it. It was floating on the surface of the water and staring up at us. I could see one of its lizard eyes staring up and our eyes seemed to be looking straight into each other’s. I could feel its magnificence, this creature of legends. I knew it was a Taniwha (pronounced Tunifar), a mythological Maori creature that lives in rivers, lakes and the oceans. I had learnt about them at school, but no one thought that they were real. I could feel its thoughts. Either that or I was going completely mad and would soon be looked after by Arthur’s parents. It wasn’t so much words that I could feel. No, it was rather feelings. The Taniwha was taking care of me. It was sending me its protection; it was my guardian and now I was leaving its protective embrace, it was wishing me well."

In Māori mythology, taniwha (pronounced [ˈtanifa]) are beings that live in deep pools in rivers, dark caves, or in the sea, especially in places with dangerous currents or deceptive breakers. They may be considered highly respected kaitiaki (protective guardians) of people and places, or in some traditions as dangerous, predatory beings, which for example would kidnap women to have as wives.

At sea, a taniwha often appears as a whale or as a large shark; compare the Māori name for the Great white shark: mangō-taniwha. In inland waters, they may still be of whale-like dimensions, but look more like a gecko or a tuatara, having a row of spines along the back. Other taniwha appear as a floating log, which behaves in a disconcerting way. Some can tunnel through the earth, uprooting trees in the process.

Most taniwha are associated with tribal groups; each may have a taniwha of its own.

Many well-known taniwha arrived from Hawaiki, often as guardians of a particular ancestral canoe. Once arrived in New Zealand, they took on a protective role over the descendants of the crew of the canoe they had accompanied. Bakky would agree with this as he left New Zealand's shores and the protection of the Taniwha.

When taniwha were accorded the appropriate respect, they usually acted well towards their people and acted as guardians by warning of the approach of enemies.

Ureia, guardian taniwha of theHauraki people. Carving from the meeting house Hotunui, 1878

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