Whakataukī (proverbs and sayings) are important in Waikato-Tainui oral traditions. They often identify important places or symbols.

For example, the following whakataukī helps to identify the tribal boundary for the Tainui confederation (Waikato, Maniapoto, Hauraki and Raukawa). Mōkau, near Awakino, marks the western boundary of Tainui. Tāmaki Makaurau refers to the greater Auckland isthmus, which Tainui has occupied since the arrival of the Tainui waka. Note that Māori refer to the head of Te Ika a Māui (the North Island) as being the higher point, meaning that Mōkau was considered to be above Tāmaki.

Mōkau ki runga
Tāmaki ki raro
Pare Waikato, Pare Hauraki
Te Kaokaoroa o Pātetere
Mangatoatoa ki waenganui
Mōkau to the top
Tāmaki to the bottom
Pare Waikato, Pare Hauraki
Along the Kaimai Ranges
Mangatoatoa in between

The identity of Waikato-Tainui is closely linked with the river and the region. Many whakataukī refer to the river or the surrounding region. Tūkino Te Heuheu I, a paramount chief of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, cited this whakataukī to acknowledge Pōtatau Te Wherowhero during the search for a Māori King.

Ko Waikato te awa
Ko Taupiri te maunga
Ko Te Wherowhero te tangata
Waikato Taniwharau
He piko, he taniwha
He piko, he taniwha
Waikato is the river
Taupiri is the mountain
Te Wherowhero is the chief
Waikato of a hundred chiefs
At every bend, a chief
At every bend, a chief

Whakataukī refer to people or beings that are important to the iwi. The following refers to Waiwaia, a taniwha that travels along the Waikato and the Waipā Rivers. Waiwaia usually appears as a log travelling upstream against the current, often with a twig showing.

Ngā paenga rau o Waiwaia
The many resting places of Waiwaia

Some whakataukī refer to historical events. For example, the following refers to the battle of Hingakākā, which Waikato-Tainui won. It refers to the deep green waters of the Waikato River where the battle was fought.

Waikato Horopounamu!
Waikato the swallowers of greenstone!

Some whakataukī described traits of Waikato-Tainui iwi. For example, the following suggests that Waikato-Tainui showed no mercy to their enemies.

Waikato toimaha rau
Waikato who prevent a hundred chiefs from uttering their final death wishes

The following refers to Poutūkeka, an ancestor of Ngāti Te Ata, who were well known for their supply of kākahi (freshwater mussels) from the lower Waikato and Manukau Harbour.

Ngāti Te Ata, waikū o Poutūkeka
Ngāti Te Ata, nourishment of Poutūkeka

The following is another example. It refers to Ngāti Māhanga, who were renowned for their many resources and generosity.

Te uri o Māhanga
Waka rere kai, whakarere waka
Descendants of Māhanga
Who gave away food and canoes

Another likens the distinctive curved shape of Waikato-Tainui paddles to the cunning that Waikato-Tainui people sometimes showed in arguments and disputes.

Waikato hoe nukenuke
Waikato of crooked paddles

Whakataukī also refer to the water and fish as well. The following acknowledges the importance of water as a constant source of replenishment.

He huahua te kai! E he te wai!
Preserved birds are the best! Ah no, water is!

Kākahi (freshwater mussels) were sometimes traditionally used to feed young children when mothers and wet nurses were not available.

Ko te kākahi te whaea o te tamaiti
Ko whakangotea ki te wai o te kākahi
The freshwater mussel is the mother of the child
Suckled on the juice of the freshwater mussel

Eels were considered a highly prized food amongst iwi but were known for their elusive nature and ability to escape fishers. The whakataukī likened their slippery nature to something that is important but cannot be obtained.

Ko Tangaroa ara rau
Kua kaheko te tuna i roto i aku ringa
Tangaroa of many paths
The eel has slipped through my hands

Being highly prized, eels were also compared to important people. The next whakataukī is used to describe that important people will act in certain ways.

He ika paewai anake hei tomo ki roto te hīnaki
Nothing but eels enter the eel pot

The kōkopu (freshwater trout) was also described in whakataukī.

Me he korinorino kōkopu
Ngā tama korowhiti a Tangaroa
Like a moulted trout
The jumping sons of Tangaroa

Waikato-Tainui and the other iwi along the Waikato River have many more whakataukī that refer to important places, histories and species of the Waikato River.

Acknowledgements

This article was written by Jonathan Kilgour, Research and Projects Manager, Waikato-Tainui College for Research and Development.

Copyright: Waikato-Tainui Endowed Colleges Trust.

    Published 19 March 2014