Waiata (songs) carry the stories of places as well as people and their ancestors. They are important to iwi because they tell us important markers of stories that help establish the link between a whānauhapū or iwi to a particular place. A few examples of waiata are described in this article.
Te Puea Herangi, granddaughter of Tāwhiao, referred to the river as a symbol of tribal identity in many of her songs. For example, E Noho e Ata refers to the river as one of those important symbols.
E hoe tō waka ki Ngāruawāhia
Tūrangawaewae mō te Kīngitanga
Te tongi whakamutunga a Matutaera
Aue hei aue!
Paddle your canoe to Ngāruawāhia
To Tūrangawaewae the footstool of the Kīngitanga
This being the final prophecy of Matutaera
Other waiata such as Ngā Ra o Hune E Noho Ana Ra and Tīmatangia make similar references to the river.
Waikato te Awa, composed by Rangi Harrison, directly mentions the Waikato River by describing a journey up the river. The first four lines are provided below.
Waikato te awa katohia
Katohia he wai mau, katohia he wai mau
Ka eke ki te Pūaha ko Waikato te awa
He piko he taniwha, he piko he taniwha
Waikato is that river
That surges before you
As you travel from Te Pūaha along its current
At every bend a taniwha
Pumi Taituha composed a haka that describes a similar journey from Te Pūaha o Waikato (the mouth of the river) to Ngāruawāhia.
E ko te mangamanga rā te urutapu tuatahi kei Te Pūaha o Waikato
E ko Karewa, te mana pūtanga atu ki a Tangaroa ki uta, Tangaroa ki tai
Ko te onetapu o Maioro, te tūahu okiokinga o te tini, me te mano
Ko te Matawhiuwhi, te kaokao riponga kupu o Waikato e tere nei
Ko Waiwaia, kei te take o Tikirahi
The sacred black sands are the first seen at the mouth of the Waikato River
’Tis Karewa the open gateway, where the river meets the Lord of the Sea inland, the Lord of the Sea ocean bound
Then the sacred sands of Maioro, the myriads, and matatawhiuwhi, the repository of everliving history of the Waikato flowing free
With Waiwaia [a taniwha] at the base of Tikirahi
Waiata often describe a journey along the Waikato River. For example, the following is a part of the lament of a Ngāti Mahuta chief for his wife who passed away. It likened her journey to a waka travelling to his wife’s traditional territory along the Waikato River on its way to heaven.
Tū mai i kona
Kia horahia atu te kahu o te Tipua
A, moe taua i runga i te takapau
E ara ki runga rā
Kia utaina koe te riu waka-taua
Nō te Aparangi, he tāonga whakanui nā ō tūpuna
Ki runga te au-ripo
Te au ki Waikato
Now rest awhile my loved one
Death’s sleeping mat is spreading for you
On that soft couch we two will seek repose
Then you’ll arise and soon be borne away
In your ancestral war canoe
Manned by heavenly company
Borne away on the rippling tide
Of the strongly flowing Waikato
Other waiata tell stories of lament. For example, a waiata composed by Te Rangikataua of Ngāti Mahuta and Hauraki descent who lived with his wife on Taipouri, an island on the Waikato River between Waahi and Rangiriri. The waiata describes the result of the battle between Waikato River and Hauraki iwi and his plea for the fighting to end. It mentions his sadness at having to leave his wife who was expecting a child.
There are many other examples of traditional and modern waiata that refer to the river as a symbol of identity for Waikato-Tainui.
This article was written by Jonathan Kilgour, Research and Projects Manager, Waikato-Tainui College for Research and Development.
Copyright: Waikato-Tainui Endowed Colleges Trust.