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- The legend of Rahi -

Or how Ki-o-Rahi, the game of Rahi, came into being

Rahi had a beautiful wife named Ti Ara.

One day an enemy tribe from a far off mountainous area kidnapped Ti Ara. Her abductors cast a spell on the neighbouring forests causing the vegetation to become dense and impenetrable, so that nobody would be able to track where Ti Ara was being taken.

Rahi was determined to find Ti Ara. With the help of his family and tribe he constructed a huge kite, named Manu Tangata. Before setting off on his journey, Rahi prepared several “ki” (flax bags) filled with the large Moa (extinct New Zealand bird) eggs, for nourishment during his journey.

Tawhirimatea, the god of wind, blew Rahi and his kite high in the sky, before gently landing Rahi in the bush.

As she was being taken away through the forest, Ti Ara secretly folded back leaves of the "silver fern", (New Zealand tree fern) exposing the silvery underside of the leaf. Rahi was able to follow the silvery trail that Ti Ara had left.

Ti Rahi’s abductors, however, eventually became aware of Rahi’s approaching presence. The tohunga (wizard, priest) of their tribe cast another spell, which caused a hot scorching sun to appear in the sky. This sun was the sister of Ra, the regular sun. Immediately the green luscious forest dried up in the heat, and its brown withered leaves fell like snow onto the once green forest floor. Next a strong wind gusted, blowing away the dried remains of the forest, leaving nothing in its wake but a vast sandy desert.

Surrounded by desert, and with no silver trail to follow, Rahi was unable to determine in which direction to continue. Very soon he became dehydrated in the searing heat.

A large yellow rock came into view, and Rahi sought protection in its shade. He sensed that this rock was part of his "Tipuna". As Rahi sat, the rock slowly began to change colour, and from yellow it gradually turned to a cool green colour.

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Just at this moment, Namu, a giant friendly eagle that lived near Rahi’s pa arrived, and perched on top of the rock. Gently the giant eagle trickled water from her beak onto Rahi’s face.

Suddenly, however, an enormous charging lizard appeared. The lizard tried to charge, but was unable to approach near enough to the rock owing to a double force field created by both the rock and Rahi’s "mauri" (life force, essence of life).

Frustrated, the lizard changed its tactics. It began relentlessly circling the rock, its huge tail thrashing all the while, uprooting rocks, stones and sand.

Namu giving shade to Rahi
Namu on the rock, giving shade to Rahi. Thanks to George Barrett for granting me permission to use this image.

The persistent circling and thrashing of the lizard eventually produced a deep canyon which surrounded the rock, and which soon filled with refreshing spring water. The giant lizard transformed into a huge water monster ("taniwha") called Utumai.

Rahi now found himself marooned on an island. And, as if this was not enough, the tohunga of Ti Ara’s abductors cast a further spell that made the two suns disappear, producing a cold dark night. Namu, Rahi’s friend the giant eagle, was still perched on the rock. Although she was so cold that she was in danger of freezing to death, she tried to warm Rahi by blanketing him in her feathers, as the night continued to become steadily colder.

Just then Rahi, looking up, saw three stars aligned in the sky. He realised that his father, Eru, had cast a spell from the top of their "maunga" (mountain). As Rahi watched, a narrow ice ramp formed to join the island to the shore.

Summoning all the force that remained within him Rahi lifted Namu onto his back, and slowly began to edge his way across the narrow ice walkway towards the shore and to safety. Just when Rahi and Namu were on the point of reaching shore, the taniwha (sea monster) rose up out of the waters. In anger it lashed at it’s own head, sending formations of razor sharp teeth flying through the air like spears, aimed at Rahi.

Fortunately the spear like teeth hit the ice at the edge of the walkway, causing no harm to Rahi and Namu. With the constant lashing at his head, Utumai, the monster, eventually broke his own neck, and sank lifeless to the depths of the water filled canyon.

As if to celebrate the sun came out once Rahi reached shore. In the healing sun rays, Namu was soon warm enough to fly home. Rahi was able to join his tribe, who had been desperately searching for him, and altogether they headed for the mountains to free Ti Ara.

Rahi and his tribe eventually arrived at the entrance to a cave, situated at the foot of the mountains, where they remained, hurling menacing threats to Ti Ara’s abductors in the interior of the cave.

After a while, Rahi and his tribe used a number of heavy boulders to block the thermal steam vents and hot pools which covered the thermal mountain. Very soon the temperature inside the mountain began to mount, discharging fierce billows of hissing steam. Ti Ara’s abductors were forced to flee the cave in panic - Ti Ara among them.

As Rahi and Ti Ara fell into each other’s arms earthquakes and shockwaves began to take place all around, forcing everyone to flee to safety. The next day an enormous explosion took place, hurling the mountain high into the sky.

Te Puhuru, the tohunga who cast spells during the abduction of Ti Ara, had remained inside the mountain. When it exploded Te Puhuru was blasted into the heavens, where he now remains, continuing to play out his mischief.

The two tribes gathered on the shores of the lake where Rahi had been marooned, and decided to make peace. The great sea monster (taniwha) was cooked, and for many days the two tribes ate and discussed together. They came to the conclusion that it was quite possible to live peacefully in harmony, without war.

It was here, on these shores, that the two tribal councils invented a means to ensure lasting peace forever. They created a game representing the attempted abduction of Ti Ara, which the tribes played together – keeping the peace.

This is how the game of Ki-o-Rahi came into being.

According to legend, the game of Ki-o-Rahi is conveyed throughout Aotearoa/New Zealand by fog, swept along by the wind as it embraces the lakes and shores where the game of Ki-o-Rahi originated.

›› The Silver Fern - indigenous New Zealand tree fern. The leaves are green on the frond topside and silver underneath. If the reflective silvery foliage is folded back every 20 – 50m or so, it can be very effective as a trail.

›› "Taniwha" may be either good or bad. If they are in the sea, they may be "sea monsters", but they also exist in rivers, especially in the bends of rivers and in lakes. They can be depicted as huge long fish-like serpents. The lizard in this legend changed to a taniwha. Metamorphisis in form or function is a common thread in Māori mythology.

›› "Tipuna" - Tupuna can be plural or singular, respectively ancestors or an ancestor. Rahi thought the rock was an ancestor. Māori personify all aspects of their environment and believe they become part of their environment. They also believe that different Atua (Gods) inhabit the varied domains of their environment.


© The above text is copyright. Please do not use without the author's express consent.

Credits and thanks to George Barrett and Harko Brown, both experts in pre-European Māori sports of their respective regions, for supplying me with information in this new field which I am currently researching. The source for The Legend of Rahi is from George Barrett, who has kindly permitted me to reproduce the basis of this text, including the image of Rahi with Namu, on my website.

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Related Links
Ki-o-rahi videos
Takaro - games and past times of the Māori


 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.