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This is a famous love story, from Rotorua, still sung, spoken, written and danced about to this day.

Hinemoa and Tutanekai

Hinemoa was a chieftainess of the tribe which lived in the village of Owhata on the shores of Lake Rotorua. In this lake is the island of Mokoia, some 4km across the water from Owhata. 

There lived another well born, but unfortunately illegitimate, young man named Tutanekai. The tribes of the two young people sometimes visited one another for social occasions, and thus Hinemoa and Tutanekai had come to know and love one another.

The affair had had to be pursued very discreetly and had progressed little beyond clandestine hand-holding and a mutual declaration of affection. At night however Tutanekai would sit on the verandah of his house, which was on a hillside overlooking the lake, and would play his flute. 

A gentle breeze often wafted the sounds of the music to Hinemoa as she stood on the lake shore. It was reputed that skilled flute players could breathe words into their instruments and Hinemoa could sense the declaration of love which the music bore.

However, as often happens on such ocassions, the path of true love did not run smoothly. Hinemoa's relatives suspected that she had fallen in love with Tutanekai and whilst they considered him a nice young man he was after all . . . ! So every night they ensured that the canoes were well beached so that Hinemoa would be unable to pull them into the water on her own and go to her lover.

One night as Hinemoa stood there with heavy heart and eyes full of tears, listening to the plaintive melody of Tutanekai's flute, she felt she could bear it no longer. Going down to the water's edge at a place called Wairerewai, she sang a low mournful song:

Māori English

E te tau, e te tau,
Ka wehe koe i au!
Tu tonu ake nei taku aroha,
Nga tikapa kei te houhi. 
Kua hua au, e te tau, 
Mau taua e kau mai, 
Kia rokohanga mai e hua, 
Rurutu ana i taku moe. 
Kia puripuri au nga takitaki Whitirere kei runga!
Kia rakuraku au to tuara nui,
Puru ki te kauri -
Taku tau e!

Lover mine, lover mine,
I'm separated far from thee!
Alas my sweet beloved,
Would that thou'd come for me!
Then searching, slowly paddling,
Thy willing wife thou'd find, 
And both would flee together,
Would that I were in thy dear home.
Within Whitirere's threshold there above!
I'd greet thee fondly and embrace
Thy lordly form, with chief's tattoo adorned - 
O Lover mine!

She then lashed six gourds together as floats, and casting her clothes aside in order to swim unencumbered, she dived into the lake and guided by the music she swam the long journey to Mokoia. When she finally reached the island, cold and exhausted from many hours in the water, she realised that she was naked and her natural shyness overcame her. Just beyond the beach she came upon a hot pool called Waikimiha and entered it. She was trembling with cold and weariness but her heart was full of joy.

Some time later she heard footsteps and the shadowy figure of a man began filling a calabash with water from a cold spring next to the pool.

Hinemoa imitated a man's voice and called out gruffly, 

"Who is that water for?"

"I am the slave of Tutanekai. The water is for my master," 

the water-bearer answered.

Hinemoa's heart raced at being so close to her beloved's house but she said nothing. Instead her hand came out of the darkness, seized the calabash and broke it against the rocks. The startled slave raced back to Tutanekai and reported the strange happening. Tutanekai was too tired and heatbroken to worry and sent the slave back for more water.

Several times more the slave had his calabash taken from him and broken until at last Tutanekai decided to take action. He reached for his war club and strode down to the pool to kill the person who had thus insulted him. As he came to the pool he cried fiercely:

"Who is my enemy after whom I shall name the cup I shall make from his skull?!"

He groped around the edges of the pool until he caught an arm and pulling on it drew his adversary out into the moonlight.


she whispered, 

"It is I, Hinemoa."

He stared at her and then took her in his arms and led her back to his house.

The next morning the lovers slept late and when at last Tutanekai's father sent a slave to wake him, the fellow reported back that peeping through the doorway he had seen not two feet but four! Thereupon Hinemoa and Tutanekai emerged and their union was acclaimed by the tribe.


At the same time, across the lake, large waka (canoe) were seen approaching from Owhata. They knew it was her father Te Umukaria and they expected war, but the two peoples made peace amid much rejoicing.

The clear waters of Waitemata Harbour never gave back such a beautiful image, nor the flowing waters of the Waikato, nor the bottomless depths of Taupo, as did the lake of Rotorua on the evening when the world was calm and Hinemoa looked down into its depths and was full of gladness.


Tutanekai was the son of Rangiuru (the wife of the important chief called Whakauekaipapa after which the Whakaue tribe is called) and Tuwharetoa (the eponymous ancestor of Ngati Tuwharetoa tribe of the Taupo district and eighth in line of Ngatoroirangi, the high priest of Te Arawa canoe - some say he lived in the 16th century). At the time of his romance with Hinemoa, Tutanekai was living in the pa of his stepfather Whakauekaipapa. 

Tutanekai's flute is held by the Auckland Museum. It is a plain straight koauau called Murirangaranga made from the arm bone of a tohunga of the same name who offended Tutanekai's family by breaking a tapu while dedicating the new born boy.

Hinemoa lived in the village of Owhata. Her mother was Hine-maru. Her father, Te Umukaria, likened her beauty to the morning sun that shone across the lake and intended she marry a rangitira of even greater mana than the sons of Whakauekaipapa. She would often listen to the sounds of Tutanekai's flute while seated on the rock called Iriirikapua that juts out into the lake. Waikimiha or Waimihia is now also called Hinemoa's Bath.

Hinemoa and Tutanekai's descendants still live around the shores of lake Rotorua today. 


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This page last updated 06/07/2003 02:11:44 AM


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