visible mysteries

Te Hikioi was also the name of a newspaper published by the Maori King Movement in the Waikato during the lead up to the invasion of that part of the North Island of New Zealand by British Imperial forces and Colonial Militia in the early 1860s. It ran from June, 1862 until May, 1863 and I seem to remember reading somewhere that the lead type used to set the print was then melted down and made into bullets. A rival newspaper called Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke (The sparrow that sits alone) was set up in opposition to Te Hikioi, putting the government point of view, but it only lasted for four issues (Feb-March, 1863) before the press was captured by Kingites, broken up and the pieces returned north. The Tainui Tribal Federation of the Waikato resumed publishing a paper called Te Hikioi in the early years of this century. One source describes te hikioi as a bird of ill omen but it seems more likely it was understood as a powerful, even totemic force, ominous only to those who opposed it. There are even those who think that Sindbad's Roc is a memory of te hikioi.

There was, and is, another legendary bird known to the Tainui, the Korotangi or crying dove. This bird, carved out of green serpentine which has been sourced to the island of Sulawesi, was discovered under the roots of a tree on the west coast of the North Island, near the site of the landfall of the Tainui canoe to which the Waikato tribes trace their origin. Some say the Korotangi came on the Tainui; others suggest it was brought ashore with some prehistoric wreck on that wild shore. Like the Tamil Bell, which is inscribed with characters from that language, the Korotangi seems to hark back to an era of pre Anglo-Dutch voyaging to those parts. Portuguese ships out of Malacca were crewed by all sorts of sailors, including Tamils and, perhaps, Bugis from Sulawesi. It is not impossible that native craft from Indonesia were blown across the Tasman from an Australian shore, as one of Cristoval de Mendon├ža's caravels may have been in the 1520s. The persistence of a red-haired, pale-skinned type (urukehu) among Maori has been ascribed to the survival ashore of Iberian sailors ... and so on.

Both the Korotangi and the Tamil Bell are held in Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Museum, in Wellington; with the so-called Spanish Helmet, dredged up in Wellington harbour, they make a triumvirate of visible mysteries to trouble the Aotearoan historical imagination.

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