I haven’t had many Fantail visitors of late, so no urgent korero is passing my way…Which is a blessing, but as all whanau know, these messengers carry korero of tuturu kaupapa, so shedding light upon all aspects is what is in Luke’s account of the humble Fantails story…

The fantail has a rep for restlessness. Is it recklessness, spontaneity, impatience or a combination of? It could be argued though that restlessness is a form of, or leads to being proactive. We will see if this supposed restlessness plays a part in fantail’s contribution to NZ myth.

Piwakawaka has several important appearances in Maori myths and legends. He has a few interactions with Kupe and Maui two hearty big names in the myths and legends/New Zealand history scene. Kupe being the first Polynesian to discover New Zealand and Maui the demi god who fished up Aotearoa

Kupe was apparently seen by the fantail and the owl when he arrived in Aotearoa and they did a haka for the birds of the sea (boats) that Kupe arrived with. The fantail’s flittering about has been credited as an inspiration for the haka since he flutters from side to side brandishing his weapon.

The most notable of Tiwakawaka’s appearances are in relation to Mauitikiti-a-taranga. Maui was on the hunt for fire from the fire maiden Mahuika and the fantail, a descendant of Mahuika, was withholding the information on her whereabouts. Maui was fazed, so in a rage, he squeezed the body of Piwaiwaka causing his tail to flare out and his eyes to pop. That’s why he (fantail) has massive eyes and a fanned out tail.

The second run-in they had was on another of Maui’s worthy quests, the quest for immortality. The plan was simple. Head to the underworld and while there he would pass through the womb of Hine-nui-te-po, travel through her vital organs and then destroy her from within. In destroying her he would prevent death itself for all future instances. Whether purposefully or otherwise, the flighty Tiwaiwaka ignored Maui’s request to remain silent and laughed when Maui ventured up the thighs of Hine-nui-te-po.

If you weren’t aware Hine-nui-te-po wasn’t a normal woman in this account. Aside from her underground status she was abnormal in size so much so that Maui was warned that Hine was the size of a giant with thighs of titanic proportion. Titanic thighs that would later crush Maui.

Having a bitter part to play in the narrative of an influential member of NZ myth carries a bad rep. The fantail has since acquired name ‘the messenger of death’. Superstition has it that the fantail is the messenger of a death in the whanau leading people to feel an air of unease when Fantail enters indoors.

I can’t say that the fantail has a stellar reputation in NZ myth for going against one of the favourites of traditional myth but in my books he is still beautiful and worthy of respect. I don’t tremble when he is in my whare instead I welcome his presence. His tail makes him one of the more memorable manu and is so distinct in fact that it gives him his name.

Toi Credits: Fiona Clarke


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