The Pounamu Taiaha

Chapter 1
The Pākehā House

“Rorirori, Tama!”

Rorirori… funny? Who’s calling me funny?

Sprawled on the grass looking up at Ranginui, Tama turned over to see Rena striding towards him, dark hair blowing around her dark shoulders. “Oh, it’s only you.”

Rena’s warm expression turned sour. “Only me? I had the consideration to come out here and see if you hadn’t, like, killed yourself, and that’s all you have to say?”

Tama rubbed his eyes and sat up on the grass, feeling its print on the back of his forearms. “Alright, alright, could you help me up?”

Her face softened into a smile as she grabbed his outstretched hand. “You don’t need an excuse to hold my hand, Tama.”

Tama groaned as she pulled him to his feet, looking up at the hill he had just fallen from. “Where’s Ramo?”

“Bro, I told you it was impossible to run down that hill!” Ramo called from afar, strutting towards them with his hands in his pockets and an I-told-you-so look on his face.

All Tama could recall of his attempt was the pain when his body hit the steep slope after he lost his footing.

Tama scowled. “Nothing’s impossible.”

Ramo smiled as his dark jacket swayed in the breeze. “Do you think you’re Māui or something? Next you’ll probably try something really stupid like turning into an animal or wrestling the sun.”

I just failed to run down a hill, how could I possibly think I’m a demigod like Māui?

Ramo turned to leave, his speech making Rena screw up her face.

“Don’t worry, Tama. He’s, like, a lot more rorirori than you.”

Tama looked down at himself. His shirt was covered in dust and his elbows were grazed. “Mind if we head back so I can clean up?”

Rena sighed, grabbed his hand and led him back to the house.

Rena and Ramo’s land stretched for kilometre around and linked with the highway that led to Taupo. Tama assumed Papa Mara hadn’t bothered fencing off the land because of the surrounding hills. Just in sight of their house, standing like an old tree that was about to fall down, was an abandoned European house.

A Pākehā house. I wonder if Ramo has ever been there before.

Tama brushed himself down of the dust he’d collected from the fall and was relieved to see that the accident hadn’t caused any serious injuries. Wincing, he washed the blood from the grazes on his elbows under the cold tap and then stood, staggering around to where the sun could warm him. He narrowed his eyes to see the abandoned house through the brightness, feeling a strong urge to search the place.

“Bro!” Ramo called, waving his arms to get his attention. “Let’s practice mau rākau!”

Tama nodded, clapped his hands and made his way over to him. Where Ramo stood was a circle of short grass, about ten metres wide and outlined with white spray paint. It was easy to see that Ramo had made it himself.

Ramo stepped into the centre circle and sighed. “It’s a shame you don’t have a taiaha or anything yet. There’s no point in going through the rules until you have one.”

A taiaha… I wouldn’t have enough money to buy one of those wooden spears. Maybe I should just carve my own.

Tama nodded. “Is there another way we could train just for today?”

“Well, mau rākau is based on weaponry, but I guess there’s one other way of training that I know you have experience in, being a street kid and all.” Ramo gave him a cheeky grin. “Hand-to-hand.”

“Hold on!” Tama stepped back. “I just started mau rākau. I don’t even know what it’s all about yet. Could you fill me in?”

Ramo inclined his head. “After we train.”

Tama took his first step into the circle and a thrill shot through him. He didn’t know why, but it felt good, like the whole world was watching.

“Don’t worry, bro. I’ll go easy on you.”

“Spare it.”

Ramo laughed. “Well, well, aren’t we confident for a beginner.”

Tama widened his footing and raised his fists in a fighting stance.

Ramo announced, “Tīmata!”

Tīmata… begin!

Ramo charged in and attempted a leaping sidekick, aiming for his face to get things started. It was easy enough to dodge. Tama lunged at Ramo and threw a punch at his head as soon as he landed, but Ramo spun, blocked the punch and threw one back, which collided with Tama’s shoulder. He continued his attack and kicked out, but Tama pushed his leg aside. Tama then threw two jabs, the first Ramo ducked but the second hit him square in the jaw. He tried to kick him, but Ramo recovered and evaded the blow.

Nearly had him!

Ramo blew out a breath and snapped two jabs at him. Tama ducked and countered with a back-kick to the ribs. Ramo caught his foot, lifting it to put him off balance. Tama quickly planted his hands on the ground, and with his other leg, launched a kick straight into Ramo’s face. They both fell to the grass.

Being the one who dealt the blow, Tama was up first, pushing himself up off the thin grass. Ramo rolled back onto his shoulders and flipped himself up onto his feet. It was an impressive thing to see considering he’d just been kicked in the head.

“Round two,” Ramo said and charged forwards.

He threw a punch quickly followed by a spinning back-fist. Dodging the first, Tama raised his forearm to block the next. As though determined to pay him back, Ramo tried a high kick for Tama’s face. Tama bobbed under it and rose with an uppercut, hitting him in the gut and finally getting the response he had been hoping for. Ramo stopped, keeled over and gasped.

Hah, he’s winded!

Tama rushed in with a flurry of punches. Blocking one, Ramo threw a decoy jab. As Tama went to block the fake, he jolted his fist back and then threw another. Tama didn’t know how, but in the rush of the fight he intercepted the blow by catching Ramo’s fist. He then tugged at his arm and raised his knee up into his gut.

“Ah! You got me! Tukunga!” Ramo wheezed.

Tukunga… he’s surrendered!

Tama exhaled heavily and lowered his knee. Ramo fell to the ground, one hand holding himself up, the other clutching his stomach. He coughed repetitively but soon calmed, and, after a while he rose to his feet again, breathing heavily.

“Ow, bro… you wasted me, ka pai. Where’d you learn that?” he asked, wiping the sweat from his brow.

Ka pai? Is he really praising me for beating him?

“It’s common sense to go for your opponent’s weakness and obviously your weakness is your stomach. And as you said…” Tama shrugged. “I’m a street kid.”

Ramo nodded. “No kidding. Alright, help me inside.”

Tama pulled him up and put an arm over his shoulder, supporting some of his weight as they made their way to the house’s entrance where they removed their shoes. They walked under a red archway. On it was carved a serpent with fierce, round eyes, sharp claws and a tongue that protruded from a wide, predatory mouth. It was a taniwha, a monster common in Māori mythology, which acted as the spiritual guardian of their home.

They entered into an open hall with wooden chairs on either side of a coffee table, and Tama put Ramo down on one of them and sat across from him. As Ramo recovered, Tama stared out the window, gazing once again at the abandoned Pākehā house in the distance. The place was in obvious disrepair from the peeling paint, broken windows and unattended lawn, but that wasn’t all. There was a feeling it gave off, like an alluring vibe.

“Does anyone live there?” Tama asked.

Ramo shrugged. “We don’t know. Pa tells me to stay away from it, but I’m going there tonight anyway.”

Tama pursed his lips and turned back, trying to pretend like he was uninterested. The drawing sensation he felt towards the place was unsettling and made him more anxious than a simple curiosity should have.

“Oh, that’s right. Weren’t you going to tell me how mau rākau started?” he asked, hoping his desire to change the subject wasn’t too obvious.

“That’s true, but… I’m not sure if I would be the best one to tell you.”

As though she had been listening in on them, Rena walked in and sat down on the chair beside him, putting a plate of ham sandwiches on the table. “You’re only saying that because you forgot yourself. And, like, what did you say about going to that house tonight?”

“You heard me, I’m going there tonight, and you’re wrong, I didn’t forget! It’s just that the Māori folklore behind it is kind of complicated and I thought he’d get a better explanation from Tahu.”

“Tahu?” Tama asked. The name sounded familiar to him.

“Oh yeah, I’ve never told you about him, have I? He’s the one who taught me mau rākau.”

“Tahu actually knows a thing or two about swinging a taiaha, unlike somebody,” Rena said, lifting an eyebrow at Ramo.

“Well, I’m not the son of Takai Tere like he is!”

Tama’s head rose in recognition. “Takai Tere? Now I know I’ve heard that name somewhere before.”

Ramo rolled his eyes. “Bro, he’s the current mau rākau champion!”

“I dunno why you look up to him.” Rena sighed. “He cost Pa his job and, like…”

Rena and Ramo both went silent, like they were trying not to bring up a bad memory.

Tama raised an eyebrow in confusion. “Well? Are you going to tell me or just leave me hanging?”

Ramo’s expression became serious. He looked at Rena, his eyes seeming to be asking her for permission to tell him something.

“It’s been, like, ten years. I think we can tell him,” Rena finally said. “Our pa used to work for the Diran excavation team…” She hesitated for a moment but then continued. “He and his partner Enuri were, like, assigned to excavate the ruins in the Bone Lands.”

Tama’s eyes widened. “But that’s sacred land! No one’s supposed to go there!”

Ramo crossed his arms. “Yeah-well, Diran sent Pa and Enuri there in secret and they were the first people to set foot there. But after the excavation… both he and Enuri were… fired.”

Tama could tell by Ramo’s uneven voice that he had missed something important out of the story. Something he obviously doesn’t want to bring up again.

“What did they find there?” Tama asked, grabbing a sandwich.

“Pa said he couldn’t remember.” Rena shrugged. “He said it was as if his memory had been, like, erased. He can only recall going there and waking up the next day.”

She’s either lying or wants me to change the subject.

Tama shook his head and brought his mind back to his original question. “We were talking about Tahu and Takai. Who’re they again?”

“Takai Tere has two titles: Diran president and mau rākau champion,” Ramo announced. “His weapon is a six-foot-long taiaha and he’s never once been defeated with it. No one has even come close to beating him in a mau rākau match.”

Tama almost laughed when seeing Rena’s bored expression. Ramo must be the only one who looks up to him.

“And Tahu’s his son?” Tama asked.

Rena smiled. “Yup, Ramo lived with him for, like, a month in his house of war at the Ruapehu Cliffs.”

“Both Tahu and Takai have won the mau rākau tournaments multiple times. Tahu has won three times in the junior division, and Takai won the senior… well, I’ve lost count of how many times he’s won!” Ramo paused and suddenly looked thoughtful. “But Tahu hasn’t entered a tournament for over a year now.”

“Really, why?” Tama asked.

“He turned seventeen this year and you have to be, like, sixteen or under to qualify for the junior division,” Rena clarified.

Tama scratched his head. “Why doesn’t he just enter the senior tournament then?”

“Bro! You’re kidding, right?” Ramo screeched as he stood from his chair.

Tama jolted back. “What do you mean?”

“A seventeen-year-old fighting seniors is suicide. Sure, he’s good and all, but have you seen the people competing?”

“They’re brutes,” Rena finished for him.

Ramo sat back down but Tama continued to wonder. If he won the junior division three times in a row, why wouldn’t he enter the senior one? Maybe I’ll ask when I meet him.

“You said before that Tahu would tell me how mau rākau started. When will you be seeing him next?”

Ramo grinned. “Hold your horses, bro. First we have to find you a weapon.”

Tama nodded in anticipation and stood. “Alright then.”

“Tomorrow.”

“What?” Tama spread his hands. “Why?”

“It’s getting late and choosing one might take a while. Come over tomorrow and we’ll do it then. Just don’t come too early!”

Tama glanced out the window and saw that Ramo was right. Dark clouds were forming as if to warn him to get home quickly; Ranginui looked angry tonight.

Tama stood and looked at the empty sandwich plate on the table. “I’ll see you tomorrow then,” he said and made his way to the door.

“See ya, bro,” Ramo said.

“Bye!” Rena echoed.

Tama passed under the archway, put on his shoes and strolled down the footpath. He glanced at the abandoned Pākehā house in the distance, black storm clouds emerging above it. It only helped to make the place look more mysterious.

Why does it feel like I’m being lured there?

His bike leaned against the driveway fence. It was a red mountain bike whose previous owner had left abandoned on the side of the road. Tama grabbed it by the black grip of the handlebars, swung a leg over the seat and forced his foot down on one pedal. The wheels spun on the cracked concrete as he rode it down the driveway.

#

Night crept upon Taupo’s open valleys hosted by Ranginui’s rage. Cold wind blew through the darkness as rain hit hard on the roof of Ramo and Rena’s house. Ramo sat by a windowsill, watching the rain stream down from the rooftop.

A little water never hurt anyone, he thought, trying to find the shape of the Pākehā house through the darkness.

Rena lay on the sofa. She had a troubled expression before finally saying, “Alright, I’m coming with you.”

“What are you on about?” Ramo asked, still gazing outside.

She sat up. “I’m gonna go to the Pākehā house tonight as well, even if Pa told us not to.”

Ramo sighed. “Whatever. Just don’t expect me to babysit you if you slip over or something.”

Rena’s face turned crimson. “I don’t expect you to! I just don’t understand why you wanna, like, do it in the middle of the night!”

“I want to test my mana,” Ramo murmured.

“What are you trying to prove?”

Ramo’s voice became distant. “That I’m a tētēkura.”

“A brave warrior?” A confused look spread over Rena’s face. “But only you and I will know about it. That’s unless you, like, brag about it to everyone at school.”

Ramo’s brow furrowed. “Rena, have you ever heard the saying: whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei?”

“Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain.”

“Hah, you’re just trying to sound cool.” Rena stood and stretched her muscles. “We’ll see if you’re still up for it at midnight.”

She grinned at him and walked out of the hall, down to the end of the white-carpeted hallway and into her room, silently shutting the door behind her.

“Yeah, we’ll see.” Ramo stood from his chair and walked out of the hall. He then went to the door of Papa Mara’s room. “Night Pa.”

#

Ramo rolled over in his bed and looked at the watch resting on top of his drawers. 11:30pm shone in red neon. He turned over onto his back as his eyes wandered around his room. The blue wallpaper walls were covered with posters of different mau rākau weapons, famous fighters, and hip-hop artists. Sprawled across the floor were items of dirty clothing and old magazines.

Don’t… go… to sleep!

While waiting, the minutes felt like hours. At 11:55 he rose from under his sheets, still wearing the clothes he wore from that day. He crept into the hallway, knowing exactly where to step so the floorboards wouldn’t creak. However, he still held his breath as he tiptoed past Papa Mara’s room.

He moved into the hall and arrived at the front door. His heart pounded with anticipation as he tried not to think of any of the horror movies he had watched recently. As he opened the door and stepped out onto the veranda, putting on his shoes, Ramo felt a quick squeeze on his shoulder and jumped in fright.

“Ahhh!” He spun about to see who it was.

“Shhh!” Rena stood behind Ramo, seeming satisfied that she had surprised him so easily. “Going without me?”

Unlike Ramo who wore his clothes from that day, Rena wore a lavender jacket with a hood intended for the rain. Her hood was pulled so low that he couldn’t see the top of her face.

Ramo gritted his teeth in embarrassment. “I didn’t have to wait for you!”

Rena shrugged. “I was going anyway.”

“Oh, why’s that?”

Rena didn’t reply and Ramo looked at her in confusion. Odd, she’s never even mentioned wanting to go to there before.

“Shall we go?” Rena asked, looking up at the falling rain. “Or are you afraid?”

“I’m not chickening out.”

Ramo peered around the darkness for the shape of the house but nothing could be seen with the only light coming from their porch. The black storm clouds covered Ranginui like a thick blanket. He would have to go by memory.

Without hesitation, he jumped from the decking and took off into the darkness. The rain hit hard against his face as he sprinted through the night. His breathing picked up as his boots slipped along the damp grass. Suddenly the cold wind became more powerful, forcing him back and nearly knocking him off balance.

Oh great! The wind just has to be coming from the way I’m going!

The rain continued to prickle his face. It felt like something didn’t want him to reach the abandoned house. He had gained a fair distance in his first run, yet the closer he got the heavier the storm became, as if Ranginui himself was telling him to turn back. Stubbornly, Ramo leant forwards into an extended stance to keep his balance and continued on in a plodding pace.

What’s with this wind? It’s so strong. I can barely walk forwards without it knocking me backwards!

He looked up and saw the rough shape of the abandoned house in the darkness. The blustering wind continued to push him back. He looked over his shoulder to see Rena catching up with him.

Come on! I’m almost there!

After slipping over on the grass, Ramo looked up and saw the shape of the house just ahead of him. He decided to attempt a final sprint for shelter. Rising to his feet, he put his head down and ran into the wind. The rain suddenly stopped, blocked by the huge wooden structure in front of him. He halted, looked up, and grinned.

Finally!

His body was soaked from top to bottom, his hair was damp and flattened from the heavy rain and he felt exhausted. He looked back again to see Rena catching up to him. Impatiently, he reached for the handle to the front door, but before he could even touch it, a booming surge of light lit the inside of the building.

The light was almost blinding. The bright green glow streaked through the darkness, appearing from the broken windows and splintered cracks in the wood. Ramo gasped and stepped back, reacting half in fear and half in confusion. However, even after feeling this fear, he still reached for the door.

I’m not a coward! I’m a tētēkura!

He lunged towards the handle and twisted it. He was shocked to find the house unlocked, and the door swung open.

Ramo’s eyes bulged when he saw what was inside. “Tama?”

The green light flooded the inside of the house. Ramo stared at the luminous sight, focusing not on the light itself but instead on what was generating it.

The flow of the house allowed the living room to be seen, the walls, ceiling and floor all made from the same chipped wooden planks. In the living room’s centre where the light was brightest, Tama was floating in the air, his arms dangling at his sides.

The green light spiralled around his body like a cyclone, shining from an object above his head. It looked like a pounamu necklace. The greenstone at the end of the necklace glowed so brightly that it strained Ramo’s eyes when he glanced at it. He brought his arm up to cover his face.

What’s happening to Tama? Should I help him?

He hadn’t seen anything like this before and all he could do was gape in astonishment. He heard Rena walk up beside him, her eyes wide.

“So it chose him.”

She touched his shoulder and everything went black.