Thursday, March 27, 2008

Te Wheke-a-Muturangi

New Zealand mythology (Maori) speaks of a giant octopus called Te Wheke-a-Muturangi. This beast is a pet and guardian of Muturangi (a high priest of Hawaiki (the mythical land that pretty much all of Oceania mythology says is the root of mankind)).

Kupe got tired of constantly going out fishing, only to have his bait eaten off the line. He noticed a slimy substance all over it. Being a bright guy, he puts two and two together and realizes it must be Te Wheke-a-Muturangi and goes off to find Muturangi. Muturangi is less than sympathetic saying that he does control his pet and refuses to do anything.

Kupe then decided to kill the beast. The village joins in building a huge ocean going canoe, big enough to house much food and several of the villagers (no, not the Village People).

Once out in the ocean, Kupe kept his bait dangling just above the water in order to draw out the octopus. As soon as it did, he sliced a chunk out of the beast and cast a spell preventing it from diving deep. Wheke swam off. A chase ensued and weeks later, they come across an island. This was Aotearoa, the island that Maui pulled up from the ocean floor last time he went fishing. As they explored, their footprints became stone and are still there to this day.

Chase resumed and lasted for several more weeks until finally, Wheke was cornered. As the octopus fought back, the canoe was in danger of being sunk, so Kupe came up with a plan (I told you he was pretty bright). He threw some gourds into the ocean.

Now if you can't see the brilliance of this plan, then obviously you are not as smart as he. The octopus attacked the gourds thinking they were people. This brought his head above the water and Kupe chopped at it and killed it. He did save the eyes, though, and placed them on a nearby rock as a memorial (the thing did lead them to the lost island of Maui, after all).

Kupe's women, waiting back home were so sure that he had died that they slashed their breasts and turned the rocks red with blood.

Modern day association? France has just displayed the world's first plastinated squid (six-and-a-half metre-long) in their Natural History Museum. It was donated by New Zealand and called Wheke. By the way, plastination is a means of preserving and animal by replacing parts with a substance that pretty much makes the animal turn into a plastic fossil.

Also there was a giant octopus guardian at the entrance of the Mines of Moria in Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. It wasn't called Wheke, though, only The Watcher in the Water.

Drop that into conversation and I'm sure everyone will just wonder in amazement the extent of your knowledge.

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