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There exist a variety of Maori legends surrounding Pounamu
It must be made known that there exist a variety of Maori legends surrounding Pounamu. Maori had no written language so an oral tradition of historical stories has been passed down through generations about the legends of the stone.


In the legends of the Ngai Tahu people of the South Island of New Zealand, the guardian of Pounamu is a Taniwha, a giant water creature named Poutini. His home is in the rough seas off the West Coast of the South Island or “Te Tai o Poutini”

Long ago, Poutini used to venture further afield. One day, while resting in the warm waters off Tuhua (Mayor Island, in northeast NZ) he saw a beautiful woman, Waitaiki, bathing in the sea. Poutini looked at Waitaiki with lust in his heart. He lunged forward and snatched her and fled towards the mainland.

Waitaiki's husband, Tama-ahua was a powerful chief and skilled in the rituals of the spirit world. When he realised that his wife had been taken he threw a magical dart in the air.

The dart pointed in the direction his wife and Poutini had taken. Tama-ahua and his slave then paddled after them in hot pursuit. Reaching the shore Poutini lit a fire to warm Waitaiki but hearing Tama-ahua approaching he took her up again and moved on. The chase continued across Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Each time Poutini stopped he lit a fire to warm his captive Waitaiki, at Tahanga on the Coromandel Peninsular, Whangamata, Taupo, Rangitoto Ki te Tonga (D’urville Island), Onetahua (Farewell Spit) and Pahuatane on the West Coast. The rocks at all these sites, all of them important sources of stone for Maori, are all still stained by the fires of Poutini.

Fleeing further south Poutini and his captive reached Piopiotahi (Milford Sound). Weeping with cold and fright, Waitaiki begged him to turn around. So he carried her back up the coast, taking sanctuary in the headwaters of the Arahura River.

At Piopiotahi (Milford Sound). Tama-ahua found his wife's tears preserved forever in the stone named Tangiwai (Bowenite)

He realised that Poutini and Waitaiki had turned back so he tracked them up the coast to the Arahura valley.

That night Tama-ahua rested and prepared for the final showdown. Poutini was concerned. Fearing Tama-ahua's strength and determination he decided that if he could not have Waitaiki, no-one would.

He transformed her into his likeness ‘Pounamu’ and laid her in the cold waters of the river. Then he slipped downstream past the sleeping warrior.

In the morning Tama-ahua set out to do battle with Poutini to reclaim Waitaiki. But when he reached the head of the river, his enemy had gone.

He found his young wife cold and lifeless, transformed into stone in the riverbed. His Tangi (song of grief) still sounds throughout the mountains.

To the Ngai Tahu people Waitaiki is the mother of Pounamu. The Jade fragments that break from the mother lode and roll down the river to the sea are her children