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In Maori mythology, the Ponaturi (also called the horde of Tangaroa) is a coastal species of malevolent sea faeries (goblins) who live in a land beneath the sea by day, returning to shore each evening to sleep.


Ponaturi are sometimes described as sea fairies. Their skin is greenish white with an unnatural innner phosphorescent raidiance, and their long fingers end in claws. They spent their days under the sea, only coming onto land at night. Like the patupaiarehe they feared sunlight and fire. They can be seen ashore in the middle of the night and glow eerily in the dark.

One tradition tells of Tawhaki taking revenge on the ponaturi for killing his father. He tricked them into staying in his house after dawn. Then he and his brother opened the doors and windows to let light flood into the house, in order to kill their captives.


Story of Tawhaki

The Ponaturi kill Tawhaki's father Hema, and carry his body away. They also capture Urutonga, Tawhaki's mother, whom they put to work as the doorkeeper of their house Manawa-Tane. In revenge, Tawhaki and Urutonga block up all the holes of the house to make the Ponaturi think that it is still night. They then suddenly let in the rays of the sun, and all the dreadful creatures are destroyed (Tregear 1891:206, 350). The kanae (or grey mullet) is represented as a companion of the Ponaturi in another version of Tawhaki (Grey 1956:51). When the Ponaturi come up out of the water to their house Manawa-Tane, Kanae comes with them. Tawhaki and Karihi kill all the Ponaturi, in revenge for the death of Hema, but the mullet escapes by leaping again and again until it gets back to the sea (Craig 1989:99, Grey 1855:40, Tregear 1891:122).[1]

Story of the hero Rata

The Ponaturi carry off his father's bones and use them to beat time when as they practice their magical arts. Rata hides himself, learns their incantations, and recites a more powerful spell called Titikura. He then attacks them, kills their priests, and recaptures his father's bones. The Ponaturi regroup and chase Rata, but with the aid of his warriors and his powerful incantations he defeats and kills a thousand of them (Tregear 1891:350).

Story of Ruapupuke

  • Ruapupuke is a chief who lives by the sea. Ruapupuke's young son is drowned. Tangaroa takes the child to the bottom of the sea and makes him into a tekoteko (carved figure) on the ridge-pole of his house, above the door. The father dives to the bottom of the sea, and finds the house, but it is empty. He meets Hinematikotai, a woman who tells him that the inhabitants will return at sunset to sleep, and that if he lets in the daylight it will kill them. So the inhabitants are killed, and Ruapupuke burns the house, taking some of the carvings back with him to use as a model for carving in the human world (Tregear 1891:350)
  • In another version Rua-te-pupuke's child is a daughter named Te Manu-hauturuki. Rua, following Hinematikotai's advice, blocks up the crevices of the house, the 'hordes of Tangaroa' are killed not by sunlight but by the burning down of the house. Only two fishes escape: the kanae (mullet) to the brackish water, and the maroro (flying fish) to the ocean. Again, Rua takes away some of the carvings of the house to serve as models (Best 1982:286).


  • 1 - The ultimate source for this particular reference to the kanae seems to be an incidental comment in Grey's Polynesian Mythology, the English translation of his 1854 book Nga Mahinga a Nga Tupuna. It appears as a footnote on page 51 of Grey 1956:51, with the text "The Maoris say that the kanae, [or mullet,] had come on shore with the Ponaturi, and escaped out of the house by its power of leaping, gaining the water again by successive springs". There is no mention of kanae in the Maori text (Grey 1971).


  • E. Best, Maori Religion and Mythology, Part 2 (Dominion Museum Bulletin No.11. Museum of New Zealand: Wellington), 1982.
  • R.D. Craig, Dictionary of Polynesian Mythology (Greenwood Press: New York), 1989.
  • G. Grey, Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna, fourth edition. First published 1854. (Reed: Wellington), 1971.
  • G. Grey, Polynesian Mythology (Taplinger Press: New York), 1855.
  • G. Grey, Polynesian Mythology, Illustrated edition, reprinted 1976. (Whitcombe and Tombs: Christchurch), 1956.
  • E.R. Tregear, Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair: Lambton Quay), 1891.

External links

Story of Kura