Lake Wakatipu – Part I

An adaptation of an ancient Māori tale about the formation of Lake Wakatipu, this makes for a great bedtime story. (Co-written with Samragni Dasagupta)

This is a tale that not many know. A tale filled with magic and love, a tale so warm that it can melt the snow. A long time ago there was a place down under, ruled by a Māori chief. Manata[1], the chief’s daughter was so beautiful that all the men in the tribe would always try to win her over. Each day right before dawn, Manata would softly climb out of her hut and to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise. She had a beautiful voice and her songs would drift over the entire village as she climbed the mountain.

It was one of the rare days when Matakauri, a poor shepherd had decided to take his flocks to the mountain instead of the foothills. As he sat on the grass, waiting for his flock to finish grazing, he heard a most beautiful voice. He stared at her, open-mouthed, as she walked towards the mountain’s edge. The light was only slightly present in the air and he could see only her silhouette but he knew that she was the one, his ‘kare ā-roto’. ‘What are you looking at?’ Manata asked the shepherd boy who was staring at her.  As she looked closer at the shepherd boy, she felt a slight fluttering in her heart. ‘Boy! Answer me!’ she cried. Matakauri shook his head out of the dream-like state. ‘I am only looking at you for your voice and beauty is the greatest I have ever seen!’.Manata blushed at his answer before saying ‘Do you not know who I am? How dare you say such words to me? I am the chief’s daughter. Show me some respect and don’t be so callous with your words. It can lead to your death[5].’ Matakauri didn’t know what to say to that. He had heard of her beauty but had never seen her. His people and her people never mixed with each other. It was forbidden. He quickly mumbled an apology and turned away. He didn’t know what to say! If anyone found out that both of them were sitting together, he would be put to death. ‘Of all the mountains, why this one?’ he cried to himself!

The fluttering in her heart did not cease as she sat on the edge, watching the sunrise. Every now and then, she would look back at the boy sitting on the other side with his sheep. She knew that this was forbidden but she did not have the heart to tell him to leave. The sun rose and as she was leaving, she asked a question which was burning in her heart. ‘Will I see you tomorrow?’ she asked Matakauri. He smiled at himself before turning around to look at her. With the sun was high in the sky, she saw his face. It was the most handsome face she had ever seen. Matakauri, stunned by the sheer beauty could only nod. The smile on her face would have lit up the sky on a night without the moon.

And so, it became a pattern. They would meet everyday on top of that mountain and watch the sunrise together. They would talk about their families and friends, about things like destiny and faith. They were breaking the norms of society but as they fell in love, day by day, the fear of the tribal customs and expectations bothered them less and less.  Matakauri would tell Manata stories such as one about Matau, a giant who resided in the deepest valley in the mountains of the area they lived in. Manata had laughed it off, saying that not even a giant could hurt the village with a chief as great as her father. What they hadn’t realized was that Matau had heard everything and was fuming with anger. He, at that moment decided that he would show that insolent girl how great her father really was!

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