Pania today is a ledge or reef of rock, commonly known now as the Napier breakwater, lying about four miles beyond Hukarere point on the north island of New Zealand.
This was the home of Pania, a beautiful sea maiden who, in ancient times, daily, swam shore-wards at the setting of the sun and returned to her sea people before the break of day. While on shore she hid herself in a clump of flax beside a freshwater spring at the foot of Hukarere cliff, close by the sea.
One evening a chief who lived in a nearby Pa became thirsty, and went for a drink at the spring. While drinking from his calabash he spied Pania sitting in the middle of the flax bush. There and then he took her to his home, and they became man and wife. But always, every morning, Pania would return to her sea folk and every evening come back to her husband.
After awhile Pania gave birth to a son who was completely without hair and so was named Moremore, ‘the hairless one.’ With the birth of this child, Pania’s husband became concerned that he might loose him to the sea people. So he consulted a tohunga, in the hope of finding how to keep his child and wife with him always. The tohunga told him to place cooked food upon the mother and child while they slept, and they would never again return to the sea. Evidently something went amiss. Perhaps the food was not properly cooked; for Pania returned to her people never to return.
The child Moremore was turned to a shark (taniwha) which lived in the waters around the reef off Hukarere, and at Rangatira, the entrance to the inner harbour at the delta of the river called Ahuriri.
When fishermen of today tell the legend of Pania, they claim that at ebb-tide she may be seen lying outstretched at the bottom of the rocky shelf, with her hair still as black as ever and her arms stretched shoreward.
According to old Maori folk, however, she was turned into a fishing rock, from which various kinds of fish might be caught. Within the hollow of her left arm-pit only rawaru (cod) may be caught, and from her right arm-pit snapper alone, while her thighs yield only the hapuka (bass). In the days of old these fishing grounds were sacred, but today, being frequented by pakehas (white fella), the place has become common to all and fish are no longer plentiful. (Ref)
Pania Folk Song
Ia te kahura,
ao te moana,
Ka tiaho mai,
e marama pai
Puta o rere wai,
mai a Pania
When the sea is calm,
and the tide is low
You can see Pania,
of the reef I know
As the Maori moon,
sheds a sil’vry beam
You can see Pania,
lovely as a dream. (Ref )
I inherited this statue of Pania which I proudly display in my living room. I was given her before I found out my Maori blood line come from the Hawkes Bay area.