The national symbol of New Zealand is the Kiwi bird. They are pictured on the country’s postage stamps. New Zealanders call themselves “Kiwis”. The Kiwi fruit is a major horticultural export from New Zealand. The New Zealand dollar is even nicknamed “the Kiwi.” Come – read the story from the Polynesian Cultural Center of how the sacrifice of this humble kiwi bird saved the forests of Aotearoa in this famous Maori legend.

One day, as Tānemahuta walked through the forest, he looked up at his children, which were the trees, reaching for the sky. Sadly, they had begun to sicken and die. Insects crawled the length of the trunks, eating away the life of the trees.

Tānemahuta talked to his brother, Tānehokahoka, who called together his children, the birds of the air.

Tāne-mahuta spoke to them.

“Something is eating my children, the trees. I need one of you to come down from the forest roof and live on the floor, so that my children can be saved, and your home can be saved. Who will come?”

Not a single bird spoke.

Tāne-hokahoka turned to his son, Tūī.

“E Tūī, will you come down from the forest roof?”

Tūī looked up at the sun filtering through the leaves of the trees, then down at the forest floor where all was cold and dark. Tūī shuddered.

“Kāo, Tāne-hokahoka, for it is too dark and I am afraid of the dark.”

Tāne-hokahoka turned to Pūkeko.

“Pūkeko, will you come down from the forest roof?”

Pūkeko looked down at the cold, damp earth and also shuddered.

“Kāo, Tāne-hokahoka, for it is too damp and I do not want to get my feet wet.”

All was quiet, and not a bird spoke.

Tāne-hokahoka turned to Pīpīwharauroa.

“Pīpīwharauroa, will you come down from the forest roof?”

Pīpīwharauroa looked up at the trees, then looked around at his own family and children.

“Kāo, Tāne-hokahoka, for I am busy at the moment building my nest.”

All was quiet, and not a bird spoke. Great was the sadness in the heart of Tāne-hokahoka, for he knew, that if one of his children did not come down from the forest roof, his brother would lose his children, and the birds would have no homes.

Tāne-hokahoka turned to the Kiwi bird.

“E Kiwi, will you come down from the forest roof?”

Kiwi looked up at the sunlit trees. He looked around and saw his family. Then Kiwi looked at the cold damp earth. Looking around once more, he turned to Tāne-hokahoka and said, “I will.”

Great was the joy in the hearts of Tāne-hokahoka and Tāne-mahuta, for this little bird was giving them hope. But Tāne-mahuta felt he should warn Kiwi of what would happen.

“E Kiwi, if you do this, you will have to grow thick, strong legs to rip apart the logs on the ground. You will lose your beautiful coloured feathers and wings, and will never be able to return to the forest roof. You will never see the light of day again.”

All was quiet, and not a bird spoke.

“E Kiwi, will you come down from the forest roof?”

Kiwi took one last look at the sun filtering through the trees and said a silent goodbye. Kiwi took one last look at the other birds, their wings and their coloured feathers and said a silent goodbye. Looking around once more, he turned to Tāne-hokahoka and said,

“I will.”

Then Tāne-hokahoka turned to the other birds and said, “E Tūī, because you were too afraid to come down from the forest roof, from now on you will wear the two white feathers at your throat as the mark of a coward.

Pūkeko, because you did not want to get your feet wet, you will live forever in the swamp.

Pīpīwharauroa, because you were too busy building your nest, from now on you will never build another nest again, but will lay your eggs in the nests of other birds.

But you Kiwi, because of your great sacrifice, you will become the most well known and most loved bird of them all.”

Nina Jones, a mainland gal from way back, is now a transplanted Islander. With her husband of 43 years, she has lived in Laie since serving a mission at the Polynesian Cultural Center from 2014 – 2016. She now serves as the blog manager for the Center. Her hobbies include swimming, traveling, studying and writing about what she is learning from the various Polynesian cultures. Her blogs focus on their history, beliefs, practices and – as an added bonus – delicious food! To her, Polynesia is not just a place to visit, it is a way to live and she is very honored to be able to be a part of their amazing world.

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