The romantic love story of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai is told in the beautiful song titled Pokarekare Ana.
The song is based on the best early account of the story sourced from Sir George Grey’s ‘Polynesian Mythology’, first published in 1855.
Hinemoa was the daughter of a great chief who lived at Owhata, along the shores of Lake Rotorua. She was very beautiful, and because of her beauty and high rank, many young men desired her as their wife.
Tūtānekai was one of these would-be suitors, but he knew that though he was of good birth, his rank was not high enough for Hinemoa’s father to accept him as his daughter’s husband.
Because of this, Tūtānekai hid his love for Hinemoa for a long time. He saw Hinemoa only when there were great meetings of the tribe, for his home was far across the water on Mokoia Island in the middle of Lake Rotorua.
During these hui (meetings), Tūtānekai would content himself with gazing at Hinemoa from a distance, and yet it seemed to him that sometimes she would return his looks. But he thought to himself, “There are many other young men more worthy than I of winning Hinemoa’s heart. If I approach her to declare my love, perhaps she will be displeased.”
Now Hinemoa did love Tūtānekai, but she too hid her love, thinking, “If I send a message to Tūtānekai, perhaps he will not care for me.”
At last, after many meetings during which only their eyes had spoken, Tūtānekai sent a message to Hinemoa and she cried joyfully, “Have we each then loved alike?”
When Tūtānekai asked Hinemoa to leave her home and come to him, she agreed.
“At night,” he said, “when you hear the sound of a flute across the water, it is I; come in your canoe.”
Every night Tūtānekai sat on a high hill and played his flute, the wind carrying his music across the lake to Hinemoa’s home. But Hinemoa did not come. Her people had suspected her intention, and they had pulled all the canoes high up on the shore.
Every night Hinemoa heard the sound of her lover’s flute and wept because she could not go to him. Eventually she wondered if it be possible to swim across to Tūtānekai.
Hinemoa took six hollow gourds and fastened them to her body to buoy her up. The night was dark and the great lake cold. Her heart was beating with terror, but the flute played on. She stood on a rock by the shore and there she left her garments, entered the water and began to swim.
In the darkness she could see no land, having only Tūtānekai's flute to guide her, and led by that sweet sound she arrived at last to the island.
At the place where she landed, she found a hot pool and went in to warm herself, for she was trembling with cold.
Just then Tūtānekai happened to feel thirsty and asked his servant to fetch him some water. The servant was filling a gourd with water close to where Hinemoa was sitting, so under the cloak of darkness she disguised her voice, pretending to be a man, and called out gruffly, “For whom is this water?”
The servant said it was for Tūtānekai, and Hinemoa said, “Give it to me.” So he gave her the gourd, and when she had drunk from it she broke it in pieces. Then the servant asked, “What business had you to break the gourd of Tūtānekai?” But Hinemoa did not answer.
When the servant returned empty-handed, and Tūtānekai asked him where is the water was, the servant answered, “Your gourd has been broken.”
“Who broke it?” Tūtānekai demanded.
“The man who is in the pool,” replied the servant.
“Go back again then, and fetch me some water.”
The servant took a second gourd and returned to the pool. Again Hinemoa called to him, demanded the gourd, and broke it as she had the other.
When the servant returned again empty-handed, Tūtānekai was wild with rage.
“Who is this fellow?” he demanded.
“How can I tell?” asked the servant. “He’s a stranger.”
“Didn’t he know the water was for me? How did the rascal dare to break my gourds? I am furious at his insolence.”
Tūtānekai picked up his spear and went to the side of the pool, calling out, “Where is the fellow who has broken my gourds?”
From her hiding spot under the overhanging rocks at the edge of the pool, Hinemoa knew by his voice it was Tūtānekai. Tūtānekai went feeling along the edges of the lake, searching everywhere, while Hinemoa lay hidden, looking out and wondering when he would find her.
At last he caught hold of a hand, and asked, “Ho, ho, what’s this?”
Hinemoa answered, “It is I, Tūtānekai. It is I, it is Hinemoa.”
She rose up from the water as beautiful as the wild white hawk, and stepped upon the side of the pool as graceful as the shy white crane. A surprised Tūtānekai threw his cloak about her, and took her to his house, and thenceforth, according to the customs of those days, they were man and wife.
In the morning, when the people in the village came out of their houses to get their breakfast, Tūtānekai remained inside. His father, noting that Tūtānekai never misses breakfast, worries his son is ill and sent a servant to check. The servant slid back the wooden window, peered inside, and to his astonishment saw in the room not two, but four feet. He ran back to tell his master and Tūtānekai’s father demanded, “Who is his companion? Go quickly and see.”
He shouted out in amazement, “Oh, here's Hinemoa, here’s Hinemoa in the house of Tūtānekai!” and all the village heard him, and there arose cries on every side, “Oh, here’s Hinemoa, here's Hinemoa in the house of Tūtānekai!” Some of the villagers were in disbelief, saying, “It can’t be true, Tūtānekai couldn’t have won Hinemoa.”
But when Tūtānekai came out of his house, and behind him followed Hinemoa, everyone saw that it was true.
All this was a long time ago. The descendants of Hinemoa and Tūtānekai are living at Rotorua to this day, and still they tell the story of how the beautiful Hinemoa swam across the great lake to her lover.
Pokarekare Ana (a Māori love song)