Basic Information

Alternative spelling: : Peke-Haua
Type/Species: Taniwha
Slayer: Pitaka or Pitama
Origin: Māori Mythology, New Zealand

About Pekehaua

Pekehaua lived at the head of the Te Awahou river, [8] a body of water called Te Waro-uri, [1] meaning 'the dark pit.' This place was also called Taniwha Springs. [8] Te Waro-uri has been variously described as a water-hole, [1] a fountain, [3] a spring, [8] and a deep pool. [9] Every description of his home maintains that the depth was unfathomable and the water clear. [3]

In some accounts, people identified Pekehaua's species as a man-eating taniwha before he ate a single human being. For fear that he might begin consuming people, the people sent a messenger to the hero Pitaka, [9] who had recently achieved acclaim for slaying the monstrous taniwha Hotu-puku. [1]

Alternatively, parties traveling between Waikato and Rotorua and between Patetere and Rotorua began to vanish. [4] After many people had disappeared, [8] people explored the area and discovered that a taniwha existed at Te Awa-hou in the district of Waikato and Patetere. [1] The people of Rotorua called him Pekehaua. [9]

In either case, Pitika visited the people known as Te Ao-rauru and asked their permission to kill Pekehaua, and they granted his request. [9]

A Collective Defeat

In each version of the story, the defeat of Pekehaua required a large group of people. Sometimes referred to as the Brave Fellows, [4] they were a group of warriors from the Ngāti Tama Tribe. [8]

The group, which numbered three hundred and forty, [4] gathered together to select a leader. They called for the bravest man among them, [5] and Pitaka presented himself and was selected. [1] Several (uncounted) members of the group were described as Pitaka's companions [8] or his friends. [5]

Preparing for Pekehaua

To prepare, Pitaka asked people of the Te Ao-rauru tribe where the taniwha lived, to which they replied, "He lives either in the water or on shore." [4] Pitaka then explored the area and examined the deep pool in which Pekehaua lived. [9] From this, he and his party imagined that the taniwha was much like the one they had already slain. [4]

Pitaka instructed the party, [8] and members of the local tribe, [9] to fetch supple jack from the forest [5] to construct a strong taiki, [9] which was bound with a twisted rope. [5] He showed them how to weave feathers into the wicker. [9] They also made two plaited ropes, [8] one for Pitaka and another for Pekehaua. [10] These would serve as water-traps for the taniwha, [1] with tufts of feathers for ornament. [5]

Then he called everyone together, so he could explain his plan. [10] After, the group set out to the riverbank, and on their way they recited karakias [5] to strengthen themselves and weaken Pekehaua. [1] Then the three hundred and forty had their religious services to ready themselves for the battle, [5] and Pitaka invoked his tribal gods for victory. [10]

Pitaka Captures Pekehaua

In some stories, Pitaka dives down to Pekehaua alone, [10] but in most versions, Pitaka and several companions descend together. [8]

He took the water-trap taiki decorated with feathers, [1] and he and his companions entered it, [8] with stones to weight them down [5] and keep them steady as it was lowered into the basket. [2] It was then that many understood why he had ordered them to add feathers. They weren't for decoration, but to keep the water out of the taiki even as it was lowered into the water. [10] They plunged down into the depths, [2] until they passed through the dark of the waters, [10] which meant they had landed in the taniwha's underground cavern, so they could step out of the taiki. [6,10]

As they sank, the others continued repeating the karakias, [2] some to weaken Pekehaua and others to grant courage and strength to the descending warriors. [6] The number of karakias equaled to their potency. [2]

Meanwhile, Pekehaua slept and dreamed of having a feast of human flesh, and the people on shore woke him. [6] His spines rose as he anticipated the encroaching party, [8] but the power of the karakias affected him, making Pekehaua weak and drowsy. [2]

So when Pitaka and his party reached the bottom and saw Pekehaua in his abode, [2] they found him stretched out [8] drowsy, if not fast asleep. [10] Pitaka went up to Pekehaua, enticing and coaxing as he did, [2] till he grabbed the taniwha's head and put the stronger rope around his neck [10] and wrapped it again like a noose around Pekehaua's body. [8] Then he tugged on both ropes to signal those on shore. [6]

Perhaps out of a sense of sportsmanship or fairness, Pitaka woke Pekehaua just before he returned to the taiki, [10] so the taniwha could pursue them and fight back. [2]

But it was no use. As soon as Pitaka had pulled on the rope, those on the shore recognized the signal and began hauling them up, [8] both the men and Pekehaua, despite their very great weight. [2]

The Death of Pekehaua

Everyone on shore hoisted away, [6] and Pitaka and his party came up by degrees with Pekehaua trashing behind them. [2] Had it not been for the karakias, those on shore would have never achieved the feat for the weight they had to pull up. [6]

Finally, they came to the surface, [10] and they all floated together off the shoreline. [2] With great courage, Pitaka called to his party to pull Pekehaua inland, so that he could not dive under the water again. [10]

In one version, the party tried to beach the taniwha, but so great was his weight and resistance that they could not bring him onto dry land. A furious tug-of-war ensued until they dragged Pekehaua into a shallow creek, where they clubbed him to death. To this day, that creek is named Pekehaua. [10]

Alternatively, despite the taniwha's attempts to escape, they successfully dragged Pekehaua onto dry land. [2] Immediately, some of the warriors beat his jaws, so he could not swallow them, [6] and others attacked Pekehaua with spears and clubs. [2] Thus, they clubbed Pekehaua to death. [8]

The Spoils of War

Pekehaua's defeat immediately spread throughout Rotorua, [6] either by the deafening noise of the beating and shouting, [2] or by word of mouth. [2] All the tribes came together, [6] to see the body of their conquered enemy. [2]

Then they dismembered him. When the people cut open Pekehaua's stomach, [2] they discovered the bones of men, woman, and children, [8] as well as whole bodies of many others [7] that Pekehaua had devoured. [2]

The taniwha had also consumed innumerable garments [8] and ornaments [2] along with heaps of weapons collected together. [7] There were so many that the taniwha's stomach was compared to a sepulcher. [7] They removed the bodies from the taniwha and buried them in the ground. [7]

Pitaka, his companions, and members of the tribe cut the flesh off Pekehaua's exposed ribs. [7]

The collected everything they could from the taniwha and stored it in calabashes for food and oil. [7]

Physical Description

Taniwha usually take the form of lizard-serpents, but some transform into different shapes. Other taniwha, like Pekehaua, looked more like a water-monster. [1]

Pekehaua was covered in scales and had spines down his back, [5] but people called him a fish, because he came out of the water [6] and bore more resemblance to fish than a lizard. [2]

After his death, when Pekehaua's body was on display on the shore, many said he looked just like a calf or young whale. [6]

Quick Facts

  • Pekehaua appeared to be a whale [6] covered in scales and with spines down his back. [5]
  • When they emptied Pekehaua's stomach, they found the remains of countless people that the taniwha had swallowed down whole. [7]
  • Pekehaua lived in Te Waro-uri at Te Awa-hou in the district of Waikato and Patetere. [1]
  • Pitaka led the party that killed Pekehaua. [2] His plan required the use of specially made taiki and rope. [9]

Term Reference

  1. n. An incantation, prayer, [6] charm, or spell [2] said with specific intention, such as petitioning that the taniwha become weakened [5] , or requesting additional physical strength. [6] Sometimes the recitation of karakias takes place during religious services. [5]
  2. n. Secondary definition
n. A strong wicker basket used for carrying heavy loads [9]
  1. n. An incantation, prayer, [6] charm, or spell [2] said with specific intention, such as petitioning that the taniwha become weakened [5] , or requesting additional physical strength. [6] Sometimes the recitation of karakias takes place during religious services. [5]
  2. n. Secondary definition
Taiki n. A strong wicker basket used for carrying heavy loads [9]


  1. Andersen [Polynesian] 143
  2. Andersen [Polynesian] 144
  3. Grey [Auckland] 128
  4. Grey [Auckland] 142
  5. Grey [Auckland] 144
  6. Grey [Auckland] 146
  7. Grey [Auckland] 148
  8. Orbell 104
  9. Polynesian Society 184
  10. Polynesian Society 185

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.