Story: Te aitanga pepeke – the insect world

Page 4. Mosquitoes and sandflies

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In a whakapapa (genealogical narrative) from the Tūhoe region, certain insects originate from Haumia, god of the bracken fern rarauhe and its edible root, aruhe. Haumia gave rise to te mōnehu (the fine, rusty fern spores), who produced the biting insects waeroa (mosquito) and namu (sandfly), along with rōtāne (male mantis), pūngāwerewere (spider) and other insects.

These creatures are strongly associated with their fern habitat, which sheltered them. Also, to relieve the intensely itchy bite of the mosquito and sandfly, Māori would rub moisture from the bruised fronds of the bracken fern onto the skin.

Attacking humans

An old tradition explains the origins of the fierce bite of these insects. The god of humans, Tūmatauenga (Tū), killed Namuiria, the first sandfly, when the creature stole his spiritual essence. In retaliation, the tribes of Waeroa (mosquitoes) and Namu (sandflies) attacked the sons of Tū – humankind. Waeroa suggested striking at night, as his army might perish in the daylight. But Namu said, ‘Let us fight in the light of day. I am going while it’s light. Although I will die in great numbers, what does it matter, so long as his blood flows? If you attack at night, when the fires are burning, you will be smothered in smoke.’

The army of sandflies set out in daylight and were defeated by Tū, dying in their thousands. Waeroa observed their downfall and commented in a song that it was better for the mosquito to wait for the darkness of night and hum in the ears of humans, even though he might be suffocated with smoke. The sandfly repeated, ‘What does it matter, brother, if I am killed, as long his blood gushes forth? None but the offspring of Mahuika [fire] shall stop me from fighting. Only then will I flee, and you will run too.’ That is why the sandfly bites in the daytime, and the mosquito at night.

Footnotes:
  1. Te Pēhi (Elsdon Best), Tuhoe: the children of the mist. Te Whanganui-a-Tara: Board of Maori Ethnological Research, Te Rōpū Poronihiana, 1925, wh. 778; 993. › Back
How to cite this page:

Bradford Haami, 'Te aitanga pepeke – the insect world - Mosquitoes and sandflies', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/te-aitanga-pepeke-the-insect-world/page-4 (accessed 13 August 2020)

Story by Bradford Haami, published 24 Sep 2007