Wheke Fortress

WHEKE FORTRESS – Tokerau Wilson

Wheke are the mysterious Taniwha of the deep. Seen as demons or monsters, they offer all kinds of grief and guardianship for people. Some Taniwha are worthy to battle even the Gods, deep within the realm of Tangaroa. Legend tells us that Kupe pursued a mighty Wheke across the Pacific to Aotearoa. Chasing Te Wheke o Muturangi forced them to carve through valleys, creating harbours and channels. Eventually defeating them at Patea, Kupe went back to Rarotonga and spread word across the Pacific of a great land. Untouched, he described Aotearoa as having plenty of room and resources for everyone. Land scarcity was a big issue in the Pacific at the time, creating many tensions and wars amongst our people.

I myself, grew up in Whanganui. The river was polluted, sewer pipes led directly from houses into the sacred waters and it was unswimmable. As a child, I spent much of my time riding a BMX along small paths carved into the shore. Building forts with my friends and daring one another to walk to the end of the sewer pipes, we heard tales of Tutaeporoporo, Taniwha of the Whanganui river. I was always uncertain as to what a Taniwha truly was. I knew it was a monster but what did it look like? As a young man, I was drinking with a couple of older Uncles on the Interislander ferry, travelling to Wellington. I asked them to describe one, hoping to gain some sacred insight into what a Taniwha tangibly looked like. They turned to each other and laughed.

“A sea monster bro!”

Taniwha can take many forms, standing as a potent part of my ancestry and lore representing huge troubles. There are stories of Taniwha blocking passages or stealing all the fish within an area, kidnapping, terrorising or killing anyone who crossed their path.

These representations are still existent in the present day. The government industrialises fishing and our foreshore, taking precious land and resources from us. Social services take all children of Kupe away from their people and culture. The justice system imprisons higher amounts of Māori, with harmful tokenisation of Polynesian/Melanesian/Micronesian peoples judging us by the colour of our skin every day. There is a certain expectation for behaviours and narratives, which belittle and reduce our multifaceted potential.

Im not ready to dismiss Taniwha as the sea monsters of legend, relegated them to the past with the dinosaurs and fossils. The Wheke still exists strongly within and around us. Whether they be our own demons or external elements which which we must battle, we have to face the Wheke. Through claiming and integrating their power with our own, we establish a Wheke Fortress.