Waiheke Island: the Maori Pania
Maori culture gives rise to a wonderful legend of love and betrayal. Pania of the Reef was a beautiful sea maiden who lived just off the east coast of the North Island. At night, she would often venture upstream to rest. One day, she spied Karitoki, the chief’s son drinking from the stream. Pania watched him from afar for many days, before taking the bold step to introduce herself.
Karitoki and Pania fell in love. Pania was completely honest with her partner about her aquatic origins. Risking great vulnerability, but trusting him completely, she revealed that, as a sea creature she must return to the ocean every dawn; she would surely die if she did not. And so, at sunrise each day, she bid her husband adieu and returned to the sea. Each evening, after sunset, she would return to her marriage bed.
This continued on for quite some time.
Karitoki was boastful about his wife. But, as his friends had never laid eyes upon her, (because she was gone by the light of day), they did not believe and mocked their friend about his make-believe lover.
A village elder knew the ways of the sea peoples and told Karitoki that his wife would be forever barred from the sea if she consumed cooked food. Karitoki hatched a plan to feed Pania crumbs of cooked food while she slept. For the sake of his pride, he intended to force her to remain on land against her will and very nature.
Thankfully, Pania awoke just before the deed was done, catching Karitoki in the act. Heartbroken that the one she loved had risked her very life, she returned to the sea and her people. Karitoki swam after her but she was gone.
The locals say that, off the coast of Napier, you can sometimes catch glimpses of Pania in the deepest waters. Her and Karitoki’s son, Moremore, is said to take the form of a number of aquatic creatures and protect the reef.
New Zealand’s North Island is stunning. Jagged snow-capped peaks reach for the clouds while the roots of the mountain dwell deep under the icy blue sea below.
We arrived on Valentine’s Day and spent the morning at a beach along the Coromandel Peninsula. Despite being late summer, a fierce wind swept along the jagged rocks, the chill cutting to the bone.
The beach was mostly deserted. Unperturbed my boyfriend, having told me nothing of the day’s adventures, marched to a section of sand and began to dig. Puzzled I watched, wondering what buried treasure might lie beneath the sand.
He sat back with a satisfied grunt. “Come feel the water!” He called. A tad sceptical now (I hate the cold), I approached. To my absolute delight, the water was warm!
After getting nice and toasty in our hand-dug bath, we spent the day adventuring before returning to Auckland.
That was not the end of the surprises on the getaway, however. We spent the next day hiking Rangitoto, Auckland’s iconic volcano. That night, after a delicious dinner with a fabulous cityscape view, my boyfriend proposed.
Of course, I said yes.
Newly engaged and very much in love, we spent a day on romantic Waiheke Island. Waiheke Island, only a short boat-ride from Auckland, is renowned for its vineyards. There is a hop-on, hop-off shuttle that stops at a number of cellar doors, allowing you to essentially do a self-guided wine tasting tour.
After a few too many wines, we returned to Auckland for a quiet night in.
My fiancé slept. But I found myself overcome with the familiar bedfellow of anxiety. What-ifs were running through my head.
Our relationship was so young and so fragile. It could grow strong if tended and cared for. Trust would nourish it. But trust was often unfounded. It had to be earned, not freely given.
I had only loved once before. Like Pania & Karitoki, I had been giddy with it. Like Pania, I had trusted my partner. And, like her, I had been heartbroken when that trust was betrayed.
The hardest thing was knowing he felt entirely justified. He had risked my wellbeing for his own selfish end, with no insight or regret. He only regretted being caught and called out, but not the action itself. He had lost me as a consequence, but he righteously refused to see that his actions were the catalyst.
No one had forced Karitoki’s hand to betray Pania in the worst possible way and risk her very life. Others had mocked, but he had chosen to let his pride rule him. Others had advised, but he still made the choice.
Perhaps he was sorry; but it was too late. Like Pania, I was assertive (although it came at a great and painful cost). I cut off contact and retreated to my metaphorical sea, surrounded by my own family, friends and supports. Fool me once, shame on you.
I admire Pania for her assertiveness. Too many of my friends had forgiven the unforgivable and shown compassion, only to be burned again. They became caught up in a cycle of abuse, in which their partner never acknowledged ownership of their own bad behaviour, constantly blaming others for their actions. They never evolved, or changed or tried. That isn’t love. Love should never be unconditional. Earned trust must be a condition.
And, the thing about trust is that once broken, it’s shattered almost irrevocably.
After all was said and done, my greatest grief was that my intuition had let me down in the past. I had been so blind. I had gotten it so wrong. That was the root of my current ‘cold-fins’. What if I had it wrong this time, too?
And as I lay there, thinking of Pania, I soothed my own fears. I had survived betrayal. It hadn’t broken me; in fact, I had grown, not just in spite of it but because of it. And now here I was, grasping something valuable in my hand. No, not the engagement ring, but the promise it represented. A promise of mutual respect and trust. A promise that my wellbeing was of the highest value.
And so far, he had lived up to that promise, not with words, which can so easily be a lip-service. But with his small, mundane, everyday actions.
My anxiety abated and sleep overcame me. As I drifted off, I fervently hoped that, as Pania healed with her family under the waves, she hadn’t just survived the betrayal, but had actually thrived.