‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is the old saying that describes the power of an image. So many of the stories from ancient times are bound to an image. Few understand that particular aspects of the sacred knowledge of the Waitaha Nation, which I was called to bring into our world, were held in a particular place. The elders would only bring out that lore in that place. We had to be at a certain rock, lake, river, bay, mountain, tree, waterfall or valley to bring out the story that was anchored in the land. Nothing was disconnected; all was one.

So I have returned to the old ways to share stories evoked by an image that is of a place and time.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Raureka and her dogs

                                                              Robyn Barclay

In telling this story I wish to honour one of New Zealand’s great pounamu carvers: Robyn Barclay, who left us far too early. The piece you see above is hers. The original stone was given to me by Hettie, a true Guardian of the Stone. On the occasion of the gifting she said, very firmly, 'This stone is for you alone. Do not give it away, as you have given the others away!'
Well, I didn’t give it away, but I did let it stay with a woman who needed healing. A year later when I placed it in Robyn’s hands I offered no suggestions of what she might carve. A year or two later she announced she couldn’t work the piece.
‘Why not, Robyn? What’s wrong with the stone?’
‘Nothing. It’s an amazing stone, but every time I look at it I see dogs!’
For a moment I was bemused and confused, then I laughed with joy and replied, ‘I know the story of this stone. Know all about those wonderful dogs and I’ll tell you the story of their companion. She’s a brave ancestor.’
So I told Robyn the story of Raureka and thus this beautiful piece was created in the power of her heart, her mind, her spirit and skilled hands. When our paths met again she showed it to me then said… ‘But it’s not finished yet.’
‘Yes, it is!’ I responded. ‘And it’s truly remarkable. However, if you feel you still have work to do on it, I understand, but might I have it for a short time to photograph it for Song of the Old Tides?’
So it journeyed into that book to sit with other images that spoke of the Ancestors of long ago. And soon after, while it was still in my hands, Robyn left to join them, to tell her wonderful, hilarious stories to those who are of the Unseen and walk at our side.

Raureka of the mountain passes

I think it appropriate to share the story as it unfolded within Song of the Stone. Robyn was a trail maker for many. In Stone I share the story of opening the ancient Trail of the Peace Maker, the trail that had been closed for over a hundred years. It was at first light on the fifth day on that journey to lift the tapu, that we take up my narrative.
Jo had something exciting to tell us that morning. She said...
“We had a visit in the night. Everyone else seemed to be asleep. I was wide-awake. Light was still escaping from the firebox so it wasn’t very late. The face of an elder appeared before me, then he moved on to look at each of you.”
Today was so important. I sat aside to think about the trail ahead, to create a quiet space, room for the wairua to move. Jo’s story turned through my mind like a key turning in a lock to open a door. A name found voice. “Raureka.” Then other words emerged, words buried deep in earlier days, words of caution...
“If the face of a woman appears to anyone in the party as you approach the pass you must stop immediately. Heed her warning. She is Raureka, the Keeper of the Trail.”
Raureka was born of the mountain people and those who walked with the stone. That was many centuries ago in the earlier days of the Nation. She was trained in the lore of the trails and called to serve the people on the passes. Her life was dedicated to guiding the stone carriers through the wilderness. She traveled this trail with her dogs, her only companions on some lonely journeys.

      Sometimes the elders sent her to the passes to meet a party from              the east to bring them safely to the waters of the western shores. At other times she guided twelve from the villages of Hokitika, Arahura or Pa Roa to the pass. There she gave them into the hands of another who led them safely through the eastern trails.

Storms created the greatest hazards in the mountains. They brought the snows to the heights and released the heavy rains that give birth to the floodtides that made the rivers uncrossable. The trails were only open in the warmer months.
The day came when Raureka was sent into the mountains late in the summer to await a party journeying from the east. She arrived at the given time on the right quarter of the Moon and camped in the pass with her dogs. She looked east each day, sweeping the long valley below with keen eyes, anxious to gather in those she would guide westwards and concerned to be out of the mountains before the snows came.
Dawn followed dawn. No one arrived. Raureka’s supply of smoked eel, so favoured by the mountain people, was finished. Was she now free to return to her home in the west? No! She decided to stay, to be there if the party arrived, to honour the way of the trail.
The snows fell heavily that night. Dawn revealed the ancestors standing tall and strong, wearing their beautiful korowai huka, their cloaks of snow. The mountains were silent.
In the springtime, when the yellow flowers of kowhai marked the trails again, the people found Raureka. She was still waiting for the party to appear from the east. Her bones rested there, testimony to service, and beside them the bones of her companions who stayed by her side.
The spirit of Raureka still travels the trail to guide those who walk in peace. And the bark of her faithful dogs echoes through the valleys in the night. We heard them. They were ever present.
When we formed the circle for the karakia I put Raureka there, saying...
“Should you see the face of a woman in the mist or the clouds, or strongly in your mind as we climb the pass, I want you to tell us.
Don’t hesitate. Trust what you see. Speak out.”

Thank you, Robyn. You spread so much joy, moved with such delightful energy and worked with so much integrity that you changed lives every day. It was no surprise to us that the police in your little town cruised by to note the registration numbers on the cars outside your house. Who else had the openness and compassion to welcome the lost and the lonely youth of the town to sit in the warmth of your hearth? You revelled in the title of the Black Witch, given to you by the locals, a naming that originated in the realm of derision and soon became a title of town pride. 


  1. Thank you for your words, and for bringing memories of aunty Robyn back to me.

    1. Thanks. She was amazing and sorely missed. Arohanui.