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Taipiro . . . and “The Cave of Sleepers”

Here is a story from Howard Henry . . .

Taipiro was a twelve year old boy who belonged to the Ngati-Tane Tribe of Mangaia in Pre-European times.

One day he joined fishermen of a neighbouring tribe in a fishing expedition.

When they finished fishing and began to devide the catch, there was no portion of catch given to Taipro.

What a tragic mistake this turned out to be . . .

Fishing for his supper

One day Taipiro was walking along the beach when he saw a number of men from a neighbouring tribe enter the lagoon after which they then started fishing. Given that he had nothing else to do for the rest of the day, Taipiro decided to join these men.

So he went into the lagoon and helped them with their fishing expedition. Taipiro did not know any of these men. But for him it helped pass the time of day. However, Taipiro was very much aware of the custom of the island in that all those who went fishing and participated in the expedition, would receive an equal share of the catch once the fishing had concluded. With that consideration in mind Taipiro was actually working for his supper that evening and participating in this fishing expedition in order to receive a share of the catch at the end of the day.

That was the tradition of Mangaia. That was the custom which prevailed.

No fish for Taipiro

As the sun set in the west and dusk began to descend upon the island, the various fishermen called a halt to their activities in the lagoon. They then gathered on the beach and began sharing out the catch between themselves.

However, as the sharing of fish took place, Taipiro was not given a share because those who divided up the catch considered that he was only a boy and therefore did not qualify to receive a portion of what they had collectively caught. Even though Taipiro had worked as hard as the rest of the men, he was still considered “not suitable” to be given part of what they had caught that afternoon.

In addition to this, many of the fishermen were of the view that because Taipiro was not part of their tribe, then they were not obligated to give him a portion anyway. As he belonged to another clan, then it was up to that clan to feed him. So once again the rest of the fishermen did not feel they owed Taipiro a portion of what they had caught.

After all the fish had been distributed and Taipiro had it confirmed that he was not getting a share, he sat with his head hung low and began to cry in a very sorrowful way.

He cried firstly because he was in shame at not being recognised as a person worthy of a portion of fish, and secondly because he was upset that the traditional custom of Mangaia, to share a fishing catch equally amongst all those who took part, had been violated.

There was only one man in the fishing party who felt sorry for Taipiro. This person went and sat next to him and said “There is enough in my share for both of us. You cook … then – we eat.”

As the rest of the fishermen lit fires and began to cook their meals, Taipiro also lit a fire and began cooking fish for he and his fisherman friend to eat as well.

As the sun went down below the western horizon, Taipiro and his friend sat together and ate the fish which constituted the man’s portion of the catch. By the time everyone had finished their meal it was dark and therefore too late to return to their homes. So they all went, and after entering one of the many caves in the area, the fishermen then prepared to rest and sleep for the night.

“Sleep close to me”

As the group of men settled down for the rest of the night, Taipiro whispered quietly into the ear to his friend : “Don’t sleep with the others. I am afraid. So please make sure you sleep close to me.”

Taipiro’s fisherman friend therefore made a bed for both of them near the cave entrance and in due course everyone soon settled down to rest for the night. Sometime later when everyone in the cave was asleep, Taipiro quietly rose from his bed and discreetly left the cave without anyone, including his friend, seeing him leave. Taipiro then ran through the night and returned home to his village and to his Ngati-Tane tribe.

When he got there he told his elders what had happened to him that day.

Taipiro told how he had gone fishing with men from the neighbouring tribe and how he was then snubbed and ignored when it came to sharing out the catch and how he was not given any share of the fish.

Upon hearing this news concerning a major violation of the fishing custom of Mangaia, the Ngati-Tane tribal leaders therefore sought revenge for this insult to Taipiro, and through him they sought revenge for the insult inflicted on their tribal identity. So various warriors of the Ngati-Tane tribe then armed themselves with the best weapons they had available and returned with Taipiro to the cave where the fishermen were sleeping.

When they were a short distance away from the cave entrance, Taipiro caused those warriors to pause for a moment. He then asked the rest of his tribe not to attack the fishermen inside the cave until he had returned.

“Run away as quickly as you can”

They all agreed to this and so Taipiro went forward alone. He quietly sneaked back into the cave where he woke his fisherman friend. Taipiro then whispered in his ear “run away as quickly as you can without making a sound and without disturbing the rest of the sleeping fishermen.”

The man instantly knew that danger was in the air. So he did not question or argue with Taipiro but simply left his bed. After “quietly” leaving the cave without disturbing the sleeping fishermen, the man then ran from the area as fast as he could and subsequently returned to his home village.

Once this fisherman had left the vicinity, Taipiro returned to his tribesmen and gave them the “all clear.” The tribesmen of Taipiro then moved up to the cave entrance in silence and “quietly” went inside totally undetected by all the other fishermen who were still fast asleep. Once they were inside the cave, the warriors of the Ngati-Tane tribe then moved through the various fishermen and slaughtered them one by one as each of them lay sleeping.

By the time Taipiro and the Ngati-Tane left the cave, around twenty fishermen from the neighbouring tribe had been killed. The only one who had his life spared was the man who recognised the injustice handed out to Taipiro and therefore shared with him his portion of the fish that had been caught that day. As a result of this slaughter, Taipiro and the Ngati-Tane had extracted their revenge for the insult imposed on the young man the previous day.

The cave where this event happened is known as the “Cave of Sleepers”.

“Don’t forget Taipiro?”

When on Mangaia if one feels, for whatever reason, that he or she has not received a fair share of food in particular, then one needs only to mutter the words “Do not forget Taipiro?” and ones plate will immediately be filled to overflowing point with food.

The story of Taipiro is one of revenge in which an entire tribe retaliated as a result of an insult to a twelve-year-old boy. They subsequently killed around 20 fishermen from another tribe on the basis that these men did not give him a portion of the fish they had collectively caught that day and because in their “meanness” they totally violated one of the traditional customs of Mangaia.

The fisherman who did not insult Taipiro was the only one to survive.

He therefore lived … to tell this story of – “Taipiro and The Cave of Sleepers”.