Tombstone of Niko Rima, Mangahume area near Opunake 1956

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A Remarkable Native
About 1893 a remarkable old native died at Matakaha Pa near Opunake. Old Nikorima was supposed by Europeans and natives to be over one hundred and twenty years old at the time of his death. Some of the natives could remember Nikorima as a grown up warrior when they were children. They grew up to be warriors and in time died of old age but old Nikorima lived on. They believed that he must have seen Captain Cook's vessel passing through the Straits from what he afterwards said of Cook's voyages. One day Nikorima was asked what the Maoris had thought of a vessel when they first saw one. He replied, "When I first saw a vessel I was a boy without hair on my face, but I did not know what it was; we at that time thought it was a very large bird. Years passed. I was a warrior with a full beard on my face and had been in several fights when I next saw another of these large birds. It was a long way from the shore and we wondered at the size of the bird. Again sometime after another of these white birds appeared; it came near to the shore and stopped all day. There was no wind so the boldest of the people went out in canoes to look at the bird but when we got near we saw that it was not a bird but a large canoe and we saw people in that large canoe with fire in their bellies and smoke coming out of their mouths. When we saw the people with fire in their bellies we were afraid to go nearer; we returned to the shore and told what we had seen. Some would not believe us and went out to see these strange people. That canoe went away and was talked of for a long time. We wondered at the size of the canoe but most of all we wondered at the men with fire in their bellies and smoke coming out of their mouths. In those days we knew not how to smoke; we thought when we saw the smoke coming out of their mouths that they had fire in their bellies.
Sourced from papers held in the "vertical file" cabinets under the heading "Opunake" at the Taranaki Research Centre at Puke Ariki. Possibly written by Jack Strong.