Three Taniwha

A story by an English/Ngā Puhi Aucklander, attempting to make sense

of Māori identity in the urban hellscape.




By Seth Nicholls


Three taniwha remain living in the city’s depths. There used to be many more. Some, like Dr Swamp and Dr Rock-Pool, were driven out by the branching roads and railway lines running their homes into the ground. Dr Hearth and a couple of her siblings are buried in the foundations of luxury shoreside apartment blocks. Dr Storm was pulled out of harbour with nets and harpoons and sliced up, the stew of his flesh filling the bellies of sailors.And poor, poor Dr Spear is now just a frame of polished bones strung up in the museum hall, among all the other corpses. Grandmothers point to him, telling old stories of great battles to their gasping mokopuna. It is truly a pity they’ll never see his glittering rainbow scales, nor the terrified look on his face as he was driven through with bullets and bayonets. Now, there are only three taniwha left alive in the city.


Daniel went about the city to visit each of the three. Daniel had seen them all, in poems and parades and posters, but had never spoken a word to any of them. They were always a little too distant. Today was the day that was going to change. Daniel was going to ask all of them their wisdom, demand it in fact.


The first on Daniel’s list was Dr Carving, a great and glorious feathered Taniwha who had once lived in the depths of the forests. Daniel had been told that Dr Carving was one of the greatest teachers of all. Hundreds of Māori, young and old, men and women, had journeyed out to see him and learn how to weave beautiful patterns and carve designs so intricate and wondrous, that they would lure in the eye with its patterns and keep it trapped there forever. Dr Carving would teach his lessons smiling.


Daniel questioned people around the city and got a slew of answers from the denizens within. A drunkard told Daniel that the great teacher would be found in Daniel’s local Kiwi gift shop, where tourists bought tikis cast in plastic. A business man told Daniel that Dr Carving could be found in the factory, where workers make the same thing over and over again. An elderly woman told Daniel that Dr Carving could be found in a marae in town, nestled between the skyscrapers.Daniel checked all these places first, but Dr Carving was not there, at least not in

person. Daniel scowled at the marae when he saw. It had fewer calluses than him.


After talking to many tired customer service workers and smug executives one after the other, Daniel eventually found Dr Carving living out of a penthouse workshop in the middle of the city. Daniel had to bribe a rat-haired guard just to get the elevator. When Daniel had made

it to the top he saw a grand display of patterns and carvings, beautiful things on every wall. There were so many beautiful creations that it covered all the windows overlooking the city. Dr Carving was hard at work on a new design, carving the curves of the piece in a new mold

for the factories. He was tall, yes, but he had become hunched. He was covered in a rainbow of gorgeous feathers, yes, but there was a trail falling to the ground behind him. Upon seeing Daniel enter in his abode, the taniwha flashed his needle-like fangs before quietly going back to work.


Daniel kept his distance and called out to Dr Carving, asking him how his work was going, how the land used to be, any memory or story to share, anything at all. Still, Dr Carving just kept working at his next product. Daniel stood there trying to get the great teacher’s attention but his raised hand was left unattended. If he neared, the great teacher would just bare his fangs. Danny slumped back to the elevator. Perhaps the next taniwha maybe more accommodating.


The second taniwha was the darling Dr Statue, who Daniel was told was a beautiful spirit. She was to be treasured forever, every smiling face had told him. Dr Statue was the first taniwha the missionaries met when they came to New Zealand. The British and the French alike ran their hands through her silky fur, marvelled at her towering colourful frill, and bowed at the sight of her maddening size. Daniel had seen her before, on the television, in parades around the world. The directions were all universal this time, any tour guide or cab driver could tell you where to go. Dr Statue could be found in the Domain, in a glow-worm cave off several beaten paths. Everyone said “go as deep as you can and you’ll find her.” And there she was.


Dr Statue was chained up in a cave in the depths of a glow-worm cave in the depths of the Domain. She was so small, her fur had become dirty and wet, and her frills had ripped and wilted. Spray paint stung her skin and eyes, and her feet had worn to the ground from the hot

paved roads. She could only scream and recite speeches, both at the very top of her lungs. Daniel's wide eyes had never seen something so torn up and terrified.


The third taniwha was Dr Fall. Everyone knew where Dr Fall was but nobody liked to talk about it. Daniel knew all the same. He needed no directions. Daniel walked down off an alley onto another alley, down unswept stairs and under bridges. Daniel found Dr Fall in the dark of a stinking sewage tunnel, past where all graffiti ended. Dr Fall wasn’t here before the English came. He was born in the depths of woodwork they had brought across the ocean, a parasitic wyrm tunnelling through their ships. Dr Fall was long and snake-like, with soulless eyes that shone red like they were caught in a camera. Daniel knew he could meet Dr Fall at any time, but he wasn’t at all sure he wanted to. Dr Fall would always accept another visitor, and so he stayed in his keep.


The great serpent was twisted over and between the pipes, his trunkish body splitting into branches of jungle-green scales. Musket holes and slashed scars covered the bulging beast from a thousand dirty battles with a thousand heroes, so sure they would slay him. The False Taniwha, the murderous Dr Fall,ate them all up and shit their bones out in some distant hole where they would never be laid to rest. And so there the monster sat coiled, with leathery skin of camo greens and greys and a sleazy grin under those damned red eyes.Daniel winced at the sight but slowly approached.


Dr Fall lowered his head to the ground,a slop of noxious gloop dropping off him as he moved like wet snow off trees in the spring sunlight. The great wyrm steadied its head above the ground,its pointed nose sniffing the air like a bloodhound. Daniel shuffled onwards as

the beast eyed him. Two red spotlights, bright like cannon flame, shone down upon the quivering boy. Dr Fall lay his head upon the damp concrete ground, crushing discarded needles and bones, and opened his jaw wide. Rows of teeth like the pews of a church. A pillowy tongue rolled out in carpet red. Daniel came to a stop and stared at the depths

of Dr Fall’s mouth, laid out like a bed under starlight. With another step he could sleep in there forever. In peace and calm. Just a step in the good Doctor’s mouth. Daniel knew better. He took a step back, then another. Further from the ledge. He pulled his eyes away from that blood-stained bed and ran away. Fled the dark of the cavernous tunnels as the serpent Fall rattled off a laugh through his kingdom. He had other appointments that day anyway.


Surely there could be better taniwha, anywhere else. Surely there must be some. There are three taniwha in the depths of Auckland city. They live fates worse than death.