Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 17th, 2007
On Tuesday, October 16, I agreed to be on one of the many radio shows I do around Halloween every year. For whatever reason, mainstream and alternative radio both enjoy cryptozoology more around October 31. I suppose the annual holiday allows them the freedom to talk about monsters, creatures, and cryptids without looking over their shoulders at their programmers and sponsors.
Anyway, frequently I don’t know much about a show I agree to go onto, there are so many these days. With the internet shows, well, it can get overwhelming. But certainly, if Australia calls up and asks if I’ll be on a show, I’m intrigued on the one hand and I’m not familiar with the Australian airwave offerings, on the other.
So, after I discovered their “tomorrow” wasn’t Wednesday because it was Wednesday already and they wanted me to come on during Tuesday, I was a guest for over an hour yesterday. If you know what I mean, mate?
The program was Trevor Chappell’s “ABC Overnights” (ABC Radio-Australia). I spoke about cryptozoology, dragons, Burus, and other cryptids. I also learned more about Australia and New Zealand.
“ABC Overnights” of Australia Radio’s Trevor Chappell.
Wow, I was taken aback by the high energy, immediately, of the call-ins. Trevor told me in a break the “Overnights” show is broadcast all across Australia. News to me. I looked on their website and saw the show is on 57 ABC Australian radio stations between 2 am and 6 am local EAT every night. (I was going to do that background checking yesterday, but there was that little thing about our miscommunicating with each other about which day it was. Or is.)
It was literally lots of fun to talk of Burus, Bunyips, and especially a bit about Paul Cropper’s and Tony Healy’s book, The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Bigfoot. But back to dragons and monitor lizards in the Outback….
Those telephoning into the show were well-read, wanted to share, and overflowed with good stories. Some of the mates were downright hilarious and it wasn’t just their accents. Trevor had a good style about him in being able to nurture an interest in each listener, and supported the point of view of every caller. It really was masterful, and as opposed to some American hosts who seem always to be cutting off the “too-long-talkers,” I was struck by Chappell’s difference in style. Each caller, and they were on wall-to-wall during my entire appearance, all felt “heard.”
One Aborigine who shared a story about picking up a little “dragon” (lizard) and later wiping it across his brow in a towel by mistake, was allowed to tell his whole short funny tale. He ended up making some good points about the different names in his culture for various creatures.
Which brings me to New Zealand. In America, I think it’s a misconception that people in Australia naturally know everything about New Zealand. It just isn’t so.
During my radio time, it came up that there might be a dragonlike cryptid in New Zealand. I admitted I didn’t recognize the name the Australians asking about it were saying. But it became obvious that they might not have had it correct to begin with, after all.
Now today (really, never mind what day, as it is probably tomorrow there anyway), I’ve received the following email from New Zealander Barbara Bolt who has this to say:
Loren, I have been listening to you on ABC (Australia) when the NZ “tunifa” was mentioned [by a caller]. Not quite right.
I am a “kiwi” (i.e. a New Zealander) married to an Australian, but I have my touch of home in a carved wooden “taniwha,” the half man half fish of Maori legend, protector of waterways. Or a giant eel if you want to lose the magic. Strangely enough where I live the district has been named “tanawha” presumably by some homesick early settler, from its rainforest nature, much
like NZ bush.
Closer to your interest there is a kind of “Bigfoot” in the Coromandel mountain range close to Auckland. Now I have found your blog I’ll get back to you about it.Barbara Bolt
Of course, I never turn down a good cryptid that I need to know more about. And this includes the Taniwha.
With all due caution, I read the Wikipedia semi-detailed entry on the Taniwha to learn more. The Taniwha do appear to be figures from Māori mythology that reportedly “live in deep pools in rivers, dark caves, or in the sea, especially in places with dangerous currents or deceptive breakers.” In the variety that Ms. Bolt is discussing, it can have “the appearance of a large white eel,” apparently.
The serious nature and impact of the Taniwha can take on the importance of the spotted owl in the States, in stopping projects. Concerns for damaging the sites related to the Taniwha caused problems “in 2002 when Ngāti Naho, a Māori tribe from the Meremere district, successfully halted and eventually caused the redevelopment of part of the country’s major highway, State Highway 1, to be rerouted in order to protect the abode of their legendary protector. This Taniwha was said to have the appearance of large white eel, and Ngāti Naho argued that it must not be removed but rather move on of its own accord; to remove the Taniwha would be to invite trouble. Television New Zealand reported in November 2002 that Transit New Zealand had negotiated a deal with Ngati Naho under which ‘concessions have been put in place to ensure that the taniwha are respected.’” (Sources, here and here.)
Taniwha/Tunifa also lives on the edge of the netherworld of folkloric creatures where you get shifting descriptions. Besides chiefs being called Taniwha, I see this: “The word taniwha has been reconstructed to Proto-Oceanic tanifa, with the meaning ‘species of shark’. In Tongan and Niuean, tenifa refers to a large dangerous shark, as does the Samoan tanifa; the Tokelauan tanifa is a sea-monster that eats people. In most other Polynesian languages, the cognate words refer to sharks or simply fish (Pollex).”
Shifting descriptions, indeed. Compare the images of the Taniwha at the top and bottom of this blog.
Out of context and not a “Kiwi” myself, I remain confused by what a Taniwha might be. But, of course, that doesn’t matter. They know what they are.
While you may be able to click on the cover above to make the Yowie larger, one thing is certain, the Taniwha is not a relative of “Australia’s Bigfoot”!
Here you see Taniwha can be represented in popular culture in New Zealand in the most frightening of ways – as a hand puppet.