Pania of the Reef Napier
There is no story more romantic than that of Pania, the beautiful maiden of the sea people and Karitoki, her handsome Maori lover.
The statue was first formed in clay from a photograph of Mei Robin (now Mei Whaitiri), who was 15 at the time. A mould was made of the clay figure and then was cast in bronze by the Italian Marble Company of Carrera, Italy and brought back here in 1954. It sat on a limestone base on Napier’s Marine Parade.
The Legend of Pania:
Pania today is a ledge or reef of rock, lying about four miles beyond Hukarere point. The Napier breakwater was the home of Pania, a beautiful sea maiden who, in ancient times, daily swam shorewards at the setting of the sun and returned to her sea people before the break of day. While on shore she hid herself in a clump of flax beside a freshwater spring at the foot of Hukarere cliff, close by the sea.
One evening Karitoki, the very handsome son of a Maori Chief who lived in a nearby Pa, , quenched his thirst every evening at the stream where, Pania rested because it had the sweetest water. He was unaware she was observing him for many weeks until one night she whispered a faint spell. It carried on the wind to Karitoki who turned around to see Pania emerge from her hiding place. Karitoki had never seen someone so beautiful and instantly fell in love. Pania fell in love also, and they pledged their lives to each other and were secretly married. Pania and Karitoki went to his whare (house), but because it was dark no-one saw them enter.
But always, every morning, Pania would return to her sea folk and every evening come back ashore to her husband. After a while Pania gave birth to a son who was completely without hair and so was named Moremore, ‘the hairless one.’ With the birth of this child, Pania’s husband became concerned that he might lose him to the sea people. So he consulted a tohunga, in the hope of finding how to keep his child and wife with him always.
The tohunga told him to place cooked food upon the mother and child while they slept, and they would never again return to the sea. Evidently something went amiss. Perhaps the food was not properly cooked; for Pania returned to her people never to return.